‘You’re newly pregnant and this little girl is a lot of work. If you need us to find her a new home, it’s okay.’ I didn’t want an ‘easier’ kid. I wanted her.’: Foster mom shares special needs adoption

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“My husband had always wanted to be involved in both adoption and foster care. I did not have similar feelings and initially struggled with just wanting to focus on a biological family. My husband convinced me to attend a question-and-answer meeting about foster care and the reality of the need for foster parents hit me. I was reminded of James 1:27, which says, ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…’

In that moment, I truly believed if I said I was a Christian, I needed to help vulnerable people. Because of his love for me, Jesus died. Because I’ve experienced love, I want to share it with others.

Jessica Mahorn

After several months of training, we got our first placement in November of 2017. We had two kids for 6 amazing months. Then one day, we got a phone call out of the blue, ‘I am so sorry. There was a surprise court date… I have to pick them up in a few hours.’ I get asked a lot how hard it is to say goodbye knowing I probably will never see them again. I’ll be honest. I hate this question. No, they didn’t die but my relationship with them did. I grieved a lot. I’m still grieving.

Foster care is not about me and it never will be. A child’s need for love and safety is more important than adult feelings. More important than my grieving. More important than my comfort. I could never put into words how painful it is but what I can say is it doesn’t matter because each of the children I’ve said goodbye to needed a safe place to feel loved for a time and that is more important than how hard it is.

Courtesy of Natalie

A few weeks after those kids left, we got a call for a newborn baby girl. 2 weeks later, she left. A few weeks after, we got a call for a toddler girl. 2 months later, she was gone. I had also just found out I was pregnant and was very sick. In the span of 6 months, I had said goodbye to four children. I was burnt out, sick of the system, and convinced what I did as a foster parent was pointless. I was ready to quit, and it had not even been a year of fostering. Then we got a call for Elianna.

Courtesy of Natalie

I had told myself I was going to say no if the state called and asked me to take another child. Struggling with compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary trauma had me extremely exhausted. I just couldn’t do it anymore. But then the state called me in September of 2018. ‘We have a 6-month-old little girl who needs a place to stay… she’s medically complex.’ And despite the burnout (I think most foster parents can relate to what I am about to say), I heard my voice saying, ‘Of course, when can I see her?’ I really had not thought of having a child with medical and special needs but something inside me said this little girl was meant to be in my home.

Courtesy of Natalie

The first few months were really hard. Elianna had several doctor and therapy appointments every week and with each passing day we would find out something new she was struggling with or needed a new doctor for. One day a social worker called me and said, ‘Natalie, you’re newly pregnant and this little girl is a lot of work, if you need us to find her a new home, it’s okay. I can get you an easier kid.’ But I didn’t want an ‘easier’ kid whatever that means… I wanted her.

Being a special needs mom now for over 2 years has taught me a lot. I want to encourage other moms whose children have special needs. Moms who spend time in hospitals for their child. Moms who Google things late at night worried about what their child’s future holds. I’ve been there. I’m still there. But there is so much hope. Not in Google. Not in treatments. But in the love you have for your child and even more so, the love God has for them.

Once a few months had gone by, things started to settle down and we got into a good routine with her medical needs. Her case was a different story. The social worker assigned said this was the largest file she had at the time. So much was going on. An intense amount of hurt and anger and lies and brokenness. We felt overwhelmed a lot and even the judge would later say, ‘Oh, I remember this case.’ Either my husband or I went to every court date and every meeting. I was either at a doctor’s appointment, court date, therapy appointment, or nursing our new infant. Although that season was hard (and a blur), I wouldn’t change it for anything. Everything we did for Elianna pales in comparison to the joy and love she brought to our lives.

Courtesy of Natalie

The most common comment I get from others when they hear my story is, ‘I’m so glad I found you! We want to adopt through foster care!’ I love adoption. Many friends and family have adopted. And I think if you want to adopt and nothing else go for it! But don’t do foster care. Yes, there are times when you get to adopt through foster care but that’s never the ideal. Foster care is for reunifying families.

When we first started to realize this case was going to adoption, I had a mix of emotions. I had worked with her mom and family for almost a year. This was not an adoption story where a mom places her child for adoption, and we agreed to adopt. Her biological mom’s rights were removed by force. A family was being ripped apart. I knew terminating her family’s rights was the right decision, but that right decision came with lifelong consequences and grief. Once rights were terminated, Elianna became a legal orphan.

Laura Cook Photography
Laura Cook Photography

It broke me she was legally an orphan. There is so much happiness in adoption but to fully celebrate the happiness, we have to also fully embrace the heartache. Finally, on December 9, 2020, we adopted Elianna. Because of the pandemic, we had to do it virtually from our home but that did not seem to happen that day. So many people joined to watch the adoption on Zoom. I still am so grateful for how many people love this little girl. It was one of the happiest days of my life but another mom’s most heart-wrenching.

Laura Cook Photography
Laura Cook Photography

We are still very much involved with foster care. We have had eight children in 3 years, and I can’t imagine stopping anytime soon. We are still taking new kids and still working on healing broken families. God prioritizes family. In Genesis, one of the only commands he gives Adam and Eve is to fill the earth. God created families. So, when a family is broken, I desire to bring the family healing.

Laura Cook Photography

In addition, I have recently started a new role as an official foster parent mentor through the state of Kentucky. When couples become new foster parents, my job is to help them navigate through the crucial first 6 months. Some of this navigation includes helping fill out paperwork, teaching how to work with the state, court, and biological families, and preparing to either say goodbye or adopt. Mentoring has been one of the biggest blessings this foster care journey has taken me. I am dedicated to helping foster parents set a foundation at the beginning for long-term success and not end up almost quitting like I did.

What about us? Will we adopt again? I’m not sure, my prayer is every child who comes into our home through foster care is able to safely and successfully reunite with their biological families. This is foster care.”

Laura Cook Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natalie. 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.

Read more stories like this here:

‘Did he think we abandoned him?’ I was still grieving. He hardly slept day or night. I struggled to feel connection.’: Couple foster to adopt, ‘If you don’t get attached, you’re doing it wrong’

‘How come I’m this color and you’re brown?’ I’d always respond, ‘This is how God made us.’ Black or white, it didn’t matter. I was her mama.’: Selfless woman adopts 4 children from foster care

‘We carry a heavy load. Our bags and purses are full. What’s even harder is going to bed and unloading our shoulders.’: Special needs mom says ‘there are plenty of beautiful extras we gladly carry’

‘I told a woman at the gym my son got into college. She replied, ‘Don’t celebrate too openly, other families may still be waiting.’: Special needs mom explains importance of celebrating milestones, ‘Let us have this’

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