‘If you want them you need to move.’: Mom shares sudden adoption of foster siblings with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

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A Desire To Adopt

“I taped it on my door frame to remember to pray. The article spoke of the atrocities that were happening in the First Republic of the Congo Civil War, which was when the Ninja and Cobra militias fought against the President’s Cocoye militia. I read how the pregnant women’s babies were cut out and left to die and how women and children were being crucified.

As a 12-year-old, I could not understand the hate or brokenness that was in the world, but I knew I wanted to do something about it. From that moment, I wanted to adopt. I remember thinking I wanted to rescue all the orphans in the world, or at least all I could physically care for. 

It was nonnegotiable when I met and married my husband. After having our third biological child, he wanted us to move forward with the adoption process. He was nervous that if we got pregnant again we would be maxed out as a family. So we signed up for an adoption class at church where we explored all the options.

The night we learned about foster care, our friends got up to speak about their experience. They talked about the heartache, the challenging behaviors, the visits with the family, and the back and forth of the courts and their requirements. Absolutely nothing pleasant was spoken that I recall. Yet, at that moment, it was like the Spirit spoke to both of us at once and told us, ‘This is what I want you to do.’ We looked at each other and said, ‘Oh crap.’

I’ve looked back at that moment over the years of trials knowing with full confidence this is what we were called to do. In tribulation, it is easy to forget why you are doing something. Jesus left no doubt for me about the direction we needed to be going.

Fostering Andrew

It was 3 a.m. on November 14th, and we abruptly awoke to my phone ringing. We left our phones at the loudest volume so we would not miss our call. The case worker informed us there was a little boy at the hospital whose parents were homeless and could not take care of him. He needed to be discharged immediately. It took us less than three seconds to agree and Andrew showed up at our home before sunrise.

Despite Andrew being the third child removed from his bio mom, she seemed to be working all the steps and doing all the things the court ordered. Living in Dallas County, the bar was pretty low, and in eight months he went back to his birth mom. We were crushed. We knew with our heads that the goal was reunification, but our hearts and our family loved him as ours. 

foster child with family for their first Christmas together
Courtesy of Laura Hernandez

Patiently Pursuing

Over the next two years, along with a move to Seattle, we would go on to have two more children, Sam and Charlie. We stayed in touch with bio mom through several moves of her own and two more children as well. CPS was called to have the children removed for neglect, while Mom, Dad, the three children, and another couple were living in a small motel room.

No one in the area wanted to take all three children on. They were two, one, and 6 months at the time and were transferred three hours away to a foster home. Because we no longer lived in the same state as the kids, we were not considered for placement. I eagerly tried to keep tabs on them. I wanted to know how they were — Were they safe? Did the foster mom need anything?

Desperate for answers, I called the case manager weekly. But all my calls were met with her voicemail and no one returned the call. All of this left me feeling defeated and baffled. I knew I was to care for the orphan, and these were the ones I loved the most, but how much was I to pursue and advocate and how much was I to simply trust in God’s sovereignty?

That Palm Sunday, I asked God to show up. I pleaded, ‘If you want me to be in this, have this case worker call me back. If not, I have to let go.’ The emotional rollercoaster seemed like it would break me. 

family of six grouped together outside for Christmas card
Courtesy of Laura Hernandez

Moving Toward Adoption

After eight months of no calls, Lisa, the case worker, called the very next day. We were walking around the Seattle Zoo and when I saw her number we all ducked into an indoor play area so we could talk. She honestly thought I was crazy. ‘No one ever calls to check on foster kids. What do you want?’

I stumbled through the conversation worried if I said one wrong thing she would never reach out again. Her voice began to soften toward me as I told her about Andrew’s history. How he failed to thrive and had other health issues as a baby. Over the next few days, we had several conversations about the kids.

The court was moving toward termination but the foster mom was not willing to adopt. She adored the baby, but Matthew had too many health concerns and Andrew was having major behavior problems. He was three at the time and they were looking to put him in a group home. 

‘You can’t do that! We will take him.’ I had been cautious with my words until this point and simply could not hold it back any longer! Over the next couple of months, we moved quickly through so many decisions. 

Texas: You can’t adopt just one.

Us: Awesome, we will take all three and go through foster care in Washington. 

Washington: You can’t take all three. You can take one and we will pick Hannah; she is the lowest risk.

Us: Not okay. We will do private adoption. Mom asked us to take the kids. 

Washington: You still have to go through the interstate compact agreement and we say you can only adopt Hannah. 

Texas: We can’t wait for them to figure this out. We need to find a new family. So if you want to adopt them you need to move back to Texas.

Us: Done. In one month we sold our house and cars and moved back to Texas.

Our arrival in Texas was nothing short of chaotic. We had five little kids living in a rented house while doing foster training, all while Tony was wrapping up his job in Seattle. And as if a beautiful bow was wrapping up our lives, Andrew, along with Matthew and Hannah, were placed with us on his fourth birthday.

boy in foster care wearing a plaid shirt
Courtesy of Laura Hernandez
foster mother saying goodbye to the child she was caring for
Courtesy of Laura Hernandez

Diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Tony and I were cautious moving into this new phase of life. We did not want to be ignorant, and we knew there would be great challenges ahead of us. All the books we read, the training we had done, and the people we had talked to told us so.

The first two years they would be delayed and have behavior problems. But after they felt safe in our home and they were attached, they would catch up developmentally and the behavior problems would lessen. 

No one told us that would not be the case if they had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. We learned in training that there would be withdrawals and that even in utero things would affect them, but no one went into detail about the brain damage.

After years of waiting for them to ‘catch up’ with therapy and early childhood intervention, we pursued more in-depth evaluations. Through research of my own, I suspected FASD. Though mom told us she never drank, I found paperwork that proves the contrary. We seemed to stump counselors, doctors, and special education teachers. We had doctors laugh at us and counselors minimize our concerns. 

Because it can be so difficult to get a diagnosis for FASD, we flew out to California to see a specialist there. We knew the importance of getting one and were certain that was what was going on. After receiving this it has been my mission to educate doctors, counselors, and teachers. 

family gathers on stairs together on adoption day of their children
Courtesy of Laura Hernandez

Educating Others About FASD

This disorder is more common than autism and no one talks about it. So I will. Here are the things you need to know:

  • It is a spectrum disorder, so children may look perfectly ‘normal’ but struggle greatly with processing, understanding right and wrong, understanding the consequences of actions, and so much more.
  • The CDC states FASD impacts 1 in 20 students, which is 2.5x more than autism. 
  • About 85% of those with a diagnosis are in foster care or adoptive homes. 
  • Those with FASD are 90% likely to have a co-morbid mental health condition.
  • Those with FASD most likely will have learning disabilities, ADHD, poor ability to communicate, and lack of reasoning skills and judgment. 
  • All of these factors lead to trouble with the law, and trouble living as a typical independent adult.

Our children have many comorbidities, including intellectual and developmental delay, bipolar, ADHD, depression, anxiety, and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. We are aware the likelihood of them ever being completely independent of us is very low. We have not resigned to this, but are living in that reality and still striving to give them the very best foot forward.

biological and adopted siblings sitting together on the playground
Courtesy of Laura Hernandez

If I can be completely honest, with no judgment please, every single day they have been in our home has been challenging. There have been a handful of occasions that I feel we have enjoyed as our own. This doesn’t change our love for them or our commitment to them, it has just made the journey immensely more difficult than I could have ever fathomed.

If you are in a similar place, and you feel as if you have done all the right things regarding safety and attachment and nothing seems to be adding up, may I suggest looking deeper into FASD? There are interventions and services out there, and I have made it my life mission to help others in the same boat to find peace even in all the crazy, and I would be honored to help you too.”

family sits on couch in woods together for Christmas
Courtesy of Laura Hernandez

This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Laura Hernandez of Plano, TX. You can follow her on Instagram and her website. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to out newsletter.

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