A little more than a year and a half after we began the adoption process, a baby girl was finally placed with my partner, Jennifer, and me. Kennedy—the name we’d chosen for the strength and idealism we hoped to instill in her—was born two months premature and drug addicted. Having been abandoned by her birthmother, she came to us straight from the hospital when she was five weeks old and a bit under five pounds.
Although it had always been our intention to adopt, and though we were assured that it was unlikely Kennedy’s birthfather would ever be located, our worst fears were realized when we were told, about four months later, that her birthfather had in fact been located and that, while his situation made him unable to care for her himself, he’d selected a family member to do so. In the eyes of the foster care system all of this meant success, but for us it meant an end to the family we’d become. And as much as I believe in the beauty of restoring families that have been torn apart by violence and drug abuse, I simply couldn’t get beyond the pain of what that meant for Jennifer and me.
The pain continued for quite some time. All told, fourteen months passed before Kennedy was taken from us. At several points we considered having her placed with some other family while she waited to be united with her aunt. In the end, though, the thought of more disruption in her life kept us hanging on.
During that time I lived in alternating states of denial, depression and rage. Jennifer did too. But the difference was that she also stayed in contact with Kennedy’s social worker to see that her case was being handled properly. She went to each of the baby’s early visits with her aunt to see that Kennedy wasn’t frightened. She cared for her tenderly during her late night feedings, colds, and bouts with teething, as any true mother—a mother for life—would. And when Kennedy began having longer, overnight visits, Jennifer did the heartbreaking work of handing her over to the social worker because I could not bear to. When the time finally came to pack up Kennedy’s things for her move, and to later store away the traces of the toddler we loved so much, it was Jennifer who took care of those responsibilities too.
Several years have since passed, and in that time, I’ve seen that how Jennifer handled Kennedy’s time with us has made all the difference in how I feel. I still mourn her loss and I regret my own weaknesses. But I’ve also come to feel comforted by all of the care that Jennifer took to see that she did everything for our little girl that she could. And in these intervening years, because of Jennifer, this is what I’ve come to believe: that moral courageousness is the finest thing to which we can aspire. Its absence—on the part of the social worker who couldn’t bear to speak to us and so sent an email to announce Kennedy’s departure date; on the part of friends and family who, not knowing what to say, said nothing; and most of all on my own part—is what nearly destroyed me. Its presence, however, as Jennifer did what was right instead of what was easy, is what finally saved me as much as I could be saved by someone else. At a time when I couldn’t be brave she was, and it’s made it easier to feel that, however, things ended up with Kennedy, her days with us were good ones. To try to repay that unrepayable peace that Jennifer has given me, I’m working now to learn moral courage…working, really, to save myself.
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