Perhaps many people can say what I am about to say: when I first began fostering children I had no plans on adopting. I was experiencing a bit of the ’empty nest syndrome’ and wanted little ones in my home once more. I also wanted to foster children on my own terms with the choice to stop when I felt the time had come.
I received a phone call from a social worker asking if I wanted to foster a baby who was still in the hospital. I immediately said, “Yes.” The social worker began informing me of the baby’s health condition. “This baby was born three months premature, weighs only four pounds at six weeks of age, and has tested positive for crack and alcohol.” She added, “The baby needs to be picked up today.” I raced out of the house and headed to the hospital to meet a tiny little girl.
It was never going to be forever. When we started the journey of becoming foster parents, it was not with the hope or goal of adoption. We became foster parents because we wanted to help children in need, and support families during tough times. The DHS knew this, we knew this, the bio-parents of the children who have been in our home knew this. Even the kids coming in to our home knew this, as over time we therapeutically explained our role to them. No matter how much you remind yourself of this, and talk to those around you about your role, and tell the DHS your boundaries, it doesn’t make a kiddo transitioning away from your home any easier.
When I tell people my story, I get a lot of surprised looks and questions. I have six siblings—three sisters and three brothers. But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was really little, I was the only girl. My brothers tried to include me in their chess games and Nintendo, but I wanted a sister more than anything. When my parents announced to us kids that they were pursuing adoption, we were thrilled!
They started out looking for one girl, but God placed two beautiful gals into our family. It felt so natural to me, and looking back on it, I wish I had treasured those moments even more than I did.
One of the things that amazes me, is about every third person I talk to has more knowledge about the child welfare system and adoption than they ever knew they had. What also amazes me is that we are so often called to this work, but not sure exactly how to play a role. I had an Indiana University social work student ask me just yesterday, at an event where I served as a panelist, “How do you know when you are called?” My answer to her was the same answer I received from my father when I was just seven years old — where does your passion lie? I went on to ask her several more rhetorical questions: what makes your heart quicken; what is that thing you would do if you never got paid; what would you be excited about engaging in even if it were twenty degrees below zero outside? She thought a while and looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and said, “That’s your call.”
I’m an international adoptee. I’m also the parent of two children delivered into my life via adoption from Russia and Ethiopia.
We’re an international family created through adoption. We love each other and we have so much fun together.
We are also Americans; immigrants to the U.S. and citizens by naturalization. We contribute and we serve this nation, our community, our family, and our friends.
Recently, I read a staggering statistic: International adoption by Americans has declined by 81% since 2004. And, crippling new policies and practices are projected to completely end international adoption within the next five years. (How to Solve the U.S. International Adoption Crisis, by Nathan Gwilliam, Ron Stoddart, Robin Sizemore, and Tom Velie, adoption.com, March 19, 2018)
This month marks the 6th anniversary of when two small children stood on our front stoop, accompanied by a social worker, searching for a place to lay their heads that night. They seemed tiny and scared — both defensive and hopeful all in the same breath. Within 30 minutes, the social worker had left and the two children remained. We were a houseful of strangers, my husband and I realized. We didn’t know what to do or what to say because we had no idea how deep their wounds went.
One of the questions I am most often asked is: “Why?” Family members, friends, neighbors and new acquaintances all want to know why.
“Why did you become a foster parent?”
Maybe one reason I get asked this so often is because in my circle of middle class suburban friends and family, becoming a foster parent is not particularly typical. I can understand the curiosity. Why would someone who grew up with no connection to the child welfare system, who didn’t have a single friend who entered care, who never personally knew anyone who’d been a foster parent … what makes that person arrive at this choice?
As children, we are often taught the importance of saying ‘thank you’ when someone is friendly, kind, generous, or thoughtful. It was the very act of extending a note of thanks that changed my life and the lives of many others.
My childhood was full of hardships. At six months old, I was placed in foster care for the first time, because my mother had abandoned me for two weeks. I would eventually be returned to her care, but this was only the beginning. I spent the next eleven years bouncing around between an unstable and abusive home, along with a string of foster homes. At the age of eleven, I was permanently placed in foster care when my mother went to jail for drug and sexual abuse charges. I spent the next five years in a downward cycle, moving from foster home to another, experiencing severe behavioral problems, and struggling academically.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month: an initiative of the Children’s Bureau with a goal to increase national awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. foster care system.
On any given day, there are over 400,000 children in U.S. foster care. Over 100,000 foster children are eligible for and awaiting to be adopted. The average age of a waiting child is 7.7 years old and 29% of them will spend at least three years in foster care.
To my daughter on the day of your adoption,
I’ve called you by that label, “daughter,” many times. But today is different.
Today there’s no prefix, no subtext, no “sort of but not really” as there have always been before. You’re not my foster daughter, I don’t love you “like you’re my own.” Today you are wholly, completely, for forever my daughter. Nothing is changing, but everything is changing.