9pm- We hear you cough. It’s too early for your typical midnight wake up.
A few moments pass, and the tears begin. We go in to check on you. You’re still asleep, but you’re crying. Tears flow and your body jerks, but you’re unaware of our presence. You’re stuck in a nightmare.
Do we let it pass? Will you eventually calm down and fall back into a peaceful sleep?
The crying worsens and I am unable to handle it. I pick you up and you jolt awake—it’s hysteria. You’re terrified, you’re screaming, you’re hyperventilating, and I don’t know how to help.
So I cry.
You nuzzle into my chest. Your scream worsens. I rock you in your favorite way and I sing you your favorite song. Daddy goes running for a bottle, some baby Tylenol, a teething toy—literally anything that could help.
You refuse it all, and the screaming gets louder.
So I cry.
Minutes pass—you’re still screaming. I hear a strange noise amidst the chaos. It’s you, and you’re chocking. Your face shows fear. You can’t breathe.
So I cry harder.
I scream for daddy while I pound on your back. Thankfully, you pass it. Whatever spit or snot you had been choking on is now on my shirt.
We both let out one final cry, and then we all begin to calm down. Very, very slowly.
Eventually, you fall asleep on daddy’s chest. An hour later, you’re back to peacefully sleeping in your crib.
I try to reconcile what stirred me so much. I’ve seen you awaken from a nightmare before, and while I didn’t enjoy it, it had never moved me to tears.
As I recalled the nights events, I had a realization. Throughout the ordeal, I noticed an overwhelming, ever-present feeling of fleet. There was an absence of permanence and stability in the air.
I can only protect you right now. I certainly can’t protect you from your past, and I unfortunately can’t protect your future. I have no idea where you will be in 6 weeks, let alone 6 years.
The only moment I am promised with my baby is right now, and in that moment, you weren’t feeling protected. Although you were safe, you clearly didn’t feel that way. I told you all of the ‘I love you’s’. I sang to you, shushed you, rocked you, and cuddled you. I promised to be there for you, and to protect you. But there’s always a caveat, and I have to be careful with my words:
“Baby K, I am right here. Mommy’s going to protect you. I will always… uh I mean… never mind. Please know, I am right here”
No promise of forever. No guarantee of always. I wish I could give that to you, baby boy. I think it would calm both of us. But… I can’t.
Foster care isn’t for ‘forevers’ and it isn’t for ‘always’. Foster care is about embracing vulnerability and living in the gray space. It’s standing in as ‘mommy’ when the real mommy can’t be there. While I know this is our reality, tonight it broke me.
So I cry.