The Gift of "I Don't Know"

The moment I wake up, I pad down the stairs and stand in the nursery. Light floods in through the window over the crib. I glance at the Ganesha statues and elephants I’ve nestled in every possible corner in hopes of removing some of the unseen obstacles that no doubt lay before us.

I will become a mom in the coming weeks. Like most new mothers, I’m nesting and excited and scared. Though unlike most new moms, this baby is not with me now. I haven’t had headphones on my growing belly, sending early good vibes from Van Morrison. I haven’t felt any kicks. I haven’t seen any sure signs of there you are.

That’s because my husband, Matt, and I will be brand-new foster parents, and we’re currently waiting for the call. Every time the phone rings, my hand goes instinctively to my heart. This could be it. While all new parents have no idea who they will meet until their little being arrives, we are preparing to foster children who’ll come into our home for a week, a few months, a year, and hopefully even longer, eventually adopting a child—or children—who will become part of our family. And now, after holding more anticipation than I could’ve ever imagined, all we can do is wait.

Matt and I started the journey to becoming parents last year. When we didn’t conceive, we saw a fertility specialist who recommended intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). That appointment was immediately followed by another with a financial advisor, who threw a lot of (big) numbers at us. Because so much was still unknown—we hadn’t spent that much time trying to conceive, and I hadn’t seen any of the alternative practitioners my friends had recommended—the paths being presented to us didn’t feel quite right. So we left, got an ice cream cone, and tabled the baby conversation.

A few days later, Matt and I were on a walk when I asked him, “What do you think about adoption?”

He looked at me with big eyes and said, “I think it’s beautiful.”

“Yeah, me too,” I replied with a big smile. “Really beautiful.”

Fast forward a few weeks and we’d sought the advice of a student of mine, named Taylor, who is a foster-adoption lawyer. She’d been coming to my classes for years, always setting up her mat front and center. Life is like that, not letting you miss the important people who will change everything. After talking to Taylor, Matt and I met with a foster-adoption agency and made the big, scary, beautiful decision to become foster parents. With more than 34,000 children receiving services in Los Angeles, where we live, we thought surely a few of these kiddos were looking for us as much as we were looking for them.

In addition to the unknowns all parents face, we’re staring down a few more. We’re not sure how old our baby will be, and we won’t know the gender, race, or even what kind of prenatal care this baby’s birth mama received. We may foster a baby who is ultimately reunited with his or her birth parents; we hope to foster a child who we’ll ultimately adopt. We will ask questions and get some answers, and amid all of the uncertainty, what we know for sure is that this will be an education in trust. Trust that no matter what happens, we will be united with this child who we thought my body would carry and who our hearts have always wanted to hold.

Back in the nursery that morning, as I looked into the crib and wondered about the baby who’d soon lie in it, I silently repeated my new mantra—I don’t know—a phrase that’s offered me more hope and comfort than I’d ever imagined it could.

When we met with a social worker to talk about the foster system, she warned us, “You’ll fall in love, and you might get hurt.” Scary, to be sure, but isn’t this true of so many things in life? After all, so much of what’s worth doing is a messy path for the heart.

I’ve spent most of my life bracing myself for the impacts of those messes. These days, I’m choosing to dance with uncertainty.

Becoming a foster parent feels a bit like a free fall, and of course one part of me wants to engage with the countless worries and what-ifs. Yet more of me is tapping some well of wisdom I didn’t even know I had, and one day at a time—even one hour at a time—I’m simply putting one foot in front of the other, trying to make the next right choice. And with my eyes and heart wide open, I’m reveling in the I don’t know. 


This originally appeared in the March 2018 print edition of Yoga Journal.
 

DharmaTalk_mar_188.jpg
DharmaTalk_mar_18.jpg

In Gratitude

IMG_7098.jpg

Having my parents here to help me rock this very dynamic mama life.
Chillier weather so I can bundle up with baby boy.
London Fog lattes. Earl grey and a little vanilla in steamed almond or coconut milk.
Laugh crying to my best friend a few times a week. Our beautiful lives have a lot of poop in them.
Alicia Keys.
Rocking that wild curly hair.
And makeup free skin.
Those nights where I sleep next to baby boy and rock the bottle feeding.
And those nights when I sleep upstairs all by lonesome.
Making Rock Your Bliss playlists on Spotify.
Taking a notebook to Echo Park Lake to scribble thoughts and ideas and definitely worries.
The view of the mountains in the background when I'm driving around LA.
Being okay with messiness.
Being okay with being imperfect.
Being okay with just being okay some days and on top of the world the next.

MB-08.png

Part 3: On True Love + Uncertainty

0.jpeg

I've had the honor of being a mother to Baby A for the past five weeks. These weeks have been the most sleep deprived, deeply in love moments of my entire life.

A lot of our day is filled with normal baby and mama stuff. Filling bottles. Singing to him. Getting pooped on. Walking around the neighborhood trying to get him to fall asleep. Staring at him in wonder.

And then parts of our day are very different.

We see social workers. We receive court documents. We take him to get assessed. We fill out paperwork. We see more social workers.

I was in a store a few weeks ago and a few of the women asked me about my son. He was so small and I was so upright and slightly together. "Did you just give birth?" As we talked more I started to explain that my husband and I were foster parents and would someday adopt. Maybe Baby A, maybe not.

One of the women looked at me and asked "Should you get so attached?"

I was taken aback. The answer is an absolute yes. This is a tiny little boy with nowhere to go. I'm a thirty four-year-old woman with every ounce of support in the world. Family. Enough money. A job. Sobriety. White privilege. A yoga practice. A relationship with God.

Every day when I wake up I tell Baby A I'm going to do my best. And my best, surprisingly enough, has him sleeping soundly, relaxing in my arms, gaining lots of pudgy rolls around his belly and chin. My best is just what he needs and I'm so attached to him I'd give him anything he asked for.

A woman came by the other day to "assess him." She asked what my goal for Baby A was. 
What do you mean?, I asked.
Anything. Anytime. What's your goal for him?

My eyes filled up with tears. I want him to feel beyond safe, empowered, kind and know that he could do anything he wanted to with his life. I want him to help others.

God, I want that so much that my heart explodes when I picture it. 

But here's the kicker, my friends - Nothing is certain. We don't know if Baby A will be with us forever. We won’t know for some time. This is the nature of foster adoption. We have tidbits of information that we honor and take in but then go back to the job of loving him with all we have.

He is our family, for life. Whether or not I get to watch him take his first steps or sing in a school play or go to his first dance or receive his diploma. He is in our hearts forever.

There are souls that are meant for us and they make their way to us exactly as they are supposed to. This path chose us. It was written. I know that I sat in that fertility office and heard that news so that I would go home and make a call that would change me forever. There was a little soul that needed to make his way to us and that's Baby A. And I know there will be more souls that are coming our way. We are so fortunate to receive them.

We meet the people who will change us. Our partner, our best friend, someone who wrongs us and teaches us how to grow. And then there's these angels. Whether they make their way to us through the birth canal or a phone call or an adoption pairing. They are meant for us because they will change us. It doesn't matter how they get here. What matters is that we know them and through loving them we are forever transformed.

Nothing is guaranteed. It’s all impermanent. And that's so scary. Our mind doesn’t like that so we grasp and hold so tight and try to control. My future is uncertain and so is yours. I'm just living with it in front of my face every single day.

Little man, I have never ever known a love like this. You've given me a purpose as deep as the sea and as vast as the sky. I am cherishing every breath because of you.

Now all we can do is love and trust and lean into the present.

MB-08.png

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”

Pema Chodron

Part 2: Falling in Love


It's a few days before Christmas. Last Christmas Matt and I celebrated here in Los Angeles alone. We opened presents then went to see "Lion" at the AMC. The movie, about adoption, shook me to my core and I left the theater to splash water on my face. Twice.

Now here we are here. This little man, who had nowhere to go, will be home in our house. He's a beginner in this world and I'm a beginner in this role. I take my giant pinky around his tiny one and pinky swear him that I will do my best. My absolute best.

After demonstrating to the nurses that we could change a diaper, swaddle and load babe into a car seat we are given the green light to head home. With a seven day old baby. As we walked out of the hospital the nurse took our family photo and said she’d keep us in her prayers. I sit in the backseat next to Baby A’s car seat and begin doing what I’ll do for the next ten days.

I just stare at him.

His perfect gossamer eyelids and pouty pink lips and hairy forehead (yes, forehead) and tiny fingers and toes. I stare in wonder. 

What I'd pictured and imagined was a hodgepodge of other people's foster stories, other people's children. He is nothing like those stories or those photographs. He's right here, right on time. So many strings attached, nothing guaranteed. I'm all in.

My dad called a couple of days before he arrived. He told me he went to Catholic mass in Omaha to pray for us. And when the priest asked for who to pray for, he spoke up. For us. It's never been easy for us to speak in front of groups and when he told me he did, his voice shook. 
"I knew I needed to, MB."
So he did.

This child is so wanted, so loved, so celebrated.
From a stranger to a son within moments.
We are all connected.

In Gratitude

25075216_1973567572899014_1176465375582808068_o.jpg

For this moment in the park right before our journey to meet Baby A began.
Pema Chodron.
Matcha. Shreebs Coffee. Coconut black tea. All the caffeine, my friends. I need it.
Sade and Pandora.
Being such a beginner at this mama thing.
Meditation music and Nag Champa.
FaceTime. 
Messes. They aren't all bad.
Onesies. Both for Baby A and I.
Folk Rebellion's The Dispatch.
Chosen family. You know who you are and you've truly been there for us these past few weeks.

MB-08.png

Trust + Surrender

My husband leaned over at midnight and kissed me. I was asleep on the couch next to Baby A. Delirious with love and exhaustion.

These words came to me this morning as I woke up. I've been meditating on this poem for years and it feels absolutely perfect as we roll into 2018. Trust and surrender. The hardest and most rewarding work there ever was.

"You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. 

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy."

An excerpt from "Desiderata," by Max Ehrmann

MB-08.png

Part I: Meeting Baby A

25588133_1981141945474910_8570545949750719326_o.jpg

Last Tuesday I wrote the words:

Every morning I wake up and think: Today might be the day.

I closed my computer, hopped in my car and drove to teach. And two hours later, I got the call. Two hours later, my life changed forever.

The moment I saw the number on my screen, my heart leapt into my throat. I pulled my car over. I took a very deep breath and answered.

You ready for this?, she said.
I'm ready, I said.

Little boy, 7 days old. Ready to go home from the hospital now. Like right now.

I pictured so many scenarios. So many. All boys for some reason. Always toddlers. I even hung the soft ornaments on the bottom ring of the Christmas tree for that reason. But one I just did not picture was a helpless newborn baby boy. I did not picture walking into a hospital and leaving with a little boy.

A lot of things happened in those next few minutes.

I called my husband. He said, "Oh my God, it's him, isn't it?"
We called the social worker and said yes. 
I cancelled my private.
I took ten deep breaths.
I got on the 10 and drove home as calmly as possible.
We unboxed the car seat.
We got in the car.
We texted our families.
And we drove to the hospital.

We didn't know his name. We didn't know what he looked like. We knew about three whole sentences about this human we were about to meet, bring into our home and love like we had birthed him into existence ourselves.

It was a freefall into trust like we'd never known. You know that exercise where you'd fall backwards and someone would catch you? We were doing that but off the Grand Canyon and were unsure of who or what was at the bottom. For a moment I wondered, who will catch me but then I remembered: I'm here to catch him. I've been caught my whole life, comforted and supported. I'm here to catch him.

But even after all the classes we took, the books I've read, the foster and adoptive moms I've connected with, I was scared. Who would I be? Would I be good at this?

We pulled up to the hospital. Left the car seat there. Walked in. Okay, wrong building. Left that one, walked into the other one. Got a name tag. And started down the hall.

My entire body was vibrating. Anticipation, excitement, fear. Honestly, in retrospect it was already vibrating with love. Stepped up to the nursery door. A nurse waved us in. And then there he was.

Right there in the middle of the room in a clear bassinet. I could see him from the side, loads of dark brown hair and big brown eyes. My eyes welled with tears and I walked over to place my hand on his very tiny back.

There you are.
You are perfect.
I love you.


My entire body flooded with something I've never felt before. I recognized him instantly. I loved him even before I recognized him.

As I looked up at the nurse in tears I asked, "Where are the other babies?"
She shrugged, "With their moms, of course."

To be continued

MB-08.png

Blank Pages

dana-marin-152965.jpg

Every morning I wake up and think: Today might be the day.

Today marks one week. One week since we signed the papers, one week since I told the world, one week since I started watching my phone like a love stricken teenager.

We've met so many parents on this journey and they tell you their story.
"They called while we were in CPR."
"They called thirty minutes after we signed."
And others who said no to five or so calls before they said yes, waiting for what felt right.

I have every one of their stories in my head and my heart. Every single one I’ve been lucky enough to receive, to hear.  

We received a text from J, the head of adoptions yesterday. 
"You're next," said said. "Top of the list."

I wonder what our story will be. Together, on our own, with the birth parent. In so many endless ways I wonder what our story will be. I'm cultivating curiosity over fear, that little girl in me that always wanted to adopt now growing her family in ways she never would've imagined. 

Volumes and volumes of blank pages lie before us.

I know better than to think I have any control over what's happening. As though my clenched fists and jaws could hurry "fate." And though the moment this baby enters our home will be a beautiful moment for us it's a moment steeped in loss. There will be losses that have already occurred for birth mom and babe. There will be losses for us. We will do our best. 

Like that book my mom read to me as a child:
Are you my mother?

I don't know about forever but today or tomorrow or the next day I will wrap you up and keep you safe and wish all the blessings on you in the world.
A new chapter.
A part of one another's story.
A new story together.

MB-08.png