May 5, 2012
As I sit around the long conference table with rounded edges I try not to stare at everyone around me. I daydream about what journey has led them here. Was it similar to mine? Are they wondering about my journey? Today is the first day of our DCFS training to “consider” becoming foster parents. I have been researching this decision since January and finally convinced my husband to at least explore what it was all about. I know this is a calling that isn’t going to abandon my heart anytime soon and I feel certain that one day I will be foster mom to a child who was meant for my family. My husband, however, is not so certain. He agreed to take the classes and reserve his final decision until after we complete them. His biggest concern is the same as every single one of us crowded around this table, and that is falling in love with a child and having to return them to a home that isn’t ready, or will never be ready to parent. But it was my darling spouse that originally opened the door to this next portal of our lives, even if he didn’t realize it.
Our original conversations about adoption began nearly 25 years ago when we were in the first stages of dating. It was one of our late night/early breakfasts at a diner in Iowa where Daryl went to chiropractic school when, over coffee and through casual conversation, we realized how much we had in common. We both had outside influences growing up (both biological and non-biological) that helped us become the successful adults we are today and we both knew that we wanted to have two children biologically and then adopt one in our respective future lives.
Fast forward 20 years and we had a pretty chaotic life with a business to run, two pre-teen daughters, and absolutely no family close to us. It was a serious conversation over drinks and dinner on a much-needed family vacation in Hawaii when we decided that our family was complete, we even toasted to it. It was just seven short months later when my big-hearted husband opened the door again.
I was shopping in The Party Store for Halloween costumes with the girls when my cell phone rang and it was Daryl. He has this way of letting me hear the smirk on his face when he is about to say something absurd and I detected it in his voice right away as he blurted out “what would you think about adopting a baby?” After almost dropping the phone I walked down one of the aisles and looked around the store to make sure no one could hear him and see the shock on my face. I whispered, “Uh, A: are you crazy and B: what the hell are you talking about?” He proceeded to tell me that a woman he just met was pregnant with her 7th child and was planning on aborting because the father had recently died. All I could mutter back was “tell me that you didn’t offer to take her baby?” And with that smirk I could still detect in his voice he said “well, yeah, kind of.”
To make a long and tedious story short, this woman had come into the office for an appointment and when asked if she was pregnant before routine x-rays she responded “yes, but go ahead with the x-rays because I’m having an abortion.” She continued to confide in him that she recently lost her husband and had no intention on keeping the baby she was three months pregnant with. He got caught up in the moment and just wanted to help her so he cracked the door open for her to consider another option. We had several meetings with her and her family and even acquired an attorney to move forward, but in the end there were just too many obstacles in her way and she did end up aborting her pregnancy. When I found out her decision my heart sank for two reasons. The first one was because I was really getting excited about the prospect of a new baby. The second reason was because of our involvement in her life she had a late-term abortion and I felt that instead of helping we made things worse. The very next day I was on the internet googling adoption and fostering.
My travels through the internet led me to The Cradle, an adoption agency in Illinois. I signed us up for one of their all-day meetings to see what it was all about, but we never actually attended. As I read through many bios’ of the couples waiting to adopt a baby I began to realize that this was not for us. It felt wrong to compete with these couples for a baby when I could physically have another on my own if we chose to and most of these couples could not. Adoption was their only choice. I also wasn’t convinced that we needed to adopt an infant. That is when I started to research foster care. The more I found out the more I was drawn in.
Most of the information you find online explains the process of becoming foster parents, but it doesn’t give much information on how many are adopted and what the actual time line is. There are several private agencies throughout the Chicagoland area. I called the few that were closest to my home to find out more about what was involved. I left a few messages and did not get a return phone call for weeks. Knowing how desperate the state of Illinois is to find homes for the thousands of children in the system in Cook County alone, I was surprised that it was so hard to reach an agency. When I finally got someone on the phone I explained that I had some questions about the process and was trying to decide if this was right for our family. The tone of the woman on the other end was sharp and accusatory when she asked me “are you willing to take a special needs child because we have a lot of those, in fact we have two right now we are trying to place.” I was a bit stunned with this question and stuttered my rambling response, “well, we are currently in the decision-making phase and would like some more information, but I guess it would depend on the severity of the disability, I am really just looking for more information.” She took my name and number and said that she would have a licensing worker call me back. I never got that call.
At this point I was telling myself that maybe this was the Universe telling me that I should leave well enough alone. But I couldn’t. I felt such a strong pull in this direction and couldn’t explain why.
It was through pure persistence that I finally got a licensing worker from an agency located on the south side of Chicago to come to the house and meet with us. When she arrived she handed me her card and we sat down to discuss the process. The first words out of her mouth were “you do understand that with foster care the goal is always return to home, right?” My husband asked her if this was the “poor man’s adoption”. Her response was “it’s the hardest way to adopt.” She proceeded to explain to us that it takes a couple of months to get through the licensing process and then after placement it could take anywhere from 9 months to 5 years for a judge to release parental rights for adoption. I asked her if a child is ever returned to their bio-families after several years and she said “definitely, the longest I have personally seen is 3 years.” I cannot grasp what it would be like to live three or more years of your life with one family and then be forced to move to another. It just doesn’t seem fair to formidable minds or to the families opening their homes and hearts. The agency caseworker gave us the fingerprint card and paperwork and said that the first step is to have a thorough background check done. As she left our home she handed me a few more cards and said “if you know of anyone who might be interested in fostering please give them my card, we are in desperate need of good families.” That was the last time I saw that specific worker, she was gone by the time our background check was done.
After doing some really heavy thinking on how hard it would be to care for and become attached to a child, love them and open myself up for heartache, I inexplicably felt more confident than ever that this was something I needed to do. The question “if I don’t do it, who would” haunted me. It nagged at me that there was a specific child I was supposed to raise. I began seeing “signs” everywhere… big billboards on the highway asking for foster parents, commercials that tugged at my heart-strings as they showed kids looking for their forever homes. I love the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror,” and I started hearing it all of the time. The lyrics were speaking to me… like, all of the lyrics. I started to hear of more people who were fostering. Things just started to make sense to me. My father adopted me as a toddler so I knew that biology made no difference in parental love. I’ve never felt confident about what it was I wanted to do with my life but I always knew that I wanted a family. I used to dread the question “what do you want to be when you get older?” My high school yearbook says I wanted to be a social worker and I only said that because I didn’t know what else to say. There is no “career” that ever spoke to me or that I felt passionate about. I didn’t go to college right out of high school because I didn’t realize it was an option for me. My mother lost both of her parents by the time she was 15 and was taken care of by her sisters after that. If she didn’t have four older sisters she could have been a foster child herself. It felt like I had figured out what “my” purpose was.
Because my husband loves me so much and because he wasn’t saying “no way,” he agreed to take the 27 hours of training which we split up over four weekends. He did the fingerprints and health requirements and conceded with “let’s see how we feel after the classes are over.”
We had several conversations with our daughters about what it would mean and did our best to be as honest as possible with what we knew. As they did their homework I would pretend to cry incessantly and when they would get annoyed I would explain that a healthy baby cries a lot, but if we were to get an infant who was born with addiction issues or with any special need it was possible that they would cry A LOT more! Ravyn was 12 at the time and Taryn was 9 so they would just roll their eyes at me assuming I was being dramatic. As confident as I was that this was the direction my life should go, I knew that this had to be a family decision.
So you see Judge, I firmly believe that people are put into our lives for a reason. Sometimes they are only there for a fleeting moment but the impact they make is profound. I believe in God, but I am far from religious. When I think about the events that led up to us taking those classes I know that there was some sort of intervention. Maybe it was divine, or possibly just human interaction that made me hyper aware of the opportunity that was right in front of me. I’m not sure.
In my next letter I will tell you about those classes and how they changed my family’s life forever.
*Names have been changed.