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     It's been one year. One year to the day. I can remember it like it was last week; every word, every feeling, every gut-wrenching sob followed by a painful stillness in my heart, so still I half-wondered if it would simply stop beating. And in that moment, I had hoped that it would. Because nothing else seems important when your world begins to crash down on you, when the weight of shock and the heaviness of grief is so intense that it seems just possible enough to will your heart to cease beating.  It seemed surreal that just the day before we were so happy. Just the day before we were complete. All it took was one phone call to shatter our world and leave each one of us feeling broken and spent. One phone call.
     On July 19, 2013, we were happy. I had woken up early that morning to begin helping my friend finish up the final details of her wedding that was to take place the following day. We were packaging food, loading cars, and hustling around like a group of carpenter ants. Focused on the task at hand, it slipped my mind that we were going to find out "the news" any day now. It wasn't until I answered my phone that my heart began pumping double and rose straight to my throat.
     "Yes?", I answered, tentatively. It was Children and Youth Services. This was the moment we had been waiting for. Our caseworker's voice on the other end of the line was even and controlled, making it too hard to guess the answer that she was going to speak just seconds later. I wanted to scream at her to cut the small talk because it simply didn't matter. All that mattered was the answer. "Paternity was confirmed," she said. My furiously beating heart came to a crashing halt as I waited for her to continue. "And he's giving up his rights. Isaac is all yours!"
     It seemed like it took my mind an eternity to wrap itself around this information. This was it, then? No more testing father after father? No more permanency hearings? No more pleading with God that I would do anything if he would just let us keep our baby boy? This was it. "You're still on for Isaac's adoption in about 3 weeks!" Our caseworker continued to talk, carpenter ants around me continued to work, and I just stood there, phone to my ear, half-listening and half-aware of anything else. This was it. He's mine. He's ours. No more "Foster Son" titles and no more wondering if a father will turn up one day and demand we give him his boy. They found him... and he didn't want our baby. He was ours!
     I flashed back to the moment we first saw this sweet newborn at the hospital. He was smaller... gosh, was he smaller then! You don't think about how quickly they age until you watch one grow from scratch. Sure, we had his older brother and sister that we'd already adopted after learning that we weren't going to be able to have children of our own, but then again, they were 4- and 6-years-old when they came to us. Isaac was different. He was special somehow. From the second he was born he changed our family. It was utter chaos going from The Two of Us to The Five of Us in less than a year's time... in fact, we almost told CYS that it was too much and that we couldn't possibly take on a baby with two new children (and all of their behaviors) already in tow, especially not with only 3 days notice of the baby's arrival! But how couldn't we take him? After all, we already knew the family situation. Bio-mom: abused, addicted, prostitute, mentally ill, criminal history, multiple fathers for multiple kids, no known daddy for Baby Isaac. What would become of him if we turned him away? Would he ever know what a real family is like if we turned our backs? That was a risk we just couldn't take.
     It was nine long months of paternity tests from a list of 14 potential "baby daddies". Nine months that our little boy lived with us, grew with us, and taught us how to love unconditionally. From July 19th until July 25th, I was completely, unabashedly, overwhelmingly happy. It took one phone call to create joy. And it took one more to kill it.
     On July 25th, myself and the three kids were travelling across three states to go visit my folks. Husband had to work, so it was just Me and the Three. We had just pulled into a rest stop taking (yet another) potty break. I looked at the caller I.D. as my phone rang and I hurriedly answered, certain it was CYS calling to give us the details of the adoption date.
     "I'm afraid I have some bad news...", came the voice on the other end of the line. This time the voice was thin, as though it had been crying and was now putting on a professional facade. Once again, my heart leapt to my throat. Oh God, oh God, oh God.... it was as much of a prayer as my mind could formulate in that moment. "What? Just....what??," I asked with a tight throat. There was a pause before the thin voice continued. "He changed his mind."
     What?? How... Can he do that? When... what happened?? I couldn't form the questions quickly enough and I wanted to scream at this woman for not being able to read my mind and just give me all the information I was craving immediately! But as she continued, I started to feel dizzy. I was aware that two kids and a baby were sitting behind me in the backseat of the car, anxiously waiting to hear what was making me sound so shrill. But I couldn't answer questions. I couldn't form words that made sense because the entire situation didn't make sense. Why would this man change his mind? Why would he make us so happy, only to shatter our lives days later? He had never even seen Isaac. He hadn't changed a diaper, sat with him at the pediatrician's office, held him when he was miserable with colic, or rocked him until he finally gave in to sleep. As memories began to flood me and tears poured from my eyes, I realized that I needed an outlet, something to relieve the pressure that was building and threatening to consume me.
     So I screamed. I screamed. Passers by in the parking lot jumped and stared with open mouths. My kids covered their ears. The baby cried. And I screamed. I screamed because it wasn't fair. I screamed because I didn't want to believe it. I screamed because, in that moment, I hated everything. I screamed until there was no more breath to scream with.
     After talking to my husband and reliving the worst grief of my life, there was nothing left to do but to finish the journey that we had begun. It was a long, quiet ride. Even Isaac could sense the need for silence and blessedly gave in to heavy eyelids. We saw my family, we stayed for a few days, and then we drove back home. The house looked the same as when we had left it. I've always found that peculiar. When something so life-altering occurs, it's funny that the everyday things don't change. The house, the pets, work, the people around us.... nothing was different. And yet everything was different. Once the kids were asleep, it was time to process. Looking at each other with a tiredness that seemed to age us at least a good 10 years, my husband and I sat together and cried until we were empty.
     Looking back now, it's hard to believe that we were able to get up each day. It's even harder to believe that, in a month's time, I would be pregnant without even knowing it, carrying a child that I wasn't supposed to be able to have. I couldn't have imagined that Isaac's father, with as contemptuous as our relationship began, would want us to continue to take Isaac every weekend so that he could stay connected with his biological brother and sister, that he could stay connected to the family that he loves and that loves him. In the middle of that utter heart break, I never would've pictured myself going through 4 days of labor, finally birthing a little boy that no one could ever take away. I couldn't have imagined surpassing so many of the numerous behavior problems exhibited by our other children that only got worse in the months after Isaac was taken from us. It was a time that I thought our family had fallen apart, because my husband and I couldn't cope with such a great loss, with our kids' actions, with each other.
     But here we are, one year later. A family of 5 during the week, and a family of 6 on Saturday and Sunday. The two older kiddos gave their lives to Christ during this year. My husband got a new job that allows me to be at home with our newborn, who is beautiful and healthy. And I stopped hating. Somewhere along the way my heart began to heal, something that I simply wasn't sure was possible. My heart aches each Sunday evening when my now toddler is returned to his permanent home, but I allow myself a small window of tearful heartache before I force myself to count my blessings and say a prayer of gratitude to my God.
     It's been one year. One year to the day. And I'll always remember.

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