“We first met in 6th grade and were friends for a few years before our paths led us in different directions. In 2006 we were re-introduced and we quickly became inseparable. We married in 2007, and soon after, were expecting our first child.
We read every pregnancy book we found and thought we were fully equipped to welcome our sweet baby boy and begin our parenting journey. Our first son was born of a textbook pregnancy in 2008. He was absolutely delightful – funny and very smart. We couldn’t have asked for more.
We assumed our second pregnancy would go the same way, but it was quite the opposite. We found out mid-pregnancy that our unborn son had severe complications that were unable to be corrected, neither in utero or at birth. In April 2010, our second son was born. He was with us for 23 short hours, and with his final breath, he took our breath away. It was devastating.
We never wanted our son to be an only child. We also didn’t want to attempt another scary and painful pregnancy, so we started looking into adoption.
We soon decided that adopting from other countries wasn’t for us. As we learned about foster care, and watched other families foster and adopt, we found that there was an overwhelming number of children right here in our own community that needed a stable, loving home. We already had a perfect little 3 year old, so it didn’t seem fair to bring any more kids into the world when there were so many already out there – stuck in a rut that their parents carved out for them. We soon started the licensing and training process to become foster parents. Starting out, if they had offered us a sibling group of four kids over the age of 10, we would have ran away screaming. We were NOT ready for that. We had only been parents for 3 years, with one little boy. We knew we could handle boys under 3, but anything else was ‘scary territory’ to us!
We accepted our first placement of a 7-month-old boy. He had dark hair and olive skin, and he looked enough like our 3-year-old that they could pass for bio brothers. He had such bright, beautiful eyes and was full of life. It was easy to make him smile and laugh, and he loved to dance. He came to us from a domestic violence shelter where it was realized that his mother couldn’t properly care for him. He settled right in and we quickly fell in love. But after a couple months he was sent back to his parents. It was really hard to say goodbye, but not as hard as some people think – this is, after all, what we signed up for. We loved him like our own, and still respected that he was someone else’s.
Our next placement was a baby boy of the same age (2 weeks apart). We met him at the hospital where he was suffering from failure to thrive and severe neglect, with a severe skin infection that covered his entire body. He had light blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and skin so fair you could see through it. His facial expressions were mostly those of a grumpy old man, and his tiny little body looked like a burn victim. He was swollen all over and it looked like he was smeared with Vaseline and rolled in corn flakes. We were scared to hold him at first, but we held him anyway. We drove to the hospital, 90 minutes away, every day until he was cleared to come home with us. He was 9 months old and his growth had been stunted to the point that we cared for him like a newborn baby to get him back on track. He was lethargic and hard to get a smile out of, but that didn’t stop us from trying.
About a month after we got our 2nd placement, we got a call in the middle of the night about our 1st placement again. It seems he was left unsupervised and drowned in the bathtub. This news hit us like a ton of bricks. He was on his way to ICU (again, 90 minutes away – but I bet we made it in 70). Would he be able to recover? Would he have brain damage? So many worries were surging through us. We sent up some prayers for him and hoped for the best, but we were preparing ourselves for the worst. By the time we got to see him, he was actually awake, sitting up, and eating. Miraculously, he was fine! He had a bad case of scabies that we spent the next several weeks fighting, but he was in pretty good shape considering what could have been. He soon came home with us and has been here ever since. After leaving us and going back to his bio-parents for a few months, he did have some trust issues, and wasn’t his jolly old self for quite some time, but he eventually came around.
After several months, we accepted another newborn boy and his very young mother. After helping her return to a typical teenage life, and to her biological family, we assured her that her son would have a forever family that loved him, and we would be able to tell him about the awesome thing she did by giving him that gift of permanency. She will always be a part of our extended family, too.
At this point, we thought we were done — with four boys. They were all close in age, three of them in diapers, and they were very busy little critters. Then we got another call… Our first foster son had two sisters that needed a home. We had known about them all along, and even had them temporarily a couple of times, but they seemed to be in stable homes, and we were super busy with our brood of boys.
The girls, and another brother, were living with relatives, headed for adoption, but something happened with the 2-year-old brother. He was injured in that home with his sisters. The charge was abuse, resulting in death. It looked like the girls were ready for a permanent placement this time… but were we? We already had 4 boys – and the minivan was FULL. We wouldn’t have room for all of us in one vehicle. Not to mention we didn’t have any girl stuff or any experience raising girls. But, we had the chance to keep the siblings together, so we had to try. We had, for some time, wanted at least 2 boys and 2 girls. This way, everyone has a brother and everyone has a sister. Of course, we had to take them.
We made room in the house, and bought our first full-size van – a big, green, 12-passenger van. We called it the Super Pickle (Hey, don’t judge, lots of people name their cars!). The Super Pickle replaced our gold-colored minivan – she was a blonde. We called her Vannah… Vannah Montana. Vannah Montana replaced our very first minivan, which was white. We called that one Vannah White. Anyway, we finally started getting rid of all the baby gear we had acquired for the 4 boys. It was also time to update the family photo on the wall, because WE…WERE…DONE. With 6 wildly energetic kids, it was safe to say our family was complete.
The day finally came for our first photo shoot with our complete and finished family. My wife had been feeling funny for a couple days so, just to put our minds at ease, she took a pregnancy test. I knew it would be negative. Three hours before having our ‘finally finished family photo’ taken, we get a big surprise — Pregnant! We were so scared, even a little distraught. As it was, we barely had time to shower on a regular basis, and now we have a new baby on the way?!?!?
So much for that photo, it was already out of date, and those smiles…just a mask over our worries of what the next nine months had in store for us. Thankfully, we ended 2015 with the birth of our next son, perfectly healthy by the way. We now had seven kids, all 7 years old and under.
Something funny is one of our girls didn’t think the baby was permanent because he ‘hadn’t been adopted yet.’ The adoption of the two sisters finally happened in 2016, on what would have been the 6th birthday of our second-born son. They had already spent most of their lives in foster care.
Again, we thought we were complete. We had 7 kids! In the Bible, 7 is the number of completion and perfection. It’s in the Bible! We’re done! We got the typical looks and comments that large families get but we never doubted the plans that God had for us, and our children.
Yes, they’re all ours. Yes, we know where babies come from and what causes pregnancy. Yes, it’s funny, we have an entire basketball team. Yes, we bring the party wherever we go.
Eventually, we were able to finish our attic – adding 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, a TV room, and a play loft overlooking the TV room. We even had little tunnels built into the attic bedrooms (for fun, and to utilize wasted space behind the walls). We bought a new, bigger van (the Batvan) – a van so big we can play beach volleyball on road trips without taking off our seatbelts – and people have asked more than once because of it, ‘Oh, are you getting more kids?’ We laughed, ‘Are you kidding? No way.’
Like most foster families, we had a few kids that didn’t stay with us permanently. At one point, we had five kids in diapers – FIVE kids in diapers! We would order diapers in bulk from Amazon. The shipping boxes were nearly as big as a washing machine! Speaking of, we had to add a second washer/dryer set. We have 2 stacked HE sets in our laundry room. We also added a second side-by-side refrigerator, plus a deep freeze and spare frig in the garage.
Things slowly get easier after every transition or addition of kids. Occasionally, my wife would meet or learn of a child that needed a permanent home. She tried to get me on board, but my answers were always like, ‘There’s no way.’, ‘We couldn’t, even if we wanted to.’, and ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ She talked about a couple of individual kids, a sibling group of 2, and finally a sibling group of 4. FOUR?!?! REALLY?!?! ‘Is this your way of telling me you want a divorce?! Because it CAN NOT happen!,’ I declared. If we can’t take one more, then we really extra super-can’t take four more. Then one day, I accidentally met them….and I really, really liked them. I didn’t know what happened until it was already too late.
In 2018 we met a set of four older siblings – tweens and teens (remember that ‘scary territory’ from the beginning?). They had been in foster care for nearly six years and were ready for adoption. They were very close, and were at risk of being separated. We considered all our options, and again, we had the chance to keep a set of siblings together, so we had to try. We knew we needed to make room for them in our home and family, so we bought some more bunk beds and started rearranging. They moved in over Christmas vacation, and just like the babies, they fit as if they’ve always been here. We think our family photo is finally complete, but you see what happened before when we thought that. (BOOM, cliffhanger!). We can now jokingly, but truthfully say that we have 5 baby-daddies.
Since we started fostering, we have frequently heard comments such as, ‘It’s so great that you do that for those kids, but I could never do that. I just couldn’t handle saying goodbye if a child were to go back home.’ I know that most people say this with genuine respect, so I do appreciate their kind words and I take them as a compliment, but I think people might feel differently if they had a different perspective:
If you saw a child wandering around alone, at the site of a car accident, would you stop and help, or would you keep driving because it might be ‘too hard to say goodbye’ afterwards? No, you would slam on the brakes and hurry to that child. You would do whatever you could to help the situation. It wouldn’t be too hard to do this, it’s our natural reaction. You’d feel an overwhelming sense of urgency after you spot the child as you realize that he somehow survived the wreckage and is now all alone without the adults who should be caring for him. This isn’t much different than fostering.
As foster parents, we see things a little differently than we used to. We now drive down the road of life and see these wrecked childhoods around us. Some can be easily repaired, and others may take more time. Not everyone should be a foster parent, but for those who can’t look away from the immediate need – there is an ONGOING, CONTINUAL NEED FOR MORE FOSTER FAMILIES right now in your community.
Have you ever thought about why you don’t see ‘orphanages’ in the United States (like you see in third world countries or in movies)? This is because all the children that would be living in orphanages are living in the foster care system instead. This is a blessing in the fact that the children can receive the love and stability of a typical family and home. Whether they stay for a short time, or forever, foster families get the chance to show kids what it feels like to be loved, and what another kind of ‘normal’ can be under different conditions (in case they don’t get that from their biological family). Foster parents can change the course of history. The time you spend with a child who has no good influences at home, you just might be able to alter his path as an adult. It could be enough to keep him out of prison, or to keep him from continuing harmful habits learned from his parents. So, if you find yourself being called to care for orphans, foster care is a great place to start. Watch the Instant Family (2018) movie (it’s fantastic), and talk to Family Services near you to find out what it takes to get started changing lives. That movie is surprisingly accurate and entertaining.
When I was younger, I thought I would have no more than 2 kids. And after the first was born, I wondered how I could possibly love a second one the same as the first. It’s amazing how it just works. I can’t really explain it, and I don’t think you can really understand it until you have multiples. With each additional child comes the ability to love them uniquely, with all of your heart. It’s surprisingly easy and perfectly natural. We have 2 biological and 9 adopted kids, and all 11 are completely ours.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Eric and Mindy Perret of Farmington, Missouri. 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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