My first exposure to adoption was when I was in middle school. My mom worked as a volunteer for an international adoption agency. She would meet orphanage staff at the airport who were escorting babies being adopted here in the United States. I remember being unsettled in my young mind, trying to wrap my sheltered head around the idea that there were children who had NO parents. It was something I had never considered. That was when the adoption seed was planted for me.
A few years later, during high school, I had a mentor who had been adopted from foster care at a young age. She and her sister were both adopted. They were separated, each being adopted by a different family. Again, I was unsettled. I could not believe that they would separate siblings! I could not understand why they were not adopted together. It was then that the seed of adoption took root. I knew then that someday I wanted to adopt. And more specifically, I wanted to adopt siblings from foster care.
Fast forward 15 years. My husband and I got married in 2005. We had many discussions about how many children we would have. Adopting from foster care was always a part of that conversation. We decided we would have one child biologically and then adopt. We ended up having three babies in four years! Clearly, we didn’t stick to the plan! When our youngest child was four years old we knew it was time. The seed was ready to start to break through the soil and grow.
Our decision was met with mixed opinions. Some of our friends and family were thrilled for us and some thought we were out of our minds. Many shared horror stories and worst-case scenarios. We were committed to our decision and we moved forward. We contacted a local Foster Family Agency and began the process.
Because I have a Type A personality, we blazed through our classes and home study. I can fill out a form like nobody’s business! Twenty forms, I’m your girl! Then came the hard part…waiting. It. Was. Hard. I don’t do waiting well. It was a year of submitting our home study to county social workers, who were seeking an adoptive family, and then waiting. It was a year of “no” after “no” after “no”. Each “no” meant someone else had been chosen. We continued to submit our home study, but I will be honest in saying it was very difficult. It felt like an emotional roller coaster at times. It was hard to not feel rejected and discouraged.
Our “YES” came in February of 2015. I was standing in a K-Mart of all places when I received the call. A sibling set of two. A boy - age 3, and a girl – age 2. They had both been in the system since birth and they were legally free for adoption! We were finally matched! We met our children four days later. They moved into our home five days after that. Eight days after that initial phone call, they were home! Then the real adventure began.
I have mixed feelings about how much of my children’s story I share publicly. I want to respect the fact that it is their story. At the same time, I know that their story has the power to plant the seed of adoption in someone’s heart. A seed that will one day break the soil and become a “Yes, let's take the next step toward foster care adoption”. It has the power to help someone else find their forever family.
My children were born in less than desirable circumstances. They spent the first part of their life, prior to coming home, in a less than desirable foster home. They were both malnourished and emaciated when they came home. Both were behind physically, developmentally and emotionally. But they were home.
The first few months were difficult. I don’t want to sugar coat it. It was tough. You don’t realize how much you teach a child in the first 2 and 3 years of their lives until you bring a child home that has not had the benefit of parenting. Our daughter did not know her own brother’s name even though they had lived in the same home for over two years! We were clearly starting with a deficit. It took us over six months to teach our son to get out of bed in the morning when he woke up. He was so used to just lying in his bed and not looking for an adult. I think he would have just stayed there all day had we let him. Our children had to learn to play. They had to learn to trust. They had to learn how to accept love. They had to heal. It was a one day at a time season of our life.
Was it hard on our marriage? Yes.
Was it hard on our birth children? Yes.
Did we question our decision early on? Yes.
But, I can now say with complete confidence – It was absolutely the best decision I have ever made. They are my children. They are no less my children than the ones who grew in my body. I love them fiercely, maybe even more fiercely since together we have overcome so much. They both have now met and exceeded their developmental milestones. Mom brag: My son is 7 and just completing the first-grade and he just finished reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” all by himself! This is a child that did not understand the simplest instruction when he first came home. If you were to meet them today, you would never imagine they had the start that they did. For that, I am so grateful. There is no mountain they can’t climb, and they know it.
We have been a family for four years now. It’s hard to remember our life before them. Our birth kids often ask us when we are adopting again. They are ready! They know it’s hard and they want more. They learned that hard can be worth it! Most of them already have plans to adopt when they are adults.
Our instinct as moms is to protect our kids. I believe it’s wired in us as mothers. Our foster care adoption journey showed me that my kids were so much stronger than I gave them credit for. They have such capacity for compassion and strength and resilience. All of my children have me excited for the future.
There are a lot of misconceptions about adopting. The most common is that it is expensive. Most people think it costs thousands of dollars to adopt. This is simply not true. Our total out of pocket costs were less than $600. This covered our training classes and various things we needed to purchase for our home. Things like baby gates, outlet covers, and fire extinguishers. The most expensive thing we had to pay for was our fingerprinting and background checks.
May is National Foster Care Month. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently 440,000 children and youth currently in the foster care system. Of those 440,000 children, 123,000 are waiting for an adoptive family! And 69,500 of those waiting for an adoptive family are children for whom parental rights have already been terminated. Meaning that 69,500 children are legally free for adoption and waiting for an adoptive family!! These are staggering numbers when we allow them to sink in. There are 123,000 children without a family. They are WAITING for someone to step up.
If you are interested in foster care adoption there are steps you can take today. Reach out to a local Foster Family Agency in your area or contact your local Child Welfare Office to see what their next steps are. There is no risk in finding out more. Attend an information meeting. Be willing to see if the adoption seed will sprout.
Sarah is a wife and mama to 7...yes, SEVEN tiny humans! She writes about her journey to motherhood and the struggles and joy of adoption. Check out her blog here.