“I Was Meant to Be a Foster Parent”–One Mom Shares Her Story

I was 7 years old the first time I realized that some kids need a safe place to live.

I realized it because I was one of them – a child in need of a temporary safe place until reunification was possible.

My parents were divorced, and it was my birthday weekend at dad’s house. Unfortunately, he and my step-mother (at the time) got into a physical altercation that landed one in jail and the other in the hospital.

I remember the blood, the screams, the shattering of glass. I remember swooping up my baby sister, an infant at the time, and hiding her in my bedroom closet. I remember dialing 9-1-1, and to this day have no clue how the police and paramedics knew the address because I sure didn’t.

My seventh birthday was a giant catastrophe. One that’s been the catalyst for my calling.

Years later, I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic to spend time volunteering at a preschool for children who had lost one or both of their parents. Upon my return to the States, I couldn’t stop thinking about Angelina, one of the little girls who sat in my lap every day. I wished for a way to care for little boys and girls like her for the long haul.

 

I still have never had the desire to conceive, carry, or birth a child. I did, however, have an increased longing for motherhood.

 

In college, I was surrounded by friends and other women who dreamt of becoming a wife and getting pregnant. I respected their aspirations, but I simply could not relate. I had no burning desire to be a wife, and there was no part of me interested in pregnancy. I wrote it off as age, thinking one day that might change.

I ended up meeting Eric, the man who would eventually become my husband, at the end of my college years. We got married when I was 23 years old. I still have never had the desire to conceive, carry, or birth a child. I did, however, have an increased longing for motherhood.

Flashback to when we were still dating, I decided to take a spontaneous, solo trip to Zambia to volunteer with an organization that educated orphans specifically. On that trip, I met a little boy named Frankie. He was 7 years old, or so they thought. His parents were both deceased, and no one had birth records to determine his birthdate. If my previous trip to the Dominican made my heart grow in size, Frankie made my heart beat. I could only describe my love and bond with him similar to the way my own mom loved me. Leaving him was devastating, but bringing him back home with me was no option either.

During all of this, Eric and I began to have some very serious discussions about the future. I told him that I knew without a shadow of a doubt I was meant to be a foster parent and to someday adopt. As one could imagine, this began a series of longer, in-depth conversations. Having no prior exposure or awareness of the foster care system, Eric had a lot of questions. We learned together. We continued dating.

 

 

Not for one second did my dreams, callings, or passions intimidate him. Nor did his intimidate me. Instead, the more we explored and discussed a future life together, the more we felt confirmation that we wanted the same thing. A life bigger than ourselves, one that’s built on loving others.

As we began our marriage, it was clear we were on the same page about becoming foster parents. However, neither of us knew when.

People love to ask questions. First it’s, “When are you two going to get married?” Then, it’s, “When are you two going to have kids?”

Personally, I’ve always found the latter question, though well-intentioned, to be insensitive. Family and friends would pressure us, asking when we would likely expand our family. However, anytime we brought up our desire to become parents through foster care, they made it seem like we weren’t ready and began projecting all of their fears onto us.

 

The more we explored and discussed a future life together, the more we felt confirmation that we wanted the same thing. A life bigger than ourselves, one that’s built on loving others.

 

Two years into our marriage, I still believed and wanted to become a foster mom. In the future, someday, I thought.

However, it was constantly on my mind. It was a desire that I couldn’t even really explain. We would be driving and spot a billboard advertising the question, “Could you be a safe place for a child in need?” I couldn’t get away from the question pressing on my heart.

Another opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage overseas came knocking at my door and I couldn’t pass it up. It was on that trip I felt this deep knowing I could love a child I did not birth just the same.

I wrestled, like many women do, with motherhood in general: What if I’m not a good mom? What about my career? Have we been married long enough? Will we ever get to travel once we have a child in our care? What if this kid hates me?

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was, in so many ways, being prepared for the two toddlers who would come in to destroy my home and take up residence in my heart.

I can’t share my unique journey to motherhood or how I really believe I was born to foster without emphasizing the power of proximity. It wasn’t until my husband Eric and I moved to Chicago that the needs and urgency around child welfare were in our faces daily. Seeds were planted in my heart at a very young age, a catastrophe that had occurred in my own family made it undeniable, saying “yes” to opportunities gave me clarity, but proximity to the needs of children in Chicago was the key to movement.

We applied through the DCFS website and began a very long, tedious, and invasive process to become foster parents. Then, in October 2017, it happened.

It was a random Thursday. After a 30-minute drive towards the suburbs, we picked up our first foster child (we’ll call her N.) at 9 am in a random parking lot.

The caseworker helped introduce us and put N. in her car seat, then we were off. The entirety of the handoff took 10 minutes — and that’s if I’m being generous. She didn’t come with an instruction manual or really anything at all. Just two small bags containing an assortment of clothes and nine diapers, size three.

We told her who we were and asked her questions, but got nothing except a stare that communicated her thoughts: “Who the heck are you strange people?”

I’m so thankful we purchased Puffs cereal from Aldi the night before, an inkling I had based on our toddler nephew’s love for them. Puffs turned out to be the icebreaker.

I asked if she was hungry and would like some Puffs, to which her little head full of the most gorgeous, thick, curly locks nodded yes. She shoved them in her mouth a fistful at a time. Then, we tried peek-a-boo, which got her smiling. I can distinctly remember the first time I saw her beautiful smile. It’s the very first time my heart felt this unexplainable, all-consuming love.

 

 

The first day with N. was completely focused on making her feel comfortable in a new environment and getting her into a routine. Because she was dropped into our lives at the age of three, we had no idea how to gauge what she was used to, what she knew, or didn’t for that matter.

She latched onto me quickly and was smitten, but was cautious with Eric for a while. It would have been easy to assume she’s wary of males because of something that was done to her or in front of her, but I’ve learned that it’s dangerous territory to assume things or write your own story for someone else.

She would tell us, “I wuv youuuuu,” in her high-pitch, silly voice nearly 100 times a day. Sometimes I’d initiate, sometimes she would. Both Eric and I would remind her that she is smart, brave, kind, silly, wonderful, loved, chosen, wanted, and beautiful so much that she sometimes replied, “I GETTTTT ITTT!”

Within the first week, we learned that she loves dancing to music, putting trash in the trashcan, Mickey Mouse, and every food we set in front of her, including kale. It blew our minds how sweet and easy she was. However, just because she was easy, didn’t mean the whole process was.

I was in direct contact with N.’s mom frequently. I was trying to create a relationship, but fumbling badly. Although well-intentioned, I said and did things that were actually more harmful than helpful towards her. Misunderstandings between us caused her to withdraw further. I made assumptions that she no longer wanted to reunify and wondered if she was hoping we would adopt her daughter. She and I went through many ups and downs because of my own insensitivity and judgement. Believing I knew best for her and her child was wrong of me.

We juggled visits with N.’s mom, visits from our caseworker, and appointments needed in order to get her enrolled in a Head Start program so that Eric and I could both continue working full-time.

 

Believing I knew best for her and her child was wrong of me.

 

Once N. was accepted to a nearby preschool, I spent hours filling out paperwork, doing research, and making phone calls in order to advocate for her to receive occupational therapy and be evaluated for an IEP (Individualized Education Program) – N. is a child with special needs.  

Life was no longer about us. She required every ounce of our attention and care. Because of her arthrogryposis, a joint condition, her physical abilities were limited. She could not go up our four flights of stairs without being carried, open things like other toddlers her age, and she struggled to sleep at night.

Forget reading a book for pleasure or writing on my blog, I was just trying to stay afloat. Between my marriage, career, and this new thing called motherhood – I was stuffed to the brim emotionally and had nothing left to give or space in my day.

The process was exhausting. I was still working my full-time job; I was perpetually sick, unable to fight a simple cold because of my body’s exhaustion. Eric and I both felt overwhelmed beyond belief. To make matters worse, Eric felt distant from me and tried to help with N., but she screamed whenever he tried to take care of her, which led to tension in our home.

We continued to go to counseling (something we’d already begun because we believe in being proactive and pursuing growth at all times), which helped us navigate this massive life transition.

Despite the struggles, we remained a team; unified and constantly pointing each other to the bigger picture. We told each other we would get through it. And we did.

Sweet N. came into our lives and flipped our house upside down (quite literally). Shakespeare’s, “Though she be little, she is fierce,” couldn’t be more applicable. She invaded our hearts, which are now as soft and moldable as the play-dough she stomped into my pretty living room rug. She made us laugh, cry, panic, and — many times — throw our hands in the air. It was a long adjustment and most days I was completely and utterly spent.

Caring for her and navigating a relationship with her mom was simultaneously the most joyful and painful experience in my 26 years of existing. But I didn’t yet know that God was about to double that joy and pain.

We had found out early on that N. had a twin sister and a younger brother who were in other homes. I hated that they were separated, but knew three kids under 3-years-old was no small task.

 

 

When the opportunity came knocking on our door (quite literally) to bring N.’s twin sister, M., into our home, we opened the door wide open.

The twins’ mom was elated to know that two of her three babies would be living together going forward. Nothing made me happier than receiving assurance from the woman who birthed and raised these beautiful children that we’d made the right decision.

I worried I might not naturally bond with M. the way I did with N. I feared there was no way I had the same amount of love left in my heart to give to M. because N. had it all. However, all of those worries and fears subsided once she was in our arms.

M. latched hard onto Eric, which created a balance in our daily grind. And as N. witnessed M. playing with and being cared for by Eric, she warmed up to him all the more.

We were a family, and we had found our new normal. They called us Mommy and Daddy no matter how many times we tried to keep them from attaching in that way.

Much to our surprise, our temporary placement continued for months. Our guardianship was “indefinite.” We were asked to consider adoption — a question we had not entertained since the goal of foster care is reunification.

As the seasons passed, we transitioned, believing this was our forever.

 

We were a family, and we had found our new normal. They called us Mommy and Daddy no matter how many times we tried to keep them from attaching in that way.

 

Every holiday, I mentally prepared to hand my girls over, knowing it’s always a possibility that they would spend the occasion with their first family, or even return to them permanently.

 

 

I wanted our girls to reunify with their mom — I knew that was the goal all along. I knew how much they missed her and how bad it must hurt to not see her for months. At the same time, selfishly, I never wanted them to leave. Hell, I cried when I didn’t see them for one day. The days when Eric got them ready for school so I could work out at the gym and the evenings he picked them up and put them to bed while I worked late were the days I went into their room and I’d kiss their cheeks and stare at them — completely in awe of their beauty and resilience.

There was always a small part of me that worried, “What if I don’t love a child fully?” I think part of this fear was driven by friends (or society in general) who made comments about loving their own more than other people’s kids. But, any sliver of fear that I wouldn’t be able to fully love a child I did not carry in my womb dissolved when M. and N. came into my life. They affirmed everything I felt called to many years ago.

This June, we returned our girls to their mom.

We were devastated that our lives were being flipped upside down and that the children for whom we would lay down our lives were leaving our care, but still, we felt a comfort and a peace that kept us afloat in the transition. It wasn’t our own strength, and it wasn’t an optimistic attitude. There is no other explanation for the comfort we felt, other than relying on our faith and each other to get through it.

 

 

Unlike many foster parents, our girls’ mom was open to us remaining in their life and hers. We began to co-parent with her and still see the girls every month.

It hasn’t been easy, navigating the transition and sharing our little loves. There’s drama, heartache, tears, and a lot of unknown. But ask me if it’s worth it and I’ll say 1,000 times YES. We consider ourselves so lucky to experience a love like we have with the twins.

And I got my greatest desire… I am a mother.

No, I don’t have biological children or any children living under my roof at times, so it might not make sense to some people, but I am a mother.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that love makes a family. I can say that as I look down at the 8-year-old laying in my lap right now. She’s our newest little love. She won’t be with us forever, but we are her parents and her temporary safe place for now. Will I get too attached again? Hell yeah.

And that’s exactly the kind of foster mamas this world needs.

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