A love letter written by Chrissie and Brian to Olivia, the little girl they adopted through foster care.
We didn’t know what we were getting into when we started. At first it was just a nice thought about a way to grow our family. That changed over the course of all the training. You weren’t born yet, but we spent over a year going to classes to learn codes, rules, regulations, best practices, and all about the court timelines and complications that come with foster kids. We would go home and try to digest it all while we figured out how to lock up our knives (one of the many adjustments you have to make to your home to be certified). When we started the process to foster, we just thought about the kids. The classes reminded us that there are birth parents, judges, social workers, and attorneys. People with their own stories that would intersect with ours in unanticipated ways. People who are a part of your story. You had more people loving you and fighting for you than most children do when they are born.
By the end of the training — just before you were born — we knew a bit more about what was coming. Theoretically, at least. It wasn’t just about having a new child in our home. We were stepping into something complicated, painful but still sacred ground. We knew we weren’t at the center of all this. It’s important that you know that.
“We knew we weren’t at the center of all this. It’s important that you know that.”
The phone call was surreal. It was sort of like finding out you’re pregnant, having the baby, and bringing her home all in less than three hours. When they called us about you, they told us that you were a long-term placement, a “fast track” adoption. Three hours later a hospital social worker dropped you off in a car seat and told us that all of the details we heard over the phone were wrong. You had family that was going to take you, they just had to get things ready.
We thought we’d have you for the weekend, so we settled in to life with a newborn. Our other kids, Quinn and Wes, loved you immediately. We did too. After the frenzy of figuring out how to make the doctor appointments, social worker appointments, lab work appointments — and getting accustomed to bottles and infant formula — we felt like your parents.
The weekend stretched into a few weeks. That turned into a few months. Your mother moved heaven and earth to get you to all the special appointments you needed, making phone calls to four different government agencies that never seemed to communicate with each other, just so that we could do what those agencies mandated us to do. She pushed, and pushed, and pushed to do right by everyone, and especially by you. Mother love is its own kind of fierce.
The hardest part was not knowing if she really was your mother. That’s one of the big challenges that no one tells you about: you exist in a kind of limbo. As we became pros at making formula, as we watched you grow, as I felt you wrap your little fingers round mine and listened to you babble and made you laugh — were we doing these things with our daughter, our baby girl? Were these part of our story? Or were these events you’d never remember as you grew up holding someone else’s hand?
In a few years, would we be strangers to you?
People were at our house constantly. Or at least it felt that way. Social workers, therapists, and more crowded the schedule. We liked them all, and we got very friendly with a few. But no one seemed to know what was going on. If they did, they didn’t tell us. Maybe they couldn’t. As foster parents, no one was really required to give us any information, so what we got was usually late, sometimes wrong, and always felt like receiving a favor. Were you leaving? Were you staying?
Then, the first visit. Out of the blue we were told that the court wanted you to see someone from your extended family for a day. We were to go to the mall, hand you to someone we’d never met, and leave.
That might have been the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. For the six hours you were gone, it felt like we had been punched in the gut. It was hard to eat.
Thankfully, your biological family is wonderful. Language barriers, cultural barriers, and the general weirdness of the situation all conspired to make it hard. But your little face somehow brought everyone together. Not every foster story is like that. We’re blessed that ours was.
More months pass. A couple more visits, each one hard but easier than the last. You’re more beautiful each day. Precocious, boisterous, loud in every sense of the word. We love you as our own flesh and blood, we love you like we love our own body, we love you like the beating of our heart.
It was June when we heard that some of your family was ready to take you and raise you. We wouldn’t be your parents. We would be strangers.
It’s important for you to know that we didn’t feel entitled to you, and we never felt an ounce of resentment towards your family. We didn’t want there to be a choice. We wanted somehow for us all to be your parents, all to love you, all to have that smile in our lives. For six months we had found you laughing in your crib. How could we wake up one day and find that crib empty?
“We wanted somehow for us all to be your parents . . .”
Each day after that we had to chase away the specter of what was coming. Every diaper change, every smile, every meal…we loved you and tried not to get ahead of ourselves. It’s not helpful to try to grieve ahead of time.
We prayed a lot. We prayed we could adopt you, but more than that we prayed that God would put you in a place He knew was best. One time in particular, we sat on the couch and told God that, even if we had to watch a social worker take you out our door never to come back, the chance we had to love you was worth it. You were worth all of it, all of the grief, all of the pain that would come. And we were privileged to have you as long as we did. It hurt to pray and it hurt to say out loud, but we meant every word.
You are still worth it.
A month later, your family changed their mind. It turns out they love you that way too. They were going through their own kind of grief, and I hope they know we appreciated that. I’ll try to tell them on Saturday when we get together. You have a lot of people who think you are worth it.
A lot more has happened over the past few years. There have been many court hearings, and a lot of red tape. There were more milestones, more visits, more laughs. You were honing your tantrum skills then. You also had me wrapped around your finger.
Then one day, we went to the courtroom for the first time knowing exactly what would happen. We raised our right hand, took a deep breath, and adopted you. Inside of ten minutes, you became our daughter. It felt like the law was just catching up to what we already knew. Even if things had ended differently, you would have never stopped being our daughter. Not to us.
“We raised our right hand, took a deep breath, and adopted you. Inside of ten minutes, you became our daughter.”
We still haven’t processed the whole thing. The fact that there are no more hearings, no more decisions that can take you away. The fact that we get to take you to your first day at school, and help you learn to ride a bike, and watch you grow into an adult.
I think about how one day you might take in a child too. Your story might not end the same way. Foster care means loving with no guarantees. It’s hard to do that. But it’s worth it. It is very, very much worth it.
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Brian and Chrissie are parents to Quinn, Weston, and Olivia. They now also have Caroline, Olivia’s sister, who they are hoping to adopt as well.