Rachel Hillestad knew what it meant when she got into foster care. It didn’t mean she was prepared for it.
She had taken in a little boy for only two and a half weeks, and watched him go from being afraid to go to sleep to sleeping soundly through the night. She watched him spend hours on the swings as he was never able to do—a simple activity her own kids by now took for granted.
“I was the only one who could get him to sleep or knew exactly what kind of jam he liked on his toast. I helped him through his diarrhea and got frustrated when he broke Christmas ornaments. I watched him as he slept.”
He called Hillestad “Mama” and asked if he could come back—because he knew he would have to leave.
And two and a half weeks later, he was gone. He moved on to his new home—which she helped him prepare for. And she stayed in touch with his new mom, who texted to let her know he missed her.
“He was mine for two and a half weeks,” she wrote. But it didn’t hit her until she came across a little Sesame Street toothbrush he left behind in her car. Then it hit her all at once.
“It took his left-behind toothbrush to undo me. I’m sitting here in a parking lot sobbing my guts out.”
It took his left-behind toothbrush to undo me. I'm sitting here in a parking lot sobbing my guts out. He was mine for…
“The number one thing people say to me is, ‘I could never do foster care. I would get too attached,'” she wrote.
“Guess what: I’m just like you. I ‘got attached,'” Hillestad wrote in a Facebook post.
Hillestad has fostered 70 children.
She also works with a non-profit that supports children in foster care, so she’s no stranger to the emotional toll fostering takes. That also means she knows just how important it is to open her heart and love her foster kids as they come.
“I absolutely get attached. I wonder where they are now. They visit me in my dreams, and sometimes I wake up with a wet face. It hurts,” Hillestad wrote. “Sometimes in those moments it hurts to breathe.”
“You know what I know even MORE, though?”
“I’d rather these sweet babies know my love than never know it. I would carry their hurt inside my own adult heart if it meant there was less in their tiny sad one.”
“There is absolutely no reason that an 8-year-old who watched his mother be murdered not know the love of a stranger. It’s absolutely criminal that a 2-year-old sit in a social worker’s office for two days in dirty clothes because I’m afraid I’d get too attached. I got attached. Getting attached has been the greatest pleasure and honor of my entire life,” Hillestad wrote.
Her powerful post went viral, garnering tens of thousands of likes and shares. Foster care can be a difficult and even traumatizing path for many children, and the love she gave to each of one of the children she took in no doubt made a lasting impression.
Hillestad later told The Huffington Post that the children who have come into her home have been through all situations.
“Some were abused either physically or sexually, some neglected, some testing positive at birth for one or another illegal substance,” she said.
While she and her husband originally decided to start fostering children because of infertility, they soon learned more about what foster care meant, and took it up as their mission.
“It became a matter of, ‘How can we as a society, this society that is supposedly the richest and most prosperous nation in the world, allow this to happen to our children?'” she explained. Yes, it is tiring, but the “hard day” that she or most of us goes through is nothing like the “hard day” some of these abused or neglected children have gone through, she added.
“I know there will be another hello, and another, and another,” she said. “I also know that some day, 30 years down the road, there will be a knock on my door, and the years and tears will melt away ― and I’ll see a face I’d recognize anywhere.”