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. 
 

MB-08.png
DharmaTalk_mar_188.jpg


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

Refuge

IMG_3320.JPG

Last night I was sitting on the couch with Baby A in my lap, resting on my thighs, watching the fan as usual. I'm watching some British show on Netflix and am absolutely engrossed. After a few minutes I hear a little chuckle and look down and he's smiling at me. Not just a small smile, but an all out toothless grin. I smile back, so big that I have tears in my eyes, and we start to laugh. Laughing so hard together I now have tears streaming down my face and his two dimples are as deep as they can possibly be.

These are the moments when my entire being says, "This is it! Pay attention."
And I do. I studied his big brown eyes and his giant smile and the way his tiny hand holds my thumb for dear life. I I had rationalized these moments in my training at the foster adoption agency. 
"You'll fall in love. You're supposed to."
But no one prepared me for this steep slide straight into unconditional love.

So how do I do this? With all the unknowing? 
I breathe in, I breathe out. I step forward. Then I step forward again.
And I'm wrapping myself up in unconditional love and soulfulness and reminders that it's okay for this to be hard and scary and all the things. That I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to.

I've given myself permission to get off of the rollercoaster of constant calls and updates from social workers and lawyers. Off the rollercoaster of wondering if this is forever. I remind myself of right now. Again. And again. And again.

I'm calling on every practice and every lesson I've ever learned. From books and teachers and heartbreak and stumbling and sobriety and meditation and all the fucking up. And all the opening up.

Right now, in the present moment, is where it's easy. It's where the breath is. It's where I can touch the refuge of my own heartbeat.

"I am a lover of what is not because I'm a spiritual person but because it hurts to argue with reality. No thinking in the world can change it. What is is. Everything I need is already here. How do I know I don't need it? I don't have it. So everything I need is supplied."  - Byron Katie

I have all I need. You do too.

MB-08.png

Right Now It's Like This

IMG_2022.jpg

I haven't written for awhile because honestly it's hard to. Never in my life have I felt things so deeply and it feels imperative to simply put one foot in the front of the other. To pause and feel but then back to the shuffling of the feet.

It's been nine weeks since we met Baby Boy. Nine weeks since I started walking around with my heart outside of my body. Nine weeks since I meditated when I woke up. Nine weeks since I became a mama.

As I've said before a lot of our days are filled with normal mother things - watching him smile, doing four loads of laundry, Googling "Is this normal?", walking around the lake with him tethered to my chest. We were moving forward. We were continually getting good news. We were watching him thrive and witnessing our hearts growing six times the size.

We had a court hearing coming up but nothing had really occurred so we knew it would be more of the same. Then I got a phone call and that changed.

Though I'm not divulging the details here or in person, I talked to a social worker who said: If court goes this certain way, he could leave that evening.

I pretended to understand and whispered "Oh my God" after I thought I'd hung up. (I hadn't but she pretended not to hear.)

This phone call also happened to coincide with his first day, two hours really, of daycare so I was already feeling "normal" mama feelings and then this.

My husband was on a work call so I went and sat in the yoga room. I tried to feel my butt on the ground, to witness the tears streaming down my face, to keep breathing in and out. I knew this could happen, it's part of foster care, the nature of what we are doing. But just out of the blue? That I wasn't prepared for. (And now I'm not sure you can really prepare yourself for any of this.)

I calmed down as much as I could manage. I talked to Matt who wrapped me up in his arms and said "We will be okay" but his voice was shaky. I talked to my mom and Jacki. I called our FFA social worker. I made an altar. I prayed. I read about loss. I talked to foster moms. I ate the popcorn my friends brought me. 

I recalled what one of my friends who is a Buddhist meditation teacher would often say:
Right now it's like this.

This is the circumstance. These are the feelings. THIS right here is love. This is our reality and it only hurts more if we struggle and flail against it.

The day before court I picked up little man from daycare, a big smile plastered on his face. I wrapped him in the papoose and walked around Echo Park Lake with Rosy. I felt his little body against my heart and I thought, "If this is the last day I spend with you, I am so grateful for every single second."

And this past Thursday I sat on a hardbacked blue chair for eight hours, reading my Pema Chodron book and holding a crystal so tight in my palm I thought I might bleed. I reminded myself that I was here now, in this space, and this fear was normal. That no matter what happened in that court room, however painful, I would be okay. Baby Boy would be okay, even if my idea how his life could be was so different from reality. That Matt would be okay.

I took deep breath after deep breath and shuffled my feet to the cafeteria for lunch. Matt walked in right before the hearing began (you never know what time they will be so you have to be there all day) and we held hands as we sat in the back.

And for today, Baby Boy is home safe with us.

Exhale.

My husband and I sat on the couch that evening watching him sleep. He looked at me and said "I would do this a million times over to feel what I feel in my heart. We are alive."

It's so true. I've spent so many years trying to numb feelings and doubt and worries and a God-shaped hole but I am now truly the opposite of numb. So present, so alive, so on the line. Not at all sitting on the sidelines of my life but in the very middle of the arena.

My friends, everything is in flux, everything will change. But I'll tell you what, I look at this little boy with the biggest, wonder-filled eyes every single day. That walk around the park is how I want to live out all of my days. As though it's our last and so fucking grateful when it isn't.

I believe with my whole heart in what we are doing and I know that sense of purpose will buoy us forward. Hand in hand. Because no one can do this alone.

MB-08.png

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”
- Pema Chodron

Part 4: We Pray

Sometimes when Baby A goes to sleep I sit on the couch on my phone and stare at photographs of him. See how much he has changed. His tiny fingers always gripped around mine. His eyes lit up from the inside.

Sometimes when I run errands with him I get congratulated. "Congrats on your new baby. Will change your whole life."

Sometimes I wonder how I could've possibly thought that this path would simply be “challenging.”

My friend Goldie told me the other night that she was talking to her husband about what we were doing, fostering and dealing with uncertainty and all the things. Her husband said "Well they must have their guards up." And Goldie said, "That's the thing. They don't."

My guard is so far gone I wouldn't even know what to do with it. I left it in the car before I walked into that hospital to meet Baby A and my heart as I knew it was blown to bits. Stretched, over stretched, transformed, forever altered.  I'd like to build the Great Wall around all three of us and our hearts, untouchable by social workers and judges and stuffy court waiting rooms. But that's the thing. I can't do anything at all except love him and let him go when I'm told I have to.

I haven't written much about foster care as of late or about Baby A because it's been so damn painful. When we met him almost six months ago, we were told that it was likely we would be able to adopt him. I can't give details of his case, nor would I, but we had the full support of everyone around us - social workers, doctors, most certainly our family and friends. And then it changed. 

We knew this was a possibility. We knew we might fall in love and get our hearts broken. I've written about it, I've sat in classes about it, I've talked to other foster parents about it. But I had never felt it.

It is so beyond painful.

Since it changed we have had ten court hearings. We are told almost twice a month that this could be the moment he leaves and do we have his things ready? 

How do you plan your week when you know you might be saying goodbye to one of the loves of your life? How do you return phone calls? How do you try to update people and keep them in the "loop"? I'm living in it and I don't know the answers to this.

A couple of weeks ago we were sure he was leaving. It was out of nowhere and my husband had a work trip that day. I awoke at 4 am to see him dressed to go to the airport, his suitcase by his side. He leaned over to Baby A, who was sleeping next to me, and just said “Thank you” over and over again, tears rolling down his cheeks. When Baby A and I awoke we did all of our favorite things - took a lavender bubble bath together, strolled around Echo Park Lake with Rosy, sang songs, read books, stared at the fan, stared at each other.

Then he stayed. 

My husband wraps me in a bear hug at least once a day and tells me how in awe he is of me, how he would do this over and over again for the experience we have had with him, with each other. I cry, sometimes I sob and heave, but I feel it all.

What I do know is this - we are told our time with Baby A is coming to an end and we are cherishing every single moment. A couple of weeks could turn into longer, as we've found nothing is ever certain in foster care. We now pray every single day for his safety, his future, his giant heart housed in a tiny body. We pray for his family. We pray for his father to have the strength and the patience to love him like we do.

And we remember this - we saved this little boy's life and he, in turn, saved ours. We will not for one single moment be the same and we will carry him with us. Always.

He has taught me something else that’s very important. To truly treasure every moment you can together as if it’s your last. Not a Hallmark card platitude but to truly live it. To pay more attention, To open your heart as it will go. My relationship with him isn’t the only one that has deepened. My relationship with life has. How differently do we live if we are saying goodbye? Our relationship to oursleves, to one another, changes. There’s a sense of reverence. Of honoring the fragility and resilience of all things. Of bowing and knowing we don’t know a damn thing. I am humbled by the uncertainty and forever changed because of it.

We are not done. This story is by no means finished. We are Baby A’s parents forever in our hearts and we will give him every ounce of while we can. And there are children who need us to love them and there are our hearts that will continue to grow and expand and defy all of our odds.

I pray. And I cry.

But deep down I do trust. 

MB-08.png
IMG_5866.JPG

Part 3: On True Love + Uncertainty

0.jpeg

I've had the honor of being a mother to Baby Boy 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 Boy, 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 Boy 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 Boy 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 Boy 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 Boy.

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

Trust + Surrender

My husband leaned over at midnight and kissed me. I was asleep on the couch next to Baby Boy. 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 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 Boy’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.

Part I: Meeting Baby Boy

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