T+T Storytellers: Journey

Trigger Warning - this article discusses foster care and adoption.  All views expressed are from the author's perspective.

This month, we are honoured to feature an essay by T+T Storyteller Ashleigh McGill, who shares a story which weaves together sewing and her family's journey with fostering and adoption.  

Through joy and anxiety, unknown and waiting, Ashleigh stitched love and intention into handmade items to wrap her precious baby in love.  

My family is a foster family.  Or we were, until recently.  Now we're an adoptive family and have closed our foster care license so that my wife and I can best raise and guide the four little people to whom we belong.  

I've never felt like a person who knew exactly what her family would look like, or exactly how many children I wanted.  My wife and I each gave birth to our two eldest children, and it felt that our family wasn't yet whole.  Individually, we had been touched by foster care and adoption prior to meeting one another, and we'd been licensed foster parents before our eldest children were born.  We knew it was time to become licensed again, and help be a safe and loving place for children to land in the foster care system.  If a child in our home was unable to return to their birth parents, we would adopt and add this child to our forever family.  

As it happened, we were matched with 11-month-old J during our licensing process.  His birth parents' rights had been severed and his current home could not adopt him but wanted to remain a part of his life.  We finalized his adoption in 2021.  

Five months after J's adoption, we agreed to accept a newborn infant, right out of the hospital.  It was a difficult decision to make, since J had only just turned 2 years old, and we were settling into life as a family of five.  However, we still held our license and had an available crib.  We knew there were two newborns who had come into the system that day and who had nowhere to go.  They were being cared for in the offices of our local Department of Child Services, and my heart was shattered at the thought of these precious newborns with no family to celebrate their birth and homecoming. 

I thought about our own cherished newborns and how much love and devotion they were born into.  I thought about how the mothers of these infants must feel, knowing they couldn't take their own children home, wondering who was caring for them and if they were okay.  My wife and I discussed it for hours that evening, unable to let go of the thought of those babies.  

We knew we couldn't turn our backs.  We knew it would be hard for us, hard on our kids.  But we stepped forward together in hope and love and we called our agency and told them to bring us a baby.  

Baby F arrived in the middle of the night, in a black plastic car seat that was sloppily stencilled with the letters "DCS" in yellow across the base.  The worker handed us a plastic bag of things the baby had from the hospital, I signed a single form, then the worker took the car seat and disappeared back into the darkness of that September night.  We didn't yet know it, but our fourth child had come home.  

The early days of a new foster placement are a whirlwind of professionals asking questions I didn't have the answers to. 

At the center of all the questions was the most perfect little person.  The sum of things we didn't know about him, his future, his case, our future - it was massive.  But the unknown only brought anxiety.  That doesn't serve anyone and felt unhealthy.  I decided to focus on what I did know.  The babe in my arms felt certain.  His warmth and weight were real and immediate.  I loved him already.  I decided to make all my steps forward be on a path of devotion to his wellbeing and wholeness.  

I knew that I wanted to love and support his mother.  Regardless of the mistakes she made, she was the person who created him, and she would always be a part of him.  It cost us nothing to tell her honestly that we believed in her, and we wanted her to be able to be with her son.  To care for her as a person and encourage her good work.

Despite having an infant and three older children, my creativity requires an outlet.  It may not be a very large amount of time, but I am my own best self when I have the chance to sew, embroider, or paint.  I poured myself into creating things for this child that would surround him in my love, even when we were not together.

First, a leaf blanket.  A soft place for him to land, and lay, and explore the world while nestled safely in love.

Next, his very own embroidered Wayfarers.  Soft comfort to warm his tiny toes.  As I stitched the bee and honeycomb, I focused my thoughts on my love and adoration of him.  His safety, his knowledge of his own story.  Like the bee, I hoped he would explore the world and find beauty and sustenance, but also always have his colony to come home to.

Then, an Evergreen Bonnet to caress his cheeks.  Bunny ears for whimsy, and a joyful bouncing rabbit to remind him to play and find joy wherever possible.

A Petal Tunic to match the bonnet.  I love that the Petal literally is a hug in the form of a shirt - each side wrapping around his small body to provide comfort and encouragement.  And always, pockets.

These things may seem small to some.  “Ah yes, Ashleigh is up to yet more sewing!” they might say.  Some wondered why I’d spend my precious free moments creating things for a foster child.  “What if he goes home to his mother and she throws them away!  Wouldn’t that be devastating?”

The garments and embroidery mean something to me, yes.  But it’s bigger than the physical items.  The most important gift we give to all our children is intangible. 

Our love cannot be quantified, touched, held tenderly in the palm of a hand.  It cannot be bestowed with conditions to be fulfilled, like a contract.  It is infused, from my soul to his.  It is given freely, without expectation. 

And it is vitally important, especially to an infant who was taken from the person who he grew from.  If he were to go home to her, and the items were too painful for her to bear to keep, then that would be irrelevant to me.  The time I spent stitching tiny details into bees and rabbits and leaves has passed.  The thoughts I contemplated while I sewed and pressed and sewed some more are already out there. 

There is no time wasted that is spent in love.  I made my choice and what happens to the things I made now is not nearly as important as the fact that I made them for him, with devotion to his best life possible. Nothing could take that from him.

After I made Baby F’s Petal and his Evergreen, the judge severed his mother’s rights to be his parent.  It was a day of grieving, for the loss they both will process for the rest of their lives.  But it was also a day of wonder and relief, knowing that selfishly, I would get to help raise and guide him for the rest of his life.  I would know that he is safe and loved and supported.

My wife and I thought for a long time about how to include her in F’s life.  We fully believe in the importance of honesty and maintaining a relationship, but it isn’t simple when his first mother has been deemed inappropriate to parent by the state.  But if we feel it’s safe for her to spend time with all of us, there’s no reason to keep her from her son.  He will know her all his life.  She will get to be part of raising him, alongside us.  He will never wonder why and who she was.  He will be able to ask her all the questions he’ll have as he grows and matures.  Adoption can be about addition – her love for him cannot subtract from my love for him.  She is now a part of us, just as he is.

When I became one of the Storytellers, and the list of monthly themes was released, I knew Journey was a big one for me.  This trail my family has blazed together over the past 13 months has been one of challenge.  We often didn’t know which direction was best, and there was no map.  We didn’t know what was at the end of the trail.  I feel like I carried Twig + Tale’s patterns and community with me every step of the way, and I knew I wanted to share this with you all.

Our adoption of F was finalized last month.  To celebrate and acknowledge the journey, I made him one last project to include in this blog.

Wings.

I stitched in certainty for him; my questions had answers.  I attached the interfacing and wished for him to find his inner strength.  I struggled to turn them right side out, to get them to lie smooth and knew that things don’t always go the way we want.  I painted them freely, not fearful of mistakes, because we all make those.  I appliquéd on the phases of the moon, to help him feel the turning of the season and remind him to use the time we’re given.

As we drove up the mountain to take his photos, I was issued another reminder.  Despite a clear forecast, my favorite spot on the mountain was covered in patches of hail and it was pouring rain.  We don’t get to control everything – we can only control what we do with what we’ve got.  We drove out of the storm and picked a different spot to grab some photos in a gentler rain.

Life is a beautiful experience.  Step forward in hope and love; do the best with what you’ve got.

For our darling boy, our light in the darkness:

May our love help you fly.

Ashleigh is a queer thirty-something desert wildling, raising a pack of world-changers in the southwestern US.  Writing, painting, sewing and embroidery fill her cup.  See more of Ashleigh's work here.