“I never thought I was strong enough to be a foster mom until I became one. We started our journey intending adoption, but a year after our certification, still praying for the phone to ring, we agreed to open our home to children who needed to be fostered, hoping we could do some good while we waited to be permanently matched. We’d been married ten years, and were already blessed with five children, but we felt in our hearts we were missing someone. Doctors had already told me that carrying another baby would threaten my life, and after researching the needs in the foster care system, we chose that route for adoption. It was an easy decision: there were children who needed love, a safe home, and a family, and we had all three.
When we hit the two-year mark, we were half way through Jason’s fourth deployment, this time to Afghanistan, and had nearly given up hope we’d ever receive a call. Fate has a way of surprising you, and two months later, I was offered my very first book deal. Holy workload, Batman. Two weeks later, with Jason still deployed, our social worker called.
‘Rebecca, here’s what I have,’ she said.
Then, by some stroke of luck, or tender mercy from God, my laptop dinged. Jason happened to hop online in Afghanistan.
I quickly typed out the details of the little girl’s situation, asking our social worker to hold on for just a second.
‘They think she’ll only need to be fostered for about a month,’ I told him. ‘What do you think?’
My heart pounded as three dots blinked in the message, showing he was typing out a response.
‘How old is she?,’ he asked.
‘Five and a half months. We have to answer her right now.’
Oh my God, she’s a baby. They told us to expect a toddler, and we have zero baby things! My mind ran amok with everything I’d need to do. Those dots were blinking again, and they were taking FOREVER. She needed an answer now.
‘I’m saying yes,’ I typed.
‘Say yes,’ he responded simultaneously.
‘We’ll take her!’ I nearly shouted into the phone.
An hour later, I had my two oldest sons on the ice for hockey practice, and my two youngest held hands as we walked across the parking lot at the rink to meet our new little charge.
A social worker opened the back door of her car, and there sat all eleven pounds of Audrey-Grace. That wasn’t her name yet, but now it’s hard to call her anything else. My blue eyes locked on hers, and an impossible feeling of recognition took hold of me. It was as if my heart saw hers and said, ‘There you are. I’ve been looking for you!’
Audrey-Grace screamed the entire drive home that October night, and the first slivers of fear bit into me. What if I wasn’t enough? What if I couldn’t do it? Jason was gone, I had four rowdy boys, a brand-new book deal, and we had a minimal support system in Upstate New York with Jason’s unit deployed. What if I wasn’t capable? What if I failed everyone?
‘Well, at least we know her lungs work,’ Aidan, our eight year-old joked, breaking the tension. We all laughed, but I knew it wasn’t going to be as easy, as perfect as I’d been naïve enough to picture in my head.
She woke in the middle of the night, and I found myself in familiar territory, stumbling toward a nursery in groggy exhaustion. But this time I was trying to comfort a baby who didn’t know me.
‘I know I’m not who you’re looking for,’ I promised her as she blinked up at me, so light and frail. ‘But I’ll be here every time you look for me, okay? I promise you’re safe. I won’t let anything happen to you while you’re with us. Also, your new brothers are loud, and I’m sorry for that, but they’re going to adore you.’
The next day a new social worker warned us, ‘Don’t get too attached, this is only for the month.’
‘I know,’ I replied, because my brain knew that truth. My heart just didn’t care. I was already attached because she needed me to be. Jason and I made a choice to treat her as if she were staying, even if it was only for a few weeks. Audrey-Grace was underfed, underdeveloped, and had tested positive for drugs at birth. Maybe getting attached would hurt us even more when she left, but she had severe needs and deserved nothing less than a loving family for however long she would stay.
But the month went by. Then two. Then three. Then the day we’d waited so patiently for came—Jason returned home, and I was overjoyed to introduced him to our daughter! She grabbed ahold of his nose, and he was smitten, just like the rest of us.
The months passed in a blur as Jason adjusted to being home, my first book published, and her needs became more obvious. She was delayed in every area, from muscle tone to speech. By her first birthday, we were referred to a developmental pediatrician…with a year-long waiting list. We immediately started eight sessions a week of early intervention therapies, which quickly consumed our hours. All of the boys doted on their sister. They vied for who got to wake her up in the morning, who helped carry her to the car, or who got to help feed her. Even knowing nothing was certain, she was theirs and they were hers.
Eleven months after Audrey-Grace arrived, the Army told Jason it was time to move, but she wasn’t legally free. We couldn’t bring her. Keeping the details of her case private, I’ll only say that her biological family wasn’t capable of caring for her special needs, and we were terrified of what would happen to her. That September court date broke our hearts. We’d raised for her for year, gained legal standing, but the judge ruled to give the biological family more time to prove themselves. She would remain in foster care, and if we wanted to remain her foster parents, we’d have to rip our family apart.
‘Dad is going to have to move to Colorado,’ I told our sons. ‘He doesn’t have a choice. And we are going to have to—’
‘We’re not leaving her, right?,’ Aidan interrupted, his tone laced with terror. ‘We can’t just leave her!’
‘We can’t go without her!,’ Chase, who was seven years old, yelled.
‘Princess Pumpkin has to come!’ Brody agreed in his small, five year-old voice, using his favorite nickname for Audrey-Grace.
They blew me away, humbled me right down to my core. They hadn’t even waited to hear what Jason and I had decided; they simply rallied to their sister.
‘We’re going to stay,’ I told them. ‘Even if she doesn’t end up as ours, we’re going to stay until the courts tell us that we can’t keep her. Are you guys really okay with that? We’ll only see Dad about once a month.’
‘She’s our sister,’ Aaron answered, all wise with his eleven years. ‘We’ll stay.’
By March, Jason was gone. He flew in when he could, and we juggled the boys’ hockey schedule, my writing, publishing and signing schedule, and Jason’s military obligations, trying desperately to spend time together when we could.
Audrey-Grace took her first steps at twenty months. By two, she still hadn’t spoken a word, couldn’t drink from a straw or a sippy cup, and didn’t hit any of her milestones. That summer the developmental pediatrician diagnosed Audrey-Grace with global delay, microcephaly, albinism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder and possible autism, though she was too young to formally diagnose the latter. She’d suffered irreparable brain damage before birth and would most likely need care for the rest of her life. We were devastated for Audrey-Grace and petrified of what could happen to her if we weren’t in her future.
Court dates were pushed back. Audrey-Grace’s social worker fought for her tirelessly and apologized repeatedly for what we were all going through, but I understood the purpose of foster care—it was our job to facilitate reunion, and terminating parental rights is nothing to be taken lightly or judged quickly. We were stretched to our max, both emotionally and financially, living in a vise where every time we felt secure enough to exhale, it tightened, stealing our ability to draw breath.
We hit our breaking point in late September.
‘What are we going to do if they rule to keep her in foster care?,’ Jason asked during a visit. ‘We’ve raised her for two years.’
‘I don’t know,’ I said softly. ‘Everything is so hard. You’ve been gone seven months, I’m behind on deadlines, the kids are a wreck, and we just miss you. But I can’t fathom leaving her.’
He nodded. ‘I know. And if they return her to her biological family, we don’t get that choice, and if we leave before they determine her status, she’ll get shipped to another foster family who doesn’t know her, or her therapists, or her routine…and we’re breaking,’ he noted quietly.
‘And we’re breaking,’ I admitted.
‘We’re ripping our family to shreds trying to keep it together.’
‘I know.’ And I did. Seeing each other once a month like this was killing us.
‘So if the judge rules to keep her in foster care, that’s another year apart.’ His voice was sandpaper rough, speaking the words I couldn’t. ‘We…we might have to make a tough decision.’
‘I know,’ I whispered again.
He kissed my forehead, neither of us willing to examine that kind of decision yet, and walked outside to mow the lawn. How long could we live apart like this?
A few minutes later, I heard the mower stop and looked up to see him striding through our kitchen door with tears in his eyes. He wrapped me in his arms and said, ‘We can’t leave her. I can’t hand her over to strangers, and I know it’s harder on you, that you’re the one here doing it all, but we can’t. We have to see it through for her, no matter what.’
‘I know. We won’t leave her. We’ll stay as long as they let us.’ It didn’t matter that we’d worn ourselves to the bone; we could never abandon Audrey-Grace.
A few days later we sat in the court room, our hands locked together, stunned as the biological family signed over their rights. We were torn between relief, joy, and utter heartbreak for what our daughter both gained and lost.
I burst into tears once the courtroom was clear. Our social worker, Kristy, pulled me into a hug and said, ‘It’s okay, it’s over. She’s yours.’ It was the most surreal moment of my life.
Afterward, Jason and I stared at each other with silly smiles. We knew our family and friends were waiting to hear news, but the first person we told was Audrey-Grace. We hadn’t used the name we’d decided to give her until that moment. She’d never responded to the name she’d been given at birth, and it felt right to give her a fresh start and my grandmothers’ names. We kept her original name as one of her middle names, honoring both her history and her future.
Three weeks later, after 755 days in our home, we adopted Audrey-Grace.
The last three and a half years have been full of joy and a few challenges. She was officially diagnosed with autism two years ago, and we were told she’d never speak or progress. But we’re all about defying the odds, and today she has a vocabulary of about thirty complete words, can start another 257 words, and keeps her therapists hopping by hacking her speech devices and networking computers. She soaks up information like a sponge, and inspires us every day.
And sure, there are moments where I still worry. Where I wonder how far she’ll advance as she grows. Where Jason and I interlace our hands in bittersweet understanding when we see neurotypical kindergarteners. There are times the future feels a little daunting, knowing the level of care she needs and will continue to need long after we’re gone.
But last night, on her sixth birthday, she ran into my office with her talking device, asked for milk, and then ran out again, giggling. And all of those worries faded as I hit my knees and offered up the simplest, truest prayer. ‘Thank you.’ Because even when worries and meltdowns hit, we recall the years we spent struggling to do what was best for her, fighting to keep her, and gratitude washes the rest away. She is exactly whom we were missing, and we’re thankful every day that our family is complete.
As we tucked her into her bed last night, Jason smiled and said, ‘We’re so very lucky.’ And I replied with a smile and the only words I have after all these years.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rebecca Yarros of Colorado Springs, Colorado. 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, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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