“Getting engaged opens you up to a lot of marital advice, and we all seem to love giving it, but first, we need to be on the receiving end as we prepare for our own marriage. Some of the helpful advice I remember receiving more than 25 years ago was that of deciding how many children you both would like to have before you get married. A very important question, indeed, we both figured, so that was one of the many things we talked about while we planned our wedding.
Since Cory was raised with just 1 older brother and I came from a larger family with 5 siblings, we assumed we could figure out a balance for the both of us. Growing up I remember wishing I could have played an organized sport, and longing for our family to go on exotic vacations during the holidays. Since there were 6 of us kids, these dreams proved futile as money was tight and we were plenty. Cory had different memories growing up of any sport his heart desired, with plenty of tales of different locations his family had traveled to throughout his childhood. So thankfully we were both on the same page with regards to our future family size that included both travel, careers and options for activities galore. One child would allow our dreams of that, so we both committed to a single child family and often dreamed of our carefree future – or so we thought.
Life was turning out just as we had planned it. My husband, Cory, and I were blessed with our son Nat 2 years after we were married. Nat grew and we quickly settled into our role as busy parents living in the United States. Cory and I were both working and going to school while little Nat was in daycare. In time, Nat began to notice the other boys and girls in his daycare had siblings and he decided he needed a brother. Nat begged and begged for ‘just one brother.’ He’d cry out, ‘Please Mom, that’s all I want.’ In time, Cory and I began to reconsider our plans for having an only child. Was this so important to Nat? Were we making a mistake to not give Nat a sibling? We had been thriving as parents and this parenting gig wasn’t so hard, after all. Eventually we agreed that one more child would be well within our means and would not compromise our lifestyle and future plans. To our surprise, it took us about a year to conceive despite our valiant attempts. We welcomed our second son Manny with open arms, and 4-year-old Nat was ecstatic. Cory and I found ourselves once again second guessing our original family plan to have a small family. Was this 4 year old age gap too much between our sons? Would the siblings have a closer bond when there wasn’t such a large age gap? If we had a third child, would it be hard to get pregnant again?
Before we could blink, our daughter Charlie was born 18 months after her brother Manny. Charlie brought such joy to our lives and Cory and I found ourselves feeling that 4 kids sounded like a nice idea to even out our odd number of 3 and complete our family. We were now officially outnumbered by our kids, but were in a good place and quite content. Charlie’s first year of life found us packing up and saying goodbye to the United States and hello to my home country of Canada. While we adjusted back into Canadian life, we found that Alex, our 4th child, was on the way to close up our family unit.
As we settled into our new community, we became involved with the local church where we met a woman named Debbie. Debbie was advocating for a young boy who was currently in the foster care system and her mission was to find him a forever home. She had worked with him since he had been in foster care and had watched him go through a number of failed placements. Debbie became friendly with our family and first approached Cory with the thought. Cory quickly sent Debbie over to talk with me as he knew this wasn’t the type of thing he could answer alone. I listened to Debbie politely, pregnant with our 4th baby and thinking the entire time, ‘nope, we’re full.’
To top it all off, Debbie advised that the boy she was advocating for also had Down Syndrome and was just two weeks younger than our son Manny. ‘I’m sure you’ll find a good home for him, but it’s definitely not with our family,’ I didn’t hesitate to tell her.
As time passed, Debbie persisted in advocating for this young boy and was confident our family was exactly what he needed. Eventually I found myself calling the young boy’s social worker, perhaps just to be able to say I did it, and Debbie should really find someone else. I’m not sure what words I actually said to the social worker, but found myself agreeing to schedule a time to meet the young boy. I did mention I was pregnant with my fourth baby, right? Cory and I felt like our world was being turned upside down and countless prayers were offered to God prior to this meeting.
Two weeks after our second daughter Alex was born and it was also coincidentally my birthday. We found ourselves at a local park meeting Hayden for the first time. Hayden was not interested in meeting us at all. He threw sand on me whenever I came near him and spit at the other kids. Why were we even here? What was God doing? Despite this less than stellar first meeting, God softened our hearts and we both knew Hayden was supposed to be a part of our family. We welcomed Hayden with open arms into his forever family at age 3. This was just a few short months after Alex was born and I can still picture Debbie’s smile after that first meeting.
Within a few years we had evolved from newlyweds with a plan, to a family with five kids. By this time, I had fully committed to staying home and caring for our kids. What a crazy and abundant family we were turning out to be.
We were enjoying ourselves at a family BBQ and the phone rang. It was our assigned social worker who had aided in transitioning Hayden into our family. To drown out the noise of the BBQ, I hid in the bathroom, where she proceeded to tell me about Hayden’s biological brother. My heart began beating faster as she began to explain the situation. I had known that he had a sibling, but knew nothing about him other than that he existed. On that day I learned that his birth mother had been unable to care for him since his birth, and now at 7 months of age, he still remained in the foster care system. Were we interested in welcoming in Hayden’s biological brother as well?
Were we interested? This question ran through my head over and over after the initial shock wore off. Sitting back in the family BBQ I tried to come to grips with this question yet again. Were we indeed interested? Would we be capable of parenting that many children? I pulled my husband aside and whispered as much of the conversation that I could with him as he sat there in stunned silence. We continued to discuss and pray about the situation that evening. Finally we both agreed to liaise with our close friends to lay things out and make sure we were making a right decision for our current family. I confided in a close girlfriend, Carol, after the family BBQ and I remember repeating many of those same prayers yet again with her. I came home one day to find that Carol had decorated our bedroom with baby bibs. Carol and I shared a heartfelt laugh and I realized I was no longer questioning what I would do. The answer had been there the whole time for both Cory and I. This little guy would also become part of our family. And so our son Gabe came home to us at 11 months of age.
What are we at now, 6 right? How does a large family grow? Well, in many ways. You have lots of social worker calls, emails and visits when you adopt from foster care, as that is just part of the package. Our social worker at the time, Christie, sent an email that she had a matter she would like to discuss with us. When we finally connected with her she explained that a young teenager was currently living in our neighboring town and had endured a few failed placements and was hoping to find her a place to connect. This teenager had been previously in placement with our son Gabe when he was in care himself and treasured her time spent with him. She had been at the home when their foster mother had brought Gabe home from the hospital. Christie asked if Cory and I would be open to hosting her at our place for just a few visits here and there. This was an easy one and Cory and I quickly agreed to it because visits are simple, we thought. We met Jessie and enjoyed a few visits getting to know her and watched her interactions with Gabe and even Hayden. Jessie realized that she had also had Hayden in her foster home for brief periods of time when her fostes parents took him in for respite years ago. What a connection… was this planned? Christie quickly saw the relationship forming, and laid it out for us. ‘What do you think of adopting her?’ We already had the visits building up a base connection and then the boys each had a connection to her as well. What a sneaky and observant social worker that Christie was. Jessie came home to us at the age of 13.
I was still trying to wrap my head around having 7 kids. Bringing a teenage girl into our home really changed things up for all of us. We all of a sudden had 2 teenagers in the house, both in the same grade at school. However, one of the biggest changes ended up being a hormonal one for me. After so many years of tracking my own menstrual cycle and using that for birth control, I found my cycle changing to match that of our new daughter. After failing to properly track my monthly cycle for a few months in a row, I found myself with my first ever surprise pregnancy. How does this even happen? I mean, I know how babies are made, but this sure wasn’t in our well laid out plans. We were both shocked and I was quite emotional and remember hiding in the bathroom sobbing as Cory tried to gently console me through the bathroom door. I could already hear the judgmental comments from other people and cringed inwardly.
‘Do you know what causes this?’ ‘Boy, aren’t your hands full already?’ And ‘Aren’t you two populating the earth enough already?,’ to name a few. As the days passed, I grew more and more in love with the newest member of our family and could sit back and laugh with Cory at my initial reaction. Jessie and Nat, as the oldest 2 kids in the family, took great delight in pointing out to us, ‘when’s she’s our current age, we are going to be 30,’ and, ‘you guys will be as old as Papa!’
To our delight, our daughter Moe was born 9 months later, healthy and full of vigour. By this point most people had learned to keep their negative comments to themselves except for the oh-so-hilarious comment, ‘Are you competing with the Duggars?’
Logistically speaking we were into very uncharted territory. We were faced with the challenge of mobility for our 8 children and ourselves which left our current vehicle lacking. Did I mention that we also have 3 dogs? No room for any of us anymore so we found ourselves purchasing a 15-passenger van to fit all 10 of us, plus the pooches in. I’m pretty sure I had sworn never to drive a minivan but never in my wildest dreams had I imagined skipping the minivan completely and driving an almost full 15-passenger van.
It was a good thing because God had one more child for our family – and get this – we actually pursued the social worker this time around. A year had passed after the birth of Moe and God’s call was heavy on our hearts once again. A family member had a young child in foster care and was working on reunification. So we called his social worker quite a few times to drop our names, encourage her to look up our file and explain our relation to him seeing as our last name did not match his current name. At the time when we first called his social worker, Cindy, seemed distant and unmotivated. We tried to explain to her that this child was our relative and that we would like to be considered for foster care for him until reunification could happen. 9 months passed before we received a phone call back, but this time from a new social worker, Nikki. She explained to us that she was Cindy’s replacement and she absolutely wanted this child to be in the care of relatives rather than the foster care system if possible. As we had already gone through numerous background checks and home studies within the foster care system, we were eligible to become his foster parents.
Elijah came into our home at the age of 2 1/2. This role had its own challenges that included weekly birth parent visits, as if we didn’t have enough on our plates as it was. Deep down though, Cory and I both knew this role was God’s calling and that we were making a difference. I remember feeling a bit of calmness that no matter what happened in his life, perhaps he would find his own peace, even just a little. That even in a tough time, he was with family members. His birth parents fought hard for him but were unable to parent him. They mutually agreed to sign over rights if Cory and I were the ones to adopt him. This threw us for a curveball as we had only planned on foster care and not adoption. We had a quick time to talk and ask God for guidance as a decision had to be made. We knew God knew, and our 9th child who was already home, stayed home with us permanently now.
Our agreed upon 1 child led us to having 9 children. We joke how glad we are that we didn’t have this plan way back then, as we would have run from each other. How blessed are we! Life is crazy, full and quite chaotic at times, but it is our life. Full of our kids and we don’t regret it one single bit, even when things get hard. Sure things can be tough when you add so many personalities into the mix followed by challenges that some of our kids face. Each kid is wanted and an important part of our family. Without them, we wouldn’t be complete. It’s not a quiet home and it’s certainly not magazine-ready, but I sure love all of them. And I do screen the phone for social worker phone calls!
And those dream vacations, yeah, we are camping like my own family did and it’s pretty cool. Who needs Hawaii, anyway?!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heidi Buettner of Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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