‘Will he ever have to leave us?’ my children asked. What I signed up for wasn’t what happened.’: Foster mom shares emotional journey towards adoption, ‘Our family is built on love’

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“Our story began 10 years ago and is one still being made. In 2012, my husband and I got married and started our family right away. We both wanted to have at least 4 kids, then that grew to 6 kids, then it grew to however many the Lord would bless us with. He was 22, I was 21. We got pregnant fairly quickly and celebrated our first wedding anniversary with our 1-month-old daughter. I experienced several pregnancy complications including severe pre-eclampsia, which led to our daughter being delivered 5 weeks early after 28 hours of natural labor via emergency c-section. She did a short period in the NICU and is now a thriving, beautiful, smart 8-year-old little girl.

A groom kisses a bride while onlookers cover their eyes
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

With our second pregnancy, we, unfortunately, had a miscarriage around 8-10 weeks. Our 3rd pregnancy had fewer complications, and our handsome rainbow baby son greeted the world 4 days prior to our daughter’s 2nd birthday. After 50 hours of natural labor, he was taken via emergency c-section as well. Our 4th pregnancy was very complicated, and our second handsome son was delivered at 32 weeks via emergency c-section.

A couple wearing winter clothes smiling
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

During my time in the hospital prior to having him, my husband and I had a very sincere conversation about the future of our childbearing. We both felt the need to be responsible and realistic about the way my body handled pregnancies. We made the decision for me to have my tubes tied. We were both heartbroken to think our family would no longer grow to our heart’s capacity, though we didn’t have much time to think about that because our precious son was born with quite a few complications, both genetic and caused by prematurity. He spent over a month in the NICU, and still to this day, 4 years later, fights daily to live a ‘normal’ life and will for the rest of his life.

Parents with their 3 children dressed in matching holiday pajamas
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

We were so thankful for God blessing us with our biological children, but I knew our family was not complete. My husband is a teacher, and he is very drawn to helping his students and their families. In 2016, we took in one of the youth teenagers from our church to try to give him more stability. With only having 3- and 1-year-olds, we had no clue what we were doing with a teenager, but we tried our best. We were also right in the thick of dealing with our 3rd child’s birth in early 2017, and being away from our kids every night to visit him in the NICU an hour away really put pressure and strain on relationships.

Parents with their two children and a teenager
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

After the school year ended, he moved in with another church family who had teenagers and much more experience handling things we had never encountered and were not prepared for. Now, 3 years later, we are making plans to attend his Army graduation and we couldn’t be more proud of him and all he has accomplished since he left our home. We have learned God always plants seeds and sometimes it takes time for relationships to blossom.  My husband and I like to credit him for being the reason we really opened our hearts completely to the idea of foster care. But there were more reasons as well.

We considered foster care for quite a few reasons. I grew up with family who did foster care, and my best friend had just taken in a family member’s baby. And the icing on the cake was after having our teenager for just under a year, we realized our hearts were open to caring for kiddos who needed a loving and stable environment. There is so much negativity surrounding the foster care system, and my husband and I were inspired to ‘be the change,’ one case at a time.

We didn’t want to adopt from foster care, though, and I never wanted to do any kinship cases. I wanted to adopt privately if we ever went that route. We just wanted to be a support system for struggling parents and encourage them that they had the power to get their kids back if they worked for it.

By the time we had actually gone through orientation and prepared our home, we developed a circle of friends and a support group to lean on. These incredible friends remain such a crucial part of our lives and are an encouragement through all the waves of life, placements, and our adoption. They welcomed us with open arms to our first support meeting before we were even licensed. The conversations we had with these incredible friends helped us understand the world of foster care and the kiddos who make that world go around.

A couple dressed up in matching outfits
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

My initial thoughts and goals for becoming a foster parent were strictly to be a voice and help parents work through whatever brought their child into care. I think we had the normal fears of any beginning foster family. Did we make the right choice? Will our biological children adjust well? How do we help our biological children cope with the trauma they will see and even experience themselves? Will the child’s biological family ever cause danger to our family? How do we communicate we don’t want to take their child from them? What if we get too attached? Will our family treat them the same as our biological children? Can we really do this? I’m so thankful our immediate family were very supportive, and even to this day, they are the first ones to introduce themselves to any new kiddo in our home as ‘Nana and Pop Pop’ and ‘Grammie and Pappy.’

When we first told our family we were considering foster care, there were a few comments about our 3rd child’s medical needs being an issue. I had one family member say, ‘Don’t you have enough on your plate with your one son’s autism and your other son’s brain malformation?’ I can remember the encouragement my parents gave us because they knew our hearts’ desire was to have a big family. If we could have had more biological children, it would have been about time to have our 4th child, because we planned our children 2 years apart.

I, of course, had already lost a lot of sleep over how my sons’ mental and medical special needs could affect our foster care journey, but both my husband and I felt so called to help others, we knew God would make a way. I knew our family only wanted to make sure we would ALL be okay. So we didn’t give attention to the negativity and just focused our responses on the positivity of getting to help others who so desperately need it. And they needed help faster than we realized.

The moment we decided it was time to actually make the move to getting licensed, we had had a community yard sale on a VERY busy road in our town, and not one of our baby items was sold. Our youngest son had just turned 2, and we had been discussing getting licensed, but I still decided to take all of our baby gear to our yard sale. I figured I’d have at least a year before we were fully licensed and had a placement, and that was plenty of time to know what we needed to replace and start fresh. We sat at that yard sale, selling almost all our other things, and not a single baby item was touched. I knew God was giving the green light to call the agency.

A foster mom and her husband stand by a low wall
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

When we went through the process of getting licensed, we had a decent idea of what to expect, but we still had fears we weren’t going to be good enough or our sons’ medical/mental needs would disqualify us. A multitude of other fears also ran through our minds. We knew we loved our children and had so much more love and support to give to the children and families we would encounter, but we were still scared not knowing what our first case would be like.

A good friend of mine who runs a very successful consignment boutique in town messaged me out of the blue one day and asked me to call her immediately. I panicked, not knowing if something happened to her store or one of her children or what was going on. I immediately called her, and she asked if we were licensed yet. She and her husband are also foster parents and received a call from one of her frequent customers about a newborn who was going to be needing a home. She had just bought her new store property and was putting in a lot of hours there and did not feel that she and her husband could commit to a newborn at that time. So, she called me, knowing we had just begun the process of getting licensed.

She gave me the customer’s number and name, and I immediately called. The customer’s voice sounded SO familiar, as did the name. Soon enough, I worked up the courage to ask this person if they were who I thought they were, and they said yes. When I told them who I was, they almost dropped their phone. I was speaking to a not-so-distant family member of mine. They explained that a relative of theirs had just had a baby and the baby was going to be going into foster care because the kin were unable to take another kiddo in. They gave me the grandmother’s information to call.

When I called, I knew this family would always be connected to my heart, even if reunification was the end result. The grandmother arranged with the agency to have the baby come to us, because I am related to two of the other siblings, so we are ‘kin’ (small, small world). When the agency officially called me, we had only been licensed for two weeks. We were able to expedite our licensing because of this kinship case coming to us. When I went to meet him in the NICU at 31 days old, I knew deep in my heart he would be my son. When I took photos of him and sent them to my mom, she was shocked at how much he looked JUST like 2 of my biological children.

When we told our daughter we had gotten a call for a baby, she demanded it be a little girl. When I told her it was a baby boy, her immediate response was, ‘You need to tell his mommy to get better, because I don’t want another little brother!’ My husband and I definitely had to hold back the giggles at her innocence. But when I brought him home from the hospital and walked through our front door, our daughter screamed with joy, and within moments, he was in her arms. After some coaxing, daddy was finally able to meet him and hold him.

A little girl holds her newborn foster brother
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

Throughout the first 12 months of our son’s life, we fully supported reunification. We made every effort to support and encourage mom to turn her life around. We kept in constant communication with mom about his well-being and sent her photos throughout each week. We tried our very best to make her feel as bonded and connected to him every single day. When he first came to us, we signed him up with our family photographer and had his photos taken monthly. At the end of his first year, our photographer offered a large, nicely framed collage of a favorite photo from each month’s sessions, which we had done with our biological children. My plan was to always give this beautiful frame to his mom when he was reunified.

A toddler sleeps next to a foster baby
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy
Three children sit on steps with their foster brother
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

We loved him as our own, but I did not want to adopt from foster care, and I definitely didn’t want to do a kinship adoption. Now looking back, I honestly can’t explain why I felt that way because this little boy, no matter how he came to us, has always been meant to be my son. Our adoption will be finalized very soon, and though my heart is broken for his birth mom, I am thankful she chose life and he has come into ours.

We still keep in very frequent contact with his grandmother, and she visits us with his other siblings. She has always been very supportive of what has been best for him and often says my husband and our biological children are an extension of her family. We are so grateful to have a great relationship with her because we want our son to know his biological family and even his birth mom when the time is right. God works in such mysterious ways and has such a sense of humor. I said I didn’t want to adopt from foster care, and our very first official case is an adoption. I said I didn’t want to do kinship foster care, and our very first official case is kinship.

When we found out we were adopting him, there were so many emotions flooding me. I was overjoyed and heartbroken all at once. I was so thankful to be his mommy forever because I’m the only mommy he’s ever known. But also heartbroken because I knew a family was being torn apart forever. We supported reunification for so long, but it got to the point I recognized it was no longer what was best for him. This was well after the caseworker and attorney had told me it would soon be time to consider the goal changing.

A family with their young foster son and three children
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

All I could think about were his birth mom’s feelings and emotions. I knew it was best for him to be with us because the situations of his parents had not changed for 16 months. But, coming to terms with the fact that what I thought I signed up for wasn’t what would happen broke my heart. I was so convinced his life would make the difference in his birth parents’ choices. What I failed to realize was those choices had such a grip on their lives, they were willing to lose themselves too.

Our biological children have ridden the roller coaster of confusion with us, though we try to shield them from a majority of the nitty-gritty details. When our other kiddos reunify, we typically get a lot of questions from our biological children about whether he will ever have to leave us.  We always remind our children he was born in our hearts, and he will never leave our family. We always tell them our family is built on something even more special than DNA, and that is love.

Through our experience with our son, we have learned foster care is so little about us, and so much about these precious children. There were times throughout the case it looked like reunification would be possible. And of course, we supported that, but each time, it broke our hearts to think of losing him. The roller coaster of emotions we’ve ridden from the very beginning has been difficult.

We have learned the hard way even when it looks like CYF has their eyes on your family as the chosen adoptive resource, it can all be swiped away in two hours if a closer kinship resource presents themselves. That’s exactly what happened with our second case. We only had him for a short time, but he was pre-adoptive, and we were fully prepared to call him our son. Our children immediately connected with him and loved him. He just fit into our family like a perfect puzzle piece, from the very moment he came running excitedly into our home!

Foster parents sit with their three children and two foster kids
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

We received a phone call from our caseworker that the agency was considering us as the adoptive resource, and two hours later he called back saying he was so sorry, but a kinship resource stepped forward and we needed to pack his bags. They called it a trial visit, but we knew we weren’t an option anymore. Heartbroken doesn’t even come close to describing what I felt. I mourned the loss of a son I never birthed and never was mine.

Clothes and toys sitting on chairs for a foster reunification
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

Since that time, we have had reunifications, respites, and everything in between. We have learned over the course of two short years foster care is about mending generations of brokenness. We have learned judgment has no place in foster care. We have learned brokenness begets brokenness in so many cases.

When our kiddos first come, we always introduce ourselves as KK and Mike. We leave it up to them if they want to put a title in front of our names. We have our children introduce themselves. After that, we give them a tour of the house and let them put their belongings in their room. We give them our house rules and routines. We ask them general questions about favorite foods, routines they may want to stick to, if they have any allergies they know of, if they prefer showers or baths, and then we try to get to know them on a more personal level when they’re comfortable.

A mother sits with two foster children on her lap
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy
Boys play with their three foster siblings
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

We have had kiddos who are completely disconnected from the years of abuse and trauma. We have had kiddos scream, ‘I hate you’ the entire drive home from visits, because to them, we are the reason they are separated from their parents. We have learned establishing a solid relationship with the biological family is so important for the child(ren) to continue to grow and develop in their time spent away from their home and family.

A foster dad plays with three of his children
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy
Foster parents sit with their biological and foster children
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

We have learned having a solid routine and clear expectations are of high value in our home. We have learned to culture cook and be sensitive to where our kiddos are coming from. We have learned foster care equals therapies—whether that’s physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and/or mental health. We have learned the deepest definition of the word flexibility. We have learned foster care is all about acceptance and love. Our faith has really helped concrete that idea as well.

A group of children play with each other in the snow
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

We hope to build our family even more, even if they aren’t living in our home anymore. Now, having adopted a kiddo from foster care, I can’t tell you what I was so scared of. I can only say the fear I once had is completely gone. We want to continue to help as many families as possible. I would love to adopt at least two more children. My husband and I often joke we will never be empty nesters. And, it’s probably true. As our children (adopted and biological) turn 18, that opens up room for more children to come into our lives, should we reach our goal of having 6 children anytime in the next 10 years.

Children sit in their room with their foster siblings
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

The most important thing I have learned over the past two years is there is such a deep need for more families to say yes. Even if they aren’t meant to become licensed foster parents, there is so much help to be offered to foster families. Whether it’s a home-cooked meal, help transporting kiddos to dance class or baseball practice so that mom can get another kiddo to visitation, or even helping with light cleaning or laundry around their house. There are so many ways to support foster families and show them they aren’t alone in this journey.

Foster parents walk with their biological and foster children
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy
Foster parents stand with their children and foster children
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

I hope that others feel empowered to make a difference because anyone can. Our world can be looked at very negatively or it can be looked at as an opportunity for change. Unwavering support breeds confidence. Encouragement builds empowerment. Love builds lives.”

Six children sit together on a couch in matching T-shirts
Courtesy of Kelsey Rudy

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelsey Rudy. 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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