“Driving home from the fertility clinic, Ryan and I were facing a big question. Did we want to have a baby or grow a family? We had just been informed our infertility issues were known as ‘unexplained’ and we were eligible for a wide array of treatments. At age 27, I was still quite young, but having been married to my forever friend at age 20, we were ready and excited to start our family… but it hadn’t happened. It was on that drive back from the clinic we made the decision to adopt. I knew in my heart I wanted to be a mom but I also knew there were 9,000 kids in foster care in Ontario at that very moment. Having a tiny genetic version of myself and my husband sounded just so sweet. Yet we both felt called to something different. Not better, but definitely different.
3 years later, we got word little Patricia was ready to find a mom and dad. When we arrived for our first visit at her foster home, her foster mom, DoDo (aka Dorothy), introduced us by saying, ‘Look, Tricia, it’s your mom and dad!’ Our hearts exploded and we were in love. Bringing Tricia home at age 2 and a half meant diving headfirst into the toddler years and while Tricia had met all of her developmental milestones, she came with in utero exposure and lots of unknowns. We dove into parenting and I came home from working full time to discover what therapeutic parenting meant.
It sounds so fancy to say ‘therapeutic’ parenting but really it just means supporting unique kids with creativity and commitment. While I might have expected to see my 2-year-old throwing tantrums and running away, I hadn’t expected those to be 3-hour tantrums in the middle of the mall or that she would run up to strangers resembling her foster mom and ask to be held. I hadn’t yet learned how sensory processing issues would impact her ability to function or realized she was parroting the words she heard but not understanding them. The learning curve was steep, the wee girl a wild beautiful creature, and we were her parents forever. Later, our firstborn would be diagnosed with a developmental disability, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. We grieved those diagnoses but also celebrated each new chapter of understanding so we could support her better as she grew.
Once we had our feet wet and the public agency knew us, it wasn’t long before the call came to foster a baby girl who was due in two weeks’ time. Little Zoe was still in her mother’s womb and birth mom had chosen us to be her foster family. The agency wanted a family that could both foster and then adopt should the need be there. That moment was wild as we had to go to the hospital to meet the new baby and bring her home.
I remember the police stationed outside of the hospital room door when it was time to apprehend. I felt so deeply the pain that birth mom was going through and the bond we formed in that moment has remained to this day. A year and a half into our fostering adventure, birth mom consented and we got to adopt sweet ZoZo as our own. That momma loved her girl so much, but was pregnant again and knew Ryan and I would keep our connection strong. We still see birth mom often and while navigating those dynamics can be interesting, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Just a week after Zoe turned 1, we got another call from the agency. This time it was for an emergency foster placement for Zoe’s half brother, who had been apprehended at birth. I felt frustrated for the birth mom having yet another apprehension to endure. This was a mom I knew, who had given up her parental rights for Zoe in the hope she could keep her son, and now she had to start all over again. The public system isn’t perfect and people aren’t perfect and sometimes these situations are just a huge mess. It broke my heart again and so we took home this little fella at less than 24 hours old, with 1-year-old Zoe and 4-year-old Tricia at home. I have NEVER been so exhausted in my life as I was those months with two babes and a special needs kiddo all at home full time. There was so little sleep, on top of the challenge of carrying two babies around, all while having to get them to access visits three times a week in the middle of winter. I felt stretched on every level but I had purpose and we were growing. After some months, our little buddy went to live with kin and we busied ourselves with other fostering and our girls.
There are lots of calls when you foster. Some are related to appointments, or court case meetings, while others are about safety checks, birth family dynamics, and life books. Life books are like photo albums for foster and adopted kids and they are an important piece of each child’s story. We made them for the kids and we made them for our family when applying for a placement as a sweet way of sharing the heart of your home and story. Being ‘picked’ is nerve-wracking. You put together this photo album with details you hope will depict your family’s identity. Often it is birth parents who choose from the profile books we create but when our little man Hunter was ready for a placement, it was his grandmother who had chosen our profile.
Hunter came home at age 2 and a half and was the most fun-loving wee man. I was now the mother of three little humans under 6 years of age. Oh, the shenanigans, the messes, the crying… there was just never a dull moment, and 2 years later, we were able to celebrate ‘forever day’ as Hunter joined our crew, officially moving from foster placement to adoption.
The next few years are a blur as we kept busy unpacking areas for learning around trauma, emotional health, self-care, and stress management. We received diagnoses that were helpful and pursued a variety of therapies. We went to appointments galore. We learned to let up the gas on the extras and hunker down for the tough work of walking with littles through attachment parenting and the grief that comes with trauma. Attachment means trusting on a deeper level and creating that kind of dynamic is hard work. It seems so easy but I had to earn the moment when my kids would come to me with their injuries. I was working towards my children allowing me to dress them, feed them, and help them organize their feelings. While my friends were taking their littles to music classes, play dates, and swim lessons, I was at home working to connect.
I remember countless times when I wanted so badly just to feel normal and meet up for a mom group, only to realize that my kids were having a dysregulated day emotionally and needed me to sit on the floor with them and just be. Less is always more with attachment and just being available is a big piece of the process. There are other unusual things we did (and continue to do) for trauma kids too. Things like letting them eat a familiar food every single meal until they are ready to leave it behind, sometimes for months at a time. Or relaxing about tooth brushing before bed (even though you feel like the worst parent) because the stress level it induces is so high that getting cavities filled later is much much easier. We even had to reset our expectations for learning, snuggling, and play, recognizing our children’s developmental ages were vastly different from their chronological ages. Meeting them where they were at meant parenting a 6-year-old like they are a 2-year-old some of the time.
It was on a cold winter’s day in 2018 when I was 36 years old that a wild and grand new adventure began. We found out, for the first time ever, I was pregnant! I was stunned… What on earth? The joy of that moment was remarkable as were the following months of healthy pregnancy labor and delivery. Bringing our little Wesley Andrew into the world was a gift I never imagined I would receive and so each moment was cherished for its remarkableness.
I have been asked a number of times if it is easier to love Wesley, my bio-baby, than my adopted children. The answer is yes and no. You see, love is a choice we make each day. We look at the person we have been assigned to love and we choose how and why we will love them. When Wes was born, he was familiar. I already knew him intimately, as I had met him in my heart. He was born with the blessing of understanding his place in the world. My three adopted kids are familiar now, too. I know them. I chose to parent them in a way that creates the attachment bonds between parent and child and over time, we got to know each other intimately.
There are still hiccups and confusing moments where we need to step back and reestablish our connection so we can move forward. Wesley is spared this challenge. He is less confused and the feelings of being unworthy of love are nonexistent by comparison. Still, he requires me to choose to love him daily. We choose each other on our good days and our bad. We choose love in hot mess moments and amidst epic meltdowns. We choose love in all the variety of ways it is needed each day. Love wins because, by God’s grace, we choose to fight for it. I have let go of so much of what I thought I could control or fix. Now we walk a path of releasing outcomes, speaking truth and love, and embracing our children as they were created to be. These last 13 years have been the toughest, best, most stretching, most exhausting, most cherished I could have ever imagined and I would choose it all again for the story that has become our family as we continue growing in the good.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Franks from Ontario, Canada. You can follow their 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.
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