“One family. Two years. Eight children.
That’s the short explanation of our life. When outsiders ask us questions about what it’s like to be a foster family, they almost never question us further. But the questions are there, in their eyes, as they look down the line of children at my side. The judgement is there, all over their faces, as they dismissively comment, ‘Well, I could never do that,’ before turning their attention back to their own lives. ‘I could never do that.’ So, stranger, let me answer some of those questions you’ve been afraid to verbalize. Pull up a chair. Get comfortable. Let me invite you in…
‘Hey, Grace. A baby girl was abandoned at the hospital. She doesn’t even have a name. It probably won’t be forever, but we need to place her in a foster home. Can you come pick her up in an hour?’
We were standing in Target, trying to buy pants for the 12-year-old who was already in our care, when I took that phone call. My husband and I made eye contact. We didn’t even need to discuss it. ‘Yes.’ We grabbed a few outfits and a pack of diapers, swung by the house to grab a car seat, and 45 minutes later, the most perfect little Pakistani princess was placed in our arms. Her legal name? Safe (our county) Surrender.
Fast forward 4 months.
‘Hey, Grace. The pediatrician is making a referral to the local children’s hospital. It looks like Safe (we weren’t allowed to change her name) wasn’t examined at birth, and there might be more going on than we thought. Can you cut your vacation short to get her to this appointment?’
We made the appointment. They called her legal name over the intercom- ‘Safe Surrender?’ I felt the stares of strangers as we met the nurse at the door. No one said it, but they all thought it. ‘Who names their kid that?’ Lots of tests- heart, kidneys, spine. A diagnosis of a few birth defects that would require multiple surgeries and a few months with a colostomy bag. There were more tests, more appointments, and more explanations to uninformed medical staff ;WHY this little baby has such an unusual name.
‘Hey, Grace. I just got your message. Those are some pretty extensive medical needs. Do you think you guys can handle it? We can move her to a level 2 home if we need to.’
We handled it. We sat by her bedside as she woke up from surgeries. We held her as she cried pitifully. We learned how to care for a colostomy bag. We ordered supplies and paid for them out of pocket. We bought new clothes to leave room for her colostomy bag. We watched her heal. We watched her begin to trust us. We loved her, and she flourished. She had surgery again at 10- months-old to reverse her colostomy and she never looked back.
‘Hey, Grace. We published in the paper for the unknown father. We haven’t gotten a response. It looks like this case will be going toward adoption. Are you willing to adopt Safe?’
I want to pause my story here for a moment. Because ultimately, our fostering journey comes down to one, very simple thing: hope. The practice of waiting with great expectation for things to come. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t make us saints. But it does lead us to believe there is more out there, and better out there, for broken families and hurting children.
So, let’s address some of those unspoken questions you probably brought to the table:
‘How do you love so many children, and let them go back home?’
Hope. I have genuine hope that their families have learned how to better cope with stress. I have hope that we’ve forged deep, meaningful relationships with the biological family. I have hope we’ll see them again, but under much better circumstances.
‘How do you put up with such horrible behaviors?’
Hope. Because, sometimes, grief looks a lot like rage. And if we can get through the rage, I have hope we can get to the grief. And I have hope that, if we can get to the grief, we can also get to the healing.
‘How do you even stand the constant upheaval in your home?’
Hope. I am an adult who can rationally process sudden, unexpected change. The children who come into our home are not. I have hope that, even though the abrupt disruption is traumatic, we can be a safe haven in a storm for little souls who are lost and confused. I have hope that we will all settle into a new normal and find comfort in it together.
‘I would be sad all the time. How do you even listen to their stories?’
Hope. I wake up multiple times a night to children crying out for me. I sit in a glider for hours, holding little bodies, racked with sobs, until they finally catch their breath. I document injuries, dispense medications, sit in on intensive in-home therapy, and fill out countless evaluations requesting PT, OT, and speech. I listen to a preschooler share stories of domestic violence and watch a preteen struggle with mental health. I open the fridge, over and over, to prove to children there is always food. I attend IEP meetings and I advocate for kids. But you know what else I do? I cry. I fall into my husband’s arms at the end of some days, and I beg to just put this work down, because it’s heavy. But he reminds me- hope lightens the load. And every day, we take a deep breath, lean into hope, and do it all again.
Which brings me back to our story.
‘Hey. Grace! Congratulations! It looks like we’ve confirmed a date in March for your adoption ceremony! You can invite whoever you’d like. Several social workers will be in attendance, too. They want to see this case through to the end.’
At ten o’clock on 3/14/18, I took the stand. I was sworn in. I looked into the eyes of our friends and family, 75 people who made room in their day to come honor this moment with us. I looked at my husband, sitting there with that sweet little girl who had shared our home for the last 14 months. A little girl whose very name told the story of her birth: Safe Surrender. A little girl who had lost so much, but for whom we hoped so much more. I answered a few questions, and then…
‘Grace, what has your family decided to name her?’
My eyes turned toward my daughter. She gave me the biggest grin as I answered,
‘Her name is Arya. Arya Hope.'”