‘Can you come pick her up?’ I turned to my husband. His face said it all. ‘How can we say no?’: Couple adopts daughter from foster care, ‘They’re all worth it’

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“It was a happy day. The sun was shining and the courtroom was filled with dressed up, smiling people, showing up for a little girl and a growing family. What was clear from the very beginning of her life was what started in tragedy would not end that way. She would never be alone. She was so deeply loved by so many people.

During foster care training, the goal of reunification was impressed upon us with utter importance and urgency. Children belong with their parents and when that isn’t possible, with extended family. After those possibilities are exhausted, ideally the foster parents will be given an opportunity to adopt the child. If they cannot, other foster families will be asked. If no family is found, they could end up in a group home. The one thing I pray for the most, as a foster parent, is the assurance of knowing wherever my foster children end up, they will be loved, safe, and will know they are worthy of belonging.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

We walked into the courtroom and took a seat, only to stand right back up when the judge asked all the family members to come to the front. My instinct was to stay seated, but I was her mom too, even if only for 6 months. Her soon-to-be forever mama waved us up. I knew she would. They were already like family. But being a foster mom means I’m always careful, cautious, not wanting to make assumptions about my place.

She spent the first 40 days of her life in the NICU before she was finally discharged and we could bring her home. We met her forever parents very early on and knew from the beginning they would become her parents, even before anything had been decided. We spent six months getting to know them, first through visits at the county offices, then in our home for dinner. We heard their story, we felt their devotion to their family, we watched them drive two hours any time they could to see her. They quickly became friends.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

In record time, she was able to move in with them at seven months old while they pursued adoption. We were thankful to get a chapter in the story God was writing for their family. Finally, at 21-months, her adoption was getting finalized. And even though I said it was a happy day, adoption is never that simple. The best description I’ve ever heard of adoption is it’s a broken hallelujah. Adoption starts with loss, the loss of biological parents. This is a trauma many, if not all, adopted children will carry with them forever, no matter when the loss occurred. For many kids in foster care, they have had more than a few sets of caretakers before they end up in their forever homes. This means more loss, more confusion, more trauma. This is the tension I held on this day, it’s the tension I hold every day.

We walked up to the front of the courtroom and finally, she noticed us, or rather my son. A family member was holding her and as soon as she saw him, she wriggled down and embraced him. And my oldest baby, my big 5-year-old, my miracle baby, lifted her up with ease and they stayed just like that, giving each other squeezes and kisses like a brother and sister should. They hadn’t seen each other in over a month, but it was like no time had passed.

I looked at my daughter, too young to understand what was going on, but knowing how important it was she witness this, to see in action what we experienced with her two years before. I saw my husband and our tiny 1.5-month-old foster daughter fast asleep in his arms. My eyes filled with tears. This is hard, but it’s beautiful and it’s worth it. They are worth it. Sigh, a broken hallelujah.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

Fast forward one year. We found ourselves explaining the transition plan to our children again. It had been changing weekly for the last two months, just a part of the roller coaster ride that is foster care, but this was the final plan. Her time with us was quickly coming to an end. I told my now five-year-old daughter, ‘This is our last week with her. On Monday morning, she leaves for good.’

‘You mean for bad,’ she replied. She understood what was happening this time.

Our foster daughter is 13 months old and has been with us since birth. She’s as much a part of our family as every other member. Her joy fills every room. Her snuggles could melt the coldest of hearts. Yet, what we experienced in the last eight months, I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy. We witnessed the brokenness of the system up close. Her case had been drawn out due to strange and unexpected complications. Then COVID hit and it just got worse. The hardest part was she was the one who lost. As much as we wanted her to be a permanent member of our family, every day she spent with us was a day she should be with her forever family.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

The turmoil of the last year resulted in countless sleepless nights, anxiety-ridden days, anger that made me sick to my stomach, and so many tears shed for our baby girl. Every time I got a call from someone on her case, it took all my mental and emotional energy not to panic. This was our hardest case to date. But even on the hardest days, I could turn on her favorite song, watch her giggle and dance with my big kids, and knew I would do it all again if I could just take one ounce of the pain away from her. This is hard in ways we can’t put into words, but it’s beautiful and it’s worth it. They are worth it.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

I grew up wanting to adopt. I remember as a child wondering why on earth anyone with an extra room wouldn’t want to be a family for a child who doesn’t have one. It made no sense to me.

I married my high school sweetheart. We were kindred old souls and connected on a deep level right from the beginning. When we started dating at 15, we just knew in our gut we’d be together forever. Our faith brought us closer together and kept us together through college. He knew early on adoption was going to be in my future, and he didn’t run away scared. Little did I know, my heart was growing for foster care too.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

On our first anniversary, at the mature age of 22, we became the temporary legal guardians of a family member who was 15 at the time. I won’t explain the details of the situation, as that is her story to tell, but what I will say is this: seven months of caring for her changed us. We saw how much good change could happen in someone’s life in a stable family setting with a strong support system surrounding us (our church community was all in for this journey). We made some incredible memories, had amazing breakthroughs, cried and prayed so much together, and naturally, made many mistakes.

It was hard, probably the hardest thing I had done at that point in my life. But it was worth it, she was worth it. After that, we knew foster care was going to be a part of our lives.

Our plan (like you can plan these things) was to have a biological child first and then foster. A major health scare, multiple surgeries, and two years of infertility made us rethink the plan. We didn’t want to waste time hoping for a miracle we were never promised, so we decided we shouldn’t delay any longer and signed up for foster care training. During our first week of training, we found out we were pregnant with our miracle baby. Our social worker didn’t seem phased. She said that always happens and encouraged us to continue getting licensed. So we did.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

Two years later, our son was 13 months old and we finally got our foster care license. Two weeks went by and we get our first call. It was a baby girl. She was born the day before and would be discharged from the hospital the next day. ‘It’s just until we find her family, maybe a few weeks. Can you come to pick her up?’ I wanted to say yes, but I was terrified. I turned to my husband. His face said it all. How could we say no? The rest of the day was a flurry of diapers, formula, a whole lot of pink, and our church family gathering clothes and supplies and coordinating our meals for the next month.

From the moment we saw her in the hospital, we were smitten. She was beautiful and dainty and oh so tiny. My son was instantly in love and I got to witness the sweetest little bond form between the two of them. It was a strange sensation for my heart to grow in love for a little baby I didn’t know existed the week before.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

As the weeks unfold, what was supposed to be a temporary placement was clearly becoming long term. We find out more about where she came from, the circumstances of her birth. How she survived it all can only be explained because God spared her life. My second miracle baby.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

She proved herself to be a fighter with survival skills through the roof. She was climbing on top of the kitchen table before she could walk, taught herself to get dressed by the age of two, and learned to pick locks not long after that. Her hilarious style and silly and mischievous personality kept us entertained and rather busy through her toddler years. By the time we adopted her, five days before her second birthday, it really was just a piece of paper making legal what was already our reality. She was our daughter, my son’s sister. She belonged with us and it felt like she had always been a part of our family.

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

Her biological father was involved from the beginning. He did everything he could to fight for his baby girl. He stayed in her life even after he gave us his blessing to adopt her. They had a sweet relationship up until his death last May. Their picture sits in her room and she keeps a photo album of the two of them in her bed so she can look at their pictures whenever she misses him. A broken hallelujah.

There’s a lot more to it than that. But that’s her story to share, not mine.

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I will be honest, after losing two foster daughters, I pause at the thought of fostering again. I understand why some families would hesitate to get ‘too attached’ to a child just to have their hearts broken. I understand even more the desire to keep hard things away from our children. But I’ve seen my children’s capacity to love in the midst of brokenness. I’ve seen them say yes to hard things because their hearts are just so big, the kind of big you only get when you’re aware of the suffering around you. That’s the kind of human I want to be and I want to raise. Even though I pause at the thought, we’re not done. There are so many more little humans that need love.

It is hard, but it’s beautiful and it’s worth it. They are all worth it.”

Courtesy of Kim McCullough

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kim McCullough from Herndon, VA. You can follow their journey on Instagram and read more from them here. 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.

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‘The ministry called. ‘We have a boy and a girl. Would you be open to adopting two children?’ WHAT? Could this be real?! We were moved to tears.’: After 11 miscarriages, failed surrogacy, couple adopt 2 kids from foster care

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