‘Are you in it for the long haul?’ NOTHING we had done prepared us for this moment.’: Mom shares complex journey to adopt son from foster care, ‘We can’t imagine life without him’

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“In November 2013, I was living my best life as a photographer, wife, and mom to 2 boys, ages 23 and 11. Then, one ordinary day there was a phone call with Lee County Social Services that changed my life forever. During the call, I learned my niece’s 6-week-old baby boy had been placed in foster care.

A couple sit together in the woods
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster
Parents stand in a gym with their son who wears a basketball uniform
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster

They told me I was basically the only blood relative who could take him. The social worker also told me he’d been born addicted and spent the first month of his life in the hospital being weaned off of the drugs. His name was Grayson.

Unfortunately, having Grayson come to live with us would be complicated. My husband and I would have to complete foster parent training. Our oldest son would also need to complete the training (because he was over 18). Aside from training, we’d also need a home study. Because he was in the custody of the State of Virginia and we lived in Kentucky, the whole thing was more complicated. They referred to his case as an ICPC case—Interstate Compact for the Placement of a Child.

I couldn’t agree to any of it without talking with my family. This decision would affect everyone. I told them I’d pray about it and get back in touch. I had so many feelings. I felt compelled to try and do the right thing, but I also knew taking a baby would mean a lot of work for me. My family said they would support me either way.

And ultimately, we agreed to do whatever we needed to do to bring Grayson into our home.

So, we had a social worker in Virginia and a social worker in Kentucky before we ever had Grayson. And when I say becoming a foster parent was the single most invasive thing I’ve ever done, believe it.

My husband, Tony, and I had to go into great detail about our childhoods, our previous family situations, and our current family. We had to explain routine doctor visits and all of us had to have physicals. We had to talk about our cultures and how they impacted us. (I will never forget this: ‘Describe the culture of your family of origin.’) They interviewed Tony and me separately, and asked us about our ‘love story.’ We needed written references and filled out dozens of forms. It was a bureaucratic nightmare. And it seemed like no one was being honest with us.

We had said early on the State would have to provide a medical card for Grayson. We weren’t concerned about a subsidy, but with the circumstances of his birth, it wasn’t hard to predict he might have some medical needs. We’ve since learned that ALL children adopted from foster care in America qualify for a medical card.

The Court had appointed a Guardian Ad Litem for Grayson. An attorney named Julie Hensley called me and announced she intended to do a home visit. I asked if she knew where we lived and told her it’s at least a 4-5 hour drive. She answered affirmatively, and we made plans for her trip.

When Julie arrived, I felt like I finally had someone telling me the truth. She wanted to know if I was, ‘in it for the long haul.’ I was confused. I thought Grayson’s goal was to return home. His social worker had maintained this the entire time, but his lawyer said something totally different. She flat out told me if we took him, we were keeping him. Of course, this was a whole new conversation with my husband and sons. Ultimately, though, we prayerfully decided to stay the course.

On June 22, 2014, we made one of many trips to the Lee County Courthouse, but this time, we left with a baby! NOTHING we had done had prepared us for this moment. Grayson was 8 months old by this time. Keep in mind, we’d never held him or visited with him or interacted with him at all, really. The bio mom, my niece, would not agree to it.

An 8-month-old baby boy in black and white
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster
A baby boy wearing overalls and red stripes sits in a blue chair
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster

The learning curve was steep. Neither of us had ever cared for a baby with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). I’d spent several years working with the special needs population in public schools, but not with young children! Grayson wouldn’t eat anything. (Still won’t.) He didn’t sleep consistently. (Still doesn’t.) And he seemed particularly naughty. (Still does.) I did know, though, early intervention was the key. (Still is.)

A toddler runs down a dock towards the water
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster
A little boy cuts into a cake on his birthday
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster

Through early intervention, pre-school, and all the way up to first grade, Grayson has been able to make SO MUCH progress! We’ve been blessed to have access to some excellent doctors, nurses, therapists, and teachers…..also great neighbors, family, and friends.

One day in March 2017, we received the Order of Adoption from the Court. I had called the adoption worker on Wednesday, earlier that week, and she’d said there’d been no movement on it. The Order arrived on a Saturday—3 days later. We didn’t get the photos with the Judge or anything like that. Still, we were relieved it was finally over.

A father takes his son to a lake in the middle of a field
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster
A boy wearing a baseball cap and yellow shirt stand behind a fence
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster

The 7th anniversary of Grayson’s Gotcha Day passed quietly a few days ago. He is completely integrated into our little family. He is a happy boy who never meets a stranger. He has a kind and generous heart. Neither Virginia nor Kentucky have open adoptions, so Grayson does not have a relationship with his bio mother.

He knows he’s adopted and he grew in another mommy’s belly. He also knows we were related before we became his core family. He doesn’t know the wheres or whys. Maybe one day, when he’s older or if he has the capacity to understand.

A little boy sits holding a basketball on his lap
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster
A boy with braces smiles while holding a s'more
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster

Today we have 3 sons, ages 30, 18, and 7. One in every age and stage. Some days are a struggle. Some days are hilarious and fun. But all of the days are ours, and we are grateful to be Grayson’s mommy and daddy. We can’t imagine life without him.

A man plays guitar while wearing a hat indoors
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster
Brothers sit with a dog on the couch
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster

Shortly after Grayson was officially adopted, we closed our foster home. We might’ve considered trying to adopt a girl if we were younger and healthier or if Grayson’s needs weren’t so great, but none of those are the case.

I would recommend adopting from foster care to anyone who is interested in adoption. There are so many kids who need loving homes and so few people who are willing to stand in the gap for them. The State really does go step-by-step through the entire process with you. And many states will pay for the whole adoption. Plus, the training is top-notch.”

A boy wearing sunglasses sits in a grey chair
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster
A family of five sit with their dog on their front steps
Courtesy of Tammy Fowler Foster

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tammy Fowler Foster of Shelbyville, Kentucky. You can follow her journey on her blog. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories like this:

‘Did he think we abandoned him?’ I was still grieving. He hardly slept day or night. I struggled to feel connection.’: Couple foster to adopt, ‘If you don’t get attached, you’re doing it wrong’

‘Will he ever have to leave us?’ my children asked. What I signed up for wasn’t what happened.’: Foster mom shares emotional journey towards adoption, ‘Our family is built on love’

‘I received a call. ‘We have a 14-year-old boy. He really needs to leave the home he is in.’: Single mom becomes foster parent to help other families battling addiction, adopts teenager

‘We have a 3-day-old baby with drugs in his system and no family to take him. Can you get to the hospital in 2 hours?’: Family of 5 adopt son from foster care

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