“‘Is this your first placement?’ The social worker was curious because I seemed so excited. When I confirmed it was, her response made me more determined than ever. ‘Oh boy… well, at least you’ll know if you really want to foster after this one.’ A few minutes later, I walked to my car with a newborn baby girl sleeping in her car seat, and I haven’t looked back since.
I have known I wanted to foster for as long as I can remember. And I have known I love babies since I was about three (give or take a few years). I always assumed I would grow up, get married, and then start a family, just like so many others. The only difference was I wanted to provide a home for kids who were already born and needed a family.
Except it never happened like that. I finished high school, then college, started working, even went back to college, but I was still single. Every day, the desire to be a foster mom grew stronger and stronger. I even got involved in a foster and adoptive family ministry, but I still wasn’t a foster mom like I wanted to be. I took care of so many other people’s babies (and as involved in my church as I was, that was a lot of babies), but I never could call them my own.
I finally decided I had waited long enough, and I would at least go to the orientation meeting the county had for people who were interesting in becoming foster parents. If I couldn’t be a foster parent now, I could at least make a concrete plan on how I would become one when the time came.
I remember driving to that orientation meeting, tired after working all day, but still wired and eager and full of hope this would take me one step closer to making my dream come true. I remember sitting in that room, feeling out of place as I looked around and saw people who were either much older than me or with their spouse. But as the meeting began and the social worker starting talking, I heard words that made my heart pound and my mind go blank with excitement.
You can be single and foster. You can be as young as 24 and foster. You can want to take care of only babies and foster. You can have space in your home for kids short-term and still foster. This meant I could be a foster mom right now – I didn’t have to wait. All of it seems so obvious to me looking back, but I didn’t know it before.
I went home that night planning to become a foster parent as soon as possible. I learned about a specific kind of foster placement called emergency shelter homes, ESH, that had kids placed in temporary homes while the county looked for a long-term placement for them. I explain ESH to my friends and families as homes where kids go after they first enter into foster care and need a home to stay while the county looks for the right long-term placement for them, whether that be with relatives, foster family, or a possible adoptive family.
I started the foster approval process, specifically as an ESH placement, in August 2018. Everyone was excited for me and at the same time warned me it could take a while before I would actually be fostering, possibly more than a year before I was approved and even longer to wait for a placement. I took classes, filled out paperwork, sat through interviews, had friends and family throw baby showers to gift me the supplies every new mom needs, and frantically prepared my home to pass inspection. I set up the crib and put the words from the children’s book ‘I’ll Love You Forever’ by Robert Munsch on the wall above as my promise to every single baby who would come into my home.
On April 30, 2019, less than a year from when I started this process and less than five months after turning in my application to the county, I met with the county’s ESH Coordinator for the final step. ESH placements are different than a typical foster placement, so they require separate training in addition to being certified as a foster parent. We talked about how ESH placements were considered higher needs placements since the kids coming into your home usually had very little background information, involved more meetings with social workers and appointments for the kids as they entered the system for the first time, and had more visitations with birth parents plus the prospective placements they were heading to.
It sounded chaotic, confusing, and so very complicated, but the only thought running through my mind was, ‘I want to do this so bad. Oh my gosh, I want to do this. How long is it going to be before I can do this?’
I tried to be on my best behavior but seem real and approachable at the same time. It was like being back in high school, desperately wanting this person to like me and gain her approval, but not being able to ask about the impression I was making. I told her that my preferred age range was newborn babies who were under 4 months old, and I worried the whole time she would think I was being selfish or too picky. After our meeting, I tried to prepare myself to wait patiently for however long before my first placement.
But the next day, the very next morning, I got a call from a social worker, asking if I would be interested in a 3-day-old baby girl who was at the children’s home. I could not say yes fast enough!
Walking out the door with that tiny baby girl, I kept thinking, ‘Is this real? How is this legal? Am I really allowed to just walk out the front door with someone else’s baby?’ I kept expecting an alarm to go off and security guards to jump out of nowhere and wrestle the baby out of my arms. (If I am completely honest, I still feel this way every time I take a baby home.)
I have now been an ESH mom for a little over a year, and it has been as much of a whirlwind as that first day was. In my first year alone, I had ten placements. Ten. Placements. I have realized I was not being selfish or overly specific when I told the county I wanted to take care of newborns.
As an ESH mom, I have had so many moments that make me feel like this is the best thing in the world. To my surprise, I’ve developed wonderful relationships with other ESH parents, the foster and adoptive parents my babies go to, and even my babies’ birth parents. This past summer, I even went to a birth parent’s wedding! I have had the joy of seeing so many of my babies’ ‘firsts’ – first time sitting up, first smile, first laugh, first Christmas. And since I keep caring for new babies as an ESH mom, I get to keep experiencing these special moments.
There have also been emotional lows that have been really hard. Foster care is a huge thing, an important thing, and doing something so important as loving tiny humans so much they can begin to trust the world will always have its challenges.
The first time a baby left, I walked back to my car after leaving her in the arms of a loving, over-the-moon excited adoptive family and cried so hard I couldn’t see the steering wheel in front of my face. I still remember that feeling of empty arms and a broken heart, knowing I was the best mother I could be to that tiny baby girl but it was now someone else’s turn to love her just as much.
There have been sleepless nights when my babies are sick or so young they still eat every two hours, and the next morning I feel like I must be insane for thinking I wanted to do this. And the days I have to change clothes three, four, or five times because of baby vomit, spit-up, and pee seem like they will last forever. I am sure any parent with a baby feels the same way.
There have also been challenges I have faced that I do not think are common to every parenting story. It is so incredibly heartbreaking to watch babies struggle through withdrawals and be powerless to make things better. The days I spent at CHOC with one baby after he had a seizure were some of the most stressful days of my life to date. I have spent weeks living in the NICU so I could provide skin-to-skin touch and love to a baby who was still too little to be able to eat without medical intervention.
I have also had to struggle internally almost every day with the fear I do not belong in whatever space I find myself in. I am a mother, but have not birthed a baby. I am a foster parent, but not as a long-term or adoptive placements. I am a mom, but a single mom is often seen much differently than a mom who is married. I have learned to push back against the fear I am not really a mom just because my life does not mirror another mom’s. My story is my own, which means I get to belong to whatever group I choose to be in, even if my experience does not look identical to the others in the group. I even two have necklaces I love to wear to remind me of this, that I am a mom and my heart is as full as my hands because of it.
In my journey as an ESH mom, I have learned so much. I have seen people usually assume the worst, but the good in people shine through more often than not. Like my first placement, that 3-day-old baby girl that had the social worker grimacing and hoping I would not quit foster care. During her time with me, she was the perfect baby for a first-time mom. She was so happy, calm, and sweet, I basically continued with my life as it was – the only difference was I did it with a baby sleeping in a sling on my chest.
I have realized I will never have control as a foster parent. It does not matter how much I plan, how many classes I take, or how many situations I prepare myself for. It does not matter how much I love the babies who come into my home because no matter how much loving touch, eye contact, and bottles I provide, I still have no control over what my babies when through before they came to me. And contrary to what so many say to me, my babies come to me with trauma. Even if their birth mom had the perfect pregnancy and there was no stress or medical emergencies, my babies have still lost the entire world they knew. They no longer hear familiar voices or smell familiar smells, and I am a stranger they have never met.
The biggest change I have gone through since starting this foster journey is the way I see birth parents. Foster care is not about saving kids from horrid people and being better than birth parents – foster care is about how loving those who have experienced trauma. And if you stop and think about it, that includes birth parents. When I started this process, I knew I was supposed to be nice to be birth parents but that it would be the most challenging part of foster care. One of the most common comments I hear when I talk about foster care is how terrible the birth parents much be to have their child taken away from them.
But after meeting so many birthparents, talking with them, and seeing them care for their babies during our visits, I now know birth parents are people trying their hardest to do the best they can, just like I am. I have been blessed to live a life where I have the support, care, and resources I need to get through challenges and make choices that are healthy for me and others. However, not everyone is so lucky and a lot of the time. The time I give birth parents by loving their children can allow them to do what they need to do to help themselves so they can get back to helping their baby. I love the birth parents I get to meet. Without them, I would never have the chance to love the babies in my home.
Finally, I have learned foster care is not about me. It seems obvious, but this is so easy to get wrong. Foster care not about providing a family for me or finding the right kids who will fit into my life. Foster care is about providing a family who the babies who need it. And when it about the kids, when I am focused on these babies, it absolutely makes sense I would go through the pain of being a foster parent if it meant a little less pain for them.
As an ESH mom, I am living the dream. I know the future holds more joy and heartbreak, more moments of laughter and tears. In the short time I have been doing this, I have seen people come together to love those who need it time and again. I am becoming a more compassionate, understanding, and kind human. I can only imagine that will continue as I get to call more babies mine and love more families. As a foster parent, there is nothing else I would rather be doing.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alicia McCormick. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more beautiful stories about foster care here:
‘We have a 3-year-old boy. His mother is homeless. No one will take him.’ Our jaws fell open. ‘We’ll be at your house in 30 minutes!’: Couple adopt 4 children from foster care, co-parent with birth mom
‘At 11, his adoptive parents abandoned him at a hospital, never to return. ‘Mr. Peter, can I call you my Dad?’ I began to cry uncontrollably.’: Single dad adopts 11-year-old boy from foster care after biological, adoptive family abandon him
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