“Growing up the youngest of nine children, I always dreamed of having a large family myself. I just knew I would have several children of my own, and adopting was heavy on my heart as well. I knew older children were less adoptable, so my desire was to adopt anything other than a newborn. I had always had a heart for the underdog, and was nicknamed the ‘free spirit’ of my family. The homeless, abused, and neglected children were specifically what I had a heart for.
At the age of 12, I became the neighborhood babysitter, and continued working as a nanny for several families throughout high school. One of the families I worked for had adopted a little boy. We had such an amazing connection, which deepend my desire to adopt children even more. I worked well into my twenties for some of the families I nannied for, until I moved out of state with my then boyfriend, who would later become my first husband. I will call him Steve. Steve shared the desire for a large family as well. We always joked how we would have enough children to create our own sports team.
We moved from California to Oregon, got married, and would eventually try to build a family of our own. I had two miscarriages, which was obviously devastating at the time, but looking back now, I realize it was a blessing. Steve struggled with alcohol and became physically and verbally abusive. He would read scripture from the bible to me one evening, and literally beat me, put me in a car, and tell me he was going to leave me for dead in the woods the very next day. Thankfully, I had the wherewithal to stop trying to get pregnant, because I never wanted a child to be raised in the environment I was living in. Just two short years after being married, I asked for a divorce. Steve took a job on the road working for his brother, and I stayed in the home while we worked on getting it finalized. Thankfully, we were able to split amicably. We actually went to the courthouse together, hand in hand to file paperwork.
In September of 1999, my parents came to visit on their way to Canada. I got a call from the local foster care agency I had inquired with, telling me their foster parent training was going to be held that upcoming weekend for several weeks to follow. My mom knew my desire to become a mom, and emphatically told me to go to the classes without guilt they were visiting. So, that very weekend, I began classes to become a foster mom. Since Steve was on the lease of our home, he had to take the classes as well. We had formed a friendship, and he selflessly agreed, because he knew how important becoming a mom was for me.
We finished our training after several weekend courses, and a few short days later, I got a call asking if I would take a three-year-old little girl. She had been in foster care for several months and had a problem smearing feces, so the current home could no longer care for her. I reluctantly declined because I felt nowhere near capable of caring for her. A couple of days later, I got a call about a five-year-old little girl who was no longer able to stay in her current foster home.
I was asked to meet her and her foster mom at a yogurt shop one afternoon when I got off work. I was so excited the entire day. When I got off work, I rushed to the yogurt shop, where the two of them were waiting. The sweet little girl, I will call Sophia, was dressed in an angel costume with the arms cut off, because she exclaimed, ‘They were way too itchy!’ She was full of energy and had the cutest, raspy voice. We visited for about half an hour, and I made the decision she and I would be a good match.
The foster parents and I agreed, the following weekend, we would arrange a time to get together for Sophia to come live with me. I had visions of them dropping her off at my home with a tearful goodbye and well wishes. Man, was I in for a surprise. We met at a McDonald’s parking lot, her belongings in a trash bag, and a quick goodbye. I was left dumbfounded. I figured we might as well get some dinner, so I drove through McDonald’s, and we headed home. I had the perfect little girl’s room decorated for her, and she was happy to have her own bedroom. We spent the evening talking and sharing stories. We played memory for what felt like hours.
A few short days later, and the honeymoon was over. Tantrums ensued like I had never experienced in my life. She would scream and yell at me any time she was asked to do something she didn’t want to do. She would yell, ‘I’m going to burn your house down. You look at me young lady; I’m talking to you!’ My heart broke for this little girl. I wasn’t quite prepared to handle these situations, so I would hide under the covers in my bed. The tantrums and anger continued for months to come. I learned she had reactive attachment disorder, thus taking out her frustrations on the mother figure in her life. People on the outside viewed her as charming, but had no idea what went on behind closed doors. Oftentimes, I would call my mom or my sister and have them sit on the phone with me to ride out the fits of rage, so I wouldn’t engage.
Sophia had visitations with her bio mom once a week, and her behavior would be erratic for days after. Mom rarely made visits, but whether or not she came, there was always anxiety around Wednesdays. Slowly, the tantrums and fits of rage became fewer and farther between, and I saw myself becoming an adoptive mother to this little girl. Even though mom wasn’t consistent with visitation, about a year later, the little girl who grew dear to my heart, got to reunify with her family. She was ecstatic. I was heartbroken. However, I did establish a great relationship with her biological family, so we kept in contact.
I had become a foster mom to another little girl as well, who happened to be reunified with her biological parents a few weeks before Sophia was reunified with her biological mother. I was all alone, so I made the decision to move back to California to be closer to my family. The day I left, I went to say goodbye to Sophia. My heart broke into pieces. She was a disheveled mess. Her hair was tatted, and her clothes were filthy. She cried and asked me not to move to California, but at the same time, was so happy to be home with her mom and siblings.
When I arrived in California, I made weekly phone calls to check on the sweet little girl I met at the yogurt shop. Less than six weeks later, her mom answered the phone and said, ‘I made a huge mistake. The kids are gone.’ Again, my heart sank. I got a call from the department of human services, asking if I could return and take her in my care. Unfortunately, I was unable.
I did a lot of research and found the foster family she got placed with. Thankfully, we had a relationship, and they let me stay in contact with Sophia. Fast forward 18 months, and I got a call from the department of human services, telling me Sophia and her sister, Jada, were going to be removed from their current foster home. They asked if I would be willing to move back to Oregon to care for the two girls. I was simultaneously excited and freaked out. I was still single, and of course, wanted to care for Sophia. But, I wasn’t quite sure I would have what it took to take on a two-year-old as well. I didn’t hesitate, said yes, and moved back to Oregon.
June 21, 2003 was a day I’ll never forget. I became a foster mom to two little girls. Sisters. I was going to be able to keep them together forever. So I thought. Sophia had been through so much trauma, her fits of rage and anger were more than the first time she was in my care. I tried caring for her for a couple of years, but was unable to adopt her due to her behaviors. I felt like such a failure. Luckily, a friend of mine and her husband were able to adopt her, and the girls were able to continue their relationship.
October 25, 2005, in a courtroom filled with family and friends, I adopted my four-year-old daughter, Jada. It was her and I, along with some amazing humans, against the world. My world felt complete. She was my little sidekick, who did everything and went everywhere with me. We had dates night every Wednesday and Friday, and oftentimes, we would have slumber parties together.
It is pretty incredible how much we look and act alike. She has my sense of humor and keeps us laughing, and we are both stubborn as they come. Oftentimes, when we were out together, people would comment how alike we looked. Once a gentleman in line at the grocery store exclaimed, ‘Wow, there’s no denying who her mother is!’ My heart fluttered and filled with joy. I have never questioned whether or not I am her mother. In fact, my family laughs about how similar we are, and we talk about how we forget Jada is even adopted. She is loved by every single family member as if she were their own flesh and blood.
That being said, I have always had an open and honest relationship with her, and she is well aware she is adopted. Her birth mother signing over her rights to Jada is not lost on me. I thank God for her every day. I have always been open to Jada meeting her biological mom. At this point, she has no desire, but I will stand with her if she ever changes her mind.
In 2007, I met a man I would eventually marry. He is my best friend and soulmate. He has loved Jada like his own from the day he met her. He brought me two bonus children, and Jada two siblings who love and adore each other. We have created a beautiful life together.
In October of 2017, Sophia was pregnant and going through a divorce. With nowhere to go, she came to live with our family. After her baby was born, we contemplated ways for her to make money to have the ability to be a stay-at-home mom. I launched Jada Rose Jewelry, and a portion of my proceeds are donated to help the homeless, single moms, and abused and neglected children. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but it has definitely been worth it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stacey Wheeler of Bakersfield, CA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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.
Read more stories about foster care and adoption here:
‘I don’t think any social worker will jump to place a child with a 20-year-old, single male.’ I agreed and said, ‘I’ll be patient.’ I checked all the boxes.’: Former foster kid becomes adoptive dad to 3 boys, ‘Fostering is love’
‘At 11, his adoptive parents abandoned him at a hospital, never to return. ‘Mr. Peter, can I call you my Dad?’ I began to cry uncontrollably.’: Single dad adopts 11-year-old boy from foster care after biological, adoptive family abandon him
‘Oh, are you babysitting?’ ‘They’re mine.’ I’m a 30-year-old single black woman with 3 white kids. Love has no color in my home.’: Woman adopts 1 boy, 2 siblings from foster care, ‘love is love, no matter the color’
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