First comes love, then comes marriage, then come 14 years of infertility and suddenly three kids overnight—wait. No, that’s not how that song goes. But evidently, we sing the song with our own lyrics in this family. Ask my youngest and everything from Darth Vader’s Theme to Happy can be sung perfectly on pitch with the word “butt” substituted for every syllable. I’d be mad but turns out a 6-year-old whisper singing, “butt butt butt butt bah butt butt bah butt” (that was Darth Vader’s Theme—good luck getting that out of your head now) is really entertaining. Especially if that 6-year-old has sparkling blue eyes, precious blonde curls, a darling little voice, and giggles that can make stone hearts melt. It’s even better when her almost twin who is equally as precious with curly strawberry blond hair, ocean blue eyes that change with her mood, and the voice of an angel (they are four months apart—I’ll get there soon) joins in harmonizing and falls apart in giggles. Anyway, music is a thing we make uniquely our own. So is our family. The decision we made to adopt brought the seven of us together.

A Plan to Adopt

It all started in the fall of 1999 when my sweet husband sat down the row from me in an EMT class. He wasn’t my husband yet, which was good because I was only 17. I had a boyfriend and was planning my life to be something completely different from what it turned out to be. But anyway, we got paired up as partners for the whole semester. Did I mention he was super cute? My boyfriend broke up with me (we were dumb high school students with our whole lives ahead of us and more fish in the sea) and, suddenly, my EMT partner was my best friend. I found myself calling him when I just needed to talk. One thing led to another and, in 2001 (a year after my high school graduation), we got married. We were 19 and 21. We had all of the odds stacked against us. Lucky for us, I’m bad at math. He’s not because he’s an engineer. He’s just bad at listening to other people. Anyway, we wanted to wait to have kids so we took measures to prevent them. Those measures ended up almost killing me. Birth control can cause blood clots sometimes. Did you know? I didn’t. I had a blood clot that went to my lungs. So, we had to change our contraception. The whole time we were confident that when we were ready we’d have kids. We had always planned to adopt but also had planned to have biological kids, too. As time went on, we found after visiting a few doctors that it not only would be a bad idea, but it would also prove pretty much impossible. So we prayed. We prayed for a chance to adopt. But the circumstances were never right. We didn’t have a big enough house or car. We didn’t make enough money, and we were busy with work and college. We took classes to foster while we were in college in 2008. We didn’t complete them because it was just too much. 

Foster to Adopt

Fast forward to 2014. My husband had a snazzy engineer job. We were renting a cute house that had spare rooms. I couldn’t find a job anywhere. Then I found one. We started applying to adopt an older child so we could keep our fairly active lifestyle. We took classes to foster to adopt the same month that I finally found a managing job with decent pay in my field of psychology. I got a text message that changed our trajectory. It read, “Hi, you don’t know me. I’m a friend of a friend. I heard you have an active home study or are close to finishing. Could you take a newborn and an 8- and 9-year-old? Call me.” So I pulled over on my way home from work and called. 

I went home and talked to my husband about it. We prayed about it and decided to say yes. After a month of uncertainty and a series of twists and turns, we became the foster parents to a 6-week old baby girl and 8- and 9-year-old little boys. 

I botched our first meeting. The baby was foisted off on me by the caseworker. I expected the baby to have some weight. I braced for some weight and then received a wisp of a tiny, scrawny, bug-eyed infant. She was silent. She looked scared. She weighed less than six pounds at six weeks old. The boys were worse off. I kneeled to shake hands and introduce myself to the older boy. I stuck my arm out and he just stared at me. I told him my name and he just stared harder, becoming more confused. The younger boy was entirely silent. He didn’t talk to anyone. He appeared to be used to using his brother to speak for him. The older brother would speak often for him, saying things like, “He’s thirsty. He’s hungry. He’s scared.” I’m not sure how he knew. I never discerned so much as an eye flicker between the two of them. Were they brothers with extrasensory perception? I’ll never know and they aren’t telling. 

Days turned into months which then turned into a year of not knowing if they would go home to their parents or if we would adopt them. The tension of the situation was almost unbearable at times. I remember crying to a friend that I felt selfish for wishing they’d stay and that we could adopt them but so sad to think of them leaving. The baby had grown to trust me and was now a ball of sunshine. She giggled and waved when I walked into the room. She required me to carry her everywhere (she still does five years later, even though her legs work perfectly fine). I was dreading the idea of them leaving but still hoping for a miracle since the boys seemed so unhappy and constantly talked about when they would go back to their parents. I would later find out that their parents were coaching them to say these things.

Several emotionally fraught court days later, we found out that we could adopt them and that our kids would be ours officially and forever in 2016. We were overjoyed and overwhelmed. While the baby was (and still is to an extent) easy, the boys were rambunctious, traumatized, and practically feral at times. We love them deeply but the realization that our lives would be crazy indefinitely hit hard. Nevertheless, we all transitioned into a happy if not somewhat chaotic routine. Therapy, doctor’s appointments, and trying to get the boys caught up in school made us quite busy. They had no schooling whatsoever before they came to us; they couldn’t sign their names and didn’t know their ABCs.

The Decision to Adopt Again

As we began to settle into our new normal, we began to wonder if this would be it. Were we only going to have three kids or would we continue to foster to adopt? After conferencing with the boys (who were then 12 and 11 years old) and explaining that we would stop if they were nervous about adding more people to our family, we decided to keep our home study up to date in case we were needed in an emergency foster care situation. We also agreed that an adoption situation would feel better to them than a foster care situation because of all the emotions they still felt. So we began to pray about it. Around December the baby (who was then two years old) began to tell me that she had two sisters. I informed her, “No, baby girl. Those are brothers. You have two brothers.” She then said, “No. Not them, Mama. They are my brothers. I have two sisters.” Now confused and more than a little intrigued I asked a few questions. “Are they little like you or big like your brothers?” “Little like me.” This answer gave me chills. Just a few days prior we had submitted our home study for a sibling group of three. One older boy and two little girls. “Do you have another brother too, baby girl?” She thought for a second. “Maybe. He’s big.” Then she wandered off to play while I sat dazed.

I called my husband and discussed the conversation. He asked her about it when he came home, out of earshot of anyone. She confirmed that yes, she had two sisters and maybe another brother. Where she came by this information is anyone’s guess, but we believe that she was given a word from God. I know that sounds hokey and super religious but I have a logical explanation. A month later we were given word that we were selected, and given further information about the kids. Some details made us pause but, again and again, we checked with the boys to ask if they felt okay about it. They kept saying yes. So for two months, there were six kids all under the age of 12 living under our roof. Then some awful things happened. They were violent, scary things that made it so we could no longer keep the boy with us. He was younger than my boys but very traumatized and hurting. He spent time at a residential facility and then was adopted by a loving family where he was the youngest by far. It was what we all needed, but I still grieve what could have been. In December, a year from when we made inquiries about the kids, we adopted the two little girls, ages three and four. 

Marching Forward After Adoption

Our world was completely turned upside down as now the youngest had a compatriot in her schemes. The girls were still unsure of us after only having lived with us for six months, but they had been in six different foster homes before us. Life was a bit of a blur from December that year until the next year. As the days march forward away from their adoption in 2017, we grow closer together as a family. My boys are now 15 and 14 years old. My oldest daughter is now eight and my two younger daughters are both six years old. They are a delight to be around (most of the time). Everyone has been to or is attending therapy at the moment. We are still busy, but now it is with gymnastics, youth groups, and hockey. My oldest lives away from us now in residential treatment. His past came back to haunt him in pretty dramatic ways that manifested with him hurting the girls. He is getting the help he needs, but I grieve what could have been and what should have been. I miss seeing his precious face every day, even if half the time he was rolling his eyes at me. His brother is depressed and won’t talk about it. I think, some days, he figures if he doesn’t talk about it, it can’t be real. Then I think maybe he just doesn’t know what to say. He’s a teenager so though I could force him into a therapist’s chair I can’t make him talk. It is a struggle. The girls, however, continue to thrive. They are beautiful, funny, graceful, loving, imaginative, and kind. They miss their big brother but are more at ease now that he is no longer a threat. 

I would like to say this is the part where we all lived happily ever after. The truth of the matter is that some days we are happy, and some days I cry until there are no more tears left. The things these kids have been through would and do make a grown man sob. My husband is our rock but I’m glad he is going to therapy, too, so he can get the help he needs to deal with it all. He is smitten with his girls. He adores his sons. He wishes that things could have gone differently, too, and carries the same guilt that I do. It is the same guilt that whispers lies such as, “If you had been a better parent, none of this would have happened.” The truth is, adopted or not, kids struggle. Kids make choices that grieve their parents. Kids make choices that grieve themselves.

All that to say, however, I wouldn’t trade our experience with adoption. Sure there are things I wished I had caught earlier. I wish that the boys had been found much sooner by CPS so they could have been saved from the years of ill-treatment, neglect, and abuse they faced. I wish I could have brought the girls home from the hospital and been their only place—not their seventh. I’m learning to live with the grief of imagining how it could have been and rejoicing in what I have anyway. My kids are the absolute light of my life. Nothing brings me greater joy than hearing them all sing, pray, giggle, and play together. I have some amazing kids. We sing amazing songs together—even if half the words end up being potty words out of the mouths of 6-year-olds.