Becoming A Foster Mom
“I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I also knew I wanted to adopt. From a young age I felt called to adoption even though I didn’t have a solid grasp on what that meant. That calling to adopt never waned and only grew stronger over the years. Every once and a while I would investigate different routes to adoption, but never really invested any serious time until I had friends who started fostering.
I had heard about foster care many times, but didn’t really know what it entailed, especially as a single woman. I began researching becoming a single mother by choice and was honestly pleasantly surprised to read so many stories of women, like myself, who decided to pursue motherhood independently.
Right around that time I learned of my oldest sons’ birth mother’s pregnancy. I knew the road ahead would be tough and immediately started praying for him. I remember having a small whisper in my mind that I should step forward to care for him, and by the time he was born I heard the whisper again but really didn’t know what to do about it. By the time he was five months old, I could no longer ignore the quiet voice that was getting louder inside of me and started the process of getting everything in place in order to foster him.
I had no idea the roller coaster I was about to get on. The uncertainty of everything was nerve wracking, but I had a singular focus of doing everything I could to ensure he had every opportunity in life to succeed. I remember during my first home study being asked so many questions about my life, how I would parent, how I would ensure I was able to care for him. It really made me take a hard look at myself, my readiness to parent, and my support system.
Having a support system was my biggest challenge. I lived several states away from my family, had just moved to a new town a few years earlier, and really had only one good friend who lived close by. I knew from the beginning I was not going to have the ‘village’ I had always heard was so necessary for raising children.
Even now, eight years later, I still feel my village is more like a small pod, rather than a network of support, and that in and of itself is challenging. I was wholly unprepared for how much daycare cost when I started investigating daycares in my area. I remember calling my sister and saying, ‘Well I can either pay for college or daycare, they are both about the same cost!’
Fostering & Adopting Jackson
Jackson was placed in my home when he was nine months old. It took us both a while to adjust. Prior to placement I had only seen him in person one time, so in many ways he was going to a stranger. I was able to take leave for six weeks after placement; we both really needed it. I was adjusting to being an only parent, and he was adjusting to me. It took awhile but we finally got into a groove, and I started to become more comfortable in my new role.
I remember the first time I took Jackson to church with me. I felt like all eyes were on me, even though I’m sure they weren’t. I wasn’t quite comfortable yet proclaiming to the world that I was a single parent and really didn’t know how I would be received by my church. At the end of mass, I vividly recall an older woman coming up to me and saying, ‘Gosh he is cute, and does he have some lungs!’ She told me I was doing a good job and that was just what I needed at the moment.
Shortly after Jackson’s first birthday, his birth parents’ parental rights were terminated. I knew it was coming. It was the outcome I wanted, honestly, but I didn’t feel it was something to be rejoiced in. While I was happy we were able to move toward adoption, I felt grief for Jackson’s birth parents. There is always loss in adoption, and I fully felt the tragedy that Jackson would not be raised by the woman who gave birth to him.
A few months later an adoption date was set. Jackson was adopted on National Adoption Day in 2015, nine months after he was initially placed with me. It was a surreal moment and I had a hard time containing my emotions. It was a relief. I could finally breathe easy. He was finally, officially my Jackson.
I remember at the time, so many people telling me how blessed Jackson was, and how lucky he was. Jackson is lucky and he is blessed, but so are all children who are privileged enough to be raised in a loving home. While I always want him to feel chosen, I also want him to be humble, kind, trustworthy, and to love God. He will be a great many things in his life and I truly pray being adopted doesn’t reach into his top ten. It is how his life started, but it doesn’t define his life.
Jackson has always known his story. It has always been part of the fabric of his being, but it wasn’t until last year, when Jackson was seven, that I heard him describe himself as adopted. He had started a new class, and I asked him how the first day went. He went on to describe how they spent most of the time getting to know each other.
I asked him what he said about himself and he said, ‘I told them we had lots of babies in the house and that I was adopted.’ I had to catch my breath. I had never heard him say that about himself and I was caught between being fearful of what other children who aren’t educated about adoption may say to him, and being proud he was comfortable sharing his truth.
Fostering Sibling Sets
When Jackson was three I decided to open my house again to foster placements. A total of nine babies have been placed in my home over the last five years. Each baby taught me something new, and each family opened my eyes to the deep needs of our community.
With each placement came new challenges. Moving from parenting one child to two was the biggest challenge. Learning how to divide my time and expand my love. Juggling daycare and preschool drop off and two different locations, ensuring both Jackson and the baby were getting what they needed from me at times felt overwhelming. I remember telling my case manager, ‘There is no way I could do this with three kids.’
After the first two babies reunified with their families, I remember my case manager at the time asking me if I still wanted to stick with just one baby at a time or if I was open to taking in a sibling set. I had already been thinking about the possibility of a sibling group, so I agreed. Shortly after, a sweet little boy and newborn girl were placed with me. By this time, Jackson was five and he was so smitten with the babies. He loved being a big brother and truly enjoyed every moment with the babies.
When the siblings returned to their mother, I decided to take a month break from fostering. I needed to recharge. Jackson and I went to Hawaii for a week and just enjoyed being together. It was a much needed respite for both of us. Before we even returned home I had already accepted another placement and he arrived in our home a few hours after our plane landed! A few weeks later, I received the call for my son Bear.
There was something about that call that made me think, ‘He will be here forever.’ When they brought Bear to my home, the case worker at the time said, ‘Oh, by the way, his mom is pregnant so you may get a call once the baby is born.’
Internally I had already said yes. I knew I would take placement if they called me about the baby. I had no idea how I would manage four kids, but felt like if I could manage three, I could probably figure out four. A few weeks later Lilou was born. I said yes in a heartbeat when the case worker called. Just like with Bear, I felt she was staying forever from the first moment I met her.
Bear and Lilou’s case was unlike any of my other foster cases. I never met their mother. I never had any kind of relationship with her and that felt odd. In all of my other placements I intentionally built a relationship with the parents. I always wanted the parents to know I was not only taking great care of their child(ren), but also that I was rooting for them. Not being able to do that, made everything feel kind of off. That time was so challenging.
Both Bear and my other little guy had so many therapy appointments. COVID restrictions were in full force, and everything in the world seemed so up in the air. By November of that year, the little guy who came just before Bear reunified with his parents. I was so happy he was able to go home, but sad to see him go, just like the babies before him. The mix of emotions is so hard to manage at times. It truly is a roller coaster of highs and lows.
A few months later, I got the call for Auggie. Lilou was barely nine months old, and while I hadn’t said I wouldn’t take another placement, I wasn’t actively asking for a placement either. When I heard his story though, I knew he had found the right home.
When he came he was so fragile and had so many medical issues. It was hard. There were so many appointments and therapies. I was so relieved when we finally found the right formula to ease his little body. He finally started to smile and show his little personality.
His story was heartbreaking and navigating my relationship with his parents was hard. Jackson came with me to his first parent visit, something that usually didn’t happen. He met both of the parents and as we were leaving said, ‘They don’t look like bad people.’ He couldn’t fathom that anyone could treat a baby the way they were alleged to have treated Auggie.
In his mind the line between good and bad was very distinct. We had to have a tough conversation that day, and while part of me is sad we have to have these conversations, the other part of me sees how wise he is and how he isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics, and for that I am grateful.
A few days after celebrating Lilou’s first birthday, I got my best surprise. I was teaching and got a call from CPS. I rarely get cold calls from CPS, so I knew something was up. When I answered, the case worker told me Bear and Lilou’s mom just had another baby and they wanted to know if I could take care of him. I vividly remember saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ No one knew she was pregnant so there was no warning.
I was already in the process of adopting Bear and Lilou, Jackson was still doing online learning, Auggie wasn’t in daycare yet, and I couldn’t imagine adding another baby into the mix. Long before that moment, I had decided I would do everything in my power to keep siblings together. There is so much loss in foster care and adoption and I felt strongly that losing a sibling was not something I ever wanted any part of.
All of that flew through my mind and within a few breaths I said yes. A few hours later Luca arrived home and made it very clear he was exactly where he belonged.
Family Through Adoption
Sixteen months later, Bear, Lilou, Auggie, and Luca have all been adopted. July fourth another blessing arrived home and just yesterday we started moving toward adoption with her. My family is one born of brokenness, but it is a family all the same.
My life is busy, it isn’t easy being an only parent to one child, let alone six, but the rewards are unmeasurable. My children all know they are loved beyond measure. They all know they were born to another woman. They all know family is not defined by DNA, but by choice, and my hope is they are sustained by that knowledge.
Every night we say the same thing, ‘I am kind, I am smart, I am important because God made me. God made me good and He never makes mistakes. I am wanted.’”
This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Susan Noelle Smith of San Antonio, TX. You can follow her on Instagram and TikTok. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
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