“You always hear these stories of women saying how all they ever wanted was to be a mother and they dreamed of it from the time they were a little girl. That was SO not me.
I didn’t have plans to settle down. No plans of marriage. Or kids. I may have been a bit of a wild child in my late teen years . I had moved back in with my Dad after failing out of my first year of college (apparently majoring in beer is not a thing) and was working at a local gas station when I met my future husband. He claims it was love at first sight, but for me it wasn’t quite that instant. I should probably mention that he had a young child already, too. A month into dating, I started feeling like he might be ‘the one.’ It was about that same time I also discovered I was pregnant. It definitely wasn’t in our plans, but we chose to make ourselves grow up (fast!) and take responsibility. Our baby girl was born in June of 1999 and she was perfect. We got married in a little chapel in Vegas on Valentine’s Day of 2000, bought a house that July, and worked hard at our respective jobs –– he in the oilfield, me as a Realtor.
A few years down the road, at age 23, we decided to try and add one more child to our family. God laughed and gave us two fraternal twins. After preterm labor at 25 weeks and then two and a half months of bedrest, our beautiful, healthy baby boys were born. However, we weren’t taking ANY more chances with getting pregnant again (I really felt like triplets might happen), so Justin got snipped.
The years passed. Things were good. Justin moved way up in his career. I stayed home with the kids and worked a business from home. I officially adopted our oldest boy. But, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. That we were meant to have another child. After some arm-twisting and maybe a little begging, Justin agreed to have a vasectomy reversal. We prefer not to talk about the actual procedure, because it was a little traumatic… more-so for him because he was COMPLETELY AWAKE, but also for me because I looked at his innards through a microscope while he was laying on the operating table.
We tried and tried for another baby, but it just wasn’t meant to be. The reversal didn’t work. Looking back, we are able to see that it was all part of God’s perfectly-laid plan, but at the time, it was devastating. I felt hopeless.
At some point, after reading a friend’s adoption story and digging into stories on the internet, I began to feel a pull towards foster care. My husband thought I was full-on crazy at this point. But again, after some arm-twisting and a maybe a little begging, he agreed to take the training classes. We started the licensing process in October of 2011 and finished up in April of 2012. I jumped every time the phone rang, waiting for that first placement call, but it wouldn’t come for a few more months.
We were on a family trip in Florida, just about to cross the gates into Disneyworld, when my phone rang. It was our licensing worker asking us to take placement of two little girls. TWO?! I instantly said no, thinking there was no way Justin would agree to two. Well, I was completely wrong, and we called the worker back later that day when we left the park to say yes, but the girls had been placed with another family. Again, it wasn’t meant to be.
At the end of June, my phone rang with another placement call. We said yes, and hours later in an office at Social Services, the most beautiful, teeny, 6-and-a-half-month-old baby was placed in my arms. We spent the next year supporting reunification with Jazmine’s birth parents, but due to details I won’t share, it couldn’t happen. The plan changed to adoption by us.
Our adoption of Jazmine continued to progress and was finalized on Valentine’s Day 2014, and I guess I should have mentioned previously that Jazmine was born with a genetic condition called Neurofibromatosis, which can cause tumors to grow in and on nerves anywhere throughout her body. Right before her 2nd birthday, we found out that Jazmine had tumors in her brain on her optic nerves. I will never forget that phone call from her pediatrician. There are absolutely no words that can describe the intense rush of emotions that came along with knowing that our sweet baby girl had BRAIN TUMORS. Life changed that day. We were immediately referred to an oncologist and NF specialist out of state. Jaz’s medical team decided it was best to take a wait-and-see approach and carefully monitor her vision and the tumors. Our world was turned upside down in March of 2014 when one of Jazmine’s specialists found that she had vision changes and the tumors were growing. Within two weeks, she had surgery to have a port placed and immediately started chemo. I tried to hold in my tears as I watched the first of many toxic drugs be pumped into her little body. As her mother, I wished more than anything I could take her place. No child should have to endure the things Jazmine has had to in her young life.
The next five years brought so much for our little girl and our family as she continued her battle with optic gliomas, her Chiari malformation, and hydrocephalus… over 30 sedated MRIs and 8 while awake. Over 30,000 miles traveled for out-of-state doctor’s appointments. Jazmine has had 100 doses of different chemo drugs, but has currently been off chemo for almost a year (our next check-ups are in two weeks)! She’s endured hundreds of pokes and 9 surgeries. She turned 7 on December 8th and continues to amaze us with her strength, humor, love, and resiliency.
Let’s back up to January of 2014 for a minute. We felt that we were ready for another placement and let our agency know. We got a call on the 13th of January for a newborn girl who was born on my birthday. Justin was out of town, so I told the worker that I needed to call him and make sure it was a yes, and I would call her back. I gave her specific instructions to NOT CALL ANYONE ELSE. It took me an hour to get ahold of my husband, but he said to go for it. I called the worker back and she said, ‘I’m so sorry. I had called another family before I called you and they called back in the meantime. They are taking the baby.’ I was crushed. The minute we had gotten that placement call the day before, that baby was imprinted on my heart.
The following morning, the phone rang again. By some miracle, it was the worker asking if we were still interested in the baby, as the other family decided not to take her. She didn’t need to ask twice –– I couldn’t get in my car fast enough. I rushed to the hospital and Stella came home with me later that day. It was instant love for our whole family.
After a year of reunification efforts with her parents that were imprisoned at the time, her Mom made the most selfless, brave decision. At our team meeting, where it was looking like our case would be prolonged, she told everyone in the room that Stella deserved more than they could give her and that she knew Stella would have a good life with our family. Stella’s adoption was finalized in July of 2015. She definitely keeps us on our toes! Stella is a wild child and lives for all things gymnastics.
We had another little girl with us for a month that fall, and then a baby boy was brought to our home in early November. I had daily contact with his parents as they made efforts at working their case plan required for reunification. Towards the end of December, we were aware that a baby was born to a woman who was dating Stella’s biological father. We thought there was a good chance he was a half-sibling to our Stella and that he might be coming into foster care. We told our agency to make sure he came to us if he was removed, but that call never came. In early January, I got a text that said, ‘I FOUND YOUR BABY!’ I about died. A friend of mine was at our monthly foster parent meeting and saw him. He was being placed for adoption and was with a foster family temporarily until Mom chose a family. I called the adoption agency the following day, knowing they couldn’t give me any info, but I talked to an adoption worker and said, ‘this is who I am, here is our story, and here’s my number’ in case they had a client who wanted it. The worker called back and said Mom wanted to meet with us. I was a bundle of nerves walking into the agency with Justin that day, but I felt an immediate connection with this woman. She felt the same way and together we decided to move forward with the adoption. She told us that the baby was not a sibling to our Stella, but of course we didn’t care at that point… that little boy was already deep in our hearts.
That week was a whirlwind. During one of our meetings with the adoption worker, she informed us that we couldn’t have any unrelated children living in our home… meaning our other little foster baby would have to be moved. After serious discussion, Justin and I came to a gut-wrenching decision… we simply could not kick one child out our door to welcome another. We came to the conclusion that we were going to have to say no to moving forward with the adoption. The following morning, we had a regular court hearing for our foster baby. Completely unexpected to every single person in the room, the judge decided to send the baby home with Dad. We were given the weekend to say our goodbyes. On Monday, which also happened to be mine and Stella’s birthday, we said our tearful goodbye to the little boy we had loved for three months. We contacted the adoption worker and told her we wanted to proceed with the adoption. One week later, we met the baby’s Mom at the agency once again, and this time it was her placing her sweet baby boy in our arms and saying her goodbyes. Private adoption is not without a hefty price tag, and it had not even been on our radar, so we went into super fundraising mode to try and come up with the money needed to proceed. Our friends, family, and community really stepped up for us, and we were able to raise every cent needed to make Kellen ours forever. His adoption was finalized in July of 2016.
Fast forward to November, we got a call for a 6-week-old, medically-needy baby who needed to be discharged from the hospital. He had a rare chromosome disorder and a long list of conditions that we didn’t think we were equipped to handle, especially already having a medically-needy child, and not to mention having 3 kids 5 and under! We were a 90% NO, but something stirred in me and I needed to at least go meet this baby in person and talk to his nurses before we could say that no. I arranged for a visit at the hospital, and spent hours over the following days rocking this sweet, perfect little baby. I wrangled my husband into coming up to the hospital, too, and baby B even worked his magic on that tough guy. We brought him home the following week, as a temporary placement until a more permanent placement was available. It wasn’t long before I called his worker and told her to stop looking for another home… that we wanted him to stay with us until permanency was decided. Here we are, over 2 years later, and that little baby is now a busy toddler. When we brought him home, we didn’t know if he would ever walk or talk. Today, he is running around like crazy, climbing all over everything like a monkey, and while speech-delayed, has about 50 words that he is using. He has brought so much joy and light into our home, we can’t imagine life without him. We are planning on adopting him, but it’s been an excruciatingly slow process.
What if we had said no that day? What if we hadn’t given him a chance? I get teary just thinking about it. B brought our family total to 10 and we were complete. Oh-so-done. Or so we thought.
You’d think we would know better –– that when we think we have things planned out, God laughs and throws a little more chaos our way. Our phone rang in May of 2017 for another 6-week-old baby boy needing to be discharged from the hospital. Our foster homes here (and pretty much everywhere) are overloaded and there wasn’t anyone willing to take him. You know the story by now… I called my husband and begged him to let us take the baby temporarily. He reluctantly agreed, and a few days later the teeniest, 5-lb baby joined our family. He was born 9 weeks premature, but he is thriving and continues to show us that nothing will stand in his way. Baby E is now a 19-month-old toddler and you guessed it, we are in the process of adopting him, too!
After E came to us, we were VERY DONE and agreed that we would close our doors after the boys’ cases were finished.
Late April 2018, I was checking my email and saw that I had one from Kellen’s biological Mom. We hadn’t had any contact during the last two years other than an accidental run-in at the clinic and the email updates I sent her. She asked if we could meet up and talk. I was shocked, but said of course and went to pick her up for coffee. We talked for a long time and ultimately, she was in a tough situation, had made some bad choices, and asked us to care for her 1-year-old little girl while she tries to straighten her life out. When I dropped her off, she asked if I wanted to come in and meet Jaydenn. She was the sweetest little thing, with the biggest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. I went home to have some serious discussion with Justin about taking in our little boy’s half-sister. As much as I wanted to say yes, we both were very reluctant to add another baby into our family. We already had five kids 6 and under. This would make ‘Irish triplets’ –– remember way back in 2003 when I had the triplet feeling? Our brand new van we had custom-made for our family the past October wouldn’t even have enough room for all of us. Could we really take another child knowing that she would probably leave a few months or years down the road? We agreed to take Jaydenn for a few days and just see how things went. She fit in perfectly and seeing her and her brother interact (they look like twins!) was priceless. We went to court for legal guardianship, and what should have been a simple case since Mom was in agreement to it (and Dad at first, too), turned into a messy battle when an Aunt stepped forward to try and take Jaydenn away from us. We were finally granted guardianship in October. Jaydenn is doing awesome and we are able to maintain contact with her parents while they work on things, and we have a wonderful relationship with her and Kellen’s Grandma and another Aunt.
I don’t want you to read our story and think that everything has been easy and rosy, because it has been far, far from that. We now have ten kids. TEN! That’s a crazy amount of little people. Our days are filled with therapies, medical appointments, meltdowns, activities, and changing SO MANY DIAPERS. We have four kids in diapers right now… DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY DIAPERS THAT IS?? Most days, we collapse into bed, exhausted. So many days, I wonder what the heck I am doing. I am one hot mess of a person and everything I thought I knew about parenting with our oldest four was thrown out the window with our ‘second batch’ of kids. Our marriage has been tested and tested again, but has also grown stronger. Our open adoptions have gotten extremely messy at times. Friends have disappeared. They are either scared of our huge family, intimidated by our kids’ diagnoses, or maybe I just haven’t had the time to put into maintaining friendships, I don’t know, but it’s been a pretty lonely, isolating journey. We don’t get out much. Our yearly family beach vacations to Florida haven’t happened in a few years.
That said, some incredible people have been brought into our lives, too, and for that, I’m incredibly thankful. We’ve seen our older kids love on child after child that has joined our family, whether it be forever or just a season. We’ve seen strangers go out of their way to help us.
I’m going to tell you that foster care is hard. It will break you into a million little pieces. You will be wrecked over and over again. Once you open your eyes and your heart to it, you can’t turn away from the brokenness that is found in every community. It will be hard to say no. It will be hard to say yes. But sometimes? Our hardest ‘yeses’ become our greatest joys. Every single hard moment, every single tear shed, every piece of our journey has been worth it. These kids are WORTH IT. We can do it. We can do hard things.
There are over 400,000 children in foster care on any given day. If foster care has been on your heart, I strongly encourage you to take the first step and request information from your local agency.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melissa Anderson, 39, of North Dakota. You can follow their foster and adoption journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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