“Oh, she’s beautiful! Is she yours?” people often ask, followed by a survey of the area looking for her black father. When they don't see someone fitting that description, they'll follow up with, "Is she adopted?" You see, I’m white and my baby is black—and people want to know if I'm her mom.
I used to be another nameless, faceless woman with my kids at Target but now I draw double-takes and stares. My kids orbit around me as I push my shopping cart through the store: white, white, black. There’s a brunette girl and a red-headed boy and our black baby girl. Before the baby entered our lives, which one of them took after me biologically was everyone's guess. My daughter was easy; she and I are both brunettes. Walking around with a fiery red-haired one drew some questions but I didn't particularly mind answering that his red hair comes from my husband; yes, the weather is lovely today—and we'd move along. But the questions about my baby girl hurt and sting.
We are here to love her, bond with her and parent her like she’s ours—but she’s not ours.
I throw some diapers into the cart and pause to take a cute photo of the kids with my phone. When I post it on Facebook, I obscure the baby’s face. I don’t name her, she’s just “The Baby.” She’s with us and she’s a part of us but we are reminded a thousand times a day that she’s not really ours. That’s the whole idea behind foster care: love them like they’re yours but always plan to give them back. “The goal is reunification” was repeated ad nauseam during our training. We are a safe place to land for a child who’s suffering the consequences of her parents’ actions. We are here to love her, bond with her and parent her like she’s ours. Despite the fact that we love her like our own, we have to remind ourselves that she’s not ours. And every time someone looks twice at us, I get reminded that she’s not mine. We wear it on every inch of our skin: We do not belong to each other, at least not biologically.
She has been with us since she was less than a week old. She was fragile and frail when she arrived with nothing more than a grocery bag full of her things. Mostly, the bag held hospital refuse: extra paper towels, a snot-sucker bulb, a few diapers. There were a couple crocheted blankets, but the caseworker handed off the bag with an aside about bedbugs. Her things were quarantined from our things. Separation is the hallmark of our relationship. If you’re wondering—because everyone asks—yes, we would adopt her if we could. That’s a pipe dream that we don’t indulge because the goal is reunification. If everything goes well, we will give her back to one or both of her biological parents. Everything about that feels wrong, even if it’s all right. When you raise a baby from birth, you belong to each other. No one else is there for the feedings at three in the morning or for the time we spend alone with her after the older kids have gone to bed.
She’s old enough now to light up with unadulterated adoration when my husband walks into the room. You don’t have to ask who her daddy is; she’ll let you know. He’s done every hard night with her since she was placed in our care. I knew he’d be perfect for this job; he’s the kind of dad that sets the bar for the rest of them. I haven’t weathered the looks and the questions as well as he has. I’ve been more tentative; more guarded. I love her but I love her in a way that’s bracing for the day that this will all crush me. Every time we turn around, someone is asking if we want to keep her. They ask, nonchalant and curious, as though we’re test-driving a new car. She’s not a new car; she’s our daughter.
They ask, nonchalant and curious, as though we’re test-driving a new car. She’s not a new car; she’s our daughter.
Except, she’s not really our daughter. It’s hard to stay mad at the people asking these rude questions because we’re asking those terrible questions, too: Will she still be with us next month? In six months? Tomorrow? Nothing, not even a single day, is guaranteed. While I hope that they’d transition us gently if she's returned to her biological parents, I know that they can return her to them at any time. And in some cases, they’ve done it with no notice, not even a chance to say goodbye.
So the next time someone asks if she’s mine, I will answer politely that she’s our foster baby. While we move on to discussing the weather, she will look at you with mistrust. She’ll hold on to my collar a little tighter when you smile at her and try to get her to smile back, because she’s at the age where separation anxiety peaks, and the reason I know that is because I’m her mom.