The Social Worker

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This essay originally appeared on the Respite Redefined Newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

The social worker is the person who decides the fate of our family.  She’s the one that presents us in the match meetings and to other social workers, telling them about our family and how we’ll be a great fit for children in the system.  No matter how much paperwork we complete, no matter how long I spend dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, no matter how pretty Future Children’s bedroom is, no matter how prompt or late I am in replying to her emails, it’s all up to her.  She’s the one that has spent just a few hours with us over the course of the last few weeks and now she’s supposed to know everything there is to know about us. And she surely does know a lot.

She knows all the practical things, like how many bedrooms are in our home and if our first aid kit is locked away.  She knows where we sleep and that one of my daughters has a pink room and the other has a floral comforter. She knows that our kitchen is tiny but our living room is large and we have a playroom in our basement.  She knows by looking around our house that I can’t keep up with the laundry situation and that I will most likely always have dirty dishes in the sink, but she also knows that even though we have two dogs I always have clean floors.  Well, mostly.

She knows a lot of things about our past, since that’s what helps shape our character into the humans we are today.  She knows I have one sibling and that my husband has three. She knows I’m from Texas and he’s from Maine. She knows I grew up in a large house with two teachers and that he grew up in a smaller house with a machinist and a secretary.  She knows that when I was five I wanted to be a teacher and she knows that I achieved that goal. She knows that he wanted to be a pastor when he grew up and that even though he isn’t one any longer he does like his current job. She knows that before we ever met we wanted a large family that we grew through adoption.

She knows a lot of things about our marriage.  She knows we got married on a Saturday night in the backyard of my childhood home where I wore a long dress and he didn’t wear a tie.  She knows that we were both young and naive about where life was going to take us. She knows we’ve moved eight times in the last nine years and she knows that we’re tired of moving.  She knows that year five of marriage was pretty hard and that we make sure to talk every Sunday night about our week ahead so we’re always on the same page about our schedules.

She knows that I’m the talker and he’s not.  She knows that I’m the worrier and he’s even-keeled.  She knows that I would love a baby at some point and she knows that neither one of us really and truly care what age our next child is.  She knows that we both love a good movie and a good book. She knows that I’m indoorsy and he’s outdoorsy but we both equally love staying in on a Friday night and going on a weekend camping trip.

She knows a lot of these things because we’ve had to tell her.  She’s had to pry and pry and pry into our lives until it was awkward for all of us.  That’s how she knows that we lost a baby during our first adoption process and it was really really hard.  It’s how she knows that getting our first kids put us both through post partum depression because we just weren’t expecting what was going to happen.  It’s how she knows that we persevered well through our first unemployment season but that the second one almost broke us. It’s how she knows that we’ve wanted our next future children for a long time but that we waited until we were in a good place to bring them home.

She knows all this and thus our fate rests in her hands.  She holds all the power over who will come next into our home.  She gets to present all this information in the match meetings and to social workers with the idea of making us out to be the perfect family for that kid.  And so I have to trust this woman, who I have known only a few weeks, who has only been inside our home a handful of times, who knows a lot about me even though I know nothing about her, and she has now become the most important person in my life.

How am I supposed to trust that this woman whom I barely know will get all the things right when presenting our family?  How can I trust that even though she knows hard things and practical things that she also knows the most important things?

Does she know that the love for my current children overpowers me sometimes?  When we’re out running errands I just sometimes stop and look at them and marvel at how beautiful they are and how lucky I am to have them.  Does she know that my current children have become my best little friends? Oftentimes I have tears streaming down my face because they have made me laugh so hard.  And I can always count on them to hangout with me when I’m bored and lonely.

Does she know that though I have never even met Future Children that my love for them overwhelms me?  My husband and I are often on our knees every night praying that they are loved and taken care of that they know they’re wanted even if they don’t know by whom.  Does she know that I cannot wait to cry laugh at their jokes? That I cannot wait to hangout with them when I’m bored and lonely?

Does she know that a part of me feels missing because I know someone is out there who belongs in our family but I do not know who that person is?  Does she know it kills me that I’m not the one kissing the boo-boos and bandaging the scrapes and feeding them cereal for dinner? Does she know how much I’m worry about them?  Are they getting enough sleep? Are they getting enough food? Are their clothes warm enough? Did they get what they wanted at Christmas? Is someone giving them enough hugs? Is someone wiping away their tears?  Are their teachers nice to them? Are they doing well in school?

I don’t know how to convey this to her, this social worker I barely know, without looking like an utterly crazy person.  So instead I tell her all the things she wants to know and then some–because I’m the talker–and I answer her emails as quickly as I receive them.  I struggle with getting the paperwork in on time but I make sure all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed. I try to make it look like I’m being patient, even though I wish I could drive to her office and stand behind her and look over her shoulder as she puts our family profile together.  I’m working really hard to trust this stranger to fight for our family and present us in the perfect way at the perfect moment, but it’s really hard.

I’m glad she doesn’t know how badly I bite my fingernails when I’m worried or how I bake cookies and stress eat the batter or how I’ve stopped sleeping at night.  No, those are things she doesn’t need to know. She just needs to know everything else.

Pride in the Wait

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Pride often sneaks up on me. It’s always there, of course, asleep on my shoulders, but I’m not always aware of it until it wakes up and rears its ugly head in my face.

It’s been over 400 days since we started our second adoption from foster care process and we still have not brought home our child.

There was that first match meeting which was postponed for months only for us to not get picked. Then there was the adoption disruption. And then, more waiting.

We took family photos and captioned them things like, “Last Christmas as a family of four” and “Last time we’ll ever do ___" and instead we’re ending a school year and heading into the summer and still there are only four of us.

This was not how it was supposed to go. We were cocky. We had planned our calendars. We had requested maternity/paternity leave. We had postponed our own trips, wanting to save outings for next child. We knew we’d have one or two more children by now. We knew 400 days would not go by until we were a family of 5 or 6.

And yet we’re still waiting.

The feelings of failure have been strong. More so with this second adoption than we’ve ever felt in our infertility journey. At this point in 9 years of marriage it’s almost expected we won’t have biological children. No, it’s less shameful for us to not have birthed a child than it is for us to not adopt again. I mean, we attend our foster care support group regularly! So we need stories to add. We regularly speak and preach about why people need to enter into foster care! Where is our new child(ren)?!

It’s been hard. Dejecting and hard. It’s hard not to take it personally when you’re not the family that’s picked for a child (even though we make it a point to pray and rejoice knowing that child has a family). It’s hard not to take it personally when an adoption disruption (even though we’re rejoicing in seeing fruit from that hardship). It’s hard to put non-refundable deposits on summer trips and vacation homes and use pen to fill our calendars with plans because shouldn’t we wait? The What If Game is repeated over and over in our home.

At the end I know it will be worth it. I know because I’ve walked that road and even though it was significantly shorter I know the outcome will be similar.

At the end it will be worth it. I just wish we knew when the end was going to be.

Redoing The Room

I can’t bring myself to redecorate The Room.

I said I wouldn’t. I said and promised my husband I would. not. touch. it. until Future Child(ren) came and made her decisions because I once decorated a Future Children’s room four times before Future Children actually came into existence. So I swore I wouldn’t redecorate this room, even though the closets are wonky and the paint colors are terrible.

But then She came in and made the decisions and things started progressing and got done and the beginnings got decorated and then She isn’t coming back here. She decided on lots of white with a little bit of gray and I was going to surprise her with twinkly lights suspended from the ceiling.

I can’t walk past that room without seeing the comforter and sheets we picked out for her in the doorway, so we keep the door closed. I can’t go in there without seeing things She tacked to the wall, so the husband finally took them down. I can’t see that room without seeing her so now I need to redecorate it, even though I promised and I swore that I wouldn’t.

But I have to redo it and strip it of it’s character so i don’t keep seeing her. It’s what must be done.

Adoption Disruption

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Originally published through my Respite Redefined Newsletter which you can sign up for here.

Little things remind me of her.  Fried chicken. Cat-eye glasses. Dutch braids.  Cookie dough ice cream.

Everytime I make an online order, I hear her teasing me.  I baked a bundt cake yesterday and had all the ingredients but the bundt pan, and I could have swore she jumped in the car with me for the quick Wal-Mart trip.  We went to Portland and I kept thinking Look at what she’s missing.

We were a family in thought only, but for a brief time we were a family.  Paperwork was just barely getting filed when everything disrupted. We knew each other for only a few short weeks but we knew each other.  We knew each other.  

I keep thinking she’ll call.  I’ll say hello and she’ll start with, “Okay, question…”  But she doesn’t. And I still have the phone reminder ringing every night at 7pm to call her.  I can’t turn it off.

I keep thinking she’ll write…but who even does that anymore?  Not teenagers, that’s for sure. I keep picking up cards wanting to throw them in the mail for her but I can’t.  It’s not appropriate.

In the world of foster care I have to love a child I barely know and think of her often without ever getting the right to know how she’s doing, how she’s coping.  Did someone sit with her? Hold her hand when she heard the news? Did she cry? Did someone hug her? Did she walk stone face to her room, demanding she was fine?

My first two kids are 9 and 6 now.  My first two respite babies who spent 10 days in our home and forever in our hearts are out there somewhere, too, and I think of them just as often as our forever children who are in our home.  Did they get adopted? Are they doing well in school? Does she still like giraffes? Does he still like legos?

The door to her room is always open.  I understand those people who have to close it off and not look at it, but the difference is she never slept there, never left her mark, so there’s no lingering presence.  It’s just empty. She had grand decorating plans for it, though. We went to get paint samples and taped them all over her room so she could decide what to paint the dresser and what to paint the walls.  

I went in there the other day to find the smallest dog curled up in the bedding.  I wonder if he misses her too? And saw that someone had ripped the paint samples off the wall–probably Kevin–there was a mark on the wall wear the tape had worn off the paint.  

Now we just wait for another phone call.  We impatiently wait for the phone to ring or the email to ding and we guiltily feel so calloused (as this foster care life has made us) to worry and mourn one child while immediately anticipating the next.

You get it.  I know you do.  You get the simultaneous stomach butterflies of expectation and heartburn of loss.  You get it. I get it.

It doesn’t get easier.  I don’t know how it can get harder.  It’s just there. A side effect, a symptom, like morning sickness that never ever fades away.

When We First Met

by Rachel Williams

 

I remember very clearly the day my heart became a mom to my son Randy.  It will forever be burned into my memory.

 

About five years ago my husband came to me and told me he felt like he was supposed to start teaching the youth group at our church.  I was adamantly opposed because with our 2 children and 1 foster child, we had three kids three and under, and he already worked evenings. Adding 4 + more evenings to our month where he was not home to help, felt like he was asking for the moon.

 

With a firm, “now isn’t the right time,” and a frustrated attitude about it all, Joey lovingly said, “this is something I know I need to do.”  And put his foot down.  If you don’t know my husband, you wouldn’t know that this is extremely out of character for him.  He rarely has strong opinions and he is always easy going.  He is he very opposite of me in every way!   Recognizing how much this must mean to him, I gave up the battle, and prayed for a better attitude.

 

Not even a month later, he came home and said, “I need to tell you about this boy in my small group.  I need us to pray about adopting him.”  He poured out our son Randy’s story to me: no longer living with his biological family, because of the unhealth of the environment, he bounced around between friends houses sleeping where he could, all while enrolling in the military and trying to finish high school.  He came to church every single weekend with his girlfriend’s family and he was always bringing new friends to youth group.  As soon as he graduated high school, he would be completely on his own. Without a driver’s license, a car, health insurance or any help getting into college, he was going to be sent into the world completely unequipped for it.  With an aching heart, he asked me, “will you please consider praying about adopting him?”

 

I recall not having an ounce of hesitation, my answer was an instant, “yes.”  Excitedly he asked, “you will consider praying about this!?” and my response was, “no, I am saying ‘yes we should adopt him.’”

 

My heart was 100% in.  No questions asked, I remember a transformation happening in my heart that day.  It can only be described as a burning into my heart with the desire and almost a need for him to become my son. I distinctly recall missing him, wishing with all my heart I could grab him into my arms and embrace him as my son.

 

I had not even met this boy.  I had never laid eyes on him, I had no idea what he even looked like. What I knew was that my husband wanted to be his dad, and my heart had already become his mom.

 

Within a week or two I was able to actually meet Randy.  He, of course, had no clue that we were praying about bringing him into our family, and we had no idea if he would even want that.  But the day I met him will forever be committed to my memory.  We had an unexpected weekend without kids, so with zero distractions, a boy appeared before me after church while I heard the words, “Rachel, this is Randy.”  He might as well have said, “Rachel, this is your son.” because everything I had already experienced in my heart, expanded times a thousand.  He had the same average build and stature as my husband, he had the same slender shoulders, he had the same color hair, and he even had a similar shaped face.  I felt like I was looking at the version of my husband from 17 year earlier, only with glasses.

 

He looked my like my husband’s son.  Somehow, someway, they stood there representing the perfect picture of father and son.  The way that Randy looked up to Joey, was written plain as day on his face.  He respected him, admired him, looked up to him, and he longed for a deeper connection with him.  I would find out a few years later, that Randy loved him so much, he actually considered asking if we would adopt him, all the while we were already praying about it.

 

It would be three more months before we would ask him to become our son.  Since this was such an atypical adoption, we felt it was wise to take extra time to pray about it.  During that time, the longing for him to join us, only grew more within our hearts.  The desire to scoop him up and love him as his parents became so intense that the 3 days we waited for his answer answer after we finally asked him, felt like agony. We could not even focus while we waited, so we simply prayed fervently he would say yes, if it were God’s will, that he would choose us.  

 

And he did!!

 

I have continued to marvel at the love that God poured into my heart for my son that day.  The 18 years I missed as his mom seemed to be instantly and abundantly impressed upon me.  It was almost physically painful to love him, because I loved him so deeply.  I am so thankful for that miracle, because truly, that is what it was, a miracle all wrapped up in a mother’s love.

When We First Met - Met You Twice

by Kimberly Gehm

 

We have a unique story when it comes to meeting our daughter for the first time because we were able to "meet" her twice. Promise was brought into care two times and each time was a different experience.

 

We were chosen to be her foster parents because we were adopting her older brother Malachi. At one of the final meetings for Malachi's case before it was moved to adoption, the case workers had mentioned that the birth mom was pregnant again and they will most likely be removing the baby once born. Upon hearing this, my husband, being the one at the meeting as I was home with Malachi, started to pray "Lord protect that baby girl." Crazy thing is no one knew the gender of the baby. No matter how hard my husband tried to refer to her as just "baby" he physically couldn't. He knew without a doubt that she was a girl. So. for the next few months we prayed protection and safety over that baby girl.

 

On August 6th 2014 a baby girl was born. She had some obstacles to overcome but overall she was healthy. Two days later she was brought to our home. Receiving that phone call we had been anxiously awaiting for the past several months and hearing that the baby is a girl was surreal. We were so excited that Malachi would get to meet his biological baby sister and potentially get to grow up with her. She was identical to him in every way as a newborn. A full head of dark hair and chocolate brown eyes. We could have dressed her up in his newborn clothes and not have known any differently. The next few weeks were perfect as a family of 4. I had loved this tiny baby as if I had given birth to her. Praying for a child for months before actually getting to meet her connects you in such a deep, indescribable way. She was ours in every single way.

 

Then on August 29, 2014 because of extremely unfortunate circumstances she was returned back to their biological mom. Services hadn't been worked, no progress had been made and we had to hand our baby girl over to an unsafe environment. The system had failed our baby girl and ultimately her big brother. We tried everything in our power to talk to the right people and fight it, but no one wanted to get involved. We were devastated. We debated closing our home all together but decided to take a small break before jumping back in.

 

In January 2015 we reopened our home and waited for our next placement. A month went by and not a single call, which was so strange because we were getting multiple calls every month before she was born, but we waited and prayed for the right child to be brought to us.

 

On February 5, we received the call we never expected. Our baby girl was brought back into care and they would be dropping her off within an hour. Talk about major freakout mode! The house was a wreck, we were a wreck and recovering from the flu all week. We were all napping when I got the call. We immediately jumped into action mode. Clean up the house and clean up ourselves; cry, or really sob, and prepare our hearts for what was about to happen. We were so thrilled for her to come back home, but heartbroken because a child doesn't come into care unless there has been trauma.

 

An hour later, the investigator came to our home carrying a dirty car seat that was covered in a blanket. She placed the car seat in the middle of the room. I took a deep breath as I lifted the blanket and underneath the blanket was this huge 6 month old girl. Big brown eyes, what little hair she had was starting to curl and she gave us the biggest smile. Our daughter was home. She had grown so much and looked so different. I honestly wouldn't have recognized her if it wasn't for the little blood vessel blemishes she had on her nose when she was born. They were still there. It is such a surreal feeling to see a baby that you love so deeply but is a stranger to you.

 

For the next several months we struggled to learn each other all over again and bring her back to health. Her case was a constant up and down battle and we thought we would lose her again. However on November 10, 2016 our precious little girl was forever sealed by adoption into our family.

 

The Day We Met

by Shelby

We were at church camp with no signal. Despite that fact, I had my phone strapped to me all day knowing at anytime we could get a call, a call that would make me a Mama. As the day went on, I realized it didn’t matter that my phone was attached to me, there was NO signal, so I finally stopped checking every five seconds. After helping teach a children’s class I decided to allow myself to see if, by chance, something had found a way to my phone.

There was missed call and a voicemail from our home finder! My heart leapt as I struggled to understand the message she left; it was broken up and choppy.  I was able to make out there was a placement for a baby girl. My heart was racing, this was it, I could feel it. This was that moment. The moment people talk about when they ‘just knew.’ I loved her before I even knew her name. I had never touched her, but my arms were already aching to hold her.

I found a spot where I could stand in just the right way to call Lindsey. I was able to get a bit more information amongst the static. A 6 month old baby girl was in need of permanent placement. It looked like this would go the route of adoption and we had been specifically asked for. I ran to find Boogie and I could feel the tears burning my eyes; we were going to be parents.

The next day we drove the 2 hours home and waited for the Social Worker to show up. I kept running to the window every time a car would drive down our road, crossing my fingers it would be her. When they finally showed up with a carseat and a small Walmart bag, I tried to act calm. I peeked around her carseat as they sat her on our dining room table. She was perfect. I asked to hold her, still unsure of how this all was supposed to happen, and gently scooped her up. She was calm and quiet, unbothered by all the newness around her. Her dark brown eyes skipped around and fixated on the light above us. It was surreal and almost like in that moment time had slowed down. As I was holding her and taking her in, the workers gave us the information they had. I tried to listen, but I was a little distracted with all the thoughts whirling in my head. About 5 minutes later, they were gone. And just like that, it was the 3 of us, the way God had planned it. I was finally with the child I had been writing to all these months. I wrote to her without knowing how old she was, where she was living, what her name was. All I knew was that I was writing to the child we were working for, worrying over, and praying for- Layla.

I may not have had morning sickness, labored in a hospital bed, or even known how much she weighed when she was born, but I was her Mama and I never, not even once, doubted that. You see, I may not have physically been sick because I had a little one growing inside me, but there were days that I was sick with worry about the upcoming trials and ‘what ifs’. Nope, I don’t have some great story to tell about my contractions and throwing ice chips at nurses. But I DID labor for her: home studies, background checks, paper work, hours of classes, paper work, interviews, oh and-more paperwork.

Even though I may not have those stories to tell you about the 9 months leading up to her birth, I have plenty to tell of the moments she grew in my heart. The times that I dreamed about her and talked about her before we had met, the endless nights we prayed for her to join us, the moments that she steals our hearts, over and over again. How when she calls for ‘mama’ it sometimes puts a lump in my throat because I’m so thankful it’s me she’s calling for, and it all goes back to that day- July 24, 2014. The day we met.