Why Are We Foster Parents?

black hanging bridge surrounded by green forest trees

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

J and I field questions about foster care frequently. I’ve hinted at why we do it here, but never devoted an entire post to the whys of it.

So, why foster care?

The short answer: it’s the path that shimmered for us.

Fostering is not for everyone. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and chaos; every time you think you’ve plumbed the depths of it, another twist and dip appears. The appointments and parental visits wreak havoc on your schedule and family routines. County workers are in and out of your home. And in addition to all that, there’s paperwork to fill out for every rash, illness or incident. It’s parenting under a microscope. There are few factors within your control, outside of disrupting a placement.

But, for J and I, not fostering would feel like Jonah running from Nineveh. While our bodies can still handle a little less sleep and our home has room, we’re following this calling.

Listening to people who’ve fostered or adopted, everyone has a moment where something lit up on their particular fork in the road. Something shimmered. They heard something. They dreamed something. And they said yes to the call.

To be blunt, for us, it felt like the least creepy way to start a family; for me, it’s one of the roads that felt the least like buying a child.

There’s no safety guaranteed on the path.  We know that. We’re working for reunification first, which is a path that leads away from our self-interest. If a child can’t be reunified, we’d love to talk further about adoption.

We know as we welcome children into our home: this is all temporary until otherwise notified. And even then, nothing is final till the dust settles with the all court hearings.

There’s risk. It’s painful. But, it feels like a place where our hearts and a child’s need meet together.

We intended to have biological children. With three miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy, and five and a half years of no pregnancies at all, that family ship seems to have sailed away without us. Maybe it’d be helpful to have a medical reason for the difficulty, but instead, like so many other devastating things in life, we have painful mystery.

For the kids coming through our home, life didn’t work out the way it was expected either. Something happened, and they need a safe place to grow while the adults in their lives work out some stuff.

Welcoming kids into our home is our way of making lemon meringue pie out of the lemons we and the kiddos hold. Lemon meringue is never my first choice for pie. Let’s be honest, it’s not even my second choice.

But, still we can make the best out of this life before us. We can’t always get what we wanted, but we can choose to make the best out of what we have.

What we have is open hearts and room in our home.

We’re not saints or superheroes or super strong. We feel extremely awkward when people try to tell us we are. We’re just regular people trying to build a life with what we have to offer.

As people ask how or why we do this thing that hurts, I’m reminded of a quote from  Richard Rohr’s book Simplicity, “On the spiritual path the enemy isn’t pain; it’s fear of pain.”

Maybe it’s a byproduct of my mom dying of cancer when I was a kid. Maybe it’s surviving the crucible of pregnancy losses and infertility. But, somehow, for me, the fear of the pain of goodbye is less compelling than the call to open my heart to kids.

We aren’t the children’s parents, but we can choose to care for them as best as we can for the time they’re with us. To paraphrase the artwork hanging in our dining room, together we can build a life we love.

And, we really love being foster parents, even as we still hope for a child to adopt some day.

Anniversaries and starting new chapters

Wally in the front seat

One of my favorite social media memories to pop up! Oh the joys of road trips with the Wall-nut!

 

Stories fascinate me. In particular, the way humans create narratives about our lives, linking the memories we frequently call to mind into a bigger picture about who we are.

And, so too, the role of Facebook memories in all this intrigues me. With over a decade on Facebook (When did I get that old?) , there’s oh so many memories to pop up on my “On This Day” feed. Photos of family meals, evenings out with J, vacations. The occasional odd story, like the spring when neighbor children stole about $600 worth of flowers out of the front yard in spite of repeated conversations with the parents (they didn’t care), buying the kids flowers for their own yard, and installing 6 foot deer fencing as a deterrent.

Then, there’s the anniversaries that catch me off guard — like last month’s reminder that it’s been five years since I stared up into the blinding operating room lights before the surgeons removed an ectopic pregnancy (and a ruptured fallopian tube along with it).

Five years since waking in a hospital bed, pregnancy hormones still flowing, no longer pregnant and minus a fallopian tube. The blonde, blue-eyed Jesus portrait on the wall mocked me as I laid there that night.

But five years down the road, the sorrow wasn’t wasted. Somehow that particular loss and my willingness to share my story cracked me open like chick emerging from eggshell.

I found myself in the writing. There was something profoundly healing in connecting with others in their own messy, broken middle stories. The middle story is where you can’t go back to where you were, but you’re not sure where you’re going yet or even how you’re going to pick yourself up to go anywhere else.

Somehow I forgave my body for not living up to my expectations, and I rejected the impulse to see my infertility as a badge of public shame.

Slowly two quiet convictions — that God doesn’t owe me for my years of good girl behavior and that God wasn’t punishing me with this crap hand of infertility — settled into my bones.

The ectopic pregnancy changed my life, like a punctuation mark. Recognizing the end of the sentence took a while (ahem…years). However, the process of story making as I grieved launched me into a whole new chapter, not just another sentence.

This past year we (finally) became foster parents after a long period of hemming and hawing and filling out stacks upon stacks of paperwork.

And in the busyness and routine of diaper changes, naps and bottles this summer, I forgot the anniversary as I happily went about the business of work and family life.

It’s the first time I forgot.

And then later that day Facebook reminded me of the anniversary as it highlighted my vague post about needing to find an easier way to get the hospital grippy socks that I love so much. (Yes, I love hospital socks. They’re fluffy, warm and non-slip — perfect for curling up on the couch with a book and a mug of lavender Earl Grey tea.) 

I felt horribly guilty for forgetting — as though somehow I failed as a mom for not thinking of the loss this year.

But now a month down the road, I think there’s a better explanation. It’s no longer a primary narrative in my story. It’s an important chapter, one that changed entire direction of my story, but it’s not the chapter I’m living anymore.

The stories I find myself sharing and the questions I’m asking have shifted to this new role of foster mother.

A new chapter began, and that’s the way life works. We die to things, thinking there’s no way life could go on after such an event. But, it eventually does, however much we might wish otherwise. Life springs up boldly, like weeds sprouted in concrete.

I’m so incredibly happy in this current chapter — even as I’m stressed, tired and generally overwhelmed like just about every person I know. Five years ago, I couldn’t see how the road would curve. I just kept putting one foot in the front of the other trusting the path to lead somewhere. Eventually, it did. And here I am now, still learning to simply put one foot in front of the other. Minute to minute. Day by day. Different questions, but similar process.

Making peace with awkward small talk

Trail of the Cedars

Every time I think I’m done writing about infertility, life throws surprises, and I find myself with new stories to process. Starting a job in a church and meeting loads of people brings up new rounds of questions for me.

I’ve been infertile for a decade, and I keep thinking I’ll finish working through my issues at some point. It’s naive, and, frankly, I should know better because grief doesn’t quite work that way. We get better at carrying it. But, still it sneaks up on us in cycles and waves.

I started writing in the middle of the story because I found myself aggravated by the published materials sanitizing the dramatic, painful middle with happy adoption endings or magic surprise babies. Finding material that helpfully wrestled the tension in the messy, broken middle was difficult. And so, I wrote my story here.

Mostly, I’ve made fragile peace with this story. This is my life. I can’t change it. And, there’s so much that’s wonderful in my life. Infertility is only a portion of my story — not the whole thing.

But, in the midst of getting-to-know-you small talk these days, I found myself with new waves of shame and deeper questions. Every time I think I figured out how to navigate the small talk game, like in this old post, the rules of the game change. Continue reading

Waiting with unanswered questions

081916 garden bench

A little over three years ago was the last time I saw a positive pregnancy test. After months of fertility treatments, the month we did nothing, I was pregnant.

And three years ago this week, the dream crashed and burned at our ultrasound appointment, which ended in me being whisked off for an emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy (and a fallopian tube).

Looking back at the blog posts then, I see my hope that God could bring about a pregnancy shrinking as I took stock of my new reality. I found myself asking: “What happens to faith in the midst of unanswered questions?” Continue reading

On Gratitude and Turning 35

072615 mug

Birthday mug

J caught my interest in this knobby gray mug while we wandered through a fair trade shop in Minneapolis. I adore handmade artisan mugs, but always talk myself out of buying them as I reflect on the regular, useful mugs already taking up real estate in our cupboard. I eye the quirky mugs longingly, get a tiny amount of sticker shock, and walk away responsibly. Continue reading

Making lemon meringue pie out of sour lemons

Easter Lemon and Limes

I wanted a different life story. The vindication story. The one where God shows up, makes me victorious and I get to move on celebrating. The one where the miracle happens and I no longer feel forsaken. The one where I wasn’t left holding the short straw.

Maybe the days just before Easter are an excellent time to process this. I’m not the only one to have my story take an unexpected (and unwanted) turn. Continue reading