In the past month, I’ve had several conversations with people about our adoption process. Some people have been asking me about our adoption because they’re considering adoption for their family as well.
Here’s our story.
We decided to become foster parents in 2010. We had been interested in adoption and had heard about the process from other people who were foster parents. At our introductory meeting, we learned that there are more foster children than there are families to take them. For me, that was a deciding moment. After some discussion, we decided to get a dual license as foster & adoptive parents. Note that getting an adoptive license does not mean that you will only get a straight adoption placement; also, obtaining a foster license doesn’t preclude a person from adopting if you wish to.
In order to get our licenses, we attended classes, filled out lots of paperwork and had a home study. We began the licensure process in January and completed in June. We could have gone at a faster or slower pace…there isn’t a strict time frame on getting a license (that I am aware of, anyway).
The hardest part of getting licensed was one particular packet of paperwork. This packet asked very specific questions about what we felt we could handle as foster parents. Some were straightforward and simple, like age range or gender preferences. Then the hard stuff: would we be open to a child who is hearing impaired [to what extent]? visually impaired [to what extent]? partially or fully paralyzed? exposed to alcohol? exposed to drugs? exposed to cigarettes? in a sibling group? has cognitive impairments? addicted to substances? has parents with known mental health issues? physically impaired? has a genetic disorder? has developmental delays [to what extent]? And so on.
This packet was really hard for us. Would we take in a kiddo that was deaf but not blind? Or would we take in a kiddo who was deaf but has slight visual impairments? Would we take in a child exposed to alcohol but not drugs (or vice versa)? I mean, we’re doing this to help out a little kid…shouldn’t we try to be available to those who would have a really hard time finding a family to take them? It was a soul searching process and we answered honestly & sincerely about what we felt we could handle with some stretches here & there just to leave room.
At that time, we had two daughters, ages 5 and 2. One thing that we felt strongly about was the length of stay. In other words, we didn’t want a revolving door of kiddos in and out of the house because that would be confusing for our little kids and obviously, difficult for all. We requested that we receive calls for kiddos who looked likely for adoption (those who had siblings already adopted, parents who already given up parental rights or had rights terminated, etc.). We knew there were no guarantees about adopting a child placed with us but we wanted to be open to responding to a need.
We got our license in June of 2010 and received a phone call for a wee little babe at the end of August. The call came around 2:30p and the social worker indicated they needed to find a home for the baby by 5p. They gave me all the info they had on her (which wasn’t much) and I scribbled all the details in the margins of a piece of mail sitting on my table. The social worker said I had 30 minutes to call back with an answer.
30 minutes. Wow.
I called Greg and was able to reach him right away. I read him the details and he said he’d come right home to talk about it. We talked…what is there to say? There’s a little baby who needs a place to go and we felt up to it. I called the social worker, got the address and we were on our way. We called our parents on the way…something like “Hey, how’s it going? We’re on our way to pick up a NEW HUMAN BEING. Ok, talk later.”
We got there and sat in the waiting room. A thousand thoughts and worries were flying through my mind. I wish I could say that it was all noble thoughts, but there were some “how would I feel if she’s crossed-eyed?” and “what on earth am I doing?” questions in my head as well.
A few moments later, two social workers brought out a little baby in a car seat. They were just going to give her to us and have us on our way, but we felt like there needed to be a little more ceremony to the whole thing so they took us to a conference room. We asked them more questions and then the social worker left us alone so we could just hang out and feed her.
We stopped at Target to purchase formula & diapers and then brought her home to meet our other girls. It was a beautiful moment.
Then came the hardest part: the waiting. This is what I tell people who are considering either foster to adopt versus an international/domestic adoption: your wait will either be on the front end or back end. I know anecdotally (because I’ve never done an international adoption) that people go through the home study, paperwork, visas, etc. and then they wait for the call that there’s a matched kiddo waiting. And then there’s the wait for final paperwork from government, etc. Sometimes this call comes soon-ish, sometimes it can take years. With foster-to-adopt (at least in my area), you may receive a call soon-ish and then you wait to see if you’re going to be able to adopt (which can take years, as was our case).
The goal of the foster system is to reunite biological families, which is a good thing. But there are instances in which reunification may not be the best case scenario for the kiddo and it may take a long time to establish that. While we fostered our little one, she had visits with her parents and two of her siblings twice per week. We had a visitation worker come to our home, take the babe to a supervised visitation facility and then bring her back after the two hour visit.
There’s a lot to say about the visits. Some kiddos are able to visit with mom and/or dad at their home, but that wasn’t the case for us. To be honest, the visits were very difficult for me. The visitation workers who came to our house changed a lot (the job seemed to have a lot of turnover) and I felt like I was constantly giving “our” baby away. Sometimes, I would buckle the babe into the visitation worker’s vehicle because they seemed completely incapable with babies. I would wonder what was going on at the visit, what food her mom & dad were feeding her (we suspected some food allergies), and so on. I would feel guilty and wonder if the babe would have attachment issues because I was constantly handing her over to complete strangers (the visitation workers). Sometimes the visitation worker would bring the baby to the visit and her parents were a no-show and then would bring her back to our house within 20 minutes; other times her parents would end the visit early and without notice. So on visit days, I couldn’t plan to leave the house during the allotted time because I wasn’t certain if the visit would take place or if it would last the whole two hours.
Eventually, we fell into our new routine. Our oldest child started school and life became a lot busier with three little kids and homework.
We had our babe in our home for just over two years as a foster child. During this period of time, there were a couple of instances in which it looked very likely that we would not be able to keep her. Obviously it was a difficult (and long) road to walk. I loved this babe like one of my own, yet I knew that she wasn’t mine. And I didn’t want her biological parents to fail…but if they succeeded in getting more stability in their lives, then that meant that “my” baby would not be mine any longer.
But I knew I couldn’t hold her at arm’s length. We loved her. We celebrated first & second birthdays, went on vacations, took her to the zoo, celebrated family events. We rejoiced in her first crawl, walk, words, song, dance.
First taste of pizza–an important life event
There were many court dates set during the two year period. Quite a few times, the court date was cancelled and rescheduled for reasons not always understood or articulated to us which, of course, prolonged the process. And most court dates we were not allowed to go in, so we received the report secondhand from the social workers afterward. That was hard. I so badly wanted to be a fly on the wall during those hearings so I could know what was going on.
In October of 2012, the courts had a hearing to decide if they would terminate her biological parents’ rights. I was there that day. The hearing began two hours late and we sat waiting for it toÂ begin. I sat with her mom because we had never really had a conversation. There were so many things I wanted to ask her, questions that I felt were important: where is she from? who is her family? what was her childhood like? what is her life like now? And most importantly, I wanted her mom to know that we loved this child, and I wanted to let her know that I knew she loves her too. We did have that conversation and I wrote it all down later for Luciana, knowing it will be important to her as she grows up
The judge decided that day that it was best to terminate the parental rights. I experienced such an intense mix of feelings. Sure, I was overjoyed that we’d be able to keep this child, but seeing the anguish on the face of another mother was heartbreaking. This was her last kiddo, her last chance to be a mom. And now that door is closed for her. I felt sober leaving the courthouse, and it’s hard to describe that feeling, even now.
A date was set for December for the adoption hearing. We invited family & friends to this long-awaited hearing. We were so floored by the love and support we had received from each one of them during our 2+ years of ups and downs.
The hearing itself was a very meaningful event for us. The courtroom was packed with family & friends. The judge had each person introduce themselves and how they knew us. It took a long time for the whole room to say their part and it was so special for us. My heart felt like it was going to burst. The judge even let us hit the gavel at the end. The girls were thrilled!
We had a party after the hearing, where my newly adopted child knocked a glass of red wine on an ivory rug. Such is life.
We were issued a new birth certificate several weeks later with her new name on it and we were listed as the parents. I had never given much though to this formality but when the certificate arrived in the mail, it was deeply moving for me. It’s official. I am her mama.
Luciana has eight brothers and sisters, but we only know two of them. The family who had adopted the two siblings were open to connecting with us and live in the area. We’ve spent birthdays and special events with their family which is incredibly meaningful to us and will be an important connection for Luciana as she gets older.
We celebrate our two year adoption anniversary this month and writing this out has been a reflective process for me. Perhaps you or someone you know are considering foster care or adoption either now or in the future. I hope that sharing my experience is encouraging & informative for you. I know that everyone’s story is different. I offer only one perspective and there are many more in this big story called life.
Thank you for reading.