‘We’ve been escorted out of court for our safety from gangs. My heart’s broken, but it’s not about me.’: Foster mom gives candid account of system, ‘It’s not about getting a baby’

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“I always wanted to be a mother. I was changing diapers by age four, and I always had a list of baby names at the ready. I always leaned toward the motherly one in my groups of friends, trying to keep everyone safe and being the buffer to try to keep the peace. Being a mother was written into my bones. It led me to volunteer in every way imaginable with my church children and youth ministries. It led me to pursue a teaching degree. It led me to find ways to work with children when my health took away my ability to complete my teaching degree. It led me to where I am now: mother to three kids, give or take.

My health declined all through college and surviving my failing body was difficult. I have collected diagnoses, some probably incorrect, over the last decade. Fibromyalgia, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Bilateral Pulmonary Embolisms (twice), Supraventricular Tachycardia/ Dysautonomia, and PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome, which when combined with a still undiagnosed but rare blood clotting disorder, led to a hysterectomy at 25, and something autoimmune we have yet to figure out.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

Yes, this broken body took away any traditional life. I have had quite some time to come to terms with this. Like any chronic illness-fighter will tell you, grieving your health is an ongoing process that cycles in and out of acceptance and pain. I mostly have good days where I accept my limits, am grateful for my remaining abilities, have an amazing team of doctors and treatment that keep me mostly mobile, and adapting the rest of my life to still be fulfilled.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

After marrying my high school sweetheart at 22 and recovering from my hysterectomy at 25, we were ready to be parents. Adoption was always a part of my goal, long before any health issues. Foster care and adopting was actually never our second choice. Life just pushed it earlier than we anticipated. When we first began this whirlwind of a life, our view of foster care was to help children who needed a safe place to land and one day, a child would stay, making us forever parents.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

We went into this young, naive, and honestly, wrongly conditioned by society. Although we never viewed ourselves as heroes, we definitely believed in the often pushed stereotypes about foster care and adoption. We lacked a lot of understanding about what these families have been through and how to truly help families heal long term. We worked with an agency and they worked to break down those misconceptions and biases most prospective foster parents hold. They were the first step in rewriting our view of the world we were entering, though nothing could truly prepare anyone for the heaviness of seeing so much brokenness in our world. It is heavy to see how as a society we fail these families in too many ways. It is heavy to see how these parents also are born out of chaos and trauma. It is heavy to see how love, even unconditional love, does not equate to safe and healthy parenting. It is heavy to see such pain up close.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

In our five years, we have said goodbye to children. We have provided short term respite for other foster families. We have disrupted a placement and had a child removed from our home for the safety of our other children. We have filed a grievance against the Department of Human Services. We have been escorted out of court through the back for our own safety from cases with gang connections. We have had the honor and tragic privilege of adopting three children through foster care. We have fought caseworkers who preferred our home in order to keep siblings together because kids need family first, if at all safe and possible. We have successfully reunified a baby to her family. We have watched a teen age-out and navigate post-foster care support.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

In those five years: I have supervised countless visits for biological or first parents. I have been the closing testimony in court. I have sat with a mother in a court waiting room and stood next to her before a judge so she had someone, anyone, to support her. I have prayed with a mother outside that courthouse. I have spent hours on the floor of a closet with a teen too afraid to speak. I have rocked a child far too big for my arms for hours until they finally collapsed from exhaustion. I have held a child down to keep them from self-harming in public as they scream they just want their mommy. I have been with my foster child who was hospitalized for over a month straight with no family leave support from my job. I have heard my child tell me the most disgusting and creative abuse done to them as if it were normal. I have sat with a mother in the hospital as they battled insurmountable health issues. I have had a mother name me in court as her only support system. I have eaten free meals in shelters to accept a mother’s graciousness. I became too attached. I have had my heart broken. And I would do it all again.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

There are statistics that 50% of foster parents quit within the first year. Going into year 5 of this life, I can fully understand why. Foster care is hard for foster parents. I am here to say, 5 years later, it is impossible for these children and their parents. These past 5 years have rewritten my focus. Over and over, I meet mothers and fathers who love these children with everything they have. And over and over I see how, tragically, everything they have is not enough for society.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

The longer I am a foster parent, the more I come to love the parents of the children we somehow share. I have learned my job as a foster mom is more than keeping children safe, but helping families heal. Regardless if reunification, kinship, or adoption becomes the court’s goal. No matter where these children land forever, my honor is to walk alongside these parents and see their humanity. Remind them of their worth. Reaffirm they deserve safety, respect, support, and love.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

I have learned I am called to enter into the brokenness of others and show the brokenness in my own life. Because being broken is a part of being human. When you love someone, it is an honor and a privilege to walk alongside them through the brokenness. This, all of this, is so much more than about me. It’s more than becoming a mother. It’s more than sharing our home and family with children in need. It is more than providing one solution to an overburdened, underfunded system. Doing this in a sustainable, relationship building, healing way really does mean setting down your needs. This can’t be about you. This can’t be about ‘getting a baby.’ Those surface-level reasons will not sustain you through the utter ugliness of this. It will burn you out. No, this is about giving what you have to give for a whole family to heal. It is about these parents who need just as much love. Loving these children means loving their family.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

I know some of this will be hard to hear for other foster and adoptive families. I am sad to see myself among the minority in the greater adoptive world. I really challenge you, if you are interested in foster care and adoption or if you have already entered into this world, as the foster and adoptive parents we must listen to adoptees. We must listen to first parents. We must hear other perspectives besides the echo chamber in far too many adoption groups. If your foster care choices are only praised by other foster parents, if your resources and education are only other foster care/adoptive parents or caseworkers, if your only interaction with adoptees and first parents are the cases in your home, you will perpetuate new traumas. When we commit to opening our home to children we commit to providing healing, not another obstacle for them to overcome and process as an adult.

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

I will walk alongside these children and these families as they heal. I will love any kid that enters my home until they can return to a safe and loving family. I will grieve with them on the floor. I will celebrate with them at a visit. I will cry for them long after they are asleep. I will praise if and when they go home. I will pray for their parents. I will sit with their mothers at court. I will grieve if their rights are terminated. I will mourn the loss of their family. I will carry their trauma in my adult-sized heart to lessen the burden on their child-sized heart. I will learn from adoptees. I will listen to first parents. I will do everything I can to break down my bias and continually strive to become a better person tomorrow. I will keep going when my heart breaks because every human I have met in this upside-down life has had worth.”

Courtesy of Callie Rivera

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Callie Rivera from Oklahoma. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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