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Fostering Love

Despite the emotional risks, foster adoption was the best option for me.

by Rosemary Shulman

"Anyone in this class who wants to adopt will be able to adopt." That was the first thing the social worker said to my foster parent training class. Until then, I'd been too scared to pursue my dream of becoming a mom. It was exactly what I wanted to hear.

The fost-adopt option

When I mentioned my desire to adopt to a colleague, she told me that she was pursuing fost-adopt. Children available for placement in a fost-adopt home have been determined to be less likely than others in the system to return to their birth families. Fost-adopt parents have an open relationship with the birth family. Birthparents are counseled about their options and are advised of a plan for adoption as the alternative to reunification.

With fost-adopt, I didn’t need to own a home or have $30,000 in the bank to become a parent. I decided to give it a try, and within three weeks I was attending MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) classes with other prospective parents. The themes of attachment, abuse, neglect, and the loss a child feels when placed in foster care were daunting at first, but later my group agreed that every parent should be required to attend classes like this. I concluded that I could handle the possibility of giving a child back—though I hoped I would never be faced with that.

I completed my application and homestudy straight away, and was officially placed on the “open homes” list. Three weeks later, I was Renee’s mom.

She arrived dressed in a hospital-issue undershirt and diaper, tightly bundled in an infant carrier. I kept thinking, Oh, my God, I’m a mom. Now what do I do? I fed her and changed her into her first pair of pink teddy bear pajamas. I admired her 10 perfect fingers and 10 perfect toes.

Three days after I returned to work, I received the call: Renee’s great-aunt had been granted custody. My heart was in pieces when I went home that night to pack Renee’s little undershirts and sleepers. I wrote a letter to her family explaining that she liked to fall asleep on her side, that she was a good burper after two ounces of formula, and that tickling her toes made her smile. The next day I drove Renee to the agency. Her family hugged me and thanked me for taking good care of her, and I said good-bye to my little girl.

Starting again

I had just begun to heal after the loss of Renee when I received a call from my social worker. A baby boy was waiting. He had been born nine weeks premature and was now ready for discharge from the hospital. Justin was three weeks old and barely tipped the scale at four pounds, yet he was surprisingly healthy, with no apparent special needs. The social worker didn’t know whether he would be a permanent adoption placement. For me, the overwhelming desire to be a mom outweighed the uncertainty. We became a team—mother and son. Then, once again, the dreaded call came. A great-aunt had been found who was willing to take custody. Another great-aunt? It wasn’t any easier to let go this time.

Even before Justin was gone, the agency called again. They had another baby boy. He would probably be placed for adoption. I had wanted a few weeks to recover before I went back on the open homes list, but before the social worker had finished giving me the details, I knew I would say yes.

A family—forever

Matthew came to live with me on a hot day in July. Now three years old, his bright eyes, beautiful smile, and curious nature make every day of my life a wonderful adventure. We love each other beyond reason. And he is here to stay: our adoption ceremony was held just under two years after his placement.

There are more than 100,000 children in foster care in this country who are waiting to be adopted right now. There is minimal or no cost involved in adopting through the foster system. Single parents are welcomed. For families who have their hearts set on a newborn—well, I had three placed with me in a matter of months.

Adopting through the foster care system wasn’t easy; then again, neither are the other ways of adopting. I will do it again. I treasure my memories of the time, however brief, I spent with my first two babies. I was there for Renee’s first smile, Justin’s first splashes in his bubble bath. Matthew took his first steps into my arms, and he is waiting for me with a big smile at the end of each day.

Rosemary Shulman lives with her son, Matthew, in Los Angeles.

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Comments

Fostering – DeGarmo Style! It is not often that you run across two people who are so productive that they make you wonder what you’ve spent most of your life doing, but are also so kind and gracious you always leave their company feeling as if you're a member of their family. John and Kelly DeGarmo are two such people that I am proud to claim as lifetime friends. I met them both when I was a young man, a boy really, of nineteen from Texas, while John was slightly older and from Michigan and Kelly was a youthful sprit from Australia, when a group of us from across the globe spent a year traveling across the US and Europe. As life would have it, a few years after we finished our journey John and Kelly decided to get married and continue their journey into the future together. There are only three jobs that I know of in this world that are both meaningful and more difficult than being a parent and they are in order of difficulty: being a step-parent, an adoptive parent, and being a foster parent. Anyone who has ever had the role of any one or combination will attest to my claim. However, the DeGarmo's wear three out of four of these hats on a daily basis. I, to this day, have trouble comprehending how they are able to have had three biological children of their own, have fostered children for 11 years, adopted one of their foster children and are now trying to adopt her little sister, as well. It is not uncommon to hear John report that there are 7-10 children at any given time in their home. Over the last 11 years they have fostered approximately 41 children; all have needed love and stability, all came with special and challenging needs. In one conversation I had with John he relayed some personal experiences regarding one special baby that came into their home. "You know, you always hear that crack-babies are always so difficult to take care of because they have all of these problems. But really, they don't hold a candle to the babies born to meth-addicted mothers.” “One meth baby we fostered was only a few days old when we he came to us. One of the withdrawal symptoms for the meth babies is severe sensory sensitivity. So for this baby, whenever it was awake, it couldn't stand to have anything touching it, not its diaper, not even the blanket it laid on. Consequently, any moment it was awake, it was screaming in pain. And it would scream, inconsolable, until it would finally pass out again in pure exhaustion. This went on day in and day out. It was tough on us all, and we would just have to take short shifts so that we could keep our sanity." That is the level of dedication and selflessness I am speaking of; a level of love and compassion that most of us simply do not have. Admittedly, I am much too selfish to open up my world to such levels of uncertainty and stress. But thank goodness there are people, I would dare say saints, like the DeGarmo's that do reach out and bring these children in need into their homes. Did I mention that John teaches at the local middle and high schools and both John and Kelly worked on and received their doctorate degrees after fiver years while being employed, while being full-time parents and foster parents? I asked Kelly once how they were able to do it all. "Well, we don't sleep much anyway," she said with a contagious laugh. "But what else are we going to do? We couldn't say 'no' and ignore these children." Similarly, when I asked John the same question he replied, "There are about 500,000 kids in foster care at any given time, and these children need a home. We feel that we are called to serve. No kidding, it is exhausting! But the need is too strong and I would feel selfish not to do it." John has published a good primer to foster parenting, Fostering Love, that speaks to the personal journey that lead them to their calling and provides honest experiences of fostering in an upfront, no-holds-barred look at what fostering is all about. His hope is that anyone who wants to foster or is in the process of becoming a foster parent will not only go into it with their eyes open, but also know that there is a whole community out there who have had similar experiences and challenges to what they are and will be going through. Additionally, John frequently travels across the US speaking to groups and communities about not only fostering, but also regarding the state of the foster care system. And both John and Kelly are very open and welcoming of people who want to know more about how fostering works on a daily basis. John will have another book coming out in July, The Foster Parenting Manual, which will be available via Amazon or through the publisher, Jessica Kingsley Publishers. And if all goes well, there will be a children's book, A Different Home: A Foster Child's Story, out around Christmas. In the first few pages of Dr. DeGarmo's book, Fostering Love, he has the following quote that I think defines them well and speaks to the faith and commitment that strengthens them both. "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in." -- Matthew 25:35 I surely have painted the picture that this couple can do no wrong and routinely walk on water. While they may do that in private, there have been no confirmed sightings to date. In all seriousness, we have all accomplished many great things in our lives and have gone the extra mile from time to time, but I’m certain it is safe to say that it is rare to find two such people who have committed their entire lives to fundamentally changing lives of others as this couple has. I have taken the time to share a little about the DeGarmo's because much of what you hear on the news today is not positive or enlightening and even the human interest stories are frequently veiled attempts at other political agendas. But today I wanted to tell you about two unsung heroes. I only ask that you stop by John's page, and if you would like, share some words of strength, encouragement, and appreciation. Take care my friends, and share a little love whenever possible. https://www.facebook.com/DrJohnDeGarmo

Posted by: Terry Hill at 7:39am Apr 30

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