“We went from first-time parents, to parents of two kiddos 8 months apart in age, all within 68 days. Here’s how…
A Desire To Adopt
Growing up, I always envisioned myself becoming a mother through pregnancy. Foster care and adoption never passed through my mind. Nobody in my family had experience with either, so naturally, it wasn’t an option I had considered. My husband’s family is the same; no foster care or adoption stories. However, there is one difference. Growing up, my husband’s house was also ‘home’ for some of his cousins and friends when they couldn’t live with their own parents for a variety of reasons. We live in Hawaiʻi, and opening one’s home and providing such care is known as ‘hānai.’ So, for my husband, being a hānai family was normal, and had a big impact on his desire to someday adopt.
All through our relationship and into our marriage, he expressed his desire to adopt. While I had absolutely no qualms with adoption, I just didn’t ever think it would be an option for us. I had always heard about adoption taking forever, being super expensive, and I still wanted to become a mother through pregnancy. I wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant. I wanted to experience labor and delivery.
Moving To Hawai’i
About 7 months into our marriage, we left everything we knew and moved to Hawaiʻi. We grew up and lived with our entire lives, until that point, in Southern California. Making a move across the ocean from our family was one of the hardest things we’ve done as a couple. While it’s definitely gotten easier, there are times where being so far hurts. You may be asking, ‘Then why did you move in the first place?’ We honeymooned on Kauaʻi and absolutely fell in love with the culture of Hawaiʻi. The people, the aloha, the land, we love it all. We knew we wanted to raise our eventual children here, away from the hustle and bustle of where we grew up. At first, it was just a dream. I remember thinking a sarcastic ‘okay’ with an eye-roll when my husband proposed the idea of moving.
I lived in the same house my entire childhood. Moving, especially to a different state, just wasn’t something I was accustomed to. I told my husband, ‘We can move if I find a job.’ Well, within a couple months, I had secured a fabulous job and they were willing to hold for me until we made the move a few months later. My husband was also able to find an awesome job that would start after we arrived on the island. Next thing on the list – somewhere to live. Luckily, one of my childhood friends lived in Hawaiʻi and is a realtor! We had a home secured before I even knew it. Everything was falling so perfectly into place, it felt too good to be true.
An Introduction To Foster Care
About 5 months after making the move to Hawaiʻi, my mother saw an ad for a holiday craft fair whose proceeds would benefit a local organization that supports foster care and adoption throughout the state. My husband worked at a resort and never had weekends off, but just so happened to have the Saturday of the craft fair off. We decided to go check it out. Even if it was a bust, at least we’d get to explore the island more. At the craft fair, we did the typical wandering and perusing.
The last table we came to didn’t have anyone at it, but did have brochures and a sign-up sheet to write down your name and contact info should you want more information. As we were writing down our info, the pastor who leads the organization came to the table to say hello. There was loud music playing in the background and nobody could really hear each other, so we shook hands and he said he’d call us later. We left the event not expecting anything to come from it, but we got to explore and had some yummy food, so in our minds, it was all worth it.
A few days later, my husband’s phone rings. It was the pastor! We talked a story (another word for ‘chatted’ in Hawaiʻi) and decided to meet up at a coffee shop to learn more about adoption (at this point, we were only interested in adoption). We spent hours at the coffee shop with the pastor and his wife, and only left because they were closing. We learned so much about adoption and how that process would look in Hawaiʻi. Right before we ended our conversation, the pastor mentioned they were trying to find a foster home for a teenager who went to high school a mile down the road from our house. We told them we’d keep our eyes and ears out for someone who could take the teenager in.
Taking In A Teen
My husband didn’t think twice about it, but that night, I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was the teenager and how they were having to wake up before the sun to get on the city bus to trek all the way across the island from the shelter to make it to school on time. The plan was for the teenager to be reunited with her father by the end of the school year. It was currently February, so it would only be a few months. The next day, I told my husband I wanted to provide foster care for the teen.
We had common concerns – violence, vandalism, and a whole bunch of other negative thoughts. But, we ultimately decided we had the space, ability, and desire to provide care, so why not? Within a week or so, the teenager moved in with us. We went through the typical ‘honeymoon’ phase where everything is hunky dory while everyone is getting comfortable with each other. Once there was trust and the teenager felt safe, the true emotions came out – fear, anxiety, anger, to name a few. There were lots of tears and frustrations for the teenager and us, but we did our best to navigate, especially as first time parents.
I did lots of research, and we leaned on our educator friends for support and advice. Before bed each night, the teenager and I did a check-in. The teenager told me one rose (positive) and thorn (negative) from the day, and one hope for tomorrow. The teenager would communicate responses with an, ‘Ugh, do I really have to?’ attitude each night, but on the occasional night where I’d forget to ask, they made sure to remind me. ‘Aren’t you going to ask about my rose, thorn, and hope?’ It was a safe space to express fears and frustrations, but also a time for the teenager to grant permission to themselves to experience joy, if even for a moment. Our preconceived thoughts about all the things that could go wrong were the furthest from reality. Was it a walk in the park? No. But usually, the things that matter most in life aren’t easy.
A Newborn In Foster Care
Every child in foster care is appointed a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), a lawyer who advocates for that child. Our teenager’s GAL stopped by one day to do a normal check-in to see how everything was going and how he could support us. We talked a story and as we were walking him to the door, he mentioned he had recently been appointed to a newborn who was only a couple days old, whose parents had already terminated their rights.
Our ears immediately perked up. We wanted to adopt a baby. My husband, being the extrovert he is, walked the GAL to his car to learn more about the newborn. He told the GAL about our desires and the GAL said he’d be in touch via email to get things moving, if we were serious. My husband was definitely serious. I was hesitant. We had been in Hawaiʻi less than a year, we knew nothing about raising a baby, we were fostering a teenager, and we were planning to have a child of our own. It all seemed to be happening too quickly, for my type-A/planning self.
When the newborn was about two weeks old, we were able to go to the house of the foster family looking after him. All my fears and anxiety were instantly gone the moment we held him. (Side note – I’m an only child, so I didn’t have much experience holding babies. The most baby practice I had was during nursing school, which at this point, was almost 10 years prior.) Holding him and looking down into his eyes felt so natural. We immediately fell head over heels for him and would do everything in our power to bring him into our family as our son. I mentioned earlier, the baby’s biological parents had already terminated rights, which is very uncommon. The GAL had been in this line of work for 30+ years and had NEVER had such a case.
An Unexpected Twist
We were oozing excitement out of our pores, but also had fear tucked away in our minds. Could we care for this baby? Could we meet his unique needs? Part of the adoption process for the newborn was ‘family finding,’ where the state does everything they can to try to locate biological family willing to adopt the child, in hopes to keep him with kin. This was a super stressful time for us. What if they found an auntie or grandparent who wanted to adopt him? Could he really be swept out from under us that quickly? While I completely understand the rationale for trying to keep children with their biological family, the possibility of not being able to adopt this beautiful baby boy was real and the fear was tangible.
Two weeks after we met the newborn for the first time, I had a wedding shower to attend in California. On the flight over there, and the car ride to my father’s home afterward, I felt super nauseous. I’m one to get car/motion sickness, so I assumed it was just that. The next morning, I still felt queasy. I was also late. I decided to stop at the store on my way to the shower to take a pregnancy test. I don’t remember how long the box tells you to wait after peeing, but the pregnant symbol was visible almost instantly. I washed my hands and walked outside the store to call my husband.
I facetimed him and my mom answered, but had the phone pointed toward him. They were on their way to my husband’s work. I had texted him earlier, telling him I wasn’t feeling well and was going to take a test, so he knew why I was calling. I told him, ‘Call me back later,’ but he responded with, ‘She’s going to find out anyway,’ referring to my mother. So, I told them the great news! Excitement, nervousness, shock – we felt it all. We were fostering a teenager, potentially adopting a baby, and also pregnant. Oh, and we were both working full-time and I was in graduate school. No sweat, right?
Pregnant And Fostering A Baby
When the newborn was about 1.5 months old, he was able to move in with us as his foster parents. The teenager was transitioning back to their dad at the same time. Being pregnant while also fostering a baby was difficult. For the parents reading this, remember those middle of the night feeds and diaper changes? Remember the nausea and fatigue you/your significant other may have experienced while pregnant? Managing both was a challenge and sometimes felt impossible. I’d often think to myself, ‘How am I supposed to feed a baby and change poop when I feel like I’m going to puke?’
I’m not entirely sure how we got through it, but we did. As challenging as it was, I think having a baby in our care actually pushed me to keep going. There was a child that needed my love and care to survive. Despite the drive and push to keep going, I will admit I did feel like I missed the first-time pregnancy ‘experience.’ I didn’t have time to sit and daydream about the baby growing in my belly. I didn’t get to ‘nest’ or take as good care of myself as I had hoped. I was in survival mode.
About three to four months after we became the official foster parents for the newborn, we got the news – we had an adoption date! Everything fell so perfectly into place, and we were able to adopt our son when he was five months old. Adoptions of this nature RARELY occur so quickly. We felt, and still feel, so grateful for all the events and stars that aligned to bring our son into our family. I still find myself sitting in disbelief from time to time. We moved to Hawaiʻi, fostered a teenager, fostered a newborn, got pregnant, and adopted a baby all within a 15 month timeframe.
Welcoming Baby Girl
Fast forward 2.5 months. I was 37 weeks pregnant and we were having one of our typical Sunday night dinners where we had friends over for dinner, played some games, and just got to enjoy each other’s company (this was all pre-COVID). I started feeling sporadic contractions about half-way through dinner. ‘Eh, they’re just Braxton-Hicks,’ I naively thought to myself. We finished dinner and said our goodbyes. I got some homework done and packed some last minute items in my hospital bag in case this was the real deal.
I couldn’t sleep at all that night. The contractions were coming full-force and started increasing in length and frequency around 2:00 a.m. By 7:00 a.m., we made another call to the hospital and decided it was time to go in. If you’re from the Los Angeles area or Hawaiʻi, you know what morning rush hour looks like, and we were leaving right in the middle of it. By some miracle, it only took us about 30 minutes to get to the hospital, when it would normally take me 1.5+ hours to make a similar drive into town for work at the same time of day. Little did I know, my fear that our daughter was going to be born on the freeway was for nothing, because she wasn’t born until almost 24 hours later.
After a tiring 29 hour labor and delivery, our daughter was born. We spent the next two days in the hospital before getting discharged home to embark on our journey as a family of four. When we got home, our son wasn’t acting like himself. We checked his temperature and he had a high fever. My husband and mother rushed him to the hospital (where we had literally just arrived home from an hour earlier), while I stayed home with our daughter to recuperate.
Luckily, everything was okay. The next morning, I had a routine couplet (my daughter and I) appointment to check-in and make sure we were both doing well. Her bilirubin was high in the hospital after she was born, so we drew labs again at this appointment to see if it was going down. Labs came back, and her bilirubin was still high. She had jaundice and would need to be hospitalized. So, back to the hospital we went. I was nursing, so I went and stayed with her while my husband and son stayed home. Within the first week as a family of four, we were in and out of the hospital three times. If that isn’t the crash course in parenting, I don’t know what is.
Our son and daughter are 8 months and 3 days apart in age. We often get asked if they’re twins, and when we tell people ‘no,’ we regularly get the, ‘Wow, you guys got busy,’ response. This allows us the wonderful opportunity to retell our story over and over, and share our love of foster care and adoption with so many people.
Having two children so close in age allows for a special bond between brother and sister. They’re going through many of the same phases together, which is so beautiful to see as parents. On the flip side, we also had two 2-year-olds. Any parent that has had a 2-year-old knows what a fun and also challenging time that is. On top of normal ‘life,’ we are also on a special journey with our son. In utero, he was exposed to illicit drugs, and he was also born with hip dysplasia. He was in a Pavlik harness for most of his infancy, and we were just recently cleared by his orthopedic specialist.
In addition, he is developmentally delayed; experiencing speech, cognitive, and fine and gross motor challenges. He received Early Intervention services from age 10 months to 3 years old; sees a developmental pediatrician every 6 months; and attends speech, occupational, and physical therapy sessions multiple times per week. He will be starting Special Education Preschool in the fall. When I say a ‘special’ journey with our son, I truly mean it in the most positive way. Because of my background in nursing and school health, I feel so honored to be able to be on this journey with him. Each specialty appointment and therapy session is an opportunity to connect and grow together as mother and son. As you can imagine, time management and schedules are a MUST in our household.
Even though our children have such a strong bond, I, as their mother, found myself comparing them. Our son is older, so I expected him to be developmentally ahead of his sister. When she began to catch up and eventually surpass him, I had mixed feelings – happiness she was achieving great things, but sadness our son was ‘falling behind,’ a feeling of wanting to slow our daughter down so she wouldn’t get too far ahead, and a pressure to speed our son up. These contradictory thoughts and feelings were like a battle inside of me, until one day it just clicked. They are separate human beings with separate development journeys. That sounds so cliché, but I’m not sure how else to explain it. When I stopped comparing, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, but more importantly, off the shoulders of my children.
As we continue our journey through life as the ‘Mixed Plate Ohana,’ we hope we can share our foster care and adoption story with anyone willing to listen, so they too may be able to experience the love and hope we experienced. Hope for neglectful and abusive cycles to be broken, hope for families waiting to adopt to begin their journey, and hope for a successful future full of love for every single child that is/was in the foster care system and/or adopted. While being foster parents may have been one of the more challenging points in our marriage, I encourage you (whether you are married or not) to seriously consider, ‘Why not?’ You have the power to change a child’s future, shift their perspective on life, and provide for them when they need it most. We aren’t currently providing foster care for any children, but did start The Kukunaokalā Project, which provides bags of necessities and goodies for children in foster care in Hawaiʻi.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Fujimoto. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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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