I am at a strange stage of life. I’m not really sure what my calling is right now. I’m sort of in this in-between phase. I knew when I had my last child at almost 41 years old that I may eventually face this awkward time. I knew that I would be nearly 60 years old when he graduated from high school. I didn’t care, I had wanted and prayed for our children for so many years. Nothing mattered—only the joy of his coming into our lives mattered. His life forever changed ours.
The birth and arrival of each of our children was a blessing. Little did we know that after our first two beautiful daughters were born, our lives would never be the same. They both came so easily. We wanted a baby, and just like that we had one—then two. The rest of the story didn’t happen quite so smoothly.
Navigate means to “plan and direct the route or course; travel over terrain especially carefully or with difficulty.” When we started our family, we thought we had it all figured out. We had a plan and a route in mind. However, we didn’t plan for the rough waters or high tide that may get in our way. We often found ourselves in deep water and had to learn how to navigate in a new situation.
A few years after the birth of our second daughter, we decided we were ready to add to our family. Since it had happened easily for us in the past, we had no reason to think it would be any different this time around. A short three months into it, we realized something wasn’t working. Three months doesn’t seem like much time; but to us, it felt like an eternity. I shared my concerns with my doctor and we began what would become years of testing, drugs, surgery, and fertility procedures. The diagnosis was secondary infertility with no known cause.
The years were full of anticipation and discouragement. We finally decided to go the adoption route and forget the stress of trying to get pregnant. Our girls were six and eight, and they were anxious for a baby sister or brother and excited about the prospect of adding to our family. I was often so focused on my selfishness that I would forget that their feelings mattered too. My second daughter expressed these feelings about her experience with adopted siblings and multiple foster children in our home;
“I honestly don’t remember anything about your infertility except when you lost the baby many years later. I remember when we adopted (our first baby boy), but not how I felt. I loved being a big sister. He’s always just been my brother. I enjoyed having foster kids in our home. It probably contributed to how I feel about the population I serve at work now. I love serving others and getting to share a piece of the love of Christ.”
She now works at CARES, Children at Risk Evaluation Services. They provide the necessary services for children who may have been abused and/or neglected. They believe that every child has the right to be heard, safe, and supported. The staff is comprised of specially trained professionals offering services in a child-centered, developmentally appropriate manner. In her words,
“I’m a forensic nurse. I work in a child advocacy center and evaluate victims of abuse. I’m also on the local sexual assault response team. I respond to adult victims in the emergency department and offer a trauma-focused medical exam and evidence collection.” When we were raising our family, we didn’t realize that it would impact the career decisions of our children.
Eventually, we were able to adopt a newborn baby boy. The girls loved him beyond words and were such a help to me. A short five months later, much to our surprise, I became pregnant. Having two boys just 14 months apart was a real challenge. Thank goodness for big sisters!
Virtual twins is a term used for non-biological siblings born close together. Usually, it refers to children born closer than 9 months apart; but in my case, it was very real. What one didn’t think of, the other would. Just as the older one went through a phase, soon the baby brother would be right behind. Often, I thought it was worse than twins because the cycle never ended.
I asked my virtual twins how it felt growing up so close in age. The older one replied,
“I was adopted as a newborn so my siblings have always been what they are. I have never looked at them as not being my brothers and sisters. Z and I had our fights when we were younger, but we also teamed up on lots of stuff so it was fun growing up with him being close to my age.”
The younger boy said, “I didn’t feel any different toward him growing up because he was adopted—especially since he was adopted before I was even around. He was family before me. As we grew older we grew apart because of people we chose to hang out with and choices that we made.”
He was raised between the two children we adopted and feels that they both exhibit nature over nurture characteristics. Although all of our children were raised in the same environment, they have made life choices different from their biological siblings. He adds, “I have learned from my older siblings’ choices, both good and bad.”
Several years went by and our lives were very happy and busy. During this time we moved about 10 miles away to a new town, a new church family, new schools, and new adventures. Our family wasn’t yet complete.
After falling in love with a sibling group in foster care, we decided to get our license. After the process was complete, we shared this sibling group with another family in hopes of adopting them. The roller coaster ride began. At the end of almost a year of struggles and heartache, they were eventually adopted by the other family. It caused a lot of contention between the two families. Our children struggled with the loss of what we hoped would be our forever family.
We continued foster care for four years. We had 34 children in our home either for respite care or long-term placements. When I closed my eyes at night, I would see the faces of children from every nationality. During our four years of fostering, we had children of many different ethnic backgrounds including Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic. Each time a child entered our home they were part of our family, whether it was just for one night or two years. Each child put an imprint on my heart.
I got pregnant during our foster care years and it resulted in a miscarriage. I was told that it may have been stress-induced, so when I got pregnant again a few months later we made the difficult decision to stop fostering. This was very difficult as we had been fostering a sibling group for nearly two years. My getting pregnant was close to a miracle and we couldn’t take any chances. I was able to carry our baby boy to term.
Five months later, we were contacted by the state about a possible foster/adoption placement of a 2-and-a-half-year-old little girl. This was what we had been waiting for. She and another girl, who was from a previous placement, were in our home within a few short weeks. Our plan was to adopt both girls. However, the rough seas came and we were not prepared to navigate. The older girl was close in age to one of our boys and they did not get along. We had to make the difficult decision to let her go. We didn’t feel like we could alter his life in that way. We did adopt the other little girl and what had been our 5th child became our 6th and last.
In a study titled “The Influence of Adoption on Sibling Relationships: Experience and Support Needs of Newly Found Adoptive Families,” it states the importance of sibling relationships. “Sibling relationships are amongst the most significant and potentially important bonds that individuals have in their lifetime. Adoption alters a child’s kinship network.” The study showed that not uncommonly a sibling relationship was characterized by both negative and positive dimensions.
Balancing the needs and desires of both biological and children who are adopted can be tricky at times. All of our children had very different interests. We made it a priority to attend all activities and support them in whatever they wanted to pursue. We also encouraged other members of the family to attend events to show devotion and loyalty to each other. This promoted continuity and pride in each other and our family. We never distinguished between which children were biological or adopted. Our family motto is always, family first.
Although our children are now grown (our youngest being 19), we find ourselves continually navigating the waters of life. The duty of the captain of the ship is not over just because one voyage has ended and the ship is safe at dock. The journey continues and there will always be dark seas and murky waters to sail across. But strong family ties can weather any storm.