As children, my sister and I would pretend to be pregnant, placing balls under our shirts. As a fourth-grade teacher, I saw my future child in my students. And following marriage, I dreamed about what it would be like to be a parent.
Despite those dreams, we were unable to conceive and then an emergency hysterectomy forced me to face a truth—if I wanted to be a mom, I would have to take a different path.
Although many foster and adoptive parents have children born to them, for some of us these services offer a means not only to help children but also to become the parents they need and we want to be.
Dan and I married 17 years ago, when I was newly out of college. I graduated in December of that year with an education degree. Being mid-school year, it was difficult for me to find a full-time teaching job.
At that time, there was a family from our church adopting a sibling group who needed child care. I became their nanny during the day—my first experience working directly with children in the foster-care system.
I believe God used this experience to foreshadow an intended story, one very different from Dan’s and my own plans.
They were great kids and I loved my time with them. In the evenings, Dan and I would have conversations about doing something similar, welcoming a sibling group into our home someday.
We decided to start a family but five years passed before I became pregnant with our first son. Because of continuing challenges with conception, we believed God was telling us to close that door.
We moved on and started to consider adoption again. We researched, prayed and both felt called by God to foster a sibling group. It broke our hearts to hear about siblings not being able to be together. Both Dan and I had siblings growing up and are still close to them. We went through classes, interviews and a home study. After that home study, I apologized to Dan for being cranky and exhausted. It turns out I was pregnant with our second son.
God had pressed the pause button on foster care.
After our second son was born, we moved to Pennsylvania so Dan could finish his dissertation and earn his doctorate. Once settled, we felt God was telling us to press “un-pause” and we did. We included the boys in our conversations about fostering siblings and possible adoption.
They were excited about it.
We have friends at church with four kids, three of whom became part of the family through foster-adopt with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, so we reached out to Diakon to begin classes.
We planned to seek two foster two girls, no older than 5. We got several phone calls over six months. During that time, one of those phone calls was to provide respite care for a sibling group of three, two girls and a boy, ages 6 through 18 months. It was just for five days, so we said sure!
The way they interacted with our boys showed us that limiting our foster-care choice to under age 5 wasn’t necessary (another nudge from God to allow Him to write our story).
After that respite placement, we contacted Diakon and increased our age limit. Shortly after that, we received a phone call about two girls, ages 7 and 3. They are now our adopted daughters.
Yet God’s story had another unexpected chapter. A Diakon adoption specialist contacted us nearly two years later and told us the girls’ birth mother was pregnant again and asked us to be a resource family for this newborn. How could we resist? Their baby brother was born and he is now our adopted son.
God just wrote our story so perfectly. Flexibility is so important. We learned it wasn’t about us growing our family; it was about meeting the needs of these kids.
We learned not to try to control every detail and to allow God to direct us. That story is so much better than how you might want to write it yourself.
Amy Murray has a plan, should she ever be lucky enough to win big in the lottery.
“I’d buy a big piece of land and build homes for all of them,” she says of older children who remain in foster care, waiting to be adopted. “They are at a huge disadvantage. When these kids go through what they go through, they trust no one. Sometimes they don’t even know how to articulate what has happened to them.”
In May, Amy formally adopted one of those young people.
Skylar, now 13, had a long history in foster care, Amy says. At the age of six, she had been removed from her mother’s home, when the environment became unsafe, and placed in foster care. She then lived with her birth father and his girlfriend until that arrangement became unsafe, which led to her being moved to a number of foster homes.
We social workers use a lot of lingo and many acronyms to describe the work we do in the child welfare world.
In fact, that language—most fields, though, have their own jargon—can become confusing to new families as they begin to gather information about the children we place, the foster care or adoption process and whether they want to become foster or adoptive parents or both.
One of the terms we use that people question is “special needs.” Often, when someone hears those words from us for the first time they think about children who are disabled or handicapped, probably needing special educational accommodations. This perception is not, however, what this phrase means to us.
At times, that question—continually and casually posed by family and friends—threatened to overwhelm me. If I had been pregnant with another child, it would have been celebrated. Instead, the prospect of adding to our family through adoption from foster care was met with raised eyebrows and concern.
Our biological daughter, Amelia, was 4 years old when we began the foster-to-adopt process. There were so many fears surrounding the uncertain world of foster care. In the hopes of offering love and safety to another child, would we destroy our own child’s sense of security?
For some families, the fear that their own biological children might be hurt physically or emotionally is enough to make them steer clear of foster care altogether.
As a parent, you want to protect your own children from the harm and hurts of this world. But what if we are called to something greater?
In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 15,000 children in foster care. For many of those kids, a forever family will never come because, among other reasons, fear keeps parents away.
Instead of giving in to the worries of everything that could go wrong, my husband and I remained faithful and quietly continued to take the next steps until we were certified by Diakon as resource parents.
In October 2014, we received the call for an emergency placement for six-year-old twins. The workers had little information to go on. After several calls and emails back and forth to gather what information we could, we stepped out in faith and said “yes.”
That evening, Kaitlyn and Davien arrived at our doorstep. They were physically thin and emotionally fragile and came to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We had little time to prepare our daughter, and we worried that her whole world was about to be turned upside down.
Instead of complaining about sharing her clothes, she happily helped pick out a pretty nightgown for Kaitlyn. As the weeks went on, our daughter’s bedroom was fitted with bunkbeds and a dresser for Kaitlyn. Her playroom was turned into a boy’s bedroom for Davien. The twins were calling us “mom” and “dad” and still there were no signs of jealously, no fights, no harsh words. Amelia was even calling them her brother and sister long before we dared.
My husband and I were amazed by our daughter. Instead of being emotionally scarred by the changes, she has been enriched. This January, we finalized the twins’ adoption in court. For Amelia, it was just another day. After all, they had been her brother and sister from the beginning.
We are delighted to share this question-and-answer blog post with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care Case Manager Crystal Wanamaker about the recent adoptions of a large sibling group:
When did you meet the children?
I met Jayden, Ricardo Jr., and Mya the day they were referred to our agency, which was July 23, 2010. I met Ruby on Jan. 17, 2012. She was placed with her siblings two days after she was born. Jayden and Ricardo Jr. are 6-year-old twins, Mya is 5 years old and Ruby is 3 years old. The boys were adopted by the Rivera family, the girls by the Saylor family.
The plan. We all have one. This idea in our head about how our life is going to be. My plan was wonderful. I was going to marry the man of my dreams. We were going to get pregnant soon after with our first child and then every two years or so after that we would add another little person to our family until we felt complete. Perfection right? But, you see, that was Monica’s plan, not God’s plan.
It took me until about our fourth miscarriage to realize my “plan” wasn’t going to happen. So what do we do now? We want to be parents. The fertility specialist can’t figure my strange body out! Now what? Adopt? At this moment I just needed someone to call me Mommy. And adoption felt so natural to me because it was something I always dreamed of doing later in life.