“Our family of two grew to six in roughly a year and a half. You read that right. Between January 2020 and July 2021, my husband and I had four children. Did I mention this was during a pandemic… with a child who has immense needs… and I had a high-risk pregnancy? When I met my husband in May 2012, this was not what I would have written as part of our story, but it would be exactly what we needed.
Our Love Story
I met Austin at a Young Life camp property in North Carolina. We had both been impacted by this Christian ministry and took the opportunity to do some projects around the grounds before summer camp was in full swing. Somehow between chopping wood and planting a garden, Austin knew he liked me and would pursue me long distance for two years while he was 10 hours away in Georgia, and I in Virginia.
Serious about marriage, Austin took an engineering job in Maryland so we were only 3 hours apart. We were engaged my senior year of college and soon after graduation, married on May 31, 2015. Through engagement, we did premarital counseling and the topic of growing our family came up. We both shared our desires for children. I mentioned I would like to adopt one day after our biological children were older, and Austin’s response was neither passionately yes nor no. I remember as a young girl, before I was a Christian, I told my mom I wanted to adopt. I believe God was planting a seed in my heart back then for reaching the least of these.
A Growing Desire
That seed grew and rooted deeply to change the trajectory of my life. I ended up volunteering for Young Life through college and began working full-time after we were married. I had the incredible privilege to work alongside middle school and high school kids and love them where they were. I was a trusted adult in their lives who sat in the lows and cheered them on in the highs. We shared life together and that meant I shared the biggest part of my life: Jesus.
Regardless of how my teenage friends felt about Jesus, I still showed up. I showed up in situations they shouldn’t have had to face, like unstable homes, parents who were out of the picture, abusive relationships, and financial instability. They desperately needed adults who cared enough to love them through it all. As my heart broke for them, God was again deepening my heart for reaching the least of these. While the world said those children were too far gone, in my eyes they were not, and I wanted to care for them. It makes sense that adopting an older child was not as crazy of an idea as my husband and I would soon find out.
The common theme of my life, and specifically growing our family, has been me trying to control and formulate the game plan, and then God laughing and being like, ‘Nah, I got something better for you. It may be harder, but it’s better.’ And then, time after time, I relearn that His plans are better (maybe not as easy as I would want them), but much better than I could have dreamt of.
After a year of trying to conceive naturally, and then another year of unsuccessful fertility treatments, I found myself open to adoption earlier than I expected. The idea, ‘We will adopt after our biological children are older,’ went out the window. We began praying and taking action. Through our Young Life and church community, we started grabbing meals with those who had adopted domestically (infants in the states) or internationally. We wanted to hear their stories and the unfiltered reality of adopting, while gaining some wisdom and direction.
Most suggested attending an adoption agency’s info meeting as our next step. We found a private Christian agency in Maryland, but the only meetings they had available were about foster care adoption. At that point, we didn’t have a clue about it, but thought at least we could get a better grasp on this agency and figure out if we wanted to use them in general. On November 18, 2018, we left that meeting with the raw, harsh knowledge of the state of foster care children in our country and knew right away this was the direction we were gravitating toward.
We learned there are about 400,000 children in foster care and around 100,000 of them are able to be adopted because parental rights are lost and kinship (through family relations) adoption isn’t an option either. These children will most likely not be adopted because they are older and ‘harder’ and instead will bounce around foster homes to be stuck in the system until they are 18. Then, they are released into ‘adulthood’ with no one giving them true direction and being with them in it all. I knew through Young Life that kids without caring adults would flat out struggle in many facets of life.
The next step would be attending a training course that would start in May 2019, but with another fertility treatment coming up, we thought we would wait for God to make it obvious if we were to do the training. During a vacation to Arizona in January 2019, we celebrated our first pregnancy and just as quickly endured losing our child. Through the pain and heartache of the miscarriage, it became apparent I earnestly yearned to be a parent and that didn’t mean I needed to have a biological baby or adopt an infant. We both wanted to grow our family sooner rather than later. I didn’t want to go through another treatment and possibly miscarry again. Austin agreed we should take that training course. It was a whirlwind and just the beginning: the beginning of growing our family and the beginning of deepening our community. We announced on social media and began fundraising (GoFundMe).
Toward the end of May, we wrapped up the training. It walked us through the logistics of each step, the legality of the process, and mostly how to come alongside children with trauma. There were books to read, videos to watch, and scenarios we were coached through. We needed to educate ourselves on trauma because foster care and adoption are born out of brokenness. These children do not need to be saved and foster care/adoptive parents are not saviors. These children need to feel like they belong. Please reread those last two sentences and make a note to start reading adoptees’ perspectives on their adoption. I want to make it clear that adoption is not an easy fix where the ending is full of smiles and sunshine. It is bittersweet: mourning of what is lost and tragic, while celebrating what can be mended, but mostly likely will not be whole. We are glad this reality was taught through training.
Our home study began in June. This meant piles of paperwork needed to be signed and mailed, recommendations written about us, appointments made, and official people needed to ‘okay’ us as capable parents and deem our house as safe before we could even contact social workers about kids. Every legal step on our end just to finalize our home study was annoying to figure out. The adoption agency gave a great checklist, answered questions, and checked in with us regularly, but in our small town, finding the right people to sign documents was like finding a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, though, we had a local family who did the training with us and we also found another local family who had two boys recently placed with them through foster care adoption. We were able to work together to figure out where to go, who to call, and how to get everything completed before I had to leave for a month-long work assignment away at a Young Life camp.
On June 27th, 2019, all the hard work paid off and the home study was finalized. We were able to take the next big step and initiate conversations with kids’ social workers. That night, even after a 12 hour camp work day (if you know, you know), we giddily received our account information for a nationwide foster care adoption website and began scrolling through hundreds of children who could be adopted. This website allows you to see one picture, a name, an age, and one to two paragraphs about a child. We narrowed our search by looking for a boy up to eight years of age. We were counseled not to adopt a child whose needs may be too much for us, and those paragraphs in kids’ profiles helped to indicate whether or not we should begin to message their social worker. We contacted around forty to fifty social workers over the course of a few weeks. By the end of August, three social workers matched with us–meaning they looked at our home study and thought we may be a good fit for their child. We were then allowed to read more current information about the child and from there we said yes to furthering the process with two boys.
Matching With Brycen
Brycen’s social worker got back to us with a 2,000 page file. We had access to more personal details about his needs, his birth family’s story, and how he was doing in foster homes. It included the good, bad, and the ugly. Brycen’s emotional needs were great from the abuse and neglect he experienced since birth and throughout his 8 years of life. We thought about if we could care and support him the way he desperately needed. After praying, we still found ourselves interested and in September, our adoption agency was invited to a matching call on our behalf.
This call included us and three other families who had matched with Brycen. There was to be a vote at the end of the call for which family could best care for Brycen and which family would Brycen want to be a part of. Our agency told us they would vote for another family if they truly believed it wasn’t us. We were encouraged that Brycen’s social worker wanted to hear out every prospective family and that each agency voted without bias on which family would be the best fit. To our surprise, the matching call ended with a vote for us being the best match for Brycen. A few weeks later, we excitedly said a final yes. This was it; we would soon be able to meet him!
Our community showed up big time with a parent shower. Prayer requests were covered, financial needs met, and toys provided. We felt so known and loved and knew Brycen would soon be too by these people. Visits began in November 2019, where he lived. Brycen didn’t know about us until two days before our first visit, to protect him from having high hopes ripped away again. A few months prior, a prospective family he knew about ended up saying no.
Bringing Brycen Home
As we nervously entered his foster home with beating hearts, Brycen greeted us with indifference. It was awkward at first, but with each moment walls were brought down and we learned a little bit more about him and vice versa. Brycen eventually initiated more play with us, which was encouraging, and we genuinely loved spending time with him.
Three weekend visits later, and 9 months from the first training class, on January 28, 2020, Brycen flew with his team and our child, who we prayed for, was finally in our home. We signed foster care paperwork which meant he was still technically in the state’s care for at least 6 months. This is set up as a protection and trial run of sorts in the foster care adoption world because sometimes things just don’t work out. We knew the moment he stepped in our home, adoption was the end goal, and because of the pandemic, it wouldn’t officially happen for another 9 months.
Through those 9 months, we went through daily (sometimes multiple times a day) battles. Brycen was in constant fight or flight mode and had raging outbursts that ended with all three of us crying. It was a messy blur of running away, unsafe body choices toward himself and others, going to another new school for a few weeks to only be sent home due to COVID, and having a teacher (me) who he didn’t trust. We had no outside resources because of the pandemic. No therapy, none of our community could take him for a bit, no kids to befriend, no sports or hobbies as an outlet, no way for any of us to take a breath. It was constant chaos and it took a toll.
Day by day though, we learned his triggers, figured out more ways to connect with him, cleverly found pandemic approved self care moments, and eventually Brycen began to come out of survival mode and trust us little by little. He had experienced many adults not keeping promises, so he kept questioning if we were really going to adopt him. He had been failed more than any person should endure, and we were thankful he still wanted to be adopted.
September 1, 2020 is not a ‘gotcha’ day for us. It’s the day our family grew and Brycen knew he belongs for forever. We rejoice and mourn as God continues to mold our relationships together. We praise Him for the moments that bring connection and thank Him for getting us through each day, whatever it may bring, and we keep on relearning His plans are always better. Remember when I said I would not have written our life story this way, but it is exactly what we needed…?
Continuing To Learn And Adjust
On July 4th, 2021, I gave birth to very premature triplets. After a crazy summer spent living with my parents and visiting the NICU daily, we came home with at least one baby on the anniversary of Brycen’s adoption being finalized. It was a huge transition as parents and it was a lot for Brycen to adjust to. But God wrote it best and we are now seeing how these three babies have brought laughter, joy, and are a blessing for Austin, Brycen, and myself. He shares about his birth family and his foster families to his little brothers and sister as they play and it is beautiful.
With COVID restrictions lifting, more victories were won. Our community could care for us better and make big brother Brycen feel special with fun adventures. Hobbies and sports are enjoyed. Therapy in and outside of school has provided more tools in his and our emotional tool boxes. There is mending happening, mending to be done, and continued prayer for what will never be whole. We are thankful Brycen is our son and this is our story, and we keep fighting for his needs to be met to make sure he knows he forever belongs.
If I could give advice to others considering foster care/adoption, it would be: educate yourself on the effects of trauma in the brain and read adoptees’ points of view. If you have a partner, make sure you’re both on the same page and know what needs you can actually meet for a child. And find community and invite them into this process.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Eleanor Duke. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories like this:
‘Her birth parents changed their minds.’ The call ripped us apart. ‘She’s coming to pick her up.’: Woman shares journey with infertility, adoption, foster care, urges ‘you will make it to the other side’
‘I’m sorry. The adoption is over.’ He was being placed in foster care. I had this feeling, this wasn’t the end.’: Couple hikes the globe with kids after nearly failed adoption of ‘beautiful little boy’
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