Tag Archives: foster care

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

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Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Have you ever woken up and no longer recognized the life you were living?  I mentioned in my last post that there were lots of changes in my life.  Some changes have been amazing and exciting, others are incredibly frightening and have left me feeling lost and unsure.  As a result, my entire life has been turned upside down and though I’ve wanted to blog about it, I’ve been a bit unsure about how much to reveal.  I’m still not sure about that.  So this is a beginning of a conversation I hope to continue one day.  I hope you will have patience with me as a struggle through this.

My trip down the rabbit hole began last December.  Life was pretty good.  I was working at a church I loved, with people I respected.  Little Man and I were progressing well, moving toward adoption, and enjoying our first Christmas season together.  I was expecting Baby Amaia to arrive in a few short months, and had been stocking up on the most adorable baby clothes and tiny little diapers.

Then the tornado hit.  Three weeks before Christmas I lost my job.  The job that I loved and was so passionate about.  And although I was beginning to struggle with the 60-80 hour work weeks I was putting in as a single mom, the news caught me completely off-guard.  There is a lot about that situation that I would like to share.  There’s a lot that I feel needs to be heard and understood.  But when you work in the church, things are complicated.  A whole-other-universe kind of complicated.  I was heartbroken, and angry, and insanely stressed.  Because apart from every other thing I was feeling, I was a single mom without a job, and when you work in pastoral ministry you can’t just find another job in town.  Continuing to work in my field would mean moving, probably out of state.  And moving would mean giving up my son and soon-to-be-born daughter, who were still in the foster care system.  And that was not an option.  So I went into full-on panic mode.

I applied for close to a thousand jobs.  I only got three interviews and no job offers.  Then on January 29 I got a call that taught me fear.  Baby Amaia’s bio mother was going into labor almost three weeks early and they had discovered multiple problems with the baby.  They didn’t expect her to survive the delivery.  As the foster parent I had no legal rights, and no way of knowing what was going on.  I waited and prayed all night.  Sometime the next day I learned she had survived the birth.  For two weeks I waited each day for news, hoping for miracles.  I was able to go see her in the NICU and was blown away by how tiny she was.  She was hooked up to dozens of monitors and IV tubes.  Then on February 12 I received the phone call that changed our lives.  Baby Amaia would only live a few more hours.  They had decided to take her off life support and she would not survive.  I rushed to the hospital and held my sweet girl for the first and last time, as I watched the life ebb from her body.  There are no words for the pain I felt that day, the pain that still haunts me.  I miss her every day.

After months of looking for jobs I decided to become a substitute teacher until I could find full-time work.  Subbing in an inner city school district was an eye-opening experience.  I have worked professionally with kids for 13 years but I had never experienced anything like that.  The challenges were incredible.  After a few weeks I was hired to stay at one elementary school where I rotated between all types of classrooms, from pre-k through 6th, from standard, to special needs, to emotionally disturbed.  The students pushed me to new levels of frustration and I came home with more than one injury.  But they also broke my heart and made me fall in love with them.

In March an unexpected blessing came.  Little Man’s biological mother suddenly and unexpectedly signed over her parental rights, naming me as the adoptive parent.  This cleared the path for us to begin moving forward with his adoption.  It’s a humbling experience sitting in the courtroom as a parent signs away their parental rights to make way for you to become the mother of their child.  To sit and listen as the judge asks “Are you sure?” in a hundred different ways.  At the end of the day I was free to adopt my Little Man and his case was officially transferred to the adoption department.

Then began months of waiting, bureaucracy, and frustration.  It seemed like everything was moving at a snail’s pace.  In the meantime I began to explore the possibility of moving back to Illinois to be near my family.  Being a single mom is hard without any family around.  With no family in New York I was at a bit of a disadvantage.  I’d always had a great network of friends and church members who served as my support system, but when I lost my job I lost about 95% of those people.  I had not only lost my job, I had lost my church and most of my friends.  Since I’d been exploring the possibility of going back to school and getting a second masters in teaching, school counseling, or speech therapy, having family around would be really nice.  Now that I was looking at adoption, moving to be closer to family was a possibility.

Finally, just a few short weeks ago, we finalized our adoption!  After 588 days in foster care, Little Man became part of his Forever Family!  I can now officially introduce you to Austin!

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After a year and a half, I can finally show you my adorable Little Man’s face!  Officially becoming a family is definitely the highlight of my year, and the best thing that has ever happened to me.  It makes all the struggles and pain of the past year worthwhile.  I am so blessed to call him mine, and so thankful God brought him into my life.

Austin’s adoption day was August 26.  I had decided it was best to move to Illinois, and we had been making plans prior to the adoption.  So a mere two days after the adoption we loaded up a truck full of stuff and the next day we pulled out of town.  We’ve been in Illinois for a few weeks now and everything has been a huge adjustment.  I’ve been living in large cities since I left home at 17.  Now I’ve moved to a small town where everyone knows everything about each other.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are no stand-alone Starbucks (although, thank God, there is one in a grocery store), big shopping areas, or fun attractions.  I’m also starting my job search all over again, this time in a small town with far less opportunities.  I’m renting a house for the first time and purchasing appliances, dealing with spiders and cockroaches, and discovering the [insert sarcasm] joys of living in a home that’s over a 100 years old.  I’m struggling with a school district that has been very frustrating to get registered with and just decreased Austin’s services significantly–from 10 times a week in a 5 hour program to 4 times a week in a 2 1/2 hour program.  And on top of all that I’m trying to unpack, make new friends, cook without a stove (going on 2 weeks now), acclimate Austin, and try not to freak out about how I’m going to survive until I find a job.

This is my life now, and I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.  So much of the past year has been overwhelmingly heartbreaking.  It has challenged my faith and left me in an emotional blackhole.  And yet, there are glimpses of beauty and hope.  Becoming a forever family is the best thing in my life.  Even painful things, like losing my job, have taught me to trust God and allowed me to see the beauty in spending time as a family–which was something we seriously lacked when I worked in the church.  I don’t know where this yellow brick road will lead me.  I have no idea what my life will be like five years from now–what I will be doing as my next career, where we’ll be living (because houses with cockroaches and zero storage space are not my cup of tea), or how far Austin will have progressed on his journey.  But I have hope.  The wonders of Oz await!

I Chose Loss

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I chose loss. I volunteered for it. Signed up and waited for my turn. I chose loss; but I never thought it would feel like this.

Four days ago I lost my daughter. My beautiful baby girl, who had only ever known life in a NICU incubator. Four days ago I held her in my arms as she lay dying, trying to choke back the sobs as I whispered my love to her. It was the first time she had been cuddled to my side. Four days ago I lost the sweet child I’d been planning and preparing for during the past eight months. And I walked into an empty home filled with baby things I had hoped to fill with loving memories.

I kissed my baby goodbye and walked out of the small, dark room they use for these things, trying to hold it together long enough to get to my car. Long enough to get out before I completely lost it. But I couldn’t make it. Walking through the NICU halls I could see all these other beautiful smiling babies—success stories who had once fought for their lives in this same place. And I lost it, right there in front of the elevators, as I ran to find a bathroom where my sobs choked me until they turned out my breakfast. And I lost it again in the elevator. And the car. And pulling into my garage with its stores of baby goods. And when I finally climbed into bed and pulled the comforter over my head in a useless attempt to shut out the world.

I’ve lived in hiding for the past four days. Barely leaving my front door, other than a trip to the ER when the grief translated itself into physical illness. Today I had to get out. Not for me, but my sweet three-year-old son who doesn’t understand any of this. For my rambunctious love who has been trapped inside our small home for days as the wind chill dropped to -40 outside.   It seems a fitting temperature for death. But not for little boys. So we bundled up and drove to the mall playground. I didn’t want to go. I knew what would happen. But I chose this, and so I held his small hands as he jumped and played. And then the inevitable—we rounded the giant tree to find an adorable little baby girl sitting in her mother’s lap. I couldn’t breathe at first. I needed to look away, but that sweet little boy’s voice kept telling me “Over here, Mommy” as he ran right towards her. I tried to turn my back on them, to hold my son’s hand while looking in another direction. I kept catching glimpses of her mother—looking bored as she held this sweet baby in one hand and texted with the other. I wanted to run up to her and scream, “Don’t take this for granted! Pay attention for all of us who can no longer hold our babies!” But this would only make me look like a mad woman—reveal all the cracks that are breaking into my carefully held together mask.

I wander through purposeless days–throwing away baby shower checklists and registry cards, opening letters that were sent while she was still with us, hiding baby toys in a now forbidden closet. I try to focus on my sweet little boy and hold things together so he can experience some sense of normalcy. And I wait. I wait to find out the funeral arrangements, to learn if she will be buried or cremated, to find out if I will be allowed some small memento from her brief life. Just like I waited sleepless nights to find out if she made it through delivery and her first night, waited to meet her for the first time, waited to be allowed in the NICU.

I wait because this was my choice. My sweet girl is not my biological daughter. And although I have anxiously awaited and prepared her arrival for the past 8 months, I have no legal rights to her—to see her in the hospital, to make the choice to end life support, or to plan her funeral.

I am a foster mom, and I chose this.

I chose to love children who were not my own. Children to whom I have no legal rights. Children whose futures lay in others’ hands. Children I could not love any more had I been their biological mother.

I met my son when he was two and a half—all questioning eyes and nervous giggles, as he tried to stow away toys and hide behind curtains. Over the past 11 months we have learned together what love and trust and family mean. I may have to get permission to take him out of the county or change his hairstyle, but he is my son. And we are moving towards adoption.

The precious little baby I lost was my son’s half-sister. From the time that the biological mom knew she was pregnant, I knew she would be my daughter. Nothing is ever certain in foster care, but according to the case worker, there was a 99.9% chance she would be placed in foster care. And because they strive to keep siblings together, as long as I wanted her, this beautiful girl would become a part of our family.

And I did want her. I knew from the time they told me that my son was on the track for adoption that one day I would want to adopt a little sister for him. Most people doubted my choice. I’m single and my son is overcoming a truckload of special needs as a result of his trauma. People questioned whether or not I could parent two kids. They asked if it was wise for me to take on more “work.” They wondered if it was in the best interest of my son to live with his sister. They doubted that the baby would be safe with a special needs kid in the home.

Once the time came for her birth, we realized the severity of her health problems and were told that she probably wouldn’t survive the delivery. A therapist told me it was better this way. And then she did survive delivery . . . and the first night . . . and the first week . . . and I finally confided to a neighbor what was going on. She told me to leave the baby at the hospital. That she wasn’t worth all the work and I had my hands full already. The doctors felt she’d never survive, that it wasn’t worth using extreme measures on a hopeless case. And since I wasn’t even the foster mother yet, I got to hear the news without any of the obligatory “we’re sorry” or caring bedside manner.

They meant well. They just didn’t understand that she was already my daughter. So I continued to fight for her and pray for her and stay awake nights hoping for a miracle. One week turned into two weeks. And just when I thought things might be more hopeful, I got a call from the caseworker—they expected her to die in the next few hours. I’d only seen her once, I’d never held her, and I had no rights to go visit her; but my baby was about to die. The sweet little girl I had loved and prayed for and stocked a nursery for only had a few precious hours left.

I lost my daughter. The sadness is unimaginable, and every day my thoughts are filled with her and the future that we were robbed of. I remember all the plans I had for our family, and it’s sometimes more than I can bear.

But I remind myself that I chose loss. I chose to be a parent whose child could be torn away from them at any moment. I am a part of a system where kids are moved on to different foster homes, placed with family members, returned to parents, and then come back into the system again. I am a parent in a system that asks me to love each child with every part of me—just as if they were my own—and then be willing to lose them. That’s what I signed up for. That’s what I wanted. And though I never imagined one of those children would be lost this way, I knew there was every possibility that my heart would be broken. This is what I chose.

But I also choose love. I choose hope. I choose to believe she is in a place where her tiny little body is no longer filled with pain. I choose to believe that God will bring healing to our family. I choose to believe that this pain, and loneliness, and suffocating sadness won’t last forever. And I choose to carry her heart in my heart forever. I chose loss, yes. But more importantly, I am choosing love.

photo amaia

The Road to Adoption

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A few of you picked up the term “pre-adoptive” in my last post.  I kinda tucked in there all stealth like and rolled right on by, as I dealt with first-day sleep problems and enrolling for daycare.  But now let me unpack that for you.

A pre-adoptive foster home is one where the parents are both willing and licensed to adopt the foster kids in their home if they become eligible for adoption.  For any of you who have dealt with the foster care system you know that this takes years.  And in most states (including New York) the first and unending plan is reunification with the bio family now matter how much work that takes.  Usually they don’t even begin to talk about adoption until a child has been in care for for 15-24 months.  Then even after they start talking about adoption as a possible plan, it may still take countless years for the child to actually be freed for adoption.  (Case in point:  check out Blitzen’s story over at FosterWee.wordpress.com.  If I have my dates right, she’s been with a foster family who is willing to adopt her, waiting to be legally freed for adoption for 6 years now.)

But my Little Man is only 2 years old and has only been in care for two months.  So why were they looking for a pre-adoptive home?  Well, apparently mom has “many” other children–half siblings to Little Man, and they are ALL already legally freed for adoption.  And she seems to have no interest in changing her patterns now.  In fact, there isn’t even visitation set up because she refuses to communicate with the caseworker.  So, based on previous patterns of her behavior, when they went to remove him from the last foster home, they were expecting his next foster placement (aka me), to quite likely be his forever home.

Woah.

Let that just sit with you for a moment.  I mean, I’m still trying to let it sink in with me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love this little guy, and it would be so good for him to not have to move from home-to-home-to-home throughout his life.  It would be so good for him to achieve permanency without a lot of the trauma that usually accompanies growing up in care.  It would be so good for him to have the consistency of care that would help him grow and move beyond his early delays.  It’s just SO unexpected.  It is SO not how foster care normally works.  And it’s SO not what I thought I was signing up for.

And what’s ironic is that in my foster class every other parent was looking at fostering as a path to adoption.  They wanted to expand their family (or in some cases adopt a family member).  And almost all of them would really prefer a baby or adorable toddler.  Just like my little man.  I was the sole person in class who said although I was open for adoption, it wasn’t my end goal.  I was the one crazy person who said, “give me your kids and I’ll love on them, and then give them back when you ask me to, and let my heart be broken into a million pieces.”  And that is how foster care often works.  You have kids, you fall in love, you have to give them back to their parents or family members.  And you try to trust that going back and reuniting with their family will be the best thing for them.  So how is it the one person in class who said “you can use me as a revolving door and I’ll just absorb the pain for that” ended up getting the crazy exceptional case of an adorable toddler who is being pronounced pre-adoptive after only 2 months in care?

Lord only knows.  But the bottom line is that I am a pre-adoptive foster home.  Because I know one thing for certain.  I fall in love with every kid I work with, and I would do anything in my power to make their lives better.  And Little Man is no exception.  And I have been given this humbling power to make his life better.  And so I will do everything I can to make his life the best possible.  To fill him up with as much love and laughter and grace and peace and kindness and wisdom and joy as possible.  And that is true whether I become his forever home or just another stop on his journey.