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Foster mom shares bittersweet reason a left-behind toothbrush brought her to tears

Bringing a child into a home for the first time is an emotional experience for any parent. But for foster parents, it’s bittersweet. They often don’t know when that child could be leaving their home for good.

It’s that sentiment that often keeps otherwise willing parents from fostering children -- the fear of getting attached, then having to say goodbye. Now, one Kansas mom wants to help potential foster parents see past that fear, in the hopes of giving more children loving homes.

“He was mine for two and a half weeks,” Rachel Hillestad posted about her foster son last week in a now-viral Facebook status. “He called me Mama and I told him every time I left that, if I said I would come back, I would.”

Hillestad kept her promise, but the little boy has since gone to his new family and that transition has been a painful one for Hillestad. Last week, she discovered his old tooth brush in her car and broke down sobbing in the middle of a parking lot. “It took his left-behind toothbrush to undo me,” she wrote in a Facebook post later that day. Hillestad hopes that by sharing that moment, she can inspire others.

“The number one thing people say to me is, ‘I could never do foster care. I would get too attached.’ Guess what: I’m just like you. I ‘got attached’,” she wrote. 

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...

Posted by Rachel Hillestad on Friday, December 2, 2016

Of course she gets attached, she said, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “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 ... Getting attached has been the greatest pleasure and honor of my entire life.”

Forty thousand people and counting have shared her post, which has been flooded with positive comments about providing temporary homes for children in need. 

“They’re just kids who didn’t get a choice in their life circumstance,” Hillestad, a mother of three, told CBS News. “This country needs good people to stand up. You don’t have to be a perfect cook. You don’t have to know exactly what to say to a child who has been abused. Are you able to hug? Perfect. Sign up for a foster care information class.”

According to the Administration for Children and Families, there are about 415,000 children in foster care on any given day in the U.S. On average, they remain in foster care for two years. Hillestad wants potential parents to think about the positive impact they could have on one of those children, instead of negative misconceptions.

“That attachment may be the only sort of love and absolute acceptance this child ever knows.” 

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