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

Setting Preferences

Creating an Adoption Profile

Setting Preferences

Sarah Baker | August 12, 2013 | 02:42 PM

One of the first steps in moving forward in adoption is setting your preferences. This guideline will allow you and your agency to help find you a match that will be best for everyone involved. It is a difficult process though. There are so many things that come into play when adding an adopted child to your family. The first piece of advice I have is, be realistic.

In being realistic, you must know that the expecting mom may not have the income or knowledge to care for the pregnancy as if you were the one carrying the child. She may have limited prenatal care. She may smoke. She may have a poor diet. She may use drugs. She may drink alcohol. You have the option and the right to limit what you will accept in an expecting mother that chooses you though. Every box you check “no” to, limits you to the number of expecting mothers your profile will be shown to.

Do your research, understand what each thing could mean for your baby and if it is something you are capable of dealing with. For instance, smoking can cause low birth weight and future allergies or asthma. Is that something you can handle? The checklist will usually allow you to even narrow down what drug exposure you will accept and what you will not. It may even ask if you wish the baby to be tested at the hospital for drug exposure so you can properly care for the child. Alcohol can cause series delays in development and brain function, so this is the one I urge you to pay the most attention to and learn about to see if you are able to handle a baby that may be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Sometimes the expecting mother may know that she is carrying a child that may have some needs that will require medical attention from the beginning. It could be cleft palate, heart defects, short or missing limbs, Down Syndrome, etc. Talk it over with your partner and your family. How much can you afford, what will your insurance cover, are you emotionally prepared for these cases? Just keep in mind, that not everything can be detected in the womb. It is no different than if you were pregnant yourself and sometimes our babies are born with challenges or medical needs.

This process allows you to also chose a gender if you wish, the races you are open to, the amount of medical history you want, known allergens, and level of openness in your adoption. It is important to take time filling out this form and fully understand it. Research things you are unsure of so you can either prepare to possibly deal with it in the future or have the knowledge that it is not something you can handle. This process is not just about getting a perfect baby, but getting the child that is meant for you. No one can blame you for understanding your own limitations if you set your preferences to include some things you will not consider. Most adoption agencies will also allow you to re-evaluate the preferences down the road. A lot of couples will be overwhelmed with all the possibilities and later realize that those things may not have any effect at all on the baby or your ability to parent the child and you can ask to make the preferences less defined.

Leaving the Hospital

Drive Thru Baby

Leaving the Hospital

Sarah Baker | August 06, 2013 | 03:05 PM

Adoption is such a surreal experience. You go into it not pregnant and yet hoping to come home with a child one day. We went through the steps. We decorated the nursery. We bought clothes and toys. We had family members and friends asking questions about when the baby would come. But, it sort of feels make believe.

There is no physical evidence that we had a baby on the way. No food cravings. No morning sickness. No feeling the baby move. No doctor checkups… at least not for me. When we were matched with Ezra’s birth mom it was so exciting, but also so scary. Joe and I were fearful that we would have another match fall through. But, we also were concerned for this woman who was making a huge sacrifice for her baby. How do you thank a person for giving you something so incredible and trusting you with their most precious creation? How do you protect them from the sadness that will surely come? How do you address something bringing you so much joy but is so tragic for them? The answer is love.

At the hospital when a baby is born, you are usually bombarded with family and friends coming to visit. Adoption is a sensitive matter and we felt that having our family visit us at the hospital would be disrespectful to Ezra’s birth parents. This was their special time to spend with the baby. This was also a time for us to not only bond with the baby, but to strengthen our bond with them. We laughed, we cried, we hugged, we visited, we bonded. The hospital staff was very generous in giving Joe and I a room of our own, right across the hall from Ezra’s birth mom. We could rest and talk and spend time together and apart. It was a beautiful experience. (minus the stomach bug I had while there)

The final day at the hospital was a very emotional day. Ezra’s birth parents had to sign papers stating we were allowed to take him home and have guardianship of him even though their termination of rights wouldn’t be signed and completed for another day and a half. (72 hours in Ohio) There were social workers coming in to talk with us and them. His birth father filled out his birth certificate paperwork and gave him the first and middle name we had chosen and his biological last name. What a gift to give him a name that he can take with him as his identity. While the adoption has since finalized and he now has our last name, he will forever have that first surname to carry with him as a part of who he is. We ate lunch together and quietly oo’d and ahh’d over the adorable little miracle.

As we packed our things, I sobbed. We were taking this little baby home with us… and they were not. How can you feel so much joy and sorrow at the same time? We walked with them to their car and said our goodbyes. We hugged and tried to hold back more tears. We waved as they pulled away and suddenly we were hit with the realization that we were now with a little infant. As we walked to the other side of the hospital, holding hands and carrying our newborn son in his infant seat, we smiled and were rather quiet as we tried to digest that “this really just happened”. The thought of 4 months prior, our hearts were crushed by the loss of our first matched baby. Then 2 months later we learned that we were matched again. To that day… where there we stood with a baby we had prayed for. We arrived at the hospital for a fluid check of a woman that was not me, carrying a baby she intended to give us, that part of me was unsure would be mine. Only 2 days later we were headed home with this perfect little human. That’s the enormity of that event is so hard to comprehend. All I knew was that was the scariest drive home EVER. I was now responsible for another little tiny life. WOW.