when love redeems.

We knew the call could come any day. We had gone through 15 months of foster parent training, background checks, home inspections, interviews, and references, and we knew that the only thing left was The Call.

When The Call came, our social worker told us the facts: that there was a newborn baby boy in the NICU, that he had been born prematurely to a mother who was unable to care for him, and that he needed parents to call his own. It was the news we had been waiting for, praying for, hoping for.

I was devastated. 

I was devastated to know that he was alone, and had been for the first two weeks of his life. I was devastated to know that he would never know his biological mother, or anyone that shared his DNA for that matter. I was devastated to know that this situation existed in the world, this situation of babies being born to mothers who cannot care for them. It is a broken situation, one that is so painful to comprehend that my heart shattered inside my chest at the thought of it. I was overcome with sorrow for him.

I texted a small circle of my closest friends: Social worker called. Baby boy in NICU. Meeting tomorrow. Send prayers/good vibes.   

Almost instantly, my phone buzzed in my hands. Lesley was calling. She was smart enough to be tentative in her approach, but I could sense that she was stunned when I instantly broke down into tears. I explained my sorrow to her in between heaving sobs, feeling more and more crushed under the weight of it all as I said the words out loud. 

“How does anyone recover from this?”

The question was so big that it seemed like it should be rhetorical, but I didn’t have that luxury. If I was going to be this child’s mother, I actually needed to know: Can someone recover from this? Is it recoverable, to be “given up,” to have no bloodline, to spend the first two weeks of life without a name?

Lesley listened patiently to all my tears, all my sorrows, my gigantic and unanswerable questions. And then she spoke the singular word that was the only truth that mattered: Redemption. She reminded me how powerful love is, how it can take the broken and make it whole, how it can take the lost and make it found. More than found, it can bring it home.

Lesley knew about redemption. Four months prior to that phone call she had been sitting next to her husband as he received his last chemotherapy treatment while I babysat their daughter, who was just 3 months old when they got the diagnosis. Lesley knew about life-changing phone calls and crushing sorrow. She knew about worst-case-scenarios and how they can rob you blind if you give them the power to do so. And she knew about redemption. She knew about hope, and healing, and how love creates a family – an army, really – that is capable of making all things new again.

I clung to her words. I was desperate for hope. I felt blind and claustrophobic inside a room where the power lines had just been cut, and all of the sudden she had a flashlight. She pointed it at all the love in my life, the love that was so abundant that it had led us here in the first place. She refused to let me lose sight of that love.

My phone rang again. This time is was Anna, whose one year old son had come to her through the foster system too. My weeping didn’t stun Anna - she understood the blinding pain, she had stood in the same dark room, groping for answers. She reminded me about how exactly nine months earlier I had called her and told her I was feeling depressed, that I couldn’t shake the heaviness of The Call that we were waiting for. She pointed out that that’s exactly when this baby boy was knit together in his biological mother’s womb. “He was never alone,” she told me, “he was always in your heart. You were always with him.” Where Lesley had shone a light on redemption and hope, Anna illuminated a miracle. 

I rubbed my eyes and I saw it. I believed them. I believed that redemption was possible, even for this baby born into such broken circumstances. Even for me, who would be his mother though I was a stranger. I was terrified, but I wasn’t in the dark anymore.

And when I met that baby the next day, when I looked into his tiny face and I knew that he was my child and I was his mother, we were both redeemed. Because that’s what love does.

Written by Anna Quinlan. Photo by N'tima Preusser