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In my lifetime, I’ve met a few phantom babies.

Or rather, I didn’t meet them.

They were the what ifs, could haves, wish it could have beens, once was, now no more babies. They WERE. But they weren’t. All at once. Some I called mine. Others I never once had a claim on.

I’ve never seen any of my phantom babies. Not on an ultrasound, not in person.

And yet each and every one has a little part of my heart.

We met another phantom baby this week.

Well, we didn’t really meet him. But we learned his first name. I knew he was 9 lbs, and scored an 8 on the Apgar test. I knew he was 2 days old, and I knew why he was being taken at birth from his mom. I knew he was healthy.

I knew that the moment I saw him, I would fall head over heels for him.

And I knew he could be my foster son the very next day if all I did was utter three tiny, wee little letters. “y-e-s.”

I think Ryan and I both WANTED to say yes.

As soon as I got the call just before 6 pm, I woke Ryan up from his nap. And we started planning. There was no time to lose. We had just 3 hours to make our decision.

“Ok, could we use a pack and play in our room for the first few weeks? What will we need to get? When could he start day care if we needed it?” We texted our social worker, drilling her for answers to every question that came to mind.

Most people take years or at least months to decide to have a baby. Then they have an additional 8-10 months to PLAN and make room for said child.

We had 3 hours to decide. And less than 24 before he would be a semi-permanent place in our home.

As the 3 hours wore on, our questions changed.

“If Ryan is overwhelmed with taking on 2 training positions at work, how will he feel having to come home to a newborn, and not getting much rest at night? Will Rachel be able to keep up her momentum in her business? How will we cope if/when it’s time to say good-bye? How will this impact Leyla and her high-needs?”

(Maddy, we knew, would acclimate pretty well. She REALLY wanted this baby. Her prayer that night was darling. “Dear God, please help all of us be really good parents to this baby [because she’s a parent now??], and make tonight go by really fast so we can hurry up and get our baby brother. Amen.”)

I felt somehow that meeting him might make it clear to me, so I asked our worker if we could go to the hospital to see him. (Maybe I was just hoping he would be so stinking cute, there’d be no way we could say no.) Had it been earlier in the day, we could have met him. But not then.

I knew it was just as well.

We prayed. We took time alone. We took time together. We called our closest family for advice and to ask for prayer. We got food to-go, and took the kids to the park.

I stared at the clouds, wishing an answer would just land on my heart. Some sort of assurance that whatever was God’s will would become so apparent to me. The only thing I got was that God was really, really big.

No white dove came.

I prayed, “God, I want to do your will. If saying yes to this is saying yes to your will, by all means I’ll say yes. If saying no means saying yes to you, then we’ll say no. Please just make it clear!”

As I took Leyla in the stroller around Lion’s Park, and watched a family of 5 closely as I strolled by. I longed to stop them and interrogate them. “Your kids are spaced like mine are. Tell me, what was adding the 3rd like? Can you handle it? Was it overwhelming? How did you cope? What advice can you give?”

Instead, I smiled prettily at their adorable family, and pretended that I wasn’t making a momentous, life-altering decision at that moment and was desperate for their help. (Because they were experts after all on our situation. Having 3 kids spaced just so apparently made them perfect candidates for advice.)

When we packed up and came home, we put the kids to bed. We both were getting exhausted, but no closer to a decision.

We talked more to family, and the deadline was ticking up on us.

Closer, and closer, and closer the minutes turned to hours, and 9 approached us like a freight train.

And we were nowhere near ready for it.

9 came.

9 went.

Stress came and snuggled closely between Ryan and I. I could tell we were now on different pages. He was ready to say no. I still wasn’t convinced.

As 10 came, I still had no peace either way. Ryan was disappointed to have to say no, but in his mind, there really wasn’t any alternative.

I think I knew the answer would be no all along. It’s just that I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I didn’t want to admit that maybe I couldn’t handle it right now. I didn’t want to tell this sweet little tiny baby that, “I’m so sorry you’re being taken from your mommy right now, but we don’t want to disrupt OUR little family either. So, I hope someone takes you in.”

I made Ryan text our social worker our decision.

Then I read it, didn’t like his wording, stole the phone back, and wrote my own reply.

“I wish with all my heart our answer were yes. You know I would love to have a newborn baby in my home. But after talking about it with Ryan, and praying and talking to friends/family, we feel it’s in the best interest of our little family to say no for right now.”

I made him push “send.”

And then I added …

“Even though it kills me to say that.”

And it did. As soon as we sent it, I wanted to unsend it. I wanted my words back, and I wanted to change them to a y-e-s. I wanted to be crazy busy trying to prepare my home for a newborn in less than 12 hours. I wanted to post on Facebook that we were adding someone to our family for a little while. I wanted to serve God and I wanted to serve this little baby.

But I couldn’t forget that first, God has called me to serve the people I’m in relationship with NOW. Ryan and I made some big decisions recently about focusing on our family and getting US to where we want to be.

And if having this baby stretched me too thin — or was too hard on Ryan — I didn’t want there to be this feeling of “YOU chose this for our family!” instead of “WE chose this for our family — and we’ll make it through.”

And so, the text stayed just as it was.

And phantom baby has entered my life. He hasn’t quite left it yet. And maybe he won’t.

And maybe it’s just as well, because it reminds me to pray for him.

As I drove to visit our new baby cousin yesterday, I could “see” baby J’s newly installed car seat from the rear view mirror. I imagined hearing him cry during his first car ride. I imagined wrangling my two kids and him in and out of our errands yesterday. I envisioned holding him proudly as I chatted with my new business builder over coffee. I envisioned the messy diapers, the 3 am feedings, wearing him as I made dinner and tried to keep Leyla from some crazy accident.

I envisioned taking pictures of Maddy holding her brother. And Leyla trying to gently poke his eyes.

And I pictured the social worker appointments, and doctor’s visits, and nutritionists and physical therapists, and all the other people we might need to meet regularly with, like we did for Leyla. And I envisioned packing him up to go visit his mom, then worry that he wasn’t doing well there, but never knowing for sure.

And so today, as I packed up for play group and an Arbonne coffee date, phantom baby joined us too.

There was some comfort in his presence. Even if admitting all this makes me sound like a crazy person. He is the baby we almost had. He is the baby I wanted, but needed to let go.

I will never know the answer to what if.

“What if he was meant to be our son? What if the home that took him wasn’t safe? What if he needed us? What if we were supposed to say yes?”

But at least I can know the answer to the things that I most assuredly need to know.

Can Ryan and I make a decision and respect each other’s needs in the process?  Can we accept our limitations as a family?  Can we trust that God is bigger than us and bigger than our decision?  Can we rely on the support of our friends and family no matter what decision we make? Will we chose to make our marriage and our children our top priority over ministry?

Without a doubt, the answer to all of the above is a resolute YES.

We said no to a baby. But said three, wee little tiny letters to our marriage and to each other.

“y-e-s.”

And maybe, just maybe one day, we can say those letters again to our marriage, our kids AND a foster child all at the same time.

In the meantime, phantom baby is still on my heart. And I pray for his wee little life. And I would ask that you do the same too.