Time to say goodbye: Returning my foster child is too painful

Last night I blew off a pretty important meeting to spend a couple of hours with my daughter, Dafna. I fed her dinner (matzah ball soup is the thing she is most passionate about in life), gave her a bath (by the end of it we were both soaked — she is a splash monster) and put her in her jammies. Then I gave her a bottle, read her stories, and played with her until she was so tired that she conked right out and slept through the night.

It was a low-key evening, but I wanted to make time for it because these are probably my last two weeks with Dafna. She is my foster daughter, and in two weeks she will probably be reunited with her mom. This is good news for Dafna and her mom — they love each other so much, and I know her mom is committed to taking really good care of her— but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being heartbroken.

Dafna showed up at our house one warm Friday night in August at 1 month old, and she has been with us ever since. Her face is in pictures on our walls, her baby gear is scattered all over the house and every day we plan our schedules around her. Though she’s not Jewish, she has patiently sat through dozens of hours of synagogue services and has celebrated everything from Shabbat to Rosh Hashanah to Passover with us. She has joined us for family events from Thanksgiving dinner to family birthday parties. And though I never carried her in my body, I do feel a primal connection to Dafna — something deep and true. She is my daughter.

But she’s also someone else’s daughter. Someone who carried her for nine months, and is now trying to prove that she can safely and lovingly care for Dafna. Having jumped through so many hoops, it seems like things are finally going her way. I didn’t think I would be happy for Dafna’s mom if this happened, but it turns out I am.  I genuinely like her and am in awe of how hard she has worked to get Dafna back. But still — knowing we are going to say goodbye — it really sucks.

It feels so weird to think about what I’m doing as grieving. Dafna is not (poo-poo-poo) dying. She is beginning her life with her family. But she’s ending her life with my family, and so I mostly hold it together except for the times when I’m a weepy crazy person. We are all grieving, trying to figure out how we’re going to reassemble our lives when this huge part of it is suddenly gone.

Not all of it is bad. I am extremely excited about packing up the exersaucer and the bouncy seat and lending our stroller to someone else for a while. On nights when my stepdaughter is with her mom, my partner and I can walk the dog together, or we can go down the street and get a drink at our neighborhood bar without paying a babysitter or pushing a stroller. I won’t miss the 25 minutes that were added to my commute by dropping her off or picking her up from day care. And if I never buy another container of Desitin, that will be just fine by me.

But mostly I think about the things that I will miss — the way she smiles so broadly when I come into her room in the morning to get her out of her crib. The noises she makes when she’s about to fall asleep. The way she gets so excited about a bowl of soup that she claps enthusiastically after each spoonful. The way she smells when she’s fresh out of the bath.

My future is divided into two parts — before Dafna leaves and after. Before she leaves, I want to take her to a playground and ride down the slide with her on my lap. I want to let her stay in the bath so long she gets pruney. I need to plan the farewell party for her, the ritual we will do, the food we will serve. I need to make a new photo book and write her a letter.

After she leaves, I don’t know what will happen. Perhaps we will keep in touch and see her every few weeks. Maybe we will be invited to her first birthday party and see her take her first steps, speak her first words, sing her first song. Or we might not. Her mom might decide she wants to move on.

I believe the love we give Dafna will be with her for the rest of her life, no matter what. And even though this sucks — it really, really sucks — I’m glad we did it. And we might do it again.

At the first seder, as we sat around the table, Dafna perched on her aunt’s lap, I thought about Moses floating down the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter plucked him from the water and saved his life, but Moses didn’t stay in the palace. He was a Jew, and his mission in life was to be a leader of the Jewish people, no matter where he grew up.

I don’t know where Dafna will end up, or what her life will be like, but I’m so grateful that her little ark floating down the Nile washed up on our doorstep. And at her farewell party, we will all sing her “Shalom Aleichem,” which ends with the verse that begins, “Go in peace.”

And after that I will cry — a lot. Because this really, really sucks.

Tamar Fox is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia. This essay originally appeared at kveller.com, an online community of Jewish women and parents.