The story begins with infertility.
Like 1 in 10 couples, Brandie and her husband struggled with infertility in the early years of their marriage. Brandie shared that they experienced a miscarriage in 2005, and she had known for years that she might have fertility issues after being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in high school. After the miscarriage, she received another potentially devastating diagnosis: cervical cancer. Despite that, she says they “could not give up hope of parenting.”
Brandie shared: “In 2008, we began fertility treatments, which failed miserably and even nearly cost me my vision! Several surgeries later and way more money than I’m willing to add up, we stopped and decided that we’d look into foster care. Having already researched domestic and international adoption, we just couldn’t fathom the costs involved. We knew we had love to give, and that there were children who needed homes … if adoption from foster care was in the cards for us, we would be grateful. If not, and we were only there in these children’s lives for a little while, we’d be thankful that we had the opportunity to help them in any way we could.”
And then ... fate stepped in.
Brandie and John bought a home in September 2014, and soon thereafter decided that if they were going to pursue foster care, it was now or never. In a statement that many foster parents will LOL at (and immediately relate to), Brandie said that she “made the call to the DCS KIDS hotline and left a message inquiring about the steps to begin. Over five years later, that call has yet to be returned!”
Then some kind of fate stepped in. In December 2014, John’s aunt called and was absolutely hysterical because her grandson had been removed from his home by Child Protective Services and she was struggling to find family members who could take the boy in — would they be open to helping? Brandie and John immediately agreed.
“We said yes and agreed that this was definitely meant to be — I had made that unreturned phone call just two weeks prior. Once they gave us tentative approval, we became kinship foster parents and were able to pick him up on January 2, 2015. This child would be our fast track into foster care approval, and once he went home, we could begin helping others!”
The challenges were numerous and endless.
Becoming a foster parent is a process in and of itself. There are training classes, and the home study approval process can feel exhausting and endless. On top of that, Brandie and John faced a whole other hurdle while trying to fast-track their approval: working with the Department of Children’s Services (DCS).
“Because we were what they call an ‘expedited kinship placement,’ we had the child in our home while going through the approval process. This meant not only were we brand-new parents of a 6-month-old with ZERO prep time compared to having a baby organically, but we also had multiple agencies in and out of the house scrutinizing our every move. We were childproofing and scrubbing everything way more often than we were accustomed to, learning what it meant to have a baby, dealing with child care, all the normal ‘well-baby’ checks PLUS the ones DCS requires, WIC appointments, visits from our home’s caseworker (FPSW), visits from the child’s caseworker (FSW), and visits from the home study writer since we still weren’t approved. The list seemed never-ending.”
Just when they thought it was OK, the baby was removed from their home.
Right before her family was officially approved to be kinship foster parents, Brandie and John learned that the child in their care was going to be removed from their home — essentially because of a “perfect storm of miscommunication.”
The short version goes something like this: Each state, and sometimes each county, has different rules about how foster families store medication and weapons. For Brandie and John, a simple question about firearms turned into a bit of a fiasco that resulted in their foster son being removed for a few days, despite every effort on their part to answer the questions they were asked.
Brandie shared, “That has to be the single biggest challenge [we have dealt with]. We almost weren’t approved to be traditional foster parents because of it! Fortunately, our new worker saw the ridiculousness of what we’d been through and immediately changed us over to traditional once we’d adopted our kinship placement.”
They never expected that adoption from foster care would actually happen.
Despite what you might sometimes hear, adopting through foster care isn’t actually very easy, and it rarely goes smoothly. Brandie and John were stunned that adoption became an option, especially since their foster son was their first placement. Also, they fully expected that he would go back home with his parents, since the goal of foster care is family reunification whenever possible.
“Truthfully, part of me wishes he’d have been able to go home. I was not prepared for the mixed emotions, for mourning the losses that both he and his parents suffered in order for me to gain a child. I wish we’d never struggled for approval, but I feel like even that was fate because I can be a better mentor to other foster parents thanks to all we’ve dealt with.
“I was surprised that it took as long as it did once everyone realized the parents weren’t going to try to get him back, but I also wish everyone had tried harder to reunify. That’s not to say I don’t love him or that I am not thankful to be his mama, just that I respect the loss and wish that it wasn’t a necessary part of my being his mama.”
Once it was approved, the adoption happened fast.
After being in foster care system for over two years, the family was stunned when their foster son’s adoption date was swiftly set. Brandie said, “I was super surprised by how quickly we got an adoption date once everything was final! From the time we got the appellate court’s decision to deny the appeal of the termination of parental rights to the day we adopted was six days! Head-spinningly fast. For that, I wish we’d had more time to prepare. He’d been in care about 2.5 years, though, so it was overdue.”
Happily, their family members were all thrilled.
No matter how you bring a child into your life, family members may not always be supportive, and this seems doubly true when you are fostering and/or adopting a child. Luckily for Brandie and John, both sides of their family were thrilled with the news.
“We both come from blended families, and there are several adoptions on both sides. I’ll never forget the most supportive one being my dad. My brother was expecting a baby, and I’d been wondering if they’d show a difference between my son and his child, but I hadn’t voiced it. My dad’s family had always shown a difference between me and the blood relatives, so I was bracing myself. He pulled me aside one day and said that he wanted me to know he had always loved me like his own and that he’d always love my kids as his own because that’s what we are: his … and that it didn’t matter how many kids my brother had, my son would always be his first grandson and nothing would ever change that. Those words meant the world to me!”
After adoption, they decided to be super open about everything with their son.
First off, celebrations were in order. Brandie says, “We made a HUGE deal of adoption day — we call it [Last Name] Day. We had special shirts made, and invited as much family as could come.” After that, she and John became dedicated to being as open as they can about foster care and adoption.
“As he’s grown, we’ve built on the conversation, explaining his first mom and dad and that we are Mama and Dada but that he grew in her tummy. It helped to explain some of his history when we brought in our first traditional foster child about six months after adoption day. We were able to explain that he’d done some of the same things as the new baby: going to visits, going to court, and having ‘friends’ (social workers) come to see him at home.”
But being honest doesn't mean it's easy.
While they have always been honest with their son about his journey to their family, it hasn’t always been easy to hear or respond to his questions. “The moment his lip trembled and he asked me did he have to go back was one of hardest conversations I’ve ever had, especially with a 3-year-old. We had been talking about how the baby wasn’t meant to be with us forever and we needed his mama to get better so he could go home. I had to explain that we were his home, and he was never ever leaving!”
In the end, honesty is the best policy.
Brandie went on to say that the family is getting ready to adopt again. “We are nearing adoption of our second placement, the baby who helped us explain foster care to our adopted son, and that has helped us further explain adoption to him, as well! We also maintain as many healthy bio relationships for both boys as possible so that they can know where they come from and have connections that we couldn’t possibly give them ourselves.”
She has advice for those considering adoption for their own families.
I couldn’t let Brandie go without asking her an important question: What advice do you have for other families who are exploring adoption? As ever, Brandie had a great response.
“Patience is a virtue, but thoroughness is probably your best friend! There is so much paperwork, and so many hoops to jump through whether you’re adopting from an agency, privately, or through the foster care system like we did. The old adage ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time’ is how you should approach adoption! Don’t get in a hurry and know that when the time is right (and so is the paperwork!), it’ll happen.”