November is National Adoption Month. Currently in the United States there are over 400,000 children in foster care and approximately 108,000 of those children are waiting for permanent homes. National Adoption Month is a time to raise awareness about adopting a child from foster care and to emphasize that children never outgrow the need for a family, no matter their age.
In honor of National Adoption Month, the Tioga County Department of Social Services asked one of their own foster and adoptive families, to share their journey from foster care to adoption. Here is their story:
When I began my journey as a foster parent there were some things I said I could never do. I could never find love for a birth parent whose actions resulted in their child going into foster care. Don’t bring me any babies; I could never love a baby and work for reunification. If we were ever to adopt, I could never participate in an open adoption.
Seven months later we received a call about a baby. And we said yes. The minute they placed him in my arms I loved him. The amount of love I felt that first moment caught me off guard. Exactly why I had said “no babies.”
Loving a baby was easy. The anticipation of meeting the birth parents, not so much. Would they be angry, devastated, hating me and seeing me as the enemy? There were so many unknowns, and I was braced for anything. What I didn’t expect was to find love in my heart for the birth mom at the first meeting. She was overwhelmed. It was apparent. What a surprise to find my heart ached for her.
That first week turned into the first month. There were meetings and visitations and a doctor visit that mom and I attended together. It wasn’t easy and yet, it wasn’t as difficult as I had always imagined it would be. We began finding our way with each other as birth mom and foster mom.
The first month turned into three months. Emails were exchanged daily. I learned to refer to her as Mom. Was it okay if we gave him Tylenol for his teeth? What day was best to schedule his therapy for? Would she be okay if we tried probiotics for his tummy? At the same time, a shift happened. She began to ask me questions such as what food does he like best, what size clothes is he in now, and what do you think I should get him for Christmas?
I wanted the birth dad to be part of the equation as well – in the end that was not to be. But even in a brief encounter I discovered that his heart to wanted what was best for his son. He asked if we had a garden. I said yes, as a matter of fact we did. His hardened face softened and suddenly a little boy peeked out. “One of my foster Moms had a garden too. It’s some of my best memories when I was a foster kid. I’m glad you have a garden.” I wanted to hug him.
There is a constant tug of war in the hearts of foster parents. You love a child as your own and yet, you discover this longing for the birth parents to be able to successfully parent, even if it means goodbye in the end for you. Every day you remind yourself that your job is to let go. My goal was to send baby home and help her bring him home.
A few months after placement, mom brought her son his first ever Halloween costume. He was adorable. We were two moms snapping photos: one birth mom, one foster mom, both loving a sweet, baby boy.
On Christmas day, gifts in hand, we made our way to her one room apartment. When we left, I found myself wishing that in a different time and place it would be appropriate to have spent the entire day with her. How far I had come from the day I sat at my kitchen table telling a caseworker that “I could never love a birth parent.”
A year came to pass. I expressed surprise constantly that what I said I couldn’t do, I was doing. Some days I loved that baby so much I couldn’t imagine how we would go through reunification, but at the same time knowing the joy I would feel to witness the birth mom be a successful parent. I’d hold him and pray, almost frantically, “Please, help me let go when the day comes. Please. Keep him safe and let him know he is always, and forever loved.”
I like to know the plan. Not knowing which direction it would go was harder than knowing for sure goodbye was coming. Foster parenting requires you to commit to love, no matter the outcome. You don’t partially love in case they go home. You embrace each child who is placed into your family, as if they are forever yours, because that is what each child needs. Bonded, attached love. There were days we didn’t want to do it. How does one emotionally prepare, when one can’t know what the end is?
We were one year and five months in, and the birth mom brought it up. “You give him what I can’t. I want you to adopt him. But, can we do an open adoption?” And there it was. Another one of my nevers.
As court grew closer we continued our visits. She talked about how weird it would be to not see him weekly anymore. I grieved that loss for her. I simply could not imagine never seeing him again. It was very difficult, the shift between her as mom, and now me as mom, in those last weeks. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it all. For so long reunification had been what my heart had prepared for. Now, we were moving into forever with him as our son instead. What a mixture of joy and sorrow, gift and loss.
The three of us discussed a name change for some privacy concerns. She had a request regarding his name and we honored the request. His name changed, but it was a name change the three of us agreed to. Since then, she and I have found a nickname that has helped bridge the gap that changing his name created. It’s a bridge between the name she knew him by and the name I know him by. Somehow, it’s become the name we both share on either side of our journey as his moms.
I didn’t expect to weep in the back of the courtroom the day birth Mom signed her papers. It’s a photo, so vivid and clear in my memory. I see it even now. How brave she was that day. This wasn’t a mother who didn’t care. This was a mom who cared enough to make the choice that allowed another woman, me, to be called Mama by the child she had birthed.
The papers for her to sign kept coming. It seemed my husband and I were watching her heart unravel with every signature, signifying the acceptance that she wasn’t going to be his mom anymore. Every signature became her loss. Every signature became our gift.
Time has passed. We texted yesterday. It’s time for a letter and a photo to be sent, and she wanted to give me her new address. The address changes frequently, but she makes sure I always have the latest one. She loves updates on how he is, and I love filling her in.
She soaks in the photos, and every time I take a picture I do it with the quarterly update in mind. We catch up on her life in those exchanges. I remind her to make wise and safe choices and tell her we want her to be okay. She thanks us and tells us she’s hanging in there.
I certainly don’t want it to sound like the perfect, fairy tale story. It wasn’t. It isn’t. It’s been messy and complicated and full of a vast range of emotions. And there is always the reality that our family is because of a loss.
People say he’s so lucky to have us. While people mean well, that phrase puts me on edge. All adoption always involves loss. Always. It is important to recognize this realty when adoption is discussed, especially around the children who are adopted. I don’t ever want our son to be told he’s “lucky to have us.” We aren’t some heroes who rescued him.
We are just a mom and dad who love their son. I long for people to grasp that to be adopted; a child must lose what they should have ideally had.
Here I am now, full circle. Every day that I look at my son, I see his birth mom peek through in his eyes and his grin, and I wonder if she’s okay. I see his birth dad in the way he dances, for his dad has a gift for dance. I ache for the birth parents as I kiss my son’s curly head. I hope that they have peace, because somehow along the way, I grew to love the ones I said I could never love.
Do you have room in your heart and your home? If so, join the team that cares about kids, the Tioga County Foster and Adoption Parenting Program, where they know that temporary care makes a permanent difference.
Tioga County needs caring foster and adoptive families who can provide a nurturing home for children. They are especially in need of foster and adoptive families who can provide care to teenagers, sibling groups and children with special needs.
For more information about becoming a certified foster and/or adoptive parent, contact Sarah Moore at the Tioga County Department of Social Services by calling (607) 687-8346 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.