‘We received the call. ‘You’re the chosen home for a girl and boy ages 1 and 2.’ DHS labeled their case ‘Shocking and Heinous.’: Mom candidly shares emotional sibling adoption journey

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of child abuse, trauma that may be triggering to some.

“I wish I had the answers for how our family got here, but truthfully, I don’t know. Sometimes when I look back on the last seven years, it’s as though I get lost inside a spinning world, having no clear perspective or understanding for how everything came to be. However, what I do know is all the anger, frustration, heartache, and confusion gradually led us to see something we never would have anticipated – the trauma of our child.

In the moment, I would have never recognized how God was preparing my heart for the future. I was 10 years old when my parents adopted my sister and 16 years old when my parents adopted my other sister. Both had the same mother but different fathers. And although they were both younger when they were adopted, that didn’t mean they didn’t experience some form of pain and trauma. Their lives were so different before they came into our family. The thought of how their lives would have played out if left with their biological mother was unsettling to say the least. One of my sisters grew up relatively fine, never demonstrating any struggle to understand her past. However, my other sister was the opposite. Her pain surfaced into many different forms and led her down very difficult paths. Yet, in spite of all the ups and downs we faced as a family, adoption changed me and changed my view of what a home really is. It didn’t matter what color our skin was, how much money we had or where we lived – it was about love. It was about fighting for the ones you love in order to give them a better future. It was then I knew I wanted to keep adoption in the family. One day, I was going to adopt, too.

Woman smiles and hugs her two adopted sisters
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

However, life never seems to go as planned. My husband and I tried for over 3 years to start a family. The ‘plan’ was to have a few of our own first and then we’d adopt. I never would have realized the toll getting pregnant would have on me. If I’m being completely honest, it became an obsession. It occupied every area of my life and then some. My whole world turned into ‘baby world.’ I struggled to understand how God could give me such a heart to be a mother and not give me the ability to be one. For years, I wrestled with God over what He wasn’t allowing, never realizing maybe this wasn’t His plan for our family. Each time there was a failed pregnancy test, my heart seemed to harden a little more. I fell deeper and deeper into this realm of despair, and I had no idea how to get out. All I remember is one day crying out and asking God to take this desire away from me. When I woke up the next morning, my desire was gone. God had answered my prayer. Not only did He take the desire to get pregnant away, but He gave me a new desire in its place. One I will never forget – the desire to love the unloved.

The day we were officially approved to be an adopted home through DHS was exciting but also full of so many different emotions. It had taken us 141 days to become an approved adoptive home, and those days were stressful, trying, and consistently demanding. If you’ve been through the process of fostering or adopting through DHS, you know exactly what I mean. It is not necessarily an enjoyable experience. But once everything was complete in our approval, then it became a waiting game – an exciting waiting game. I estimate we received around 20+ phone calls asking if we were interested in a child. Obviously, our answer was always yes, but saying yes was the easy part. The hard part with DHS is that, although you can show interest in a child, it does not mean you will be selected as their home. Each time we received a call in regards to a child, we anxiously waited for the next phone call saying we were chosen as their home. In all the 20+ phone calls we had, we never once had a call back.

Man and woman jump for joy in their backyard holding signs that say "OKDHS APPROVED"
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

I remember the exact parking spot I pulled into when we received the call we had been waiting a year for – the phone call that meant we were finally going to be a family. The conversation went something like this: ‘You and your husband have been chosen as the home for two children, ages 1 and 2, girl and boy. Are you interested?’ I sat in the car, by myself, completely and utterly overwhelmed. This is what we’d been waiting for. This was one of the most significant moments in my life when in saying ‘yes’ it would change my whole world. If my heart could have played music, it would have been a symphony. Yet, in the midst of my joy, I was immediately flooded with fear. ‘Is this really happening?’ ‘Are we really doing this?’ ‘God, are we doing the right thing?’

Two days after our phone call, we drove to DHS to meet these two children we had never seen and who knew nothing of us. When the case worker opened the door, she was holding a precious little boy who had no emotion on his face; he just stared. In my mind, I had been romanticizing how I’d feel and what the moment would be like meeting my child for the first time. But it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I was terrified. Here is the moment I had been waiting years for and I felt like a deer in headlights. Once we went in and saw this adorable little girl, my heart melted. This was it, this is what we had been praying for. These two beautiful children were going to be what makes us a family.

Adoptive parents hold their adopted siblings in winter gear
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

Yet, we understood from the very beginning these two children came to us broken. It wasn’t like they had a wonderful home and then made their way into our wonderful home. The home they were taken from wasn’t a home at all, but was full of abuse and neglect. Most people would be quick to assume due to their young ages they couldn’t have experienced much trauma in their lives, and if they had, surely, they would eventually grow out of it. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. DHS labeled their case as ‘Shocking and Heinous.’ The nature of the case was devastating. So devastating there was no chance for reunification. DHS completely terminated all parental rights. They knew it was in the best interest of the children to be placed into another home.

Thankfully, we were that home. But, because everything happened so fast, it left little time to process. Before we knew it, we were handing them sippy cups, changing diapers, and laying them down for naps, figuring out food they would eat, toys they liked and bath time schedules. Our whole world had changed overnight. But unlike theirs, we were at least prepared. They had been taken away from all they knew, too young to understand all that was happening. Too young to ask why. They had no idea who we were and why they were in our home. They were just babies who had been moved around, having no understanding of what was happening. We were just as much strangers to them as they were to us.

It took 6 months before we stopped feeling like babysitters. July 28, 2014 was the day we stood before the judge and officially became the parents to these two children. As soon as he said the words, ‘Congratulations, you are now parents,’ I felt the tension in my body subside, as though I could finally breathe. For the first time, I could actually address my foster son as my son and my foster daughter as my daughter. It felt incredible! Just as amazing as the day I said, ‘I do’ 15 years ago to my husband, and the joy I felt in being able to call him mine. The day of our adoption was beautiful. It was an emotional celebration of our commitment to our children, a commitment that we made in front of our family and friends. A commitment we welcomed with tears and open arms.

Couple take an oath in front of a judge while officially adopting their children
Courtesy of Niki Palmer
Woman starts crying in a court room during the official adoption of her children
Courtesy of Niki Palmer
Parents smile and hold their newly adopted children outside of the courthouse
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

But this was not the fairytale I had grown in my mind; it was far from it. Maybe it was all the trauma training sessions with DHS that helped me point it out, but the signs were immediate. The anger, defiance, manipulation, self-inflicting harm, the complete lack of empathy… I knew something was not right. But, as a new parent of a toddler, you don’t yet know what is ‘typical’ behavior and what is ‘abnormal’ behavior. This little boy seemed to be living in his own little world of fear and anxiety. He was constantly living in fight or flight mode, as if he was simply trying to survive. He was triggered by many things, but primarily at night when the lights would turn off for bed. It was as though, all of a sudden, memories of his recent past took over and he’d panic.

Several times within the first few months, our son would wake up at night screaming at the top of his lungs, having night terrors. He’d struggle to self-soothe, and couldn’t seem to cope with any of his emotions. He wasn’t able to properly communicate because he was only able to say roughly five words. So, instead, he’d throw or break things. He’d throw food against the wall, floor, and on the ceiling. We had to constantly monitor him around his sister because he would purposefully hurt and pick on her for no reason. When we’d place him in timeout, we’d have to move him away from the walls because he would hit his head on them. One day, he actually put a hole into the wall by hitting his head against it. He was still only two.

Courtesy of Niki Palmer
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

I remember being asked early on by a young mother, ‘Don’t you just love being a mom?!’ Being a very honest, transparent person, I looked right at her and said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I did not enjoy being a mom. I wasn’t sleeping well, if at all. I would go days without eating. I felt overwhelmed every minute. I was stressed beyond words. The constant tantrums, the yelling, the lying, the fighting, the manipulation, the defiance. I was exhausted. I felt defeated. Confused. Beaten down and broken. I was a pale image of the person I was before him. Not only was I struggling mentally, but I felt my body slowly falling apart. At the time, we were stationed in the middle of the country, having no family and no support system nearby. Loneliness was an everyday occurrence. Outside of my mom, I had no one to talk to, no one who would understand our home life and our daily struggles. We had no clue what we were doing. You would think after all the preparation and training with DHS we had, we would have a handle on what to do. But the reality was, no amount of reading material, counseling, or Ted-Talks could have prepared us for what we were facing.

To be honest, I thought he would eventually grow out of it, but he didn’t. It took us years to understand loving him enough wasn’t going to change his trauma. Deep down, he struggled to attach to us. Each year of his life brought on new challenges on top of the ones we were already facing. The disrespect grew. The defiance grew. The anger grew. The tantrums became more frequent and larger. The self-inflicting harm turned to inflicting harm on others. His destructive tendencies turned into habits. The manipulation took on a life of its own. It was as though our son had split personalities. His moods were up and down, changing every few minutes with tantrums in between. My life became a never ending roller-coaster. I never knew what was coming next, and I had little to no time to prepare for them.

Young siblings sit on a wooden bench and stare into the camera during a photoshoot
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

Over the next few years, God moved our family several times. It was amazing to see how quickly our children adapted to our new surroundings. Honestly, it was a huge blessing. For those few years, our son’s behavior stayed pretty consistent. Nothing had necessarily gotten worse; however, at the same time, nothing seemed to get better. Our hope was to find him counseling, but at the time we didn’t know where we were going to end up. We had finally, somewhat, settled down in July of 2018 when our son’s behavior hit its climax. It was like someone hit a switch and everything escalated into darkness. I will not go into detail, all I will say is our son became uncontrollable. Our home was no longer a safe place anymore. It was then we sought out guidance from a therapist and psychiatrist, which ultimately led us to where we are now.

It’s been three months now since our son has been at a residential treatment center. This is emotionally hard, and the mixed emotions are difficult to process. When it first became a discussion with our therapist and psychiatrist, the only feeling I felt was failure, like I was the reason we were having this conversation. I remember thinking if only I had done this or that, if I had only loved him more, listened more, or gotten him help sooner, then maybe we wouldn’t be here. And sure, there was truth in how I felt, but this wasn’t about me or my husband or our daughter – this was about our son, and getting him the help he needed. As soon as I had that perspective, I began to see the bigger picture of it all. All the feelings and memories of the first year of having our children quickly surfaced in my mind, remembering the reasons we had the desire to adopt in the first place – to love the unloved. You see, regardless of the difficulties we faced and the ones we will face, we made a commitment to them. When God answered our prayer, He answered it with these two children and God doesn’t make mistakes.

Mom hugs her two adopted children during a photoshoot
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

My husband and I are completely different people now than before these precious children entered our lives. I won’t ever say these last seven years have been easy, because they haven’t. But I know our son’s life could have looked much different if he hadn’t been placed with us. The same way I know my sisters’ lives would have looked different if they weren’t placed with my family. These things take sacrifice. Loving a broken child will never be a simple task – it requires everything from you, even more than you think you have. I would have never fostered/adopted if God didn’t put it on my husband’s and my hearts. I am so thankful God brought us to where we are now. We are in a much better place of understanding the trauma within our son’s mind. And although our son is away from us, our love and commitment to him has not changed; we will be there for him every way we can. This is only the beginning for our family. I know brighter days are ahead.

Couple with their adopted children pose for a family photo next to a lake
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

I want to close our story by saying this: ‘I see you.’ There are so many fostering and adoptive parents who are walking or have walked through similar circumstances. You’re not alone. I know the days get dark and you wonder if the light will ever shine through, but it will. Hold on to the special moments because they seem to be what helps move us forward. Find joy in the little things around you, even if it is simply listening to the bird’s chirp. I know how easy it can be to hide away from the world, overcome with the constant struggles of a broken child. Please remember their brokenness did not come from you, and you are not meant to carry that load alone.”

Interracial family of four take a group shot during a fall photoshoot
Courtesy of Niki Palmer
Interracial family of four take a candid photo during a fall-themed photoshoot
Courtesy of Niki Palmer

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Niki Palmer of Southern Oregon. You can follow their journey on Facebook, Instagram, and their blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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