The Story Behind the Cover Photo: “The Words I’ll Never Forget”

“Looking back on this picture, I see a child who was confused, but yearning for what we all want and need: security, a family, and love. The picture is about hope.”

A mother plays with her son through foster adoption on the beach and shares the adoption story behind the photo

This photo was part of the first professional family shoot we took after Austin entered our home at three-and-a-half years old.

After several unsuccessful IVF cycles, my husband and I decided to move forward with adoption in January 2016. While we knew that international adoption was not the best option for us, due to the average cost, we were also not interested in fostering. Then we learned about a waiting child program in our state that would allow us to adopt across state lines. This would increase the likelihood that we could be matched with a child whose parental rights had already been already terminated, though it coudln't guarantee it.

I must preface the rest of our story by mentioning that I'm a very organized and persistent individual...but our adoption process was a miracle!

The day we completed our home study, four months later, I immediately posted our "family marketing sheets" on two national adoption sites. I was cautioned that many families will submit their profiles for more than 100 children on these sites, and most families will wait years to get a call or even be considered—but within three days, we’d received two calls from caseworkers.

The first child was from our area. The parental rights had not been terminated, but were moving in that direction. My husband and I didn't want to risk it. We had heard the horror stories of children leaving foster homes they had been in for years.

The second child was a boy in Iowa. He lived on the border of the state and the caseworkers often looked at Illinois for more options. They gave us a two pages of information that included a dark, scanned photo of a small child, who looked younger than three. In the picture he wore pajamas with men’s cowboy boots. He was adorable. We had been taught to read between the lines, but the profile looked perfect.

The caseworker asked us if we could come to Iowa at the end of the week for a 9 a.m. interview. They already had other prospective parents interviewing and wanted to move ahead quickly. My head was spinning. I had a work event that Thursday and I called in sick. That week I researched all the questions they could ask us, and that we wanted answered, and we prepped for the interrogation.

We drove to Iowa with a singing Elmo, a White Sox soft baseball set, and a small booklet of photos of us and our families.

The interview went well—though I don’t think they’d been prepared for me to ask them more questions than they asked me! We were open to two children from birth to seven years old of any ethnic background. At the end of the interview, they asked, if we would consider interviewing for another child or sibling set in Iowa if we weren’t selected for this little boy. We said "Yes," but my heart sank. Were they thinking we weren't the ones for this child? I pressed that this child, Austin, seemed perfect for us. From the picture we saw, he even looked like us.

I left the office with my husband shaking and confused. I was convinced that we were not going to be this child's parents. We drove back to Chicago in silence.

That Sunday was Mother's Day. We went to Mass and we prayed. Then the priest invited all the mothers to the front of the church to be blessed. I screamed inside. Weren't they already blessed?! I stood up with tears streaming down my face, turned toward the aisle, and summoned my husband to follow me as I stomped out of the church and cursed God.

The next day, life went on. I immersed myself in work. But then, late in the day, I received a call. I was ready. I heard the words I would never forget, that no adoptive parents could ever forget: "You have been selected to be Austin's parents."

We were invited to meet him and have him stay with us in Iowa the next weekend. We immediately went out and bought a ridiculously expense bed set and car seat.

We stayed in a condo-like hotel in order to make him feel better about the environment. The caseworker drove up and carried this small child into the lobby. She sat down with us and gave us the paperwork and numbers to call in case anything happened, and that was it. She had my husband walk outside with her and I was left with a crying child in my arms.

I took Austin to our room and he calmed down. I told him he was staying with us for the weekend and we would have lots of fun, starting with lunch. Then we took him to Target to get some necessities and toys. He selected a motorized tractor to ride on. How could we say no!

That weekend was wonderful, and we bonded instantly. On Sunday, we took him back to his foster family. It was one of the hardest things ever, to leave your new child behind. Only then could I understand how hard it must have been on his foster mother.

We visited him again the next weekend and then, the following weekend, were allowed to take him back to Chicago for a long, 10-day visit. We had to bring him back to Iowa to check in, but the private adoption agency had pushed the interstate paperwork along quickly—and that was it. Austin was in our home permanently. Six monthly later we adopted him.

Austin is now five years old and just started kindergarten this fall. Looking back on this picture, I see a child who was confused, but yearning for what we all want and need: security, a family, and love. The picture is about hope.

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