‘You’re the only one I ever felt was on my side.’ We found a broken system. Even if it changes just one life, it’s worth it.’: Foster mom shares ‘roller coaster’ journey, ‘We rise to the challenge’

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“I tell our story to not receive accolades or praise. Rather, I tell our story in hopes of raising awareness and possibly a stirring within you to join in supporting these children. Because even if it changes just one person’s life, it’s worth it.

I never thought I would have a large family, much less foster and adopt, but once you meet the right person, what you thought was your plan can completely change. My husband, Aaron, and I started our family quickly. We had four children in 4 years, which is a huge blessing but also brings major chaos. What contributed to the chaos was our second child had a handful of medical issues we discovered shortly after his birth. It immediately sent us into a world of hospitals, doctors, specialists, and surgeries. A world we knew nothing about but had to learn to quickly navigate.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

At the time, we were barely surviving as parents. Long hospital stays, very few answers at first, led to us learning to advocate. We switched doctors as needed, fought to get answers, and got support and help from family and friends. Our son grew and his medical needs became more of our normal for our family. As our kids grew, we felt the pull to go back to church and find a home that fit us as a family. The first service at the first church we went to had a service focused on fostering and adoption. It felt like it was meant just for us. The more we learned about fostering/adopting, the more we felt the calling to be a part of it.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

We fostered for a total of 6 years. When we began fostering, we naively thought we would be greatly appreciated. That we would see and feel like we were making a difference. What we ended up seeing was subpar, overworked CPS workers who were indifferent, and a broken system. We experienced parents who saw us as the enemy and would go to any length to try and prove it, including take pictures of ‘bruises’ during visits and making false allegations. I’ll never forget the day when CPS called me and said, ‘The mother has placed Band-Aids all over the child, took pictures, and is accusing your family of neglect.’ I immediately felt sick to my stomach. The thought someone would lie about our family completely blindsided me.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

We were also misled into believing children were adoptable, and then at the last moment, CPS would change their plans. We learned the legal system and CPS give the birth parents opportunity after opportunity when it hadn’t been necessarily earned. But we also were taught to remember we can only control what we do, what happens in our house, and most importantly, the love and normalcy we give the child. Despite those things, the moments and everyday life with these children make all the other background noise seemingly disappear. Seeing them reach milestones, despite the odds being stacked against them. Watching them form attachments to people and grow to love. Not to mention what it did within our own family.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

Our children’s love and compassion for these other children was an amazing surprise. They loved them as if they had always been there, without question. We fostered nine children in the 6 years we fostered. We were blessed to be able to adopt two of those children. Corbin was our first adoption. His story began like seemingly every situation involving CPS—like a roller coaster. He came to us as an adoption placement straight after the NICU for a 3-week stay for drug withdrawal. Interestingly, we had actually fostered his older brother, and through this experience, we knew Corbin would most likely be an adoption placement, because his mom had already had five other children taken away. The brother we had fostered ended up being adopted by a family out of state, who also had his half sister.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

Unbeknownst to us, CPS was also perusing this family to adopt Corbin. I still remember the phone call from CPS letting us know not only had they contacted the family to see if they were interested, but they were. My heart sank. For as much as we wanted him to be with his siblings, our hearts were thinking he was already ours. The next months were hard. We corresponded with the family out of state, sending them pictures and updates so they could see and get to know Corbin. After the family received the redacted filed, they changed their mind. They told CPS they didn’t want him. CPS called us and asked us if we wanted to adopt him, and we immediately said, ‘Yes.’

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

While this whole situation was happening with Corbin, the other child we were fostering was having her own set of issues with her case. This foster child, a little girl, we had had since she was 2 days old. We were initially told the parents had no chance, rights would be terminated, and we would be able to adopt her. We naively believed CPS. Her case dragged on for 3 years with numerous mistakes by CPS and the judge. By the end of the 3 years, nearly everyone else initially on the case had left or been replaced, including the initial judge. The only real constant who remained was her father. He kept fighting, pushing, and eventually was awarded back custody.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

I remember walking out of court that day, and the bio dad running to catch up with my husband and I. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Jennifer, thank you so much for everything you’ve done to help me. You’re the only one I ever felt was on my side.’ I teared up, because as happy as this made me, the thought of losing my daughter pained me so deeply. The day she left was beyond bittersweet. Reunification is the ultimate goal and what we as foster parents truly want, but it still hurts beyond belief when they leave, especially when you let your heart begin to believe they are truly yours. God’s plans are always bigger than ours, though, and He knew what He was doing.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

Shortly after our foster daughter left, we found out through a friend of our children at school there was a medically complex baby, Jesus, who needed a forever home. All we knew about him was he was missing his frontal lobe, suffered from spasms, and everyone in his case, including doctors, were essentially waiting for him to die. The first doctor appointment I ever took Jesus to after he was placed with us was something I’ll never forget. The doctor waltzed in, swung his laptop open, turned it and himself to me, and said, ‘I hear you are going to adopt this little boy. Let me tell you about how little brain matter he has. I think you should have the whole picture.’ I was floored.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

He continued on and on. He didn’t paint a pretty picture by any means, but we still felt and knew the right answer was yes. He needed a family, and what we’ve come to learn is our family needed him. Because there were no parents involved, we were able to adopt Jesus and make him a part of our family. Life with Jesus is complicated, to say the least. His medical needs have grown since he was placed with us. He requires more equipment, nurses, and things we could never have imagined when we first said yes. Our family has grown through loving Jesus and rising to the challenges, despite his daily medical struggles and having a large family.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

Our journey, from the beginning until now, has not only shown us the strength of our family, but also how much we as humans need to have faith. Looking back, I’ve seen my spiritual growth grow so much through each child we’ve fostered. So much of this process is out of your hands as foster parents; faith is the only thing that can truly get you through.”

Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts
Courtesy of Jennifer Zetts

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jennifer Zetts of Houston, Texas. You can follow their 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.

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‘Please take me home.’ Watching her crumble at her birth mother’s feet almost did me in. We had to protect her.’: Couple adopts teen from foster care, ‘She deserves a safe place’

‘We can have one more. Only ONE.’ That’s all I needed to hear. We had 8 kids within the next month.’: Couple adopts four kids from foster care, ‘My heart was changed’

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