My husband, Sean, and I always dreamed of having kids. When we married in 2004, like any fresh-faced couple we planned out our future—we were going to make babies and start a family. Finding out the traditional path to parenting was not possible caused intense anguish. But because the desire for children still beat in our hearts, we started looking into other possibilities. Thus, began a twelve-year journey from Alaska through the Midwest to finally land at the bottom of Texas. On the way, we survived the pain of fertility treatments, explored the unpredictability of private and international adoptions, and when one door after another (mind-blowingly!) closed turned to foster care.
Neither Sean nor I had much experience with adopting through the foster care system. We weren’t acquainted with anyone who’d done foster care-let alone adopted-no family or friends for sure. We knew, just knew, there had to be children living out there longing for parents to love them. So, with a deep yearning to be those parents and an overly naïve excitement, we filled out that first application in 2012. Since then, we’ve bounced between four agencies, survived six (!) homestudies, picked up the pieces after a failed adoption and finally, (Hallelujah!) successfully—adopted a 3 and 4-year-old brother and sister in April 2018. We are most assuredly no longer naïve.
In 2014, we almost threw in the towel after our failed adoption. We were both incredibly discouraged when the siblings living with us decided they didn’t want to be adopted. We were three weeks away from consummation when the seventeen-year old decided she wanted to go ahead and age out the system and convinced her ten-year old brother he could come live with her when she turned eighteen. And because we were a foster home for adoptable children, CPS decided they had to leave. Incredibly sad but, for the best.
You see, becoming instant parents to a teenager brought out the worst in Sean and me. We did okay with the ten-year old but, in general, our parenting efforts were not in harmony. In the home, both kids played us against each other with the seventeen-year old showing an impressive ability to manipulate. You could tell she put a lot of thought and effort into how to divide and conquer. Outside the home, we didn’t have much support either. It was isolating. Our agency had not been happy with our single-focused desire to adopt. There was intense pressure us to only do foster care not adoption—"because that's where the money is,” they said. And because we didn’t have many friends and family who’d adopted they all thought we were crazy to bring foster kids into our home. Interactions with the kids only confirmed this theory.
It took the next two years of “rearview mirror” introspection to see the good in what had happened. In the thick of chaos and trouble, hope had been hard to find. Looking back, we could see where God had guided us safely through our troubles. He stood with us even when we’d felt so alone. In September 2016, a friend at CPS quietly encouraged us to reconsider adoption. Before we brushed off our rusty parenting skills and jumped into round two of parenting, Sean and I made a conscious decision to adopt a mindset of hope. No matter the outcome-adoption of children or not-we determined in our hearts and minds to choose hope and actively look for the good in each situation and each other.
Getting toddlers last year gave us this opportunity. Immediately. There was no honeymoon period. We became instant parents to tiny, angry strangers. It took both our efforts. Sean and I have done a much better job of parenting in harmony this time—we are united. (Not against the kids—we’re all on the same team. Go, team Spencer!) We’re united in the fight FOR HOPE and against fear and the residual anger they are coping with from their past. The trauma my sweet babies endured is extensive. Both children were diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). I think of it this way: they struggle to connect with those in the present because they’re still reliving the past. I wish we’d been as aware and united the first time we’d been parents.
This second time around has been different in many other ways, as well. For example:
• At first, we made what I call rookie mistakes. Such as, giving them permanent markers to draw with. Both kids were covered in ink for three days.
• I was not prepared to carry around 30 extra pounds of small person. Sean and I both agree parenting toddlers was the missing element in our weight loss program. (My arms have never looked more amazing. 😊)
• I got pink eye three times those first two months. Everywhere I went from other parents I got THE NOD. "Been there. Done that. Welcome to Parenthood!"
• Toys have taken over our house.
• Marbles are painful under feet. Maybe equal to Legos in crippling ability.
• I discovered the power of baby wipes. They. Are. Magic.
• The wisdom in: “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” applies to us all.
• Superhero masks and capes helped us through the majority of CPS and agency visits. It gave the kids a chance to be invisible until they were ready to talk. Even so young they knew these were the people who could take them away again. And their anxiety level was through the roof until they were given a modicum of control back through wearing of the mask and cape.
• On April 2nd, the day of the adoption, the kids were so excited they asked to practice the adoption before we got to the courthouse. In the truck, while Sean was driving, they “adopted” a baby doll, stuffed kitty, all our pets and our house. Super cute.
Adopting our [now] 4 and 5-year old doesn’t mean we’re done with adopting hope. That mindset is still important. We still choose hope every day for our kids. Our journey is not over. Adoption eased but didn’t erase the effects of the trauma on their minds and souls. Being a forever family just means our ability to help them recover is secure.
It also means we’re freed to start helping others adopt that same mindset of hope now too. We’d like to remove the stigma surrounding the decision to foster-to-adopt and make parenting possible for those who yearn for it. We figure, if Sean and I could do it with all we’ve been through, then you can too. We also started a local adoption support group. The agencies in town don’t seem to have time or inclination to support foster-to-adopt in our area. We’ve learned there are many others out there with similar experiences yet don’t know what resources are available to help. We make Survival Kits for the prospective foster parents we meet that includes items for preparing your home (and mind) for foster care, trauma relief for the kids and stress relief for the adults. We also set up www.adoptionofhope.com to be able to share our story and encourage others as they pursue or live out adoption. It’s a place where people can connect with each other and access some of those resources. They are all things that have helped us and continue to help us through our journey. It’s a way of letting us all know we’re not alone. A way of saying, “Welcome to Parenthood!” (Just without the pink eye…)