“Foster care is not for the faint of heart. Its purpose, in spirit, is to attend to the needs of the children at the center of a hurricane of trauma, loss, and crisis. At its core it strives to answer one question: what is best for the child?
Our twin boys were placed with my husband Peter, our 5-year-old son, and me at the tender age of 13 months, and they were already exhibiting significant delays. The day they landed in our home ignited a firestorm of evaluations, specialists, and twice-weekly supervised visits with bio mom. With the help of an incredible support team, we employed every non-invasive intervention known to humankind including around-the-clock asthma treatments, special diets, and speech, physical and occupational therapies all designed to help them close the developmental chasm between them and their peers.
I knew from the moment I saw this tiny dynamic duo that they were mine – the inexplicable pangs of love at first sight squeezed my heart as I looked into each of their squishy, brown faces. I was immediately a goner for these kids. So, when professional after well-meaning professional cautioned us about pursuing their adoption, I brushed it off. They didn’t know us, our resilience, our commitment, our capacity for love. Coupled with our incredible family support network and devoted friends, we were a force to be reckoned with. My arrogance, veiled by the genuine ferocity a newly re-minted mama bear, knew no bounds. After years spent in the social justice field, I was confident in my knowledge about systems of oppression and their effects on transracial adoption. (I even wrote a masters level research paper on the topic and submitted it to the agency – I am nothing if not precocious). I was a mom on a mission, and I was prepared to do anything to seal the deal for our family.
Enter that pesky Universal teacher, ‘opposition.’ We spent months building a friendly working relationship the twins’ birth mom, Mama K*. We visited with her regularly and walked the tightrope between deference to her and claiming them as our own. Then, nearly six months in, a member of her family unexpectedly proclaimed that she would assume responsibility for the twins. We were devastated. Our oldest son had bonded readily with his now brothers. So had we all. The thought of giving them up was physically excruciating, as if my whole body was holding on for dear life.
It was then that I began to glimpse what Mama K might be experiencing – the profound loss of her children. The question arose once again – what is best for them? I began to prepare myself for the very real possibility that the boys would be reunited with their family of origin. It had not occurred to me, rather unbelievably, that reunification may indeed be what was in their best interest. After all, we were a white couple who might as well have lived on another planet rather than the other side of town. How could we possibly equip these boys with what they would need in order to grow into strong black men in America? What right did we have to assume we could offer them something better than their birth family? Who the hell did we think we were? As these questions cycled endlessly through my mind, I could feel my chest collapsing. We had to let go of our egos and get behind the strategy that best served our beloved boys, whatever that may be.
There is an entire memoir in this story. It involves the brutality of a society that fails its most vulnerable, the overwhelming challenges that come with parenting kids with special needs, the delicate and frank conversations that surround a mixed-race family, and the continuous interface with humanity’s propensity to categorize, judge, and dismiss that which we don’t understand. As if all that were not enough to humble us, yet another bomb detonated.
Soon after the initial question had been settled – ultimately by Mama K herself – that the boys would in fact be ours, my husband Peter fell ill with a vicious terminal disease. This development set off a whole new set of uncertainties. I concurrently witnessed his deterioration while under constant threat that our youngest children, now fully and thoroughly claimed, could be removed from our home and placed with another family if it was deemed in their best interest. All the while the question rang in my ears: how can we do right by these kids?
When the date was finally set for our adoption to finalize, the relief was bittersweet. Two and a half years of foster care was about to be resolved in a beautiful, solidifying ceremony, and yet our joy was tempered by the grim reality of Peter’s health. The date had changed once before, and we were holding our breath as we inched forward. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, the unthinkable happened. My darling husband collapsed from a disease-induced seizure and died just two weeks before we were to become an official family of five.
We did indeed become an official family…of four, and on schedule too. As the judge snapped her gavel in front of 42 family members and friends, she proclaimed that she could not imagine a better parent for these children. I still appreciate her sentiment and rely on it often. We were tattered, but we had each other and hope for the future.
I have neither the authority nor the audacity to share the full spectrum of Mama K’s story. I can say, however, that we have had moments of real connection. Though our experiences are vastly different we share a true passion for our twins, and they are fully aware of her love for them. We honor her as an integral part of the intricate tapestry that is the miracle of our family. Our boys have made remarkable progress and are thriving in so many respects. Their new adoptive dad and I carry faith that we will all continue to do what believe is best and when we screw up, we will default to compassion. At the end of the day the answer is this: what is best for the child is devotion, safety, a willingness to grow, and big, crazy love – and our kids have that in spades.”
*Name is changed to protect anonymity.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Merritt Minnemeyer of New Paltz, New York. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. 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.
Read Merritt’s powerful backstory of adopting 3 sons, and losing her husband:
‘An elderly woman behind us said, ‘he’s beautiful.’ We both responded with a resounding, ‘Thank you!’: Adoptive mom says her son’s 17-year-old birth mother was her ‘saving grace,’ she’ll forever ‘be in awe’ of her
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