(originally published September 12, 2012)
I’ve been slowly writing, reading, and rewriting this post since last fall. It’s a long one. But it’s something that I’ve been wanting to say for a long time.
We adopted our children through the foster care system.
Bet you weren’t expecting me to just blurt that one out there were you? There’s no real way to lead up to it… so I’ll start there and work backwards.
Cory and I were bit by the “want to be parents” bug a few years after we were married. Me more so than him. It is such a weird thing. For us, before we got married we discussed our life goals, and the plan to be parents was among them. And then for me – one day it was just – now. I want kids now. I saw babies and pregnant people EVERYWHERE! I started picking out names (yes, I stress about and plan for things long before I should). The want turned into a slow nagging in my stomach. Like a tiny hole in my heart that was slowly, month by month, getting larger.
We decided to try to have a baby. 6 months later nothing. Were we doing things right? Maye I’m not ovulating – get an ovulation kit, take my temp daily, etc etc etc. Then a year later, still nothing. Each month there was the anticipation/excitement and then the let down that no, we were not pregnant yet again. Unless you’ve been there it’s impossible to understand that kind of disappointment. The fact that something that our bodies are designed to do was just out of our reach. Every month when I would get my period I felt like a failure. It was a constant repetitive reminder that we were broken. (Truth be told, there are occasional months now that I feel that way. We are not trying to have a baby. I know that’s not an option – but I’ll be 4 days late and start to wonder, to hope, to think of how it would change our life at this moment. I suppose that never goes away.)
There were very very few people who knew we were trying. Our dearest friends at the time knew, a couple who had 4 children of their own, including a set of twins. They were huge supporters and she would cry with me when it was a ‘no’ once again. The longer it was taking, the longer we waited, I wanted a child of my own more and more and then I started to resent them. I didn’t want to hang out at their house and be around their beautiful children, or them – with their perfectly fertile bodies. I’ve read that it’s a normal reaction to infertility – the hating of all things baby while the yearning for your own makes you a miserable person. I began to withdraw from them. To isolate myself. At the time I didn’t realize just how depressed I was, but looking back at my weight gain, inability to function, lack of motivation – it was pretty bad. I hate that my reaction was to push her away… one of the people who was so supportive….
Well meaning friends/family that knew what we were going through told us to ‘relax, it will just happen’ or ‘don’t worry – you have plenty of time’ or ‘you can always adopt’ and even ‘I had a friend/brother/cousin/uncle/father with your circumstances and they had kids when they were in their 30′s – maybe that will happen for you’ and the often repeated ‘well think of how much you’re saving on birth control’. I know – you feel empathy and need to console us somehow. You try to say something that will help lighten the mood. I KNOW that these things were said our of a good place in your heart – but it just caused more depression – like we were letting our families down. Like they were counting on us to procreate and we were failing them too. There is nothing you can say if you are fertile can heal the pain of being infertile. Only someone else who has been there could possibly understand and relate. And even then – there are no words that will make you feel better. There are no words that take the pain away.
We sought professional help, I saw a therapist who put me on an anti-depressant (which helped me get out of bed every day). We talked to our family doctor, who referred us to another local doctor who ran some tests which were all inconclusive and sent us to Chicago to see a fertility specialist. That may have been the scariest time. The doctors office there was so hopeful. Photos of kids/babies on the wall. Other couples in the waiting room. We all had the same pained look in our eyes. The look of someone who’s been dealing with something heart-wrenching. I had been researching the options and was ready to get started – yet none of those options were an option to us. Our circumstances didn’t allow for any of the common fertility treatments. We would have to start further back and there the chances for conception were so slim… it looked hopeless. And expensive. Shelling out tons of cash for a “slim chance” that conception would work didn’t seem logical. No matter how much we wanted our own kids.
My memory of the time is fuzzy. As my memory in general is these days… I remember watching Disney’s Tarzan over and over again, lying on my couch bawling by myself while Cory was at work. I remember putting on a happy face for everyone when we went out – since very few people we aware of what we were going through. I remember collapsing and sleeping for hours after having to do that. Trying to pretend you’re fine when you are the last thing from fine is exhausting.
After months of the unknown, of not knowing which direction to go we started looking into adopting. I was mad initially. I wanted the experience of being pregnant. I wanted to know what it’s like for my body to work the way it’s supposed to. To experience another life growing inside me. God created woman with the ability to literally grow another human – it seems so basic and simple – yet not for us.
Then as the time went on I realized that as much as I wanted to be pregnant I also wanted to be a mom. And I was started to acknowledge that I didn’t have to get pregnant to be a mother.
Adopting – I didn’t want to get on a years long wait list in the United States for a baby. I didn’t want the rejection of being in a stack of prospective parents that some birth mom somewhere was flipping through – and never being called. I didn’t want to be one of those couples who takes an ad out in the newspaper. I was desperate but didn’t want to seem like it. We researched international adoption laws. China (at the time) wouldn’t allow anyone younger than 30 to adopt. While that was only 4 years away that felt like an eternity. I didn’t think it would be possible to wait that long. Romanian infants were more like toddlers and we – of course – wanted as young a child as possible. We looked at Guatemala and a few other countries. Each country had different legalities. We talked to a couple agencies to see how to get started. I got information packets and questionnaires in the mail.
I don’t remember who first mentioned foster care, Cory or myself. I don’t remember how that conversation even started. I do remember wondering if I could handle that emotionally. The thought of sending a child back to a home he/she had been taken from due to abuse was scary. The more we thought about it the more we decided the positives outweighed the negative. We signed up, attended their training classes, had a home inspection, and were certified in a very short time. We were hopeful we’d get an infant. Of course. But we had signed up for children up to age 5.
Most new parents have at least 9 months to plan. They go to the cute baby stores and create a baby registry. They pick out a nursery theme and paint the walls a brilliant color. They register for necessities and fun items and things they aren’t sure they’ll use but things they are sure they will NEED. Their families and friends throw them a shower and they purchase all these things for them before the baby arrives.
For us it didn’t happen this way. The prep for this was a bit odd – gather as much as we can for kids in all those age ranges we had agreed to foster. An outfit or two per gender for each size. Because many times a kid will arrive with nothing but the clothes on their back (that half the time don’t fit) in the middle of the night. Be prepared for anything until you can make a run to Walmart. I hit yard sales hard. And had a large stockpile of adorable outfits in all sizes. We bought a crib and a playpen at a yard sale. We waited on a car seat until we knew what size we’d need. Our families were supportive. Our close friends were super helpful. One of the girls I worked with at the time came over with huge bags full of toys and clothes and more toys. The support from these people is what got us through.
Then there were the other people who didn’t really get it. Total disclaimer here – these were my impressions. I never called anyone out of their lack of support. I just blew them off and figured they weren’t real friends anyways. But it bothered me. It bothered me when we finally did get kids in our home – we threw a huge “welcome” party for them and so many people I expected to be there didn’t come. It’s not about the gifts we didn’t get – it’s the fact that we were doing something unconventional and they couldn’t support it. The fact that they told me I was crazy. They told me they couldn’t love a child who wasn’t their own. At the time I was livid. How dare you say something like that! And how do you have the right to have children?! Now, I feel sadness for them. Granted, after years of seeing some of these people, some of them congratulated and commended us. I saw one person who had a complete change of attitude regarding foster care in general, and specifically with us. But at the time, the negativity was awkward to deal with.
Let me say here – foster care is not for everyone. I know of amazing foster parents who say they feel God’s calling and they’ve never turned a child away. I know of amazing foster parents who have never tried to conceive – maybe they will some day, maybe they won’t – but they saw a need and opened their homes and hearts. I know other foster parents who have adopted foster children and had biological children. I also know of great people who have adopted but wouldn’t do foster care. And I know lots of parents who have never ever considered foster care. Foster care is a huge sacrifice. It’s a huge gift. It’s an amazing blessing and privilege. If you can do it. If you can step aside and provide meals, education, play time, and love. Mostly love. These kids don’t need the newest toys or designer clothes. (granted if that’s where you are in life then go for it) These kids need held. They need read to and taken to the park. They need someone to reassure them that they are wanted, needed, loved. And that does more for the good of their (and your) soul than you can possibly imagine.
Back to our story…
A couple months after being certified we got our first call, and a beautiful 6 year old girl lived with us for about 3 weeks. I think about her from time to time and hope/pray she is doing well in her home.
Then a month later or so we got a call that a super sweet adorable 3 year old boy, Cody, had recently come up for adoption. His biological parental rights had been terminated and he needed ‘a forever family’ since his current foster family wasn’t in the position to adopt him. We set up a time for me to come meet him. I went up to see him – more nervous than I’ve ever felt – could this little boy be my son? Finally? For real? His foster mom had told all the kids that a new mommy was coming to see the kids. From the get go I was “mommy” and it was such a warm long-awaited feeling. It was overwhelming and I was prone to break down in tears for no reason at all. Years of frustration were finally ending.
He came and hung out with us one weekend shortly after that initial visit. I was supposed to take him back and then pick him up for good a few days later. We called instead and asked if we could just keep him. They agreed as long as we brought him by so they could say goodbye. His foster mom had all of his things packed up. Toys, books, clothes, an awesome red Radio Flyer tricycle – the old metal kind. With Cody, they had him for a year, they worked with him from being a scared 2 year old with no vocabulary to a talking happy 3 year old.
Having Cody who was 3 years and 4 months old was different than I imagined. I had no idea what a three year old needed or wanted. I started looking at books and online, trying to figure out what he needed -socially, academically, emotionally. Trying to balance his rough start in life.
Three weeks after he came to live with us we got a call that a newborn was in the NICU and would need a foster home when he was finally released from the hospital. If we wanted him he was ours and we should go visit him right away. So we did. We started visiting the NICU as worse-than-nervous “parents” of a sickly newborn. I love those nurses we came to know. They showed us how to feed him, bathe him, burp him, change him. He was diagnosed with failure to thrive – among other things. Our goal was to get him to drink 2 oz at each feeding. Do you have any idea how small of an amount is? He had a few other small medical issues but worked past them all and was able to come home with us when he was 19 days old.
I look back at this time period with a slight smile. We were so ill-prepared. We had a 3 year old and a newborn. There are no books that can prepare you for this. We had no time to figure out what stage Cody was in and what stage he needed to work towards before we got Gavin. Poor Cody went through a lot that year. From switching homes and adjusting to new parents to having a baby brother and his parents being sleep deprived and crabby. (Well, I was crabby. Sleep deprivation was ugly on me.) I’m happy to say we made it through. I think most parents can look back and think of things they wish they could change. I do. I see areas where I’d do things different.
That first year with Gavin was difficult. It was all things true to foster care. I drove him up to the DHS building once a week for his hour long supervised visit with his biological parents. His parents met the court assigned goals and were given another 3 months for the next goal. That happened for a year and then it was determined by a judge that they just weren’t physically/mentally equipped to provide care for him and their parental rights were terminated.
We filled out paperwork to adopt him. Six months later it was final. And we’ve been a happy family ever since. I think those non-supportive people in the beginning came to see and understand that it was different. Maybe they had never known any foster parents or kids who had been in foster care. Some of them commended us and told us what a wonderful thing we were doing. Some of them cried and said how proud of us they were. I didn’t feel like a hero. I didn’t do anything extraordinary. I wanted to be a mom. These kids needed a mom. End story. But I understand.
This past December we told the kids that they were adopted. This was a tough decision to make – when is the right time to tell them. I read articles written by “experts” and we got advice from other professionals.
Gavin was a bit oblivious. I think he’s still too young to understand fully.
Cody understood. He seemed to not mind at all and was excited that some of his memories from his first foster family fit into what he knows of life now. He was excited and happy and acted like it was nothing to think or worry about.
Then a couple weeks later he broke down bawling at night, sobbing – wondering about his birth mom. Nothing will rip your heart out quite like holding your child as he cries for his “real mom”.
I knew it was coming. I expect it to get worse before it gets better. I have no clue the things he’s going through right now. I just know that if I’m honest with him with what I can be, and continue to love him no matter what we will survive this. If that means finding a counselor for him to talk to I will do that. I’ll help him work through these emotions and any others that may come. When he’s 18, if he wants to find his birth mom, I’ll help him do it. Because no matter how many times he calls her his “real mom” I know what he means. I know who I am to him (and Gavin) and I know I’m doing my best to be the mom that their birth mom couldn’t be.
We’ve told him that he’s loved. And that he was always loved and wanted, but that his birth mom was sick and couldn’t take care of him. I know very little about her and I wish I had something more to tell him. It felt awkward at the time but I likened the situation to a dog we had once. The dog was 75 lbs of awesome and we loved him- but he was waaaaay too rough and would pounce on Gavin and Cody in the backyard and injure them. To the point that neither of them wanted to play in their own yard. At that point we found the dog a new home because we knew we couldn’t care for it the way it needed cared for. It didn’t mean we didn’t love the dog anymore. Cody seemed to totally understand what I was trying to say. That his birth mom loved him, but just couldn’t take care of him anymore.
He still sometimes cries when he thinks of her. He broke down in school one day. We had told the teacher they were adopted – and that we told them – so she would be prepared if he wanted to talk about it at all. She pulled him aside and comforted him and he also had a couple of his classmates try and cheer him up. At recess he was back to playing and running around.
Cody is the sweetest, kindest, most lovable child. He’s sensitive and smart and creative. We have different challenges than most families. But we’re talking and open and are tackling each new feeling and emotion as it comes along. I love my family and I’m fiercely protective.
I’m still extremely emotional about our journey. With all it’s disappointments and triumphs.
I cry like a baby at the movie Meet the Robinsons. Still. I’ve seen it dozens of times. Same thing with the beginning of the movie Up. Basically if a movie or tv show or book touches on adoption, foster care, or infertility I relate in a deep way, it moves me and I cry.
I am a huge fan of the tv series Parenthood. If you’ve never seen it start from the beginning. This last season has been extremely emotional for me. I won’t say much here for fear of ruining anything for new fans – but the brilliance in the scenes, both in words spoken and unspoken and in the facial expressions (those facial expressions!). The show is brilliant. It is brilliant in a way I hadn’t realized. Last season has reached me on a level I thought I had dealt with and handled but it appears not to be resolved. Watch the show. It may not effect you the same way – but it is brilliant.
What lies ahead for us? I’m not really sure. For now we are a happy family of four. That’s most likely where we will remain. But only time will tell.
As painful and difficult as it was – I wouldn’t change our experiences at all. Had we been able to conceive we would never have done foster care. Without our path taking us where it did I wouldn’t have Cody and Gavin. They are amazing, brilliant, funny, irritating, smart, inquisitive. Everything they should be.
If you’ve read this far – thank you. I know I wrote this more for me – but if it gives any of you peace I’m happy. I know everyone is at different stages in life and being able to stand up and share what we went through and hope that it touches someone is encouraging. I welcome your comments and thoughts. And I thank you.