The Invisible String of Foster Care
The call from the social worker came when it usually does, which is to say at a completely random day and time. There was a baby boy getting ready to be discharged from the hospital, but his birth parents were unable to care for him. Would my husband and I be willing to foster him? Yes, we said, almost on impulse.
Yes. Such a small word with such a big impact.
On my way to pick up the baby, I listened to Taylor Swift’s Invisible String:
“Isn’t it just so pretty to think
All along there was some
Tying you to me?” 1
The minute I laid eyes on our new foster son—all 5 pounds of him, wrinkled and yawning—I believed those lyrics wholeheartedly.
My boys take an immediate liking to the baby, and my 3-year-old especially believes it is his personal duty to “help” with every feeding. We’re sitting on the couch giving the baby a bottle together when my son looks up and asks, in that candid way that toddlers have, “Where’s his mom?”
“I don’t know where she is,” I answer truthfully. “I just know she isn’t able to take care of her baby right now.”
“Why?” He immediately counters. A fair question. I think about my answer before responding.
“Because she’s sick,” I tell him finally. This, to me, seems like the simplest way to explain drug addiction to a 3-year-old.
I feel a sudden burst of compassion for my foster child’s mother. The one who gave birth and then, with hormones raging and breasts leaking, was told to say goodbye to her son. In another set of life circumstances, it could have been me. It could have been any of us.
The baby drains the last drops of formula from the bottle and I cuddle him a little longer, resolving to try and give him all the love his birth mother isn’t able to.
When I go forward to receive the Eucharist on Sunday mornings, I carry our foster baby in my arms so he can receive a blessing. The priest bends to make the sign of the cross on his forehead, speaks his name aloud, and says quietly, “I pray that you would know, every day of your life, how loved you are by Jesus.”
The phrase “every day of your life” sends a sharp arrow through my heart. Will I be there every day of this child’s life, or am I a blip on the radar? A temporary mother passing through, a set of arms when no other was available? Nearly every Sunday I blink back tears at these words, yet I find myself praying them alongside the priest—that this child would know, every day of his life, how loved he is. Whether I am the one to remind him of that or not.
We walk back to our pew after communion and I let the bitter taste of wine linger on my tongue—a tangible reminder of the redemption wrought through suffering.
A friend reminded me recently that the Eucharist is a physical way to experience the presence of Christ even when we don’t feel it. Another string in the web of faith, if you will, drawing us closer to him. And so each Sunday I receive communion, willing myself to walk this path of faith in the unseen. And each day I care for our precious foster child, willing myself to walk this path of love and suffering, even when I want to run in the opposite direction.
I am feeding the baby on the couch when our social worker’s name pops up on my phone. “Do you have time for a quick phone call?” She texts. I call her right away, mind and body on high alert for what’s coming next.
She tells me they’ve found an aunt and uncle on the baby’s father’s side who are willing to care for him. He will be leaving us in four days. I immediately dissolve into tears, though I know this is the intended goal of foster care—reunification with family. The flip side, of course, is that it also means a jagged fracture in my own family.
My older boys come over to the couch and ask why I’m crying, but I struggle to find the right words to explain it to them. My two-year-old hands me his favorite Mickey Mouse figurine and says gently, “Here mom, you can play with my toy.” It is the innocence of children that seems to both break and save me these days.
That night I wash and fold the baby’s 6 month outfits, the ones I will never see him wear. I try to genuinely be happy that he will be with his aunt and uncle, growing up among cousins. Internally I say a halfhearted prayer as I fold the sailboat onesie I had bought for our upcoming beach trip that he will no longer be going on. I wonder if the threads that bind us will hold, or if this is their breaking point.
The night before our foster baby leaves, a few women from church come to our house to pray over him. We sit huddled in the living room, hands outstretched, the baby sleeping peacefully in my arms. They pray that Jesus would go before this child and be in every space, that any trauma would be healed, that he would grow up with a spirit of gentleness despite it all. Tears roll down my cheeks as I sense the invisible strings tightening around us all, forming a web of connection in that mystical way that prayer has.
I wonder if perhaps the biblical version of Taylor Swift’s Invisible String is this—“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
The world wants us to believe we are all separate individuals, completely self-sufficient in our own little kingdoms. But foster care, more than anything, has taught me the truth—there is only one body, and each part is an integral piece of the whole. All of our mundane, magical lives are intertwined in ways we can only begin to imagine.
We are forever connected, this child and I. As his first mother outside of the womb, I made an indelible mark upon him, just as he made one upon me. And though I will never understand all the mysteries of our shared humanity, I have experienced the invisible strings that hold us together—through love, through suffering, and most paradoxically of all, through the suffering that is transmuted into love by the grace of our God.
Megan lives in North Carolina with her husband and two sons, one of whom came to them through foster care. She often writes completed tasks on her to-do list just so she can check them off. She believes some of God’s greatest gifts are family, sunshine, and dark chocolate. You can find her writing sporadically on her Substack, A Continual Feast.
This week’s sponsor of Mothering Spirit is Be A Heart Design, a modern Christian lifestyle brand that creates beautiful products to help both adults and children grow in faith. Be sure to check out their Holiday 2023 collection which includes a new Gloria Design of their beautiful pajamas and a women’s sizing option!