‘He craned his neck, trying to see me as they drove away. Every day, he wondered where I was.’: Foster parents help create law after separation from foster son, ‘We are so thankful for this victory’

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“Our story began the summer before we were seniors in college, when we were both in a summer course studying the effects of abandonment on orphans in Romania. We spent two weeks in class and 10 days in Oradea, Romania, where we got to actually see babies and children who were institutionalized and didn’t have much hope of ever having families. We also met some foster families and the children they were caring for and saw the positive impact they had on each other. The children loved their foster parents, and the foster parents loved those children just as if they were their own.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

We visited a hospital with one floor which was a home to babies who had been abandoned by their parents and were being kept by the government. It was like something out of a horror movie, and we will never forget the sights and smells of that place as long as we live. Babies and toddlers were kept in cribs all day and night, were given a diaper change once a day, and were given a bath once a week. They were fed by the nurses propping up bottles and whatever it was they were drinking reeked and made a mess all over them. The hospital had no air conditioning and very little ventilation, so the babies were sweaty and stinky and had to lay in their filth all day every day.

Our job while we were there was to hold these babies, make eye contact with them, show them love, rock them, talk to them and just simply give them human interaction since they were never held by the nurses who worked there. The nurses, quite frankly, didn’t appreciate our presence since we shook things up a bit with all of the baby-holding. No cries of babies were heard, and that’s the way they liked it; the babies had learned there was no use in crying since no one would ever come, but it was so interesting because we would pick them up, and when we had to put them back in their cribs, they would start crying, thus the nurses’ disapproval.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

It was the most heartbreaking, excruciatingly painful thing we’ve ever witnessed in our lives, and leaving those babies there, lying lifeless with blank stares in their cribs is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I knew they were all in need of love, affection, and attachment, and I wanted to just stay there, hold them, and never let go. Those babies are all about 16 or 17 years old now, and I often wonder where they are, what they’re doing, if any of them were ever adopted or in foster care, if they ever knew the love of a family, or if they even survived that hell on earth they were living in. No doubt in my mind the harsh start to their lives would have a lasting negative impact for many if not all years to come.

In those 10 days overseas, Trey and I fell in love; we knew without a doubt we wanted to get married, and while that probably seems pretty crazy to some, to us it was a no-brainer — when you know, you know! We came home, got engaged about a month later, and planned our wedding during our senior year of college. That trip to Romania had made such a huge impact on our lives, and we knew going forward, we wanted to make orphan care something we prioritized in our lives.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

Trey knew he wanted to go to some sort of graduate school once he graduated, but he wasn’t sure exactly where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do. He started researching adoption agencies and discovered there was a lot of legal work that went into making an adoption happen, so that led him to look into law school at the University of South Carolina Law School. He quickly studied for the LSAT exam, took it, did great, applied to law school, and got in! We were so excited and couldn’t wait to start of lives together and embark on a new journey through law school. We got married the weekend after graduation and never looked back!

Fast forward a few years: Trey got a great job, he was practicing law and also able to help families finalize the adoption of their children which gave him so much joy and gratification. We had three daughters and began thinking and talking about becoming foster parents. Soon after we were approved, we got a call about a newborn baby girl who needed a safe home, and we excitedly stepped in and cared for and loved her just like our other little girls. At that time, they were all very young and didn’t know enough about what was going on to even think to ask a ton of questions, but when they did, we told them this baby needed a mama and daddy to love her for a little while to keep her safe and secure, and we were happy to do that.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

They all doted on her, adored her, and treated just like we had brought home a new baby sister for them. When that baby was eight weeks old, her birth mother asked us to adopt her, and we were thrilled beyond words because we had fallen in love with her. Trey was actually able to do all of the legal work himself, and right before Christmas of the same year she came to us, we were able to legalize her adoption, and she became our daughter forever! Adopting a child was always something Trey and I had wanted to do even before we ever met, but especially after our experience in Romania. But we just didn’t know how or when it would happen. We had stepped into foster care to provide a child with a safe, loving home for a short time, and unexpectedly became adoptive parents to a beautiful, healthy baby girl who we named Faith.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

They say foster care isn’t for the faint of heart, and for good reason, because it can be a hard and treacherous journey to take with all of its highs and lows and twists and turns. Not long after we adopted Faith, we welcomed another foster placement into our home; a newborn baby boy, and he made us a family of seven! Once again, we doted on, cuddled, loved, and cared for another baby who needed us, and it gave us so much joy. For 19 months, we fought for his rights and best interests, we even got involved in his case legally, his mother signed papers giving up her parental rights that were still intact and named us as her choice for his adoptive parents.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

The state we live in dismissed our case, saying it didn’t matter what she wanted, and they ultimately took him away from us when he was 19 months old. We were the only family he had ever known, and in one day, everything he knew and loved was gone in an instant. I will never ever forget the caseworker driving him away and him craning his neck in his car seat trying to see me while I cried in the driveway.

It was heart-wrenching to know every day he wondered where I was and where his daddy and sisters were and when we were going to come get him. It was a really dark, stressful time for our family, and we both cried many tears over the loss of that little boy who was too little to understand what was going on. Our girls handled it with grace, and we assured them no one would ever come to take them away like they had him. We also assured them we had accomplished our goal, and that was to love him, bond with him, and be his safe place for the time God had put him in our lives, and now we needed to pray for him.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

As soon as he left our home, Trey was busy working on writing a bill to change the laws so what happened to that little boy wouldn’t happen to any more children in our state. As he began the process of contacting the right people and penning the correct language, we were contacted once again to take a newborn baby, a little girl this time, and a bit hesitantly, we said yes again. We knew just wallowing in our sadness and grief wouldn’t be doing anyone any good, so we opened up our home and hearts again to another child in need, but it wasn’t without its feelings of fear and guardedness.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

As much as I loved caring for this precious little baby and as much balm to my broken heart she was after such a great loss, we still entered into this with trembling hands knowing she could be here one day and gone the next. Ask anyone who has ever fostered, and they will attest to this. You want so much to love these children, to give them all they need to thrive and attach and bond, but you always know at any moment, both of your hearts can be broken without having any control over the situation. We learned first-hand how important it is for babies and children to feel loved and cherished from day one, to be held, to make eye contact, to be rocked and cuddled and touched; it all matters so much as their little brains are growing and developing.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

We stayed relatively uninvolved in our new foster daughter’s case but loved her unashamedly, and the day I gave birth to our son we learned we would most likely get to adopt her. What an exciting time that was for our family as we felt as if we had gained two children in one day! A little over a year from that date, at the age of two, we finalized her adoption and she became ‘Eden,’ which means ‘delight,’ and it was and is a perfect name for her. Her coming home to our family after such a hard season of our lives was truly delightful and gave us so much joy in being able to love another baby who needed it.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

In May of 2018, the governor of South Carolina signed a bill into law that Trey helped write, and it felt so sweet to see some redemption after what happened to our family and that little boy, and we are so thankful for that victory and knowing we were able to make such a significant change to the adoption laws in our state.

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

Since then, we have welcomed another biological daughter, and we now have six girls and a boy! We are still passionate about foster care and adoption and still hold our foster care license with an open home to babies and children who need a family to love them for however long they may need it. We’re so thankful for the opportunity we had 16 years ago to see the need for folks to love vulnerable children, the importance of attachment and bonding, and the beautiful effects adoption has on children who are in need.”

Courtesy of Kelli Ingram
Courtesy of Kelli Ingram

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Trey and Kelli Ingram of Piedmont, South Carolina. You can follow their journey on Instagram. 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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