It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend when we got the call, our first foster care placement. Would we be willing to take a baby girl, 5-weeks-old? How does anyone say no to that?
Already the parents of two wonderful boys, my husband and I considered the idea of adoption, but he was much more hesitant than I was. There was something calling to me, almost like a vision. I could see us as a family of five, with a little girl in the mix. It took some heavy debating and arm-twisting (and a little nudge from his cousin the social worker) to finally convince my husband that this was the right step for us.
When considering adoption, foster-to-adopt was the only consideration I had in mind. We live in a small town; an adoption agency did not seem readily available. Of course, being related to a social worker also convinced us that foster-to-adopt would work for us. A new year came, we took the leap. By February we were ensconced in training. Through this training we saw the worst of worst case scenarios, but still we went on. Sane people would have been scared away, but for some reason we kept up. Finally, certified as foster parents! Then … the wait.
The wait … When considering foster-to-adopt, the wait is part of the process. The wait to get through classes, the wait for “the call.” Then the placement call comes, and you jump in with both feet. Figuring out daycare, appointments here, appointments there. "WIC," what is that? Snuggles and bedtime stories. Hugs and wiping away tears. Hurry up and clean, the social worker is stopping by today! It is everyday life flying by you, so busy ... but while you fly, you still wait. You parent, and you love, and you wait for the foster system. While you love, more and more each day, you set to the side the reminders that you have absolutely and positively no control over the future of the little person in your care. You pray for forever, but social workers have a different job. In your mind you say there are no guarantees here, and you foolishly believe you have control over your heart, but you don’t. A day, a week, a month, and that’s it, you are hopelessly and forever in love. But still, you wait, until the powers that be establish whether you are a forever family or not.
I do not think there is any amount of training that can truly prepare a person to understand the opposing elements of fostering-to-adopt, and the State’s number one goal, which is reunification of families. Sure they warn you, sure your head “understands.” Logically you can spout off to any person who will listen that it is important to keep families together. Realistically, though, to the heart, it is a different matter. Your heart tells you there is no way in the world you will let this child live in this world in less than ideal circumstances. And it is the noblest of the noble who can cheer on birth families and wish them all the best to reunify. These people are saints among us, and they make our world a better place. They must operate in a manner of faith that I know I did not have while I was waiting. I will be the first to admit I was more than relieved when our birth mom left the state. It just confirmed in my heart that my baby girl was meant to be mine, forever.
About two weeks short of two years later, we finally had our adoption hearing. In a courtroom full of our family members, we promised to love and care and raise our little girl, no matter what challenges lie ahead. What a beautiful day it was. Our day of meant to be. And what a little treasure my daughter is. Joyful, sweet, sassy, and strong! All in an itty bity little package. She is the link that completes our family.
I must admit, though, that I know so much more now than I did then. Today I learned of a fellow foster mom who won’t be transitioning to forever family, and her heart is thoroughly and indescribably broken. I believe she knew through this process that forever might not come, but, just like me, she pushed the doubt aside. How can you not? One squeeze and a kiss good night, and you cannot fathom that this is not your forever.
To jump into the world of foster-to-adopt, a person must be absolutely fearless, and find within them a certain measure of faithfulness. Faith that this situation will turn out the way it is supposed to, and that I will have the strength to live with the result, no matter what it might be. This is the advice I would give if someone asked me now. You must be fearless enough to live in the moment, and love with all you’ve got -- these children deserve this because no child comes into foster care without some sort of painful history. Fearless, but faithful, faithful in a way that means you might not end up where you wanted to be. For us, I really believe we thought we knew what we were getting into, but now I understand we were definitely naïve, so naïve, and so lucky.
In our country, as a whole, there is such a need for loving and caring foster families. There is also a need to be realistic about the foster-to-adopt process, and a need for much education about why reunification is important, if it is possible. Finally, we must fight the notion that foster children are broken; because they are not. These children are resilient and brave and have so much to offer us all. No baby is born into this world with a guarantee of perfection, and the same is true of children who are in foster care. Yes, these kids might have needs that a foster parent did not expect, and to be a foster parent or foster-to-adopt parent, you must be willing to seek help if it is necessary. But this is so true for any parent, no matter how your family comes together. I am so very thankful that we took this journey, that we, without really understanding or knowing at the time, were fearless, faithful, and truly lucky.