The emotional risks were daunting. But foster adoption was still the best option for me.
By Rosemary Shulman
"Anyone in this class who wants to adopt will be able to adopt.” That was the first thing the social worker said at my foster parent training class. It was exactly what I wanted to hear. For weeks, I’d watched Sunday’s Child after the 10:00 news. The program highlights a child in Los Angeles who is waiting for a family. I never missed a broadcast. And yet I couldn’t make the call; I was too scared to take a chance. Then I went to Alaska to work as a volunteer counselor at a weeklong summer camp for children with special needs. It was physically and emotionally exhausting, and I loved every minute. I left knowing that it was time to make my dream of becoming a mom a reality.
Back home the following Sunday, I must have dialed the number to Sunday’s Child a hundred times before I had the nerve to complete the call. A week later I was sitting in an orientation meeting for prospective adoptive parents. They said I would be notified when the next training began. Eight weeks later I was still waiting.
The Fost/Adopt Option
When I mentioned my desire to adopt to a colleague, she told me that she was pursuing adoption through a different route—fost/adopt. Children available for placement in a fost/adopt home have been determined to be less likely than others in the foster care system to return to their birthfamilies. Fost/adopt parents have an open relationship with the birthfamily. Birthparents are counseled about their options and are advised of a plan for adoption as the alternative to reunification.
I learned that 4,000 children in foster care in Los Angeles become available for adoption each year. And with fost/adopt, I didn’t need to own a home or have $30,000 in the bank to become a parent. I decided to give it a try, and within three weeks I was attending MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) classes with other prospective parents. The themes of attachment, abuse, neglect, and the loss a child feels when placed in foster care were daunting at first, but later my group agreed that every parent should be required to attend classes like this. I concluded that I could handle the possibility of giving a child back—though I hoped I would never be faced with that.
I completed my application and homestudy straight away, and was officially placed on the “open homes” list. My house has one bedroom, so I was certified for one child, aged newborn through six months. Three weeks later I was Renee’s mom.
She arrived dressed in a hospital-issue undershirt and diaper, tightly bundled in an infant carrier. As I took her out of the carrier and held her, three of my friends stood beside me. I kept thinking, “Oh my God, I’m a mom. Now what do I do?” After everyone left, I fed her and changed her into her first pair of pink teddy bear pajamas. I admired her ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. We spent the next two weeks visiting our pediatrician, interviewing daycare providers, and coping with sleepless nights. I’d never been happier.
Three days after I returned to work, I received the call: Renee’s great-aunt had been granted custody. My heart was in pieces when I went home that night to pack her little undershirts and sleepers. I wrote a letter to her family explaining that she liked to fall asleep on her side, that she was a good burper after two ounces of formula, and that tickling her toes made her smile. The next day I drove Renee to the agency. Her family hugged me and thanked me for taking good care of her, and I said good-bye to my little girl.
I had just begun to heal after the loss of Renee when I received a call from my social worker. A baby boy was waiting. He had been born nine weeks premature and was now ready for discharge from the hospital. The social worker didn’t know whether he would be a permanent adoption placement. For me, the overwhelming desire to be a mom outweighed the uncertainty.
Justin was three weeks old and barely tipped the scale at four pounds, yet he was surprisingly healthy, with no obvious special needs. He needed to be fed every two hours, and he spit up every time he ate. I constantly worried that he wasn’t receiving enough calories. Sleep deprivation became a way of life. At one point, as he lay in my lap sucking his bottle, newborn Pampers up to his armpits, I fell asleep. I woke to a screaming baby, soaked with formula. I couldn’t tell if he was madder about being wet or about having missed dinner. I learned that Justin was a fighter. If he was willing, so was I.
In two months he gained six pounds, and we became a team—mother and son. Then, once again, the dreaded call came. A great-aunt had been found who was willing to take custody. Another great-aunt? It wasn’t any easier to let go this time.
Even before Justin was gone, the agency called again. They had another baby boy. He was healthy and weighed over eight pounds—huge, after Justin!—and had no family members willing or qualified to take him. He would likely be placed for adoption. I had wanted a few weeks’ break before I went back on the open homes list…but before the social worker had finished giving me the details, I knew I would say yes.
Matthew came to live with me on July 20, 1999. Today, at three years, his bright eyes, beautiful smile, and curious nature make my life a wonderful adventure. We love each other beyond reason. Some nights I find myself standing beside his bed just to listen to him breathe. And he is here to stay; our adoption ceremony was held on June 19, 2001.
There are more than 100,000 children in foster care in this country who are legally free for adoption right now. There is minimal or no cost involved in adopting through the foster system. Single parents are welcomed. For families who have their hearts set on a newborn—well, I had three placed with me in a matter of months.
Adopting through the foster care system wasn’t easy; then again, neither are the other ways of adopting. I had several court continuances over the same issue—incomplete paperwork. Yet, despite the aggravating delays—and the initial uncertainty—I will do it again. I treasure my memories of the time, however brief, I spent with my first two babies. I was there for Renee’s first smile, Justin’s first splashes in his bubble bath. Matthew took his first steps into my arms, and he is waiting for me with a big smile at the end of each day.
Rosemary Shulman lives with her son, Matthew, in Los Angeles.
How to Adopt from the Foster Care System
For an overview of the steps involved in adopting a child from the U.S. foster care system—or to request a list of local resources—visit www.adoptuskids.org.
Copyright 2002 Adoptive Families magazine. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
© 2013 Adoptive Families. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited.