“I was always drawn to foster care and adoption. Even when I was a child, I was fascinated by it. I knew someday, I would become a foster and adoptive parent. When Ron, my husband, and I were dating, I realized adoption and foster care would need to be discussed upfront before marriage. I was nervous about bringing it up. It would be a deal-breaker for me if he were not on board. I explained to him that I was okay with having biological children, but that at some point, I would like to become a foster parent and possibly adopt a child as well. He looked at me like I was crazy for thinking this would even be an issue. He immediately said, ‘Okay, we could do that,’ as if it was no big deal. It was at that point I knew he was the man I wanted to marry.
After a few years of marriage, we started our foster care journey. We began to attend MAPP classes at a local private agency. It took almost an entire year to complete all the requirements to get our license. Ron and I started fostering right away. We had four long-term placements in four years. While taking the foster classes, Ron and I both agreed that fostering and helping families reunify would be our primary goal. We like to brag we are ‘batting one hundred’ as all four placements reunified with their biological families. Each time a child left our home, it was incredibly difficult as we still love all of them, but we have also witnessed the incredible healing that occurs when a family can successfully reunify.
While in the middle of our last placement with two young brothers, Ron and I started talking about adoption. Ron and I both felt we should adopt children from foster care where the parental rights had already been terminated. I never wanted to be the foster parent working alongside the biological family while secretly hoping they would fail. If we were going to adopt from foster care, it would be best for the child to be available for adoption. We completed our home study in June of 2019. The following month, our two boys successfully reunified with their mother. Ron and I decided to take a break from long-term placements but continue to help provide respite for fellow foster families. Two weeks into our break, Ron was offered an opportunity to work out of their Arizona office. They would fly him back on the weekend. It seemed like the perfect time for him to complete a project like this.
When Monday morning rolled around, I dropped him off at the airport and headed to work. During a break, I scrolled through Facebook and saw a post that caught my eye. A friend I met at a conference for foster and adoptive moms posted about a three-week-old baby boy in need of a home. He had some medical concerns, and they were looking for the right family. At this point, Ron and I had only discussed adoption from foster care. I knew multiple families who were wanting to adopt an infant domestically. I reached out to my friend to get the information about the little boy. Secretly, I thought it would be great to adopt this baby, but I was trying not to get my hopes up. Ron and I had said we would adopt a child from foster care that was in need of a home, not an infant with medical conditions.
I called my friend and explained I knew some families that were wanting to adopt. I also told her that we were home study approved. We planned to adopt from foster care, but I felt drawn to this situation. She explained to me children with medical needs struggle to find homes just as much as the children in foster care. She also said, ‘Whit, nothing about his diagnoses scare me. Please, do not use it as a reason to say no.’ After we hung up, I immediately reached out to Ron. He was still flying and would not arrive for a couple of hours. I texted him, ‘Everything is okay, but can you give me a call when you land and have a minute?’
I passed along the baby boy’s information to the other families that wanted to adopt. When Ron called me back, I quickly explained the situation. There was a 3-week old baby in Miami, Florida, who needed a family. He had multiple congenital disabilities. He had surgery to correct some of them. There would need to be more surgeries in the future to correct some others. Thankfully, none of the defects were life-threatening. We took some time to discuss the baby’s health issues. We spoke about whether we could handle a special needs child. At that point, we knew we had to say yes. We had been praying about a child that needed a family, and here he was. We could not pass this by merely because of the unknowns.
We sent in our home study and some pictures of our family. Ron and I both figured we would not be chosen. So many other families had been waiting much longer. Some had failed matches. A lot had infertility. In our profile, we were clear we would probably try to have a biological child and foster children in the future. After receiving our information, the director, Robert, called me that evening. We spoke some more about the situation. He asked some questions about our family. Robert explained the baby’s parents would look over the profiles in the morning. He would let me know as soon as a decision was made.
The next morning, I was so excited as I could not wait to hear if we were picked. Unfortunately, the call we got from Robert is not what we expected. He explained the parents had not decided on a family. They narrowed it down to two possible families. We were one of them. He advised them to go home and sleep on it. Robert was hoping they would have a decision in the morning. ‘Great, more waiting,’ is all I could think. Before we hung up, the director told me, ‘I really think they are going to choose you guys.’ I quietly thought, ‘Yeah right, buddy. You are probably saying the exact same thing to the other family!’
Around lunchtime the next day, Robert called. He asked, ‘When are you coming to pick up your son?’ I inquired if that meant they chose us. As soon as Robert said yes, and without even realizing it, I exclaimed, ‘Oh, sh*t!’ Robert told me we could come down anytime and the sooner, the better. I told him we would be there on Saturday. Ron was out of town for work and would be back Friday. We would meet the baby together. I could not wait to tell Ron he was a father. I remember how my hands were shaking. I was trying not to cry. When he picked up, all I could say was, ‘We have a son.’ Ron immediately said, ‘Oh, sh*t!’ That was what I needed. I started to laugh. My mind stopped racing, and I could finally breathe.
We spent the next couple of days making travel arrangements. Ron finally came home Friday afternoon. I was so happy to have him back. The next morning, we hopped on to the first flight out. As we were boarding the plane, all I could think was, ‘What the heck are we doing?’ I was apprehensive I was the one who pushed Ron into saying yes. I could not remember our exact conversation, but I wondered if I said anything to persuade him. I voiced my last-minute concerns to Ron about the haste of our decision. We found out about the baby on Monday, on Wednesday we were told his parents picked us, and now we were getting on a plane to meet him. When we were making this decision, Ron and I were not even in the same state. We only talked on the phone when we were making this life-changing decision! On the other hand, Ron was so confident and steadfast in his understanding he was already our son. He immediately helped calm my fears and worries.
That afternoon, we arrived at Holtz Children’s Hospital. It was so weird walking in and knowing we had a son in one of the rooms. When we got up to the PICU, a nurse was holding him. The doctors and nurses at Holtz were terrific. They were our son’s primary caregivers for the first three weeks of his life. They were so protective of him. I will never forget when the nurse placed him in my arms for the first time. He reached up and touched my face. Immediately, I could feel a tear run down my cheek. I could not believe I was holding my baby boy. He was my child. No social worker or system could take him away from me.
I spoke to our son about how cute he was. I told him I understood the mom he was looking for was not me. I did not smell or sound like the woman who had carried him for the past nine months. I told him I loved him and I would keep him safe.
The happiest moment for me was to place our son in Ron’s arms for the first time. As I handed him over, Ron and I could not stop smiling and laughing. This whole situation was surreal. Two weeks ago, we had decided to take a break from foster care. Now, we were in a hospital room getting to know our son.
That afternoon, we decided it was time to name our son. We wanted to use the name his parents gave him, but the same name as my brother. Ron and I decided his parent’s name would be his middle name. To pick his first name, we searched Google. I silently read through a list of baby boy names. We stopped when we had written down about five or six names. We narrowed down a few of them by looking up their meaning. Since the doctors and nurses were such an essential part of our son’s life, we then had them all vote on which name they liked best. By the end of the day, we had chosen our son’s name. He was Caleb Alexander Cartier. His name means faithful defender, protector of man.
Since we only had two days to prepare before meeting our son, we had no baby items. The first night we were there, Ron and I stopped at a Target. We grabbed a cart and headed over to the baby section. I do not think we were there for more than five minutes before calling my mom. We had never had a newborn before, so we did not know what was considered ‘essential’ for a baby. Thank God for FaceTime as we were able to hold items up and show them to my mom. She would then tell us whether it was needed. We were at Target for what seemed like hours. We purchased some baby clothes, a car seat and stroller, different kinds of pacifiers, some swaddles, a few receiving blankets, and a couple of extra bottles. It was so overwhelming to make this massive purchase, having done zero research!
Unfortunately, Ron was going to have to leave the next day to get back to work. Ron asked if he should take an Uber to the airport so I could stay with Caleb. I wanted to spend every minute I could with Ron before he left to go home. I had missed Ron so much when he was away the week before. Now, at no fault of his own, he was leaving me again, this time with a newborn. I drove him to the airport. I remember hugging and kissing him goodbye. I never wanted to let go. I had dropped him off at the airport hundreds of times. This time it was different. It was daunting to think I would be alone with our baby in the PICU.
Thankfully the nurses were there to help fill the void. They showed me how he liked to be held and fed. They taught me how to bathe him. They were an incredible source of comfort and support. I am forever indebted to them and everyone else who helped bring our son to us. As I am sitting here typing this story, I do not second guess my decision to tell Ron about the message I received on Facebook that day. We are finally a family!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Whitney Abbott Cartier. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. 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.
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‘The family stopped answering. ‘They’ve backed out of the adoption.’ They wanted a healthy baby, not my son with a disability.’: Mom of 5 adopts special needs child after rejections, now in beautiful open adoption with birth mom
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