‘We’re newlyweds! We have no idea how to parent a 9-year-old.’ There were a million unknowns, but we said YES.’: Foster parents share journey, ‘We wouldn’t change a single moment’

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“In February of 2017, I saw a picture of a guy named Ari on a dating website and decided to send him a winky face. A year and a half later, we were married. When we had been dating for a couple of months, the topic of future children came up and we were both surprised to find out the other wanted to adopt. We tucked that information away and spent the next months falling in love and planning a life together. After we were married, we moved from California to Oregon and settled into married life pretty much on our own. We didn’t have family or friends nearby. We spent almost all of our time together and were loving married life.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

We thought we would wait about 2 years before we started a family and planned to pursue having biological children as well as adoption. One day, about 5 or 6 months into us being married, I brought up the idea of foster care. We talked about the possibility of fostering for about a year before we were planning to adopt or get pregnant. We both started to like this idea and wanted to start the process of becoming foster parents 5 or 6 months later.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

It turned out the new church we had started attending had a ministry dedicated to supporting children and families in the foster care system. We wanted to get involved. So, one Sunday after church, we began talking to someone who ran that ministry, who then pointed us toward a woman, not too much older than us, who was a foster mom and foster care advocate. When we mentioned we were interested in becoming foster parents, she suggested we get started right away because it often takes people close to a year to become certified.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

We took her advice. That week, I called the local Department of Human Services (DHS) office and asked how we could get started. We quickly signed up for a foundations class and were excited to begin the process. We thought a year sounded like a great timeline—we weren’t quite ready to have kids yet, but we were getting there.

In the foundations class, we started to get a clearer picture of what it was really like to become foster parents. We were a little scared, but were becoming more and more passionate about it and looking forward to the future. The next step after the class was to fill out an application. When we completed the application and dropped it off at the DHS office, we decided the occasion called for a celebration. It felt like the first big benchmark in becoming parents, in starting a family. So, we celebrated the best way we knew how: by going to Chuck E. Cheese and playing games and making Build-A-Bears to give to our future foster children.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

After that, there was a bit of downtime while we waited to be assigned to a certifier. We thought waiting was something we would have to get used to in the certification process, but we would soon find out that wasn’t the case. During our first meeting with our certifier, he asked a lot of questions about us and began writing up our home study—a file of information about who we are that is to be used to match us with potential foster and adoptive children after we become certified.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

On September 1, just a few weeks after our first meeting with our certifier, we were at church and the service had just ended. The same woman who had first suggested we start pursuing foster parent certification walked up to us and started talking about these three children she knew of—three siblings, two girls and one boy—who may be needing a foster home. We were interested and excited to be hearing for the first time about children we could potentially provide a family for. But it all seemed like too much. We had barely begun the home study process. We hadn’t considered having three children all at once and we weren’t too sure if we were ready to parent children their ages—5, 6, and 9 years old. She said she would send us a couple of pictures of the kids. We had a lot of reservations, but we said we would think and pray about it. And we meant it. We had signed up to become foster parents because we wanted to be a family for children who needed one. And there they were.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

We said we’d like to meet the kids. But, to be honest, we didn’t really think we were going to end up being their foster parents. We weren’t certified yet and we had thought we would have months and months to prepare our home and our hearts. During our next visit with our certifier, we talked with him about the kids. I half expected him to tell us to forget about it because we weren’t certified yet. But instead, he told us if we were needed and willing to provide a home for them, we could get emergency certified within a day or two.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

Over the next 2-and-a-half months, we got to meet the kids a few times. We were quickly falling in love with them and could picture us as a family. But also, we couldn’t. We were still newlyweds. We had no idea how to be parents to a 9-year-old. As the days and weeks went by, the doubts didn’t go away. But we kept saying yes, to the next visit with them, to keep praying, to keep considering. We couldn’t say no. We knew we couldn’t. And soon, we had to make a decision. I won’t say it was easy. There were a million unknowns. But we said yes.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

The date was set for the weekend before Thanksgiving. We had a few weeks to prepare. In addition to getting the house ready, we decided to take a ‘babymoon’ to Seattle to spend time together. One of the scariest things for us was wondering what would happen to our relationship. Would we ever be the same? Were we throwing away our newlywed years? (We had just celebrated our first year of marriage the month before.) Was our relationship going to suffer? We didn’t have the answers, but we had hope that things would go well.

On that Saturday before Thanksgiving, we were both a bundle of nerves. We were behind on preparing and cleaning and got a late start making breakfast. We were in the middle of making pancakes when the doorbell rang. And just like that, we were parents. No turning back now.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

The first few weeks felt so strange. We were a group of strangers trying to be a family. The kids were wonderful. They were struggling to adjust to a new home (a challenge I can’t even begin to comprehend), but they were doing so well overall. We loved them. The adjustment was really hard for us, though. Even though we loved them and even though this was what we had signed up for, we were having a very difficult time. Emotionally, we were trying to catch up with everything, with instantly becoming parents. This wasn’t babysitting, it was full-blown parenthood we had just stepped into. No easing us in, no subtlety, just all at once.

We cried a lot and we honestly weren’t sure if we were cut out for it. But we kept going. And each day we chose to keep going was the best decision we ever made. Because over time, we truly became a family. There was no one moment when it happened. But after a while, when we heard them call us ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad,’ we started to believe it. We were learning—in messy and imperfect moments—how to be their parents.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

Most days, I walked them to school in the morning and back home from school in the afternoon. We did homework. We watched through the window as they played together in the backyard. We watched a million Disney movies and listened to the Descendants soundtrack more times than I’d have liked. We had dentist appointments and doctor’s office visits. We were the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. We read Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables. We took a road trip to California. We celebrated each of their birthdays.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

Looking back on that time, our hope and prayer is each of those simple moments was building a reality in their hearts and minds that they are loved and valuable. They certainly changed us for the better.

On top of all of the typical parenting things, we were also trying to learn how to navigate the foster care system and advocate for our kids. We were juggling appointments and emails to the caseworker and court dates and more phone calls than I ever expected. It was exhausting, but it was a privilege to get to care for them in this way.

It wasn’t long into our story of being a family we began to realize ours wasn’t going to be a forever story. And that’s okay. But it hurts like crazy. There’s no way to prepare yourself for the pain of saying goodbye. Our last day with them was fun and wonderful and absolutely excruciating. Ari and I kept finding each other sobbing in our bedroom throughout the day. That evening, we recreated the meal we had on the first day they came to live with us—pancakes and lemonade. We stayed up for hours looking through old pictures and videos with them, wanting the night to last forever. When we tucked them into bed, we barely made it out of their bedroom before collapsing into a pile of tears. And then, the next morning when it was almost time to say goodbye, Ari and I both broke down in front of the kids. We choked out ‘We love you,’ and hope they know how deeply we meant that.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

It was such a surreal experience going all the way back to being just the two of us again. It didn’t feel at all like freedom. It was so difficult. The first few days were the worst. It was painful to see their empty beds the way they left them and our son’s half-eaten ice cream cone in the freezer. We kept moving forward because we had no other choice, but part of us was missing. And then over time, my brain started to block the memories out a bit and I didn’t think about them much. Until one day, I did. And the grief came flooding back. It comes in waves. In fact, writing this story brought on another wave of sadness. That’s okay, though. It’s all part of the process—of growing and changing and living.

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

The thing is, while we were living through the hardest moments of our lives, the foster care system was still moving, still working imperfectly to try to provide homes for children from broken places. Not even a month went by before we started getting more phone calls for more children with more stories who needed homes and families. We said a couple of no’s and a couple of yes’s, and ended up spending a few weeks with a little boy. It was short, but he also touched our lives and we’re grateful we got to love him, too.

We’ve spent some time alone since then, healing and growing. But our desire to keep loving children and being parents hasn’t dwindled. We know one thing for sure—we are not special. We are not superheroes. We just chose to sign up. We just chose to keep saying yes. We made so many mistakes. We learned so many things the hard way. We experienced a lot of heartbreak and so much joy. And we wouldn’t change one day or one moment of it.”

Courtesy of Savannah and Ari

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Savannah and Ari Pulido of Monmouth, Oregon. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their podcast. 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. 

Read more touching stories like this:

‘The judge skimmed my letter. In less than 5 minutes, we were ushered out of the courtroom. I felt powerless.’: Foster mom advocates for child welfare, ‘They need people to fight for them’

‘There are other ways to be a mother.’ I was so angry. I wanted to be a mom the ‘natural’ way.’: Woman becomes foster care advocate, ‘I never expected my heart to change’

‘The ministry called. ‘We have a boy and a girl. Would you be open to adopting two children?’ WHAT? Could this be real?! We were moved to tears.’: After 11 miscarriages, failed surrogacy, couple adopt 2 kids from foster care

‘We received a call. ‘Do you want to adopt all 5 siblings?’ It was an instant, ‘YES!’ We told our babies they were finally safe, that we would never harm them.’: Mom of 4 adopts 5 siblings from foster care after miscarriage, twin loss, ‘They have healed my heart’

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