Fostering an infant after losing your own can be tremendously healing. But it can also be unwise. Maybe you’ve never considered this option. Or maybe you’ve thought about it but question if it is right for your family at this time. So many factors go into this delicate situation that there is no clear-cut answer to the question, “Should I foster an infant after my baby died?”
Here are some tips, based on our experience, for deciding if this avenue is right for your family or not.
From Our Experience
Why am I writing about this?
My husband and I have buried both our babies. Both times, we accepted the foster placement of an infant in our home shortly afterward. Many people rejoiced with us. Others questioned whether this was a wise choice in the midst of our grief. While overall, this has been a good experience for us, it did bring a mixed bag of emotions. Here I share an honest look at what my husband and I have experienced–both the selfish and the selfless parts.
Consider these realities, both positive and negative, before deciding whether or not to foster an infant after experiencing infant loss. Each can be positive or negative for you AND the foster baby, depending on your motives, your mental state, and your stage in the grieving process.
Fostering an Infant after Losing Your Baby:
Provides outlet for pent-up love
Does not replace baby that died
Ministers good to one in need
Eases social interaction
Steals needed grieving time
Positions you for additional loss
Positions you for possible gain
Keep reading for additional depth on each of these realities.
Provides Outlet for Pent-Up Love
After our son Josiah was born and died a day and a half later, I found myself bursting with this maternal love that had been growing for 9 months in preparation for motherhood. I had no baby to hold, no baby to nurse, no baby to cuddle and kiss. I had only empty arms…and leaking breasts bulging with wasted milk.
Kind of like the build-up of frustrations and disappointments that lead to an aching throat and tears threatening to spill over at the tiniest provocation, so I had this store of love looking for an outlet.
Yes, we needed time to grieve. Our family (my husband and I plus our then-3-year-old foster daughter) needed time to renew routines, gel as a family, and comfort one another. And yes, after a C-section, my body needed time to heal. But then we started feeling we were ready. We were ready to pour into another living being. I don’t remember at what point we told our foster agency we were ready to open again (willing to take placements), but a little over two months after Josiah was born, we said “yes” to Baby B.
Baby B proved to be the best thing that happened to us that year, as I’ll discuss more in a bit.
Similarly, after our daughter Portia was stillborn, I again had this bursting of pent-up love. In fact, because of our peaceful home birth experience—or because she was a girl, who knows—I had a deeper sense of connection than I had with Josiah, whose birth was shrouded with emotional numbness. So I really felt the lack of a baby to pour into with my love.
Baby G did provide us with an outlet for our love, though this experience was a little mixed, as I will also talk about in a later section.
Does Not Replace Baby That Died
Shortly after both our losses, we sought and accepted placements of foster infants in our home. In both cases, we were very much aware of the danger of subconsciously “replacing” our dead babies.
Yes, we now had a baby to hold and cuddle and care for. Yes, we could feel a little more normal going out in public after a pregnancy. But in holding a new baby, we never forgot our own. Both Matt and I found we could snuggle—and love intensely—the foster baby in our arms, while at the same time deeply grieving the babies we lost. These foster babies were no replacement. They were simply allowing us the opportunity to parent that we otherwise would not have had.
We found place in our hearts for ALL our babies, biological and foster, dead and alive, temporarily or permanently ours.
We fondly remember our time with Baby B. He was the happiest baby we ever knew! His wide-open smile threw open the shutters in my heart, pouring in the sunshine. Every. Single. Time. And his laugh??? That brought such joy into our lives. Even though he only stayed a year, Baby B already served a tremendous purpose in bringing immense healing to our hurting hearts.
We will forever be grateful for God’s gift of healing to us through Baby B’s presence in our in our home.
There’s nothing like baby snuggles when you’re sad or worried or hurting.
I found that after the pain of losing Portia, I just couldn’t kiss Baby G enough. Every day. Every time I held him. His soft little head on my shoulder brought profound comfort.
There’s just something about hugging a baby.Matt Bogard
While baby snuggles do amazing wonders for a hurting heart, they can also trigger the grief of that same hurting heart.
When Baby G came into our home, I was not prepared for my reaction to his tiny, premature frame that slumped into a tight ball on my shoulder just like my 3 pound 14 ounce Portia had done just months before.
Until he grew in strength and put some fat on his bones, this foster baby was a daily reminder of the precious daughter I had held for far too short a time.
More than once I shed bitter tears while simultaneously cradling and kissing this precious new baby in my arms.
Even when the foster baby bears no physical resemblance to the baby you have lost, there is the constant awareness of how unfair life is. While enjoying the cuteness of this baby you get to hold, you wonder how so many mothers controlled by substance abuse can be blessed with such beautiful, healthy babies, while you yourself—a good person with a healthy lifestyle—could be cursed with babies whose deformities prevented them from living.
Note: these triggers are not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on your mental and emotional state, and how well you process this grief. The main thing is to be aware that this may be part of your experience with fostering an infant after burying a child.
Ministers Good to One in Need
Fostering an infant after losing your own is not all about the benefit to the grieving parents. Foster care is a ministry. It is doing good in a child’s life.
Grieving the child I lost can give me extra compassion when taking care of a child who lost his mother, whether temporarily or forever. No matter the reason (or the validity of that reason) for removing an infant from his or her birth family, that child needs love. That child needs security and human touch and routine and structure and stimulation to develop normally. That child needs to learn to attach—even if that child may eventually move back with his birth family or be adopted by yet another family.
Laying down your own grief to provide for a child who needs good parents—no matter how temporary—is a good ministry.
Eases Social Interaction
When you’ve lost an infant, you find yourself surrounded by a constant barrage of reminders of what you’ve lost. These triggers can bring forth instant tears, arouse envy, spark anger, and a host of other uncomfortable emotions, even when they’re coming from people you love.
While awaiting the birth of our babies who would not live, and after burying them both, I was surrounded by people who unknowingly added to my suffering: The pregnant mother in the school pick-up line talking about her due date. The woman in church who walked in front of me with her newborn. Family members announcing their expected baby. A friend rejoicing on social media about her rainbow baby, when I will never get a rainbow baby. All of these good and normal parts of life can be painful.
Though we didn’t take in our first foster infant in order to take away our pain, that was one of the results. Suddenly, instead of feeling like the bereaved outsider who struggled with grief at church and in other public places, I felt like “one of them.” I was a mother taking care of my baby, just like all the other mothers taking care of their babies. People could now rejoice with me instead of pitying me. My foster baby helped me feel normal and accepted.
Babies require attention. Lots of it. This attention to another’s needs can both be a distraction from your own grief and a renewal of purpose. I had just spent 9 months preparing to parent a child who no longer needed my care. Caring for an helpless infant provides a reason to get out of bed in the morning (and maybe several times throughout the night, too).
Caring for an infant requires a giving of yourself. If all other motivation in life is lost for now, one purpose can be to pour into this baby who needs you now.
Steals Needed Grieving Time
On the other hand, taking a foster infant too soon after losing your baby can rob you of essential time for grieving. Mourning that we put on hold until we have time never really comes. While a little distraction from grief can be helpful in moving forward, it is not healthy to repress your grief and not allow yourself the chance to work through it in a healthy way.
Babies are work. Make sure you are physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to take on this tremendous responsibility. Make sure you have taken care of yourself first, and that you can continue to take care of yourself.
Positions You for Additional Loss
Uncertainty is the nature of foster care. We have learned to never count on anything until it is final.
In taking any foster child—including an infant—know that no matter what they tell you, this child may not get to stay with you forever.
The judge may determine the birth parents have shown enough improvement to have their children back again. A grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other relative may be discovered who is deemed safe—and in the system, preferable to a foster parent. Or in some states, perhaps the foster families don’t get to adopt, and must give up the child to a different adoptive family.
We knew when taking Baby B that he was only coming to our home temporarily. We expected him to stay days or weeks, not nearly a year. Expectations make a difference in processing loss. Though Baby B brought such joy and we ached to keep him forever, we knew he was going to a safe home. There was loss, but it was mitigated by our knowledge from the start that he was not ours to keep.
Other times, this is not the case. Foster children may be suddenly moved to another home, or returned to parents whose character ability to parent is questionable. There is grief in saying goodbye to a foster child, as Rachel Lewis explains in her story. No matter the intensity of the loss, it is wise to prepare for it.
Positions You for Possible Gain
On the flip side, there is also the real possibility that you will be asked to consider adopting the infant you have taken into your home. This may be the goal from the start, in cases where birth parents’ rights are already terminated, or it may be determined months (or unfortunately years) down the road that the biological parents are not willing to improve. In this case, you have the wonderful opportunity to welcome another child into your family forever!
For this reason, we are so glad we said yes to Baby G, even though we were still early in our grieving process. We now get to count him our son forever!
Is Fostering an Infant Right for Us?
If fostering an infant is something you’ve never considered before, or you’ve pondered it but weren’t sure it was right for you, here are some helpful questions to think through and discuss with your spouse:
1. Do you want to care for another baby—one other than the one you lost?
If yes, absolutely pursue it! As you do, take into consideration the following questions.
If not, feel no guilt! Fostering, especially after suffering a great loss, is not for everyone.
Only pursue fostering an infant if you truly desire to do so.
2. Are you and your spouse on the same page about this?
If yes, pursue discussion, research, and prayer.
If not, wait until a later time to revisit fostering, or find another healing activity or ministry you can both feel good about.
3. Have you and your family given yourselves time to fully grieve?
If yes, continue as soon as you feel ready.
If not, don’t rush. Decide on grieving tasks you need to make room for. Identify what you need to do—or stop doing—to allow you to fully enter into your grief while it is fresh. Decide what signs will let you know you are ready to take in another baby.
When is the right time? How long should I wait?
There is no right answer to this. Akin to a couple deciding when they are ready to “try again” after a miscarriage, this is as individual as each family and situation.
It could be a number or weeks or months. It could be a feeling. It could be an action or event (after we go on vacation or after we take a weekend getaway as a couple.) Again, both spouses should be on the same page, and not rush or guilt the other for their unique desires and needs.
4. Are you and your spouse mentally and emotionally stable?
If yes, continue without reservation! Parenting is its own challenge. Foster parenting brings additional stressors, so make sure you are ready to handle those.
If not, consult with a therapist (and foster agency) about recommended next steps to get you on track.
5. Are you already licensed in your state to provide foster care?
If yes, simply notify your agency when you are ready to begin accepting placements, and what parameters (age range, gender, etc.) you are willing to take at that time.
If not, talk other foster parents and/or inquire with your local agency about the requirements and the process. Though it varies from state to state, it is typically a long, arduous process, with mountains of paperwork to fill out, personal histories to write, trainings to attend, and fingerprint results to await.
This will likely take months (we took close to a year) as the fostering classes may last 8 weeks, fingerprint results may have a 10-week turnaround, and paperwork takes as long as you allow).
After a loss, you may or may not be ready to add this stress to your life. But if you are, you may well be past your initial, intense stage of grieving by the time you are licensed.
Other Important Questions to Consider
- What are your motives?
Accepting foster children into your home should never be about what they can do for you. The focus is on caring for them. While I discussed many benefits we experienced, these cannot be the sole purpose for fostering. But if it is good for you and your family, that is an extra benefit.
2. Do you need a baby to help you feel better? Or do you want to pour into a baby who needs you?
It is unhealthy to place on a child the pressure of making the parent happy. The child needs you to provide for him or her.
So, should I foster an infant after losing my baby?
Maybe. It depends.
There is a very good chance this could be a good thing. When the baby you carried in your womb no longer needs you, there may be other babies who need you now.
But there are also cautions to consider:
Motives. Mental state. Stage in the grieving process.
Give careful thought. Seek the counsel of others. And most importantly, pray and seek God’s direction, as a family, so you are all in agreement and can joyfully enter into caring for a little life, if this is what you are led to do.
It can be an exceptional experience, as your family and the foster baby bring blessings to each other!