‘I was chosen to be their parent, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.’: Woman takes in 5 foster kids, births miracle baby in wake of father’s passing

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“I first came to Tanzania in 2010 to follow my dream of volunteering in a baby orphanage. Little did I know then that I would still be in Tanzania eleven years later. The first time I came, I spent 5 weeks cuddling and loving on precious babies who had lost their birth families for various reasons. I was in my element, so much so that I quickly booked a second trip and came back for 7 more weeks. It was during these trips that I met and fell in love with a sweet little baby boy called Alfie; when I first met him, he was just 13 months old and we bonded a lot during my trips.

woman with her son that she fostered
Courtesy of Claire Upshall

After returning home, I spent the next year working and saving all I could with the intention to return for a year. So in June 2011, I quit my job, packed my bags, and headed out once more to Tanzania. I had made arrangements to be the temporary voluntary director of the orphanage that I had previously been at. During my time at home, I had heard that little Alfie had been transferred to an older orphanage where he would be due to remaining throughout his childhood.

Soon after arriving in Tanzania, I started looking into ways in which I could support Alfie. I visited him often and it was quite apparent that he still remembered me from before. The idea of adoption was brought up and once I was given permission from the relevant people, I just knew that it was the right thing to do. So in October 2011, I became his foster mommy. Today, Alfie is now almost 13 years old. A short while later I had started to think of having a sibling for Alfie, so in December 2011, 2-year-old Layla joined our family. I had also met Layla on my very first trip to Tanzania when she was just 4 months old.

During all this time I was still managing the orphanage, I would often foster babies who needed a little bit of extra TLC. During my time here in Tanzania I have cared for/ supported over 200 babies and young children. Before Alfie became my son I was fostering premature, newborn identical twin boys. I then fostered a very malnourished little ten-month-old girl. In March 2012, I was called to collect a 5-month-old little girl. I headed out to the village with the orphanage’s social worker where we found the family and the little girl. When we got home it became very apparent that Isabella was not 5 months old, for one she had a mouth full of teeth yet she weighed only 5kg (10lbs).

Courtesy of Claire Upshall

Realizing just how tiny and malnourished she was, I decided that I would also take her into my home for a while to give her the best chance. When we later received paperwork, we actually realized that she turned 2 years old on the day we collected her. In the end, Isabella became a part of our family too and once I had permissions in place, she became Alfie and Layla’s sister. Moving forward to November, I had left the orphanage I had been volunteering at to help with setting up a new orphanage. One day I was called to collect a ten-day-old baby boy from the hospital; he was very small due to being premature and he was quite weak, so I took him into my care and there Jack remained. I was now a mother to four children aged 4 years and under. Life was hectic but I loved every minute of it.

Early 2015, I was called to collect a tiny premature baby from the hospital. Baby Madeline was 6 weeks old and weighed just 1.1kg (3.3lbs). She was in very poor health so I decided to take her in to foster her like I had done so many times before. During ten months with me, I lost count of the number of hospital admissions she had. I slept in the NICU by her side, I willed her to survive when the doctors didn’t give her much hope. I learned how to feed her through a tube and how to maintain her oxygen levels. She was the first baby who had ever been discharged on oxygen, as the doctors felt confident that I knew how to care for her.

We were actually told that it was unlikely she would survive past her first birthday. I started to get all the paperwork in order for me to officially foster her but before I had a chance to do so life changed somewhat and I left the orphanage I was working at. With a heavy heart, I had to leave my sweet girl behind until all the paperwork was in place, which I didn’t think would take long. Sadly, it took 2.5 years of tirelessly fighting to get her back. I must have cried a thousand tears and, to be honest, there were times when I thought it was never going to happen. But in early 2018, I got the call I had been longing for: Madeline was ready to come home to her family.

woman's daughter who was in the hospital
Courtesy of Claire Upshall

During my time here in Tanzania, my father had been my biggest supporter emotionally, practically, and financially,. He was always there for us. I never expected anything from him, but it gave him the joy to take care of his daughter and grandchildren. In 2018, my world changed forever though when my father suddenly became very unwell with an aggressive brain tumor. He died just four months after becoming unwell. I had flown to England to be by his side and, as his only living child, I arranged his funeral while 16 weeks pregnant with a surprise, precious bundle. Betty was born later that year in August and is adored by all her siblings. I have always said that Betty came along to keep me going through such an incredibly difficult time.

Courtesy of Claire Upshall

Up until now, my children’s adoptions are still not completed. For 5-6 years I have been trying to finalize everything so that we can leave to live in the UK. Living here has become more and more difficult with fewer and fewer job opportunities for foreigners. I have not been able to secure work nor do I have the funds required to open my own business. I have just been doing anything and everything I can to get by until everything is finalized and we can move to the UK where I will have job opportunities and support from family, where my children who have extra needs can get the support they need. Unfortunately, I seem to have hit every bump in the road during my quest to finalize their adoptions. Several times I have been given the hope that we are almost there, almost got everything finalized only to then realize that in fact, we are not.

When I first became a mommy, the day Alfie came home to live with me was such an amazing feeling. For the first weeks, we couldn’t speak the same language so we would sit in the small corridor of our house rolling cars and balls to each other and laughing with each other. Another time or a particular time in my life was when Madeline first came into my life. I spent weeks by her side through so many hospital admissions, willing her to survive. I remember vividly the day I was told to not expect her to live past her first birthday. I just sobbed onto the shoulder of a doctor who had been there throughout Madeline’s admissions. The doctor has since come to me to tell me that he has had to have such difficult conversations on multiple occasions but he has only ever been wrong twice and once was my Madeline. I am forever grateful that he was wrong and that we still have our beautiful girl who is healthy and thriving despite the challenges.

woman holding her daughter
Courtesy of Claire Upshall

It is a struggle on a month-to-month basis. I do a few things such as selling on eBay, but it is not enough and we have to rely heavily on the kindness of others to be able to get by. Getting enough money to live on and pay school fees is not easy but I am incredibly thankful for all of those of have supported us so far whilst we continue to try to finalize everything. Although things can be quite stressful, I would not have it any other way; my children are my life and I would rather be here with them struggling than anywhere else without them. I am so incredibly proud that I have been chosen to be their parents and I get the privilege to raise my wonderful children.

This journey I am on has been and still is challenging and incredibly stressful. I’ve been battling through so many hardships, one after the other for years in the hopes of being able to take my children to where we as a family will have more opportunities. But what I’d like to leave you all with is this: You’ll never know how strong you are until you have reached rock bottom. But you must still get up every morning because of your first calling, your kids.

I am so thankful that I get to raise these amazing little people.”

cover photo
Courtesy of Claire Upshall
Courtesy of Claire Upshall

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Claire Upshall. You can follow her on Instagram and donate to her GoFundMe. 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.

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