Prior to our foster care journey, my husband, Rene, and I were young professionals. We went to work, we went out to eat when we wanted, we went to movies when we wanted, and we traveled where and when we wanted. Our favorite destination was the Caribbean. We did not do diapers, runny noses, bottles, or play dates. But I loved my job as a therapist for children in the foster system, and I convinced both of us that we needed the experience of being foster parents. I reassured Rene that the goal of foster parenting is for the children to go back home to their parents. We will not be adopting, I told him. (I had always felt the tug of adoption, but imagined that we would adopt internationally, someday.)
Rene and I finished our classes and accepted our first placement the day we were licensed. We made our decision during a dinner out, as we didn’t cook at the time (how things have changed!). We would be taking care of a two-year-old girl and her baby brother, Bella and Nic. Their last placement had disrupted due to her primal fits. Rene was concerned about whether we could handle this behavior. Didn’t he know he was married to a child therapist? I dealt with children all day, sometimes for an hour at a time. I told him I could handle it. I’ll get back to that later.
I’ll never forget that first trip to the grocery store with Nic and Bella. I proudly pushed my two kids in the cart to the baby aisle. Have you seen the baby aisle? What did they mean level 1, 2, 3, 4 baby food? I began to think it was some sort of government experiment. I didn’t know what level my baby had achieved. Maybe I should just feed him pretzels…. Fortunately, I was able to call the wife of one of Rene’s coworkers, who got me straightened out.
Next up was the diaper section. Here I was faced with five sizes. I saw that they went by weight, but the baby hadn’t come with a tag saying how much he weighed. I thought about taking him to the produce aisle, but then settled on the largest, since we are from Texas, where bigger is always better. Let me give you a tip: bigger is not better when it comes to diapers. We had a lot of leakage before I figured out the correct size.
Over the next few months, we were spit up on, vomited on, peed on, and changed thousands of dirty diapers. And that was just the start of our initiation into parenthood.
Around the third month, Bella’s behaviors started to escalate. We never knew what would trigger her fits. She was eventually diagnosed with PTSD, which is common in children in foster care. I remember sitting in our room one night, calling every therapist I knew. I was doing everything I told foster parents to do. They all said I was doing the right thing, and to hold on. That support system was invaluable.
Because this was supposed to be a short-term placement, Rene and I figured we could take a trip to St. Lucia after the children went back home. Well, St. Lucia will have to wait. A year after Bella and Nic were placed with us, the parental rights of their birth parents were terminated. Both parents relinquished to us. It was bittersweet. By that time, I loved my children so much that the fear of losing them took my breath away. However, I had also grown to love and respect their biological parents. They were trapped in unhealthy cycles. At the final court hearing, they hugged me and cried.
Bella and Nic have totally changed from the children they were when they were first placed. Bella is no longer the small, shell-shocked child she once was. She dances, sings, swims, and plays soccer. Nic could barely move when we got him, and didn’t cry or interact. Now he is into everything! He is the happiest, most loving child I have ever met, though I may be biased. As adoptive parents, we were not there at our children’s birth, but as foster parents, we got to see their re-birth.
And what do these two not-as-young professionals say about the life changes? Yes, sometimes we think about St. Lucia, but most of the time we are enjoying cuddles, kisses, hugs, and giggles. I don’t mind wiping noses, changing diapers, or even the lack of sleep. I am a mother, and I know I am where I need to be.