‘My daughter has a sister, it’s complicated. I was almost ‘Mama’ to that sweet girl.’: Adoptive mom ‘heartbroken’ after daughter’s biological sister not placed with their family

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“Seven months ago, my husband and I were in the back seat of a friend’s car on the way to dinner when the phone rang. It was a social worker. She told us that a baby had been born into foster care– our daughter had a biological sister. We could take a couple of days to decide, but we needed to let her know ASAP if we were interested. Her biological mom wasn’t able to parent, so the case would go straight to adoption.

I had a full-blown panic attack.

My life was full. My family felt full.

My schedule, patience, and home were most definitely full.

There was nothing in me that yearned for another baby. I panicked because I knew we could never say no, but I cried guilty tears because I wanted to.

From the beginning, I felt a strong bond and connection with my babies’ birth mamas, both of whom I have never met. A few months before that phone call, I started to have thoughts that my daughter’s birth mom was pregnant. I know that sounds crazy, and I can’t explain it, but it’s true. I told my mom and husband, and I left voicemails at the small DFCS office in the county where she lives. I just wanted to know that if there was a baby, it would be taken care of. I wanted to be called. But, nobody from that office ever called me back.

That night, my husband and I discussed what to do. We prayed. We cried a lot.

He wanted to say yes from the beginning, but he said he would respect my decision– which, of course, compounded my guilt.

I had a lot of questions. I needed to know where this baby was, but the social worker wasn’t allowed to share that information. I knew that if there was a newborn in a local foster home, surely I could figure out where she was placed. The foster care and adoption community in our area is close-knit, and a lot of parents know each other. I made a couple of calls, and I had a name and phone number within the hour.

I sat in my bathroom rocking and crying while I held that phone number in my hand. My husband urged me not to call her because, well, stalking is frowned upon in Georgia, but I had to.

I shakily told her my story, and she shared how much they have come to love Baby Lou* in the past few weeks. It was clear that she wanted what was best for her, and I felt some peace knowing the baby was so well cared for. We made plans to get the girls together so the sisters could meet each other.

Baby Lou came over for a visit, and it was obvious they shared a deep connection.

Adoption is beautiful, but so is DNA, and theirs was strong.

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After witnessing this, I knew the girls had to grow up together. I knew we could make room in our home and hearts for this sweet baby. She would be a gift– an unexpected gift– but a precious one, nonetheless.

As I held her, I couldn’t help but see my daughter’s big brown eyes and round little cheeks look up at me, like I rewound time and was holding Haley again for the first time. I felt a responsibility and a bond to Baby Lou, like she was already a member of our family.

I will never forget the realization that simply holding that sweet baby took me from a desperate panic to an undeniable love so quickly.

The next day I called the social worker and told her about our decision. I was told that we legally had first rights since we had adopted her closest sibling. There was to be a court date in one week where a transition plan would be made, and we would start the adoption process.

We bought baby gear, pulled our older children from sports for the season, and hired a sitter to come daily.

We waited until this moment to tell our kids about the adoption. They were overjoyed, which was shocking to me, since we had been in the thick of double baby life for the last couple of years. My son said, ‘This is perfect. Our family will have 3 boys and 3 girls, and that’s the way I always thought it should be!’ It eased the last of my fears to hear our children plan and dream about life with a new sister.

Unfortunately for us, the hearing didn’t go as planned. There was a second cousin who also wanted custody, and although it wasn’t recommended by the case workers or the DFCS chain of custody, the judge declared that Baby Lou would go to her cousin.

We were heartbroken. I called several attorneys, but all of them agreed that once a judge makes a ruling in a DFCS case, there is little you can do. I didn’t understand how a judge could make such a decision without knowing anything about us. Weren’t there laws? As it turns out, DFCS has a lot of regulations and guidelines, but they are different from laws and are subject to interpretation.

Over the next several months, there was a lot of back-and-forth. There were home studies, road blocks, and long phone calls. There were weeks that we were told we may actually get to adopt and weeks we were told the possibilities were slim. There was so much conflicting information, which led to more confusion and frustration with the system.

It seemed unfair that there was this sweet innocent baby who was bonding with a temporary family for the majority of her first year in this world, while those who were responsible for her fate seemed unrushed and unbothered.

As nervous as I was for the outcome, I wanted Baby Lou to be in her forever home as soon as possible. Even if it wasn’t going to be with us, I wanted her to share her first steps and her first words with the one she would eventually call, ‘Mama.’ Why wasn’t this a top priority for those in charge? It was maddening. (Please hear my heart here – we love and respect our social workers and everyone who works tirelessly for the safety and wellbeing of children, but I also want to be honest about my feelings in that moment.)

Throughout all the waiting and the back and forth, we continued to get the girls together, and we shared visits with the sweet foster family, who would parent until the official transfer could be made. Our children prayed for her daily, and even the toddlers would walk around the house asking where Baby Lou was and if they could hold her. The visits and the days following them were among the most bittersweet moments my family has experienced.

Yesterday, at 8 months old, Baby Lou made her final transition into her forever home with her cousin.

The family was kind enough to meet with us, and they seem to share our hope for the girls to get together as often as possible. They were warm and lovely as they told family stories and welcomed us wholeheartedly. It is clear that they love her, and I think they will be good parents.

A part of me is thankful she will grow up knowing so many members of her biological family, that she won’t have to wonder about her family heritage. Her mom won’t have to send a note to the school asking for an alternate assignment because there is no information available for a ‘family tree’ or the ‘recessive or dominant genetic trait project.’ She won’t have to leave entire pages of medical forms blank at doctor’s visits or write ‘family medical history unknown’ because she will grow up with all the information that comes with biological family.

I want to be happy, but it’s tough.

There is no instruction manual on how to create and maintain a relationship with your child’s sister’s cousin-turned-new-parents.

There are no self-help books on how to manage this strange brand of grief. We have fallen in love with Baby Lou and desperately want her to have a good life. We want to know that everything will be ok, but none of this is within our rights as adoptive parents to a baby’s sister.

I was almost ‘Mama’ to that sweet little girl, but now there is no title for our relationship. There is no word for what I am to her, and there are no guarantees that Haley or I will hold a spot in her life as she grows up.

I have been told by social workers as well as other foster families that these kinds of relationships are rarely maintained. Plans get cancelled and people drift apart. As hopeful as I am that we will be one of the few who make a relationship work, I know it is out of my control if I ever see Baby Lou again.

As I type this, I pray that she will one day read it and know she is loved by many and there wasn’t a day that passed where I didn’t think about her.

As we sit around the Christmas tree, I will wonder what her holiday looks like. Will she ask for baby dolls and ‘fluffy sprinkle dresses’ just like her sister does?

As Haley goes off to her first day of Kindergarten, I will imagine the girls walking to school hand in hand as I snap a picture of them together.

I will wonder if Haley’s sense of humor, her love of singing, and her obsession with all things sparkly and pink is hereditary.

I will try to imagine her growing up in a home that has the same joy and laughter in it that Haley brings to our home every single day.

I can’t help but dream of the girls being the best of friends, sharing secrets and inside jokes between bouts of fighting over clothes and toys.

Every time I see a family picture with my children, I will picture Baby Lou right alongside them, and I will mourn for what might have been.

Just like so much of foster care and adoption, this process is messy and painful- but it’s also shrouded in hope and redemption.

Through it all, we are honestly grateful. We are grateful to have a connection with the biological family and to have had the chance to love that sweet baby. We are grateful the girls got to meet, because we know how easy it would have been for us to have fallen in one of the many cracks in the system and to have never known Baby Lou existed.

We are grateful to walk this tough broken road with friends and families who support us. We are grateful that we have the resources to keep loving babies that may come into our lives in the future.”

*Baby Lou’s name has been changed in order to respect her and her family’s privacy.

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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Hollifield of Momstrosity. It originally appeared on their blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read Stephanie’s backstory of adopting her daughter:

‘I vividly remember the crazy looks I got with my huge pregnant belly and a newborn baby draped across my chest. I would stare too. It’s an odd sight, and honestly something I never imagined for myself.’

‘Are they ALL yours?’ My husband loves to whisper, ‘Not all of them are mine. My wife went through a wild phase.’

‘I am done trying to cram him in a box he was never made to fit into. I have to let it go before it kills my little boy’s spirit, or worse, our relationship.’

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