‘She’s 4 months old, weighing in at a whopping 5 pounds.’ She was all alone in the NICU. I said YES.’: Single mom adopts 3 girls from foster care, ‘We needed each other’

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“It’s hard to believe in just over 3 years, my family of one grew to a family of four. Growing up as an only child, I always knew I wanted to have a family of my own someday. Life as an only child is pretty amazing, but as you grow older, you start to realize your holidays are growing smaller, your friend circles are shrinking, and you don’t have siblings to rely on for big life moments. My grandma, my best friend, passed away my freshman year of high school. She taught me everything I know— how to play cards, how to drive a ’78 Nova, and how to love with a really big heart.

My grandma, mom, and I were the three amigos. My mom has always been my biggest cheerleader and when my softball career took me nearly 8 hours away for college, she was nervous I would never move home again, and well, I didn’t… whoops! But, even after some serious medical issues, my mom shows up for everything. During my time in college, I thought I might meet my partner, but years went by and I never met the one. After college, I started working at my alma mater and I focused all of my time and energy on my career and my education. Another decade went by and I still felt this large piece of me missing… I still wanted to be a mom and it felt so far out of my reach. I tried online dating and failed every time. Until one day, I decided to question why I thought having a partner was such a critical step to becoming a family… so I just decided to skip it.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

About 4 years ago, I decided to work with a local fertility clinic to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a mom. I went for my first appointment and like every other millennial, I expected immediate gratification, aka to walk out pregnant. After long conversations, exams, tests, procedures, and some disappointing results, I made the decision fertility was not going to be an option for me. I was devastated. I was in my mid-30’s and feared my window to become a parent was closing… and quickly. Around the same time, a colleague of mine began telling me about her wonderful experience as a foster parent and how impactful it was on her life. She encouraged me to look into it.

At this point, I had really never even considered anything but having a biological child. What would this look like? Would an agency really let a single mother become a foster parent? Could I even raise a child on my own? All of these thoughts were racing through my mind.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

In the summer of 2017, a friend that knew I was considering becoming a foster parent reached out to me. She told me there were two girls that would need a home. She didn’t know for how long or what the situation would look like, but just needed to know if I was interested. I immediately said yes. I didn’t hesitate. I surprised myself actually. The situation was unique, but I went through the process and started to get very excited about welcoming two children into my life. I went out and bought some minimal things I would need (mainly bows, who am I kidding? I bought a lot of bows—and sippy cups).

After a couple of weeks, I was informed the girls were going to be placed with a mother and father family. The explanation was the girls were going to need more support than I was likely able to give. I, again, had these intense feelings of fear—of being alone, of never becoming a mother, and to never experience the joy children bring. I remember feeling like the wind was completely knocked out of my sails. Was this going to be my only chance? Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not step back from a fight—at least for long. I took this experience as motivation.

2 months later, I enrolled in foster parenting classes. Every agency has different requirements to become a foster parent, but the general gist… you have to take a number of courses, complete a home study, provide A LOT of background information, and prepare your home for whatever ages you are willing and able to foster. Some people take 6 months or more to complete this process… I started in October and was completed and fully licensed to foster ages 2 and under by December 15. Like I said, very motivated.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

After you are approved, you put your name on ‘the list’ and in this case, I put my name on two lists: the foster placement list and the adoptive list. Again, that millennial in me wanted a call immediately. I was ready. I had a crib, I had bottles, a stroller, literally everything ready for a baby. I waited for days until one day I was out to lunch with my two friends and I received my first call. I stopped breathing as soon as I saw the number pop up. I answered. They told me about two toddler boys that needed placement. Toddler boys? Oh no… this is not what I was prepared for. But that’s okay, this is what I’ve been waiting my whole life for— to become a mom. I said yes. They said ‘Okay, what time can you pick them up?’ Wow… okay, now I have nothing for two toddler boys in my house. Great. I was freaking out—what was I going to do with all of those bows??  I quickly wrapped things up at work and left to go pick them up with my foster colleague who had now become like a second mother to me whether she liked it or not. And on that ride over, I was ecstatic. This was IT… this was the moment I was about to become a foster mom!

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

I walked into the room and saw them for the first time. My heart skipped a beat and fear set in. All of those reasons the two little girls were not placed with me came to haunt me again. But, I had said yes. I was doing this. We got out to the car. I fumbled for about 20 minutes with a car seat, and let’s be honest, what new parent doesn’t fumble with those things? I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my, I can’t even get them in these darn seats!’ We went shopping for essentials (because I had everything for a newborn and not a toddler) and got home for the night. The boys and I started to bond as we geared up for Christmas. We went shopping, we laughed, we visited my office, and I really started to get the hang of the single foster mom of two.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

2 days before Christmas, I was informed the boys were being moved to another home with a sibling. I stayed strong at the moment. I knew this was the right move for them. I know that siblings should stay together. When I dropped them off after just 9 quick days together, I lost it. I thought this was it. I am never going to be a mom? I couldn’t get out of bed. But that same friend that inspired me to be a foster parent called me and she said, ‘I know you can’t see this now, but this is all part of a bigger plan.’ At the time, I hated her for that comment.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

I waited an eternity (okay, a month) for another placement call. This time the call was for a 7-day old baby girl. She needed a home for 4 to 6 months. I wrote down all of the notes they gave me and really took some time—and in foster care terms, I mean 20 minutes— to think about this. Did I want to say yes to such a short placement? Was I going to be able to care for a newborn and work at the same time? I said yes. I jumped on Amazon and bought about $30 worth of hair bows (no joke) and went to pick her up that evening. Little P, as I called her, was perfect. The moment was devastating and I will never forget the exchange that occurred or the gravity of the handoff between birth mother and foster mother. And frankly, that specific interaction made me feel this great sense of responsibility to be the best foster mother and to love this baby every step of the way. The first 2 months of her life, we spent a lot of time crying and laughing together. Literally just figuring it all out. But, I fell in love with her in a second. Completely recklessly loving her knowing she would be going home at some point.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

On a Friday afternoon when P was about 2 months old, I was getting my oil changed before I went to pick her up from daycare. The phone rang and it was my agency. I thought, ‘Uh-oh…what’s going on now?’ It was a call from the other list I was on… the adoption list. The list they call for families interested in children are on a case plan of adoption from the start.  I think I started crying immediately… maybe from sleep deprivation or pure joy, but probably a mixture of both. The caseworker told me her background. ‘She’s in the NICU and is 4 months old and weighing in at a whopping 5 pounds.’ For reference, my 2-month-old was just over 12 pounds at this point. They went on to tell me she was born at 23 weeks gestational age and 18 ounces. She was in the NICU alone for essentially the last 3 months.

Again, I took a second. I mean, I was crying so much because of one newborn and working full time, could I handle two? But, P was going to go home soon, and then what happens? I called my mom to tell her about the potential placement and she just sobbed… so I knew she was on board even though she was still 8 hours away. I kept my goal in mind and said yes. I went to the NICU that night to meet her. She was so small. She seemed so fragile. I wouldn’t take her home for a few days, but when I picked her, Remy, up the following Monday and the reality set in. I cried straight tears of joy for myself and for her. We needed each other.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie
Courtesy of Shannon Marie

Throughout this whole process, I have been blessed to have amazing family and friends supporting my every move and the night I brought Remy home was no different. I went over to my foster friend’s house with two infants just to get settled. We had dinner and laughed a lot about the current situation. But around 6 p.m. I knew it was time for us to go home. I packed everyone up and we hit the road. I think we skipped the bath and just went for the bottle night one. I swaddled them up and put them to bed. About 3 minutes later, Remy was screaming and I couldn’t figure out why. Was she hurt? Was something seriously wrong? No, no she was just a baby who wanted and needed to be closer to me. The next few months are a literal blur. My mom was able to visit to meet both girls that spring. She loved grandma time, but was dying to move closer to us. So, within just a few short months, Grandma, or ‘Tissy’ as they call her, moved the 8 hours to be closer to all of her girls.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

P’s case continued to evolve, but the goal remained reunification and I continue to work towards building a lasting relationship, no matter what my role would be. Every single day P was with us, I treated it as if it were going to be our last. We traveled to visit family over Halloween, we loved to visit the zoo, I converted my basement into a complete toddler playroom. I was committed to loving her as much as I could while I could. Remy’s case went quickly. The same year I brought Remy home, I finalized her adoption. Even though it felt inevitable, and she was mine and I was hers from the start but the adoption made it legal.

Emily Manders Photography

The following spring, we learned about a biological sibling being born. And that following summer we had a court date we thought reunification would occur. I knew this was going to be heart-breaking. Not just for me, but for Remy and P too. They grew up together. They shared the same room. They shared many, many memories together. But, I supported whatever decision was best for her. In the weeks leading up to the date, I really leaned into memory-making. We double-downed on our visits to the zoo, we did extra explorations to new parks, and we took family pictures with my parents to ensure we knew P was always part of our family.

Courtesy of Shannon Marie
Courtesy of Shannon Marie

The date came and went—but no court. I reached out to my caseworker and she was just as surprised. And days before my birthday, I received a call asking if I’d be willing to take placement of a biological sibling. This time, I didn’t need to think… I said yes on the same call. I brought her, Reese, home the next day. She was welcomed at my birthday dinner surrounded by family and friends who all supported my true dedication to these girls. The case for Reese and P went on for over a year longer. I stayed true to my avocation for what was best for both of them. And around a year later the caseworkers asked if I would be interested in adopting them, I laughed, and of course, said yes. We finalized their adoption, in the middle of a pandemic via Zoom.

Emily Manders Photography

If you would tell that only child who feared being alone she would be sitting at her computer as her three daughters climbed up the back of her chair pulling her hair and she would be completely enamored with her life… she would’ve laughed at you. She wouldn’t have believed it could happen so quickly and so beautifully. But, I have to thank her for never giving up on what she dreamed. I hope I can instill the same fire into my daughters and other single parents to chase their dreams.”

Courtesy of Shannon Marie

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shannon Marie from Toledo, OH. You can follow their journey on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. 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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