For the past eight years, our lives have been marked by something extraordinary. Something that few people can relate to and even fewer have walked through. Our lives changed entirely when we became foster parents in 2011, and then changed again when we became adoptive parents in 2013.
Our journey, like many others on this path, has not been easy. Many, many times, we have felt like we are in over our heads emotionally, physically, and financially. We have felt crushing losses, anxieties few can relate to (how many people understand that the child you are parenting may be a child you give back to another or send to another to continue to be raised?), and fear.
We have done about six to eight home studies or home study updates at this point, which is no small feat and is just short of a full invasion of privacy (I say this in jest—if you’ve done a home study, you will understand). We have run the gamut of extreme behavior in the children we are trying so hard to raise right, we have dealt with devastating diagnoses (both medical and behavioral), and we have lived with large looming medical problems that have crippled us financially and in just about every other way imaginable. We have canceled anniversary trips and family vacations due to surgeries for foster kids and restrictions put on foster kids to travel. And because our medically fragile or behaviorally fragile child just cannot handle it. We have also traveled long distances with other foster kids. We have felt like our hands are tied, and like we are powerless. We have had times where it felt like we were treading water on distant oceans all alone. We have faced angry birth parents, enraged birth parents, and we have had death threats. Yes, death threats. At times, the emotions have been overwhelming—both the joy and otherwise. We absolutely would not have survived to this point without our faith and without a sense of humor. Laughter has saved us many a time.
While I can say that now, in the moment, sometimes I have just wanted to sink right into the ground and disappear. Or I’ve laughed out loud on the spot! One thing about raising children—the more of them you raise, the funnier moments you will have to look back on.
On the Lighter Side: A Teaching Moment
Our oldest two children, our biological son and daughter, have opened their rooms, closets, and toy bins to many, many other children over the last eight years. They are fairly close in age, and our oldest does not have any memory of me breastfeeding his sister. His sister has never seen me breastfeed anyone, despite the many babies we have had in the house. Both these two kids, almost 12 and almost 10, are well-versed by this point at making bottles and even feeding bottles. If I say, “Hey, can you make me a bottle?” both would respond with, “Sure, 8-ounce or 6-ounce?” without skipping a beat. This is normal life for us, but sometimes we forget that our kids might not understand anything different.
I will never forget our biological daughter sort of sidling up to a mom nursing her baby at the church. I was assuming she wanted to hold the baby when he was done feeding. To my horror, Alexa reaches out and gently pulls on the nursing cover, trying to see what the heck that baby was doing under there! Just as I was about to shout out, “NO, don’t do that!” Alexa’s eyes grew wide and she said, “WHAT is that baby doing??” My reply of, “He is eating,” was quite insufficient as she looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked, “But where is the bottle?” I actually felt really embarrassed that my children did not know that babies nurse and that it is really natural. So, home we went to read something along the lines of, “How God Makes Babies,” because we are a homeschool family, and why not just cover the entire topic, right? I still remember the exact look on Alexa’s face as she slowly turned to face me and said, “Babies come out of WHERE?”
On the Lighter Side: Talking with Others
One of our adopted daughters casually said to an acquaintance of mine, another time, something like, “Nice baby, where did it come from?” The lady sort of raised a brow and said, “Well, he is mine!” To which my daughter replied, “What! He is yours? Like you are the birth mom, or you just picked him up at the hospital?” …To her credit, she has seen me come home from the hospital several times with a new bundled up baby, but she has never visited me in the hospital after delivering a child of my own. I did, however, explain to the confused acquaintance why my child assumed she had acquired a child through means other than the natural!
Once, I walked into Shopper’s Drug Mart with a whole passel of children trailing behind me, and two in a large unwieldy double stroller that I really hated. It was too wide to go through the tills at Walmart! I mean, who makes a stroller like that?! I didn’t want to go into any stores, I remember that much, as I was so fatigued from being up all night with a sick child, and then had to go to the emergency room in the wee hours of the morning. Prescription in hand, I had no choice but to brave the store for some antibiotics. (Thankfully, I discovered the drive-through pharmacy not too long after!) I was tired, bedraggled, and sort of cranky, like most of the children in tow. A man walked past me, walked back, whistled, and said, “Your baby dad been BUSY!” I think on a normal day I would have laughed, but on that particular day, I snapped back, “Well, most of them have different dads,” to which he whistled again, and laughed good and long.
On the Lighter Side: At the Hospital
About 3 a.m. in a darkened hospital room at the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, about a 14-hour drive from home for myself and my 2-month-old foster daughter who was diagnosed with failure to thrive, a neurology team pressed in to interview me to see if the cause of her lack of appetite could be determined. She had been through ECGs, x-rays, barium swallows and feeding studies, and everything was coming back completely normal. It had puzzled different teams at the hospital for days after our week-long stay at our local hospital had produced no improvement. I had learned quickly that the Children’s Hospital was almost like a city that never sleeps. There was activity at all times of the day and night, and for critical cases, teams of doctors came when they needed to, or when they could based on their caseload, which might just mean middle of the night. This is a teaching hospital, so it almost meant that they might just show up with a group of resident doctors, as well. This night, after I rolled out of my cot and shook the cobwebs from my eyes and brain, I was asked if a resident could run through some questions with me. I yawned and nodded. I could tell that he was nervous, but that he was trying to be professional and thorough. He started out with some bad jokes, trying to put me at ease I am sure, because I was an emotional wreck. “So, you like Elvis, hey?” he said to me. I laughed, thinking of my daughter’s name: Memphis Lisa Marie.
He scanned the file and got quiet for a second. He looked up at me, and filled with compassion and kindness, asked me in all seriousness, “How are your addictions being managed here? I see that crack-cocaine is your drug of choice. How are you coping?” I laughed, I couldn’t help it! “No, no….I’m her mom, but only her foster mom. I didn’t name her, although I don’t mind Elvis, and I’m not on crack!” A look of horror took over his face as he turned a shade of red I could see even in the dim, nighttime color of the room. “It’s okay!” I said to him, and I couldn’t stop laughing. He joined me, and I felt like I made a friend.
While we are on the topic of Children’s Hospital, despite it being a fantastic environment with caring, dedicated staff, there are a few downfalls. I shouldn’t complain because I was blessed with a private room EVERY SINGLE visit except for two times out of about 20. Despite that, hospitals are just their own world. Here I was, a long way from home with a critically ill baby, husband miles away caring for and homeschooling three other kids, not able to work until I got home, and there was no end in sight as no one could figure out what was wrong with our little peanut. I wasn’t sleeping well, had no appetite, and when I look back, I was suffering from serious anxiety and possibly even some depression because of the circumstances. On top of all of that, I didn’t know if we would be allowed to adopt this precious child. I specifically remember getting Memphis to sleep in her little baby crib, tubes and monitors hooked up to her, and I decided to slip into the bathroom in our private room to shower. I had just gotten off the phone with my husband, and I was still teary. I showered quickly, hopped out, and realized I had forgotten something outside in the room. I wrapped the towel around myself and figured I wouldn’t bother with my glasses, as this would be fast. I slid the heavy door back to step into our private room, and darted out into an entire group of doctors and residents standing in a circle around Mem’s crib! I didn’t yet realize the doctors did a team update at the end of shifts to update the next team coming on as to what had happened that day, concerns, test results, etc. They see these frazzled parents all the time, so they took it in stride, whereas, I froze entirely, towel and all. “Oh good, we could ask you a few things now, if that’s okay?” one of them asked. “Oh…sure….” I replied. I couldn’t see a thing the whole time. Once their questions were done, I darted back in the bathroom only to find large, black streaks running down both sides of my face. Apparently, I had done a really poor job of washing my mascara off in the shower. Yay me! This felt almost as awkward as trying to fall asleep with a resident doctor standing just a few feet away making copious notes on the chart. Even though they say, “Oh don’t worry about me, you just go ahead and sleep,” you just can’t because it feels like they are literally standing right overtop of you in the tiny room that is just a crib and then your cot. “Oh, okay…” you say, and rollover, but then you keep looking back to see if they are looking at you and they are because when you roll over the cot makes a bunch of noise. Roll back, repeat. Peep out from covers…yep, still there!
On the Lighter Side: Memphis’s Surgery
When Memphis was 8 months old, she was slated for surgery. She fasted, and we waited. And waited. Someone who was supposed to be released from the hospital was not, and the bed shortage was that bad and so close that Mem couldn’t have surgery until another bed—just one space—opened so she would have somewhere to sleep during recovery. Wow! We waited almost the maximum amount of time before they would have to reschedule, and I felt relief mixed with sadness and fear when they finally took her, her spiky brown hair and big brown eyes staring at me, stripped pajamas billowing on her small frame as the nurse bounced her off down the hall. After the surgery, our room consisted of a 12-year-old boy in a bed, his mom in a cot, Memphis in a crib, and myself in a cot. While I was thankful for the room, we were literally all touching each other and the walls. There was a thin curtain between “them” and “us,” but if I moved the crib even a hair, it bumped the other mom’s cot, which then bumped the boy’s crib. “Oops, sorry!” became our norm. We had a good laugh, and the other mom decided to do a hotel for one night, she said to give us more space, but it might have been that Memphis cried for hours due to pain after the surgery. Who knows? I do know that her 12-year-old son did not appreciate being left with a crying baby all night!
On the Lighter Side: Side Effects of Medication
This could be perhaps the most embarrassing thing that has happened to me as a mom. Like really, I cannot believe this happened and happened to us. I was dealing with a child on a new medication. How could I have known explosive diarrhea would result? I had taken the kids to the pool exactly one day after starting the meds. Everything seemed normal. This child came to me and said that someone had pooped in the pool, so I let the lifeguard know, and they had us move to the hot tub while the ENTIRE pool was shut down. In the hot tub, a full set of fake nails floated past us…today was not their day, that’s for sure. Someone has some maintenance to do! And what do you know, more poop! I figured it was just time to leave. So, we went around the long way, past the water slide. Smack, smack! What on earth? Oh, that was just the sound of more poop hitting the deck…the kid with me, having more incidences, this time very openly, and very much in front of me, and everyone else. So, it was us, the whole time! Well, except for the fake nails, I don’t know who those belonged to. Gross!
I can laugh now because it is all in the past. From adoption stories to fostering mayhem, it all weaves together to make our story, our story. From the time I laughed out loud reading in our completed home study, including the part about my first job as a mascot for a local newspaper and being harassed and pushed around by drunk men at a hockey game. So my dad had to chaperone me everywhere I went (I guess people had no idea it was just a 12-year-old kid sweating to death in that hot suit known as “Newsy Bear”) and thinking the entire child welfare office must have had a good laugh over that one, to the times my kids have made me cringe with their choice of words, I’m glad for every single one of these moments! They are what make us who we are today.
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