Foster Series: 4

Today’s foster series post is brought to you by a wonderful woman who has asked to not be named due to the foster status of her son.  This is yet another interesting story about how families come to be in the foster care system.  While this child has some obstacles to face, his parents who hope to adopt him, fight for him daily.  They don’t dwell on his disabilities but rather allow him to flourish with his abilities.  Thank you for contributing to my series.  I wish you the best of luck and hope you can welcome your son to your family permanently.  He deserves you! – Sarah

PS.  This one hit home for a me a little too… My husband, Joe, also has something similar to a lazy eye.  I love his googly eyes and the way they look at me. 🙂

Parents with ChildIt was a two minute phone call about two and a half years ago that changed my life.   “We have a pre-adoptive placement.  A two year old boy.  He has a lazy eye.  That’s all we know.”  I said yes.  No hesitation.  No name, no other information, just a lazy eye.  I have a lazy eye!  Our daughter has a lazy eye!  He will fit right in!

The next day a little mop topped Hispanic boy showed up with a social worker.  He had been in a relative home for about 10 mos, but was being kicked out with only 24 hrs notice.  He was calling the social worker mom, and he called me mom instantly.  He was clinging and clearly scared.  He liked to dance, and that is how we calmed him, music and dancing.  We were about to learn some things…and fast.

His birthmom stopped visits shortly after his placement with us.  She will voluntarily terminate her rights.  She has AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse) issues.  We have only met a few times in court.  I see her love for him, but also see she knows she is doing what is best.

We learned after we had him for several months that he had been born dependent on drugs and had spent his first 5 weeks in the hospital.  We learned of his severe neglect as time went on…the information trickled in to us.  It took a long time for us to get his full story.  I suspect we will find out more when we get his adoption packet.  He had very few social skills when he came to us, a store was too much stimulation, and caused him panic.  He would hit and kick.  I don’t think he had ever seen a park.  He has long raging tantrums, they are violent and can last for an hour.  We believe he is ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), and he is currently medicated for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  He is incredibly impulsive.  He has very big abandonment issues and will panic if he thinks you are leaving.  If you have shoes on before his are on, his world crumbles.  It causes panic.  This is an improvement from where he used to be.  The damage done at young ages is real.

He is very smart though.  He may be behaviorally challenged, but he is SO smart.  He is already starting to read and is ahead in 4k (4 year old Kindergarten).  He started spelling small words even before 4k started.  This from a boy who needed speech therapy and was behind in talking when we first met. He has an amazing memory as well.  Like most kids with ADHD, he also loves his electronics and video games, and those are great as rewards.  His lazy eyes have also been fixed with a regular sleeping schedule.

Because previous caregivers have been woman, he projects a lot of anger onto me, his mom.  I understand that, although it doesn’t make it easy.  He has never had a positive male figure, so dad is a superhero.  He also worships his big sister.  He has a typical sibling relationship with his little brother.  It’s beautiful.

He has a lot of potential, if we can get his behavioral issues managed.  He is challenging, but adorable.  He is scared of leaving and that is tragic at his young age.  I feel like the system is failing him by the length of time he is in it…and that laws need to change to reflect this.

This is a legal risk placement, adoption isn’t a guarantee.  To this day, we are still fighting and its been 28 months of placement with us.  He is now four and a half years old.  We have just recently gotten a termination of parental rights, but his biodad is appealing. He is in prison and has been since our son was 6mos old.  He cannot get out until he is 9.  Yet, he is appealing, thinking he should have to wait for him to get out, establish a relationship, since they do not know each other and he can then try to parent.  He sees this as fighting for his son.  I see it as fighting against him…keeping him as part of a legal system, rather than letting him move on with his life, and with the only family he knows.

He is our challenging little boy.  But we love him with his challenges.  That two minute phone call, with no information…it was life changing.  It brought us our son.  We will continue to fight for him, and get him to his adoption day.  He deserves his chance at feeling safe, and having happiness.  So do we.  It’s a long hard road…but we will get there.

– Anonymous

Foster Series: 3

Today’s foster series post comes from a wonderful lady who has asked to remain anonymous.  I am very grateful for her entry and the heart wrenching openness that brought me to tears and kept me on the edge of my seat while I read her story.  Congratulations on the finalization of your wonderful son!  – Sarah

200353956-001Tomorrow is the adoption day for my youngest son. He is 22 mos old.   I have known of him since before he was born.  We had gotten a call during his birthmom’s pregnancy, telling us little, just that a mom may need her baby placed, and our name was brought up as a possibility.  Fast forward a few more months…and we were just ending an emotional, media frenzied placement.  My husband and I were discussing quitting foster care.  I was emotionally drained.  It had only been a week since the last placement had ended, when we got the call.  This mother was in labor, and the newborn would need to be placed.  My heart raced.  We were quitting!  But I was already thinking about baby supplies.  I asked for time to think.  I was offered an hour.  I texted my husband, who responded something like, he was in if I was sure…or something close to that.  It took only 5 minutes for me to reply to the worker that we wanted the baby.

I knew this was a foster care placement.  I also knew they thought it would be long term.  This scared me.  I knew it would be another hard, emotional case.  I tried to begin preparing myself.  I waited to hear that the baby was born, and found out it was a boy.  We had all girl things!!  We needed to shop!  And so we did!  My husband actually really got into shopping for a little boy, it was fantastic.  We went to see him in the hospital, and found he was being released to us.  I let my daughter, 12 at the time, hold him first, as I filled out the paperwork.  My husband was home with our other son (who we are also trying to adopt from foster care, he was almost 3 at the time).  I saw this baby, and I knew I was in trouble.  When I held him, and he wrapped his hand around my thumb, the wall I tried to build crumbled.  We became a team in that moment.  My son never took a pacifier, attached to a blanket, or a stuffed toy.  I have always been his comfort item.  We have an incredible bond.

My son’s birthmom has a mental illness.  Her inability to parent is not her fault.  This causes me great guilt.  Her illness also causes me fear.  She was given the opportunity, once stabilized with medication, to try to demonstrate the ability to parent.  The initial goal in foster care is always reunification.  Because of her illness, I was always afraid for this little boy.  I know she loves him, without a doubt.  I also know that what she does sometimes is not “her.”  I had to trust the social workers, and this was very difficult.  I cried a lot of tears.  I felt incredible guilt, because I was trying so hard to help his birth mom too, as is my role as a foster parent. I would give her tips, and prompts and help along the way. But, the reality was, I wanted to adopt more than I wanted air to breathe.  I could not imagine this child anywhere else.  I felt selfish.  I knew her illness was not her fault, and I felt horrible that this was happening.  But, I also knew what the right thing was…and it was for him to be safe, with us.

Suddenly, when our son was 15 mos old, his birth mom announced that she wanted to let us adopt.  It took me by surprise, and I don’t think I have ever sobbed the way I did in that moment.  When I left that visit, I tried to tell myself not to be too hopeful, that she may change her mind.  But, she never changed her mind.  This is what she wanted.  We never did another social worker visit after that.  I continued visiting with her family, and she came to those visits.  I am glad for that.  I want him to know her, and her family too.  I know she made the decision out of love.  They have a bond, and I want the bond to continue.  I think she recognized that the case wasn’t progressing, and I think she wanted it to be a choice, not something taken from her.  I think it was a healthy decision.  The birth father has never been in the picture. When he found out about the baby, he immediately wanted him adopted by us, citing the bond we had formed.

Nothing about foster care adoption has been easy.  Until the petition for adoption is signed, I will worry that someone can take him.  Family always has priority to foster care placement.  We have been fortunate to have a relationship with family who wants to be involved, but not take placement.  But, that involvement also gives me some fear until the date of adoption.  What if they changed their minds??  That fear seems irrational with no basis, but it is still there.  I don’t think its abnormal to have fear.  Its also such a long process.  But the end is worth it.  So very worth it.

I am blessed.

– Anonymous

Foster Series: 2

It’s been awhile since I have posted anything relating to foster to adopt.  I have reached out to some of my adoption community members and asked for assistance in this area.  Today’s post is brought to you by a “soon to be” adoptive mother, through the foster care avenue.  Erin brings a lot of insight from her experience with fostering children, infertility and the way she has looked at parenthood through her tenure.  Thank you for taking the time to read her story.  I think it’s a great addition to the Grew In My Heart blog.  – Sarah

Foster to Adopt  by Erin Connell

Paper chain family protected in cupped handsThis post is for those of you that are stuck between trying to conceive, treatments and contemplating adoption and/or foster care. Or for those of you who are just interested in foster care, but have biological children either living at home or are already grown up. And this post also tells my husband’s and my story to parenting, plus a small snippet of our life as foster parents.

Despite some of the more difficult things about adoption and foster care, my recommendation to you wondering what to do next is… if you really want to parent then do it! Stop trying to conceive (or at least simultaneously along with IVF/IUI) and move on to adoption. Adoption offers so many wonderful and challenging things, but the good far outweighs the bad. Foster care is wonderful too, (again challenges) but being a foster parent is the happiest thing that I’ve ever done, at least this time around. We weren’t ready the first time (3 yrs ago pre-IVF). Now instead of pouring my heart and soul into horrendous shots and procedures, I get to pour my heart and soul into children’s lives. It is rewarding and it takes away the time spent just wondering and willing myself to be a parent. I am no longer stuck waiting. I am just parenting. It may not be official, but I am finally a MOM! Some days are hard with 2 babies under 1. But at the end of the day, I can look back and say that I made a difference today. My kids are 9-month-old, James and 5-month-old, Riley. Both came to us at birth.

We were initially attracted to foster care because my in-laws fostered several children for about 6 or so years. They adopted a young lady at 12. She came to them at 10 and she is now 17. She is still learning and growing, but it is amazing the story she has to tell and the growth she has shown over the last several years. We were very involved with my in-laws kids and wanted to help children as well as start a family. All of their biological children were married and grown when they decided to foster. We were just starting our family. The cases they took were very challenging. They were a treatment home. We decided to foster babies. There are many different paths to take as well as many different types/ages of kids to help.

We had a brief stint with fostering in 2010 when we fostered twin 4-month-old babies. These babies are no longer with us and after that placement we closed our license and decided to pursue fertility treatments. They are now in a loving adoptive home, but their case took 3 years to get to that point.

It took a lot to get us to foster again. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and we may not always understand those reasons while we are suffering and even sometimes after the clouds have lifted. I believe in God and I believe in Jesus as my Savior and I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. They are the driving force in my life for why I do what I do. I would not be a foster parent or any kind of parent without them. To get to where we are now was a process. We needed the IVF process to strengthen our marriage and prepare our hearts to love children that may end up back with their birth families.

John and I will be married for 10 years this March. Three years ago was when we really decided that we wanted a family. John wanted one right away, but I wasn’t ready. I knew the responsibility of children was great and I wanted to make sure that it was something that I really wanted. We tried to conceive on our own for a while but nothing happened.  Throughout our marriage we never really used protection to stop a surprise pregnancy. I knew something was wrong, but never wanted to admit it. Then we got tested. I had blocked tubes from a surgery I had as a kid. It caused a lot of scar tissue around my tubes. I also have endometriosis. My husband had low testosterone and 0% morphology. After one IUI, we did a laparoscopy and decided to proceed straight to IVF. We spent a great deal of money and emotion and heartbreak on IVF. We did 4 tries, 2 pregnancies, and 2 miscarriages when we decided to call it quits. It was hard on my body, it was hard on our careers, and it was hard on our emotional state. It would have been all worth it if we took home a baby. Now I know we needed it to get to where we are today, but it is still painful looking back. We moved on to infant domestic adoption and were matched right away with a birth mom through an attorney. She ended up changing her mind 5 weeks before her due date. Our almost daughter turned 1 last month.

All of the past attempts to start a family were so emotionally draining; yet I still felt God pulling us into foster care. My husband wasn’t fully on board yet due to us having to complete all of the training again. 36 pre-service hours and then another home study. We had a friend who had 3 foster sons who needed to be adopted: twin 4 year olds and a 6-year-old older brother. They are really adorable kids. The older one looked so much like my husband and they were fun and we were smitten at first. We quickly realized that they had too many needs for us to handle being first time parents. Something we could have done, but they would be our only children and I still desired to start our family from infancy. We were also looking to adopt them alongside the baby girl and knew that it was too much to start out with so we ended up not adopting them, which put us back at square one.

Those boys gave us a gift. They allowed us the strength to do the training process to foster again. We did it for them. Once it was completed and we had already made our decision to not adopt them, we decided we might as well be open to receiving other calls to foster and/or adopt another child(ren). I owe those boys everything; they brought us to our James. (They are now transitioning in another adoptive home).

We were officially licensed on May 3, 2013. We got the call for our first placement on May 6th. After about 2 hours of pondering whether to accept the placement, we accepted. Two kids showed up on May 8th, a cute, blonde, 8-year-old and a teeny tiny, 10-day-old baby boy. When I first met James he was wearing only a white onesie and was sound asleep as the social worker placed him in my arms. It was a rather difficult adjustment because it was our first time back as foster parents. It was this little girl’s first time in care (We will call her K). Everything was new for all of us. It was hard to balance the needs of a newborn with all night feedings, alongside driving her to school 45 minutes away. It was the last 2 weeks of school and we wanted her to finish the year at her familiar school.

After one week, where I don’t believe I slept at all, K went to live with her great aunt. Guilty, I was a bit relieved. She was a very sweet kid, but I don’t think I was quite ready for the sass that comes with an 8-year-old. I have bonded with her now and she is welcome here anytime. We thought both kids were leaving, but it turned out that our James got to stay.

I had a long conversation with the aunt over the phone and ended up telling her our reasons to foster and also about our infertility. She always tells us what amazing people we are. She too, is amazing to take in her niece when her niece needs her the most. We hit it off and she has been our biggest advocate towards adoption of James. At that time, we didn’t know the future we would have with him. We were getting very attached and at the same time preparing our hearts to have him leave us at some point – most likely when he turned one. I didn’t think I could love him a whole year, have him call me mommy and we grow to love one another and then he would leave us. My husband once told me that if he didn’t parent “all in” then he didn’t know another way to parent. So that is what we did. We treated him as if he were our biological son. He felt like he was anyway.

There were times early on in our placement with James that I still wanted to conceive a biological child; one who matched my husband’s and mine mixed DNA. I wanted to play guess the gene game. I wanted to name my kids myself. Most importantly, I wanted to not have to drop him off to visit his birth mother and feel my heart get ripped out of my chest while I waited the 2 hours to pick him up. Everyday he felt like mine and then once a week I remembered he wasn’t.

Today and onwards, I want my foster son more than any biological child I could ever dream up if GOD was allowing me to choose. I may not have a biological connection through genetics or pregnancy, but my son is 100% mine regardless. Love is absolutely not dependent on biology. I love my husband, yet I share no DNA with him. James is ours and he will share many of our mannerisms, habits, and traits. He even looks like us, not that it matters. In other ways he will be uniquely himself. Isn’t that what we all should hope for our kids anyway? I want him to be unique and independent. (Adapted from Creating a Family’s web site.)

I also read on Creating a Family’s web site: “It’s interesting why we idealize the idea of falling rather than growing in love. When I think of falling, I think of something quick and painful. I much prefer the image of growing in love. Growth implies depth, roots, and the ability to withstand the forces of life.”

I did not fall in love with my foster son and daughter; I grew in love with them and now cannot imagine life without them both. I actually was worried that it would take more time to grow in love. I worried that I wouldn’t immediately have a connection with my child through biology and IVF or adoption. I worried that I would want my easy old life back. But I do NOT. I want my foster son to be MY son and my foster daughter to be MY daughter and I want more kids too! Funny how time and age matures me!

We got the call for our foster daughter when James was 4-months-old. She is from a different birth family than James. Some may say we were nuts to take another baby when we already had a baby. Doing the infant stage back to back was tough. I do believe she was meant to be ours – if you believe in that sort of thing. Her history is a bit scary, but we decided to take the placement anyway. She has surprised us in so many ways and is happy and developmentally on target. If either of them have learning disabilities in the future we will take those one day at time, but as of right now they are both very intelligent and delightful children. In regards to fears on loving children with disabilities, a good friend of mine told me, and it spoke straight to my heart:

“We know that the lifestyles these parents are living and the way in which they show the effects of those lifestyles doesn’t have to be repeated in our/their babies. A life of love and well-adjusted emotions do a lot of good for changing the outcome. I understand that some issues cannot be ‘loved’ away and they will be very real and lasting. In that   instance,

I would remember that you have prayed about babies and that God would bring the right ones at the right time. If you feel that she belongs with    you and that you could love her forever then it doesn’t matter what    they tell you or what future diagnoses could be faced. You can do anything!!! The struggles you have already had to plow through show  that you are tougher and that your God is more near to you than any obstacle you could ever face. Don’t let diagnosis, story, hypothesis or worker comment scare you or change your mind. Do what    God is  telling you and be tough… you can do it!”

During the tough days, I remember these words and thank my friend for them.

James will be officially adopted (Feb. or March 2014). I am happy to say that I am a foster parent to a wonderful, perfect (I can’t imagine a more perfect) little boy who I love so deeply it hurts. It hurts because I can’t imagine the thought of ever losing him. I can’t imagine the devastation that it would bring my husband who if you watch him he is so enamored by this little guy. And he is an extraordinary father! We feel the same way towards our daughter.

It will always be a little hard to share him with his birth family, but I always will because I love him and I know that is what will allow him to grow up in a secure relationship with my husband and me.

His birth parents are wonderful people who love him very much and are just working through some things in their life right now. I want them to get better. I want them to have a healthy relationship with me someday. I want them to get healthy for their 2 daughters who are old enough to understand what is happening. They are very supportive of us and asked us to adopt their son. They wanted him to have a better life. They are working towards reunification of the girls. They signed their rights away at court in November 2013. It was very emotional for his birth mom and us. She wrote me a beautiful letter and gave me a disc with photos from his birth.

Usually a case takes at least a year before the county will discuss permanency, whether that is with the birth family, a kinship family or an adoptive family. The county will give the birth parents this time to work a case plan that usually requires them to get counseling, take parenting classes, take drug tests, and take substance abuse classes. Sometimes they need to get a job or move. The goal is to become clean from their addictions and into a safe environment for themselves and their children. Some cases are simple like James’ and others are more complicated like Riley’s. We got her from the hospital and the goal for her was 99% adoption, but legally they still have to give her mother the year to follow her case plan.

Adoption and foster care are hard. Adoption and foster care are wonderful too. It is possible to have two conflicting emotions at once. I can despair what I do not have yet (in regards to fostering with no real answers to whether these kids will stay or go) and despair the challenges that adoption and foster care bring. And love what I get to be in these children’s lives and the other children we will hopefully bless as they will bless us. With adoption and especially foster care, it is challenging to strike a good balance between being respectful to the biological parents’ rights and feelings as well as showing them how much you love their/your child and being compassionate to them as well. You will have to decide how much openness you want to have with your child’s family whether fostered or adopted. These kids will always have two sets of parents, sometimes more. She is his/her mother in a way I will never know and I am his/her mother in a way she will never know, but together we are motherhood.

Openness is a thing that will take time and you will grow in a relationship with the families as time moves on. We started out with a safe distance and gradually got to know them more over time. We are pretty close with James’ sister and her aunt. We feel like extended family to them. I feel like an aunt to K. I also feel like an aunt to the other sister who is with her biological father. You will learn that these relationships can be complicated, but also beneficial to the well being of your future child/adopted child. In Ohio, open adoption is not mandatory it is a verbal agreement between you and the birth family. In regards to domestic infant adoption that openness usually is respected. In foster care you have to do what is best for your child. If the parents are abusing alcohol or drugs or in an unsafe living environment around people that are unhealthy and unsafe you may not allow your child to see his biological parents once adopted. During foster care they do see them at court appointed meetings usually for 2 hours supervised by a licensed social worker. Once adopted there is a goodbye visit where they will see their birth parents for the last time and then it will be up to the adoptive family to make decisions on what is best for their new child.

Three years ago we would never have seen ourselves being so open with the birth families. Time and God changed our hearts. My husband wanted no contact with the birth families at all and now he enjoys hanging out with James’ family. With our daughter, we have not had the same openness. I do not know what the future will be like for her in regards to her and her relationship with her birth family. We will take it one day at a time.

Whatever place you are in right now in the parenting journey, I would love it if everyone would consider foster care. There are tough kids and tough placements. These kids are hurting because they have been abandoned. They need good families to step up and intervene and sometimes save them from themselves. The older ones will test your commitment to them. If you make it through the testing phase the outcomes are so worth it! I won’t say it is easy because all parenting is hard. But parenting is worth it! There are stereotypes too and not all children from foster care fit into that mold. Many are newborns and adopted before ever going back to their birth families. All of us in humanity are working through something or have been hurt by someone. These kids are mostly just like all of us. The foster care journey has a lot of unknowns, but not unlike any other way to parenting. Fertility treatments bring a risk. Will it work? Will I miscarry? How much will I have to spend? Even getting pregnant the first time you try brings risks. Will I have a healthy child? Adoption. Will the birth parents change their mind? And then foster care. Will I parent a child that is just going to leave? Will I parent a child that just doesn’t fit into my family? Will we get along? Will my foster child have major mental or medical needs? To all these questions the answers could be hard to hear and ultimately handle. My advice and encouragement to you if you are just contemplating this journey… open your hearts to love. I don’t want fear of all the unknowns to rob you of the biggest blessing and joy of your life. We want to be parents, right? If you are struggling with infertility or not, these kids need homes and the foster care world needs willing hearts! They will bless your life as much as you will bless theirs. There will be amazing times and hard times. This is what we call LIFE.

To learn more about Erin and to read her blog, please visit fallopianfailure.blogspot.com