We added a toddler to our family in 24 hours: our experience with foster-to-adopt

May 7 | Guest post by Kari
By: Sh4rp_iCC BY 2.0

When my husband and I were dating we talked about all kinds of things during the long drive from Seattle to my parent's house in Oregon. We talked about our lives together, our pasts, and our goals and hopes for the future. As things got more serious we starting talking about kids; how many we wanted, names we liked, that sort of thing. One thing we quickly realized was that we both had the desire to adopt. He only wanted to adopt kids, but I wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth. So, on one of those long car rides, we decided that one-day we would have a child together, and if we wanted to expand our family any more we would adopt.

Fast forward a few years and we were married with our son's second birthday approaching. We had decided that more kids were in our future, so soon after his birthday we started filling out the paper work. For a number of reasons we decided to pursue domestic adoption. We found an agency in Seattle that facilitates both foster-to-adopt (through the WA foster care system) and the placement of infants who are relinquished by their first-moms. This was the only agency I found that offered both (though I'm sure there must be others) and it felt like a good match for us. Nine months later we became a licensed foster home, created a book about our family for first-moms to look at, and then we waited.

About a month after we were licensed we were placed with an awesome six-month-old little girl. She only stayed with our family for two short weeks before she was placed with one of her family members, which was heartbreaking to say the least. But uncertainty is part of this process, so we moved forward the best we could.

About two months after that 18-month-old M was placed with us. Our family hung out in the foster phase of "foster-to-adopt" for almost exactly one year, which is fairly typical. Much to our joy and relief, we finalized our adoption of M in October 2012. Throughout this two-year process we learned and discovered a number of things. Some were expected; others have come as total surprise. Here are just a few:

It is totally exhausting and overwhelming to watch your family change before your eyes
The first day M was at our house went better than I imagined it ever would. He was happy, ate everything in sight, and went to bed easily. But that night after both boys were sleeping I sat down to talk with my husband and just started crying. It turns out that watching your family change in an instant is exhausting and overwhelming; even if that change is something you've been wanting and waiting for.

The first few months M was with our family were difficult; not horrible, just challenging and very exhausting. We were learning how to parent two small children (our son was three when M came), helping M figure out his whole new world, and helping our son understand why this little kid had suddenly appeared in our lives. I remember when my older son was just a few days old and I was up in the middle of the night nursing and thought, "What have we done? I am so tired. Maybe this was a mistake…" I must admit very similar thoughts ran through my head sometimes during those first few weeks after M's arrival.

Having no idea who is to expect is tricky.
Since we were open to both foster-to-adopt and infant placement, we had no idea who we would be matched with. All we knew was that the child would be two years old or younger. This made it difficult to plan and get things ready. We didn't know what size clothes or diapers we would need or what kind of toys would be appropriate. We talked about foster care and adoption a lot with our son, but it was difficult to figure out what, exactly, to tell him. Do we get books about having a new baby at home? Should we learn more about families of mixed ethnicity? When we found out a little 18-month old boy would be coming to our home we had less than 24 hours to wrap our heads around having two toddlers and what that was about to look like.

"He looks just like you!"
It happened again the other day. M and I were hanging out together, he came running toward me and I scooped him up while he threw his head back and laughed. A woman who was watching us smiled and said, "Wow, he looks JUST like you!" She was not the first person to say this. Not only do we share the same race, we share the same hair color and have similar features. I just smiled and kept on playing with him.

While these comments aren't a big deal, the fact that M looks like my biological child put me in a few awkward situations during the year he was in foster care with our family. Every once in a while someone I didn't know would be chatting with me and ask a question about M like "What's his favorite food?" or "Does he have any allergies?" When M first joined our family, I had no idea what the answers to these questions were.

When I took him for a haircut a few weeks after he was placed in our home the stylist asked if it was his first haircut, and I had no idea. When these things happened I felt like I had two options; 1) look like an idiot for not knowing some basic fact about a child everyone assumed was my son, or 2) tell a relative stranger he is in foster care and then have to deal with additional questions about this very personal situation ("Doesn't his mom want him? Why is he in foster care? Do you get to keep him?" etc). I rarely went into any detail about M's situation with people I did not know, which worked out fine but left me with the feeling that I was being slightly dishonest about my family, which felt a little weird.

Our foster-to-adopt experience was, over all, smooth and without much drama. It was also stressful, cloaked in uncertainty, and at times scary. I think deciding to add children to your family is always a leap of faith — there are no guarantees that things will go smoothly, or even work out at all. But, all that scary uncertainty fades into the background when I watch my boys play together, argue over toys, and call me Mommy.

We are a family, and I can't imagine it any other way.

  1. I LOVE this. I am both pulled to and anxious about the process of foster-to-adoption and to read this is so great. I am in a similar situation (our daughter is nearly two; we're thinking about a second) except that while my husband and I have talked about adoption and fostering, so far we have not taken any steps yet.

    May I ask you some brass tacks questions? Please feel free to ignore anything that you are not comfortable answering…I am just so curious about this and am trying to figure out if it's the right thing to do for our family.

    What were the costs involved in both the foster-to-adopt and the relinquishment processes? In the time that you were a foster parent, did any first-moms contact you?

    Were you or your husband able to be home fulltime during the transition when your son first joined the family? I worry because we both work fulltime and I don't see how one of us could take off work for long periods on such short notice. Based on your experience, is foster-to-adopt a realistic possibility for two fulltime-working parents?

    I guess those are my two big questions. Thank you again for a great story!

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    • I don't know any of this from experience, but I took a labor studies class, and based on what state you live in there should be a way for you to take leave on a moments notice to bond with your new child! This is the case in California for sure. : )

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      • Thanks for this…we are in California so this is good to know. I just wonder though…since it's possible to be placed with multiple foster kids within a year (for example), would that time be given for each time a child is placed with us? That's my main concern

        • I don't know about fostering, but when I was reading over my husband's paternity leave paperwork, I think it said that you couldn't paternity leave any more than once every eighteen months. We are in California also and this was from the EDD (sorry for the acronym, I don't remember what it stands for, but they're the department that California paternity leave goes through. I know the E is for Employment and one of the Ds is Department).

          • That other 'D' is for 'Development'…I know it well from when we did our family leave when our daughter was born. And yeah that makes sense that you couldn't take it more than essentially once 'per kid' as it were. Looks like I need to do some research about fostering specifically. Thanks!

    • I'm happy to answer your questions, I had a lot of similar questions when we started this process too. First of all, cost: from start to finish, it cost our family a total of just under $4,000 (included lawyer fees for the finalization). After we started the process we found out that the company my husband works for reimburses adoption expenses, so we actually got every bit of that back, which was awesome.

      We were not contacted by any first-moms while we were waiting, but I think that's because we did not wait for very long. A little girl was placed with our family about a month after we we licensed as a foster home, and then our son was placed with us about two months after she left.

      One reason we were asked to take kids who needed immediate placement was because we could, it worked with our life style. I'm a stay at home mom, so when we got info about a child that needed placement the next day, we could say yes and our agency knew that. There are plenty of families working with our agency with two working parents who simply need more time, and that is totally fine. Lots of placements through foster care have a longer transitional period. So yes, I think foster-to-adopt is totally a realistic option for families with two working parents. Hope that's helpful!

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      • Thank you so much for this post and the reply!

        My hubby and I are looking to adopt children, but haven't started the steps yet. Slightly different situation (it's really not safe for me to get preggers, so both kids will be adopted), but still nice to know what to expect. =)

    • You'll (both, if you're both interested) want to talk to your HR department about how FMLA works in your organization. It varies a little from state to state and the size of your company also makes a difference.

      My state (also Washington) seems to be very willing to be flexible with working parents; the need is unfortunately so great that working around foster parent schedules is something they've learned to do.

  2. Wow, this is so cool to read! Just last week we sent in our application to an adoption agency (located in Seattle, does both from-foster and infant placements: might be the same one) because we are planning to adopt a kid out of the foster system. We also have a 4 year old biological son, because, just like you, I wanted to experience the process of being pregnant and giving birth. My husband and I had agreed long ago (we may even have been driving at the time) that if we wanted more than 1 kid, we would adopt.

    So, congratulations! and thanks for sharing your account. I hope to have a similar story to tell in a couple years. :)

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  3. So excited to see a foster story on Offbeat Families! My childless husband and I are in the process of becoming certified for foster-adopt of 3-8 year old(s), and I see so little about it on the internet. The vast majority of information on the internet about adoption is about infants.

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    • I agree, if anyone knows some good blogs on adopting from foster care or foster-to-adopt it would be great!

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      • I've been reading one called Mother Issues (motherissues.wordpress.com) by half of a lesbian couple in the Midwest who are going through the process, and I'm pretty sure she has links to some others too.

        My husband and I were planning to foster-adopt and then we had some financial changes and now we're looking at a more traditional way of adding to the family.

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  4. We are also in Washington State. Could you tell me the name of the agency you used?

    Thanks!

  5. And if anyone has any recommendations for an agency like this in California (we live in Oakland, so maybe somewhere in the bay area), that would be great!

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    • Although I don't yet have personal experience with them, my wife and I have been looking at Family Builders for a while. Their Pride and Joy program for placing LGBTQ teens is especially awesome.

      • I did some research last night and Adopt A Special Kid (AASK) has also gotten rave reviews…FYI!

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  6. YEA!!!! Adoptive babies!!! we also grew our family thru adoption.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your family's story!

    While I don't have experience with foster care or adoption, I definitely connect with your "He looks just like you" awkward situations. I'm a non-biological mama to a 14 month old. My partner and his ex-wife found out that they were pregnant during the divorce, so I've been involved in L's life since she was only 5 weeks old.

    We took her to the park the other day, and another parent commented that she looks so different from us (she has blonde hair and blue eyes; my partner and I both look decidedly Italian). In a couple of years, when we're married and she's a little older, simply saying that she's my step-daughter will suffice, but at her age, people tend to give some strange looks if they don't know the whole story, and frankly, I'm not in the mood to give that whole story.

    We end up saying things that are technically true but also technically irrelevant. We mention that I was blonde until I was six, or reference her "secretly Irish" heritage (He and I *are* both half Irish/German/English; we just got all of the Italian looks. Her biological mother is super Irish in heritage and appearance). It's all casual comments about how you wouldn't believe that my younger brother has blue eyes and even lighter hair than hers, even as an adult, and that I'm one of the only brunettes in my very Anglo family.

    I guess that this is a little off-topic, but this line, "I rarely went into any detail about M's situation with people I did not know, which worked out fine but left me with the feeling that I was being slightly dishonest about my family, which felt a little weird." just resonated with me.

    • I am very Semitic looking and my husband is very Nordic. My son is a clone of his father. While no one has said anything yet, I fully expect there to be questions about his parentage when just the two of us are out together. Especially in the summer when I tan super dark and he … doesn't.

  8. This made me cry happy tears. :) My adoptive parents fostered me for a year until all the legal paperwork went through. Shortly thereafter I vaguely remember (at the tender age of 3) running around the Philly airport waiting for my baby sister to join us from Korea, and two years later a brother. While I look like my Dads side of the family it is needless to say I've had to defend my sister and brother for BEING my sister and brother because we are different colors. I am fiercely proud of my multi-colored kin.

    As my Mom once put it, we are special because we were chosen. (mind you, birthchildren are chosen too)

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  9. Thanks for this, Kari and Offbeat Fam! I'm hoping to be a foster-to-adopt one day so this post was awesome to read. MOAR foster adoption stories, please!

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  10. such a great article/blog post — we went through foster to adopt in 2006 with the same agency – about 6 months to finish the home study ( nerves ) and within 2 weeks were placed with 2 little boys. By the way, our home study said one child infant to 2 years old, and were placed with 2 – ages 2 and 4. Our hearts melted when we met both and, after worrying about taking 2 for all of 5 minutes, said yes, we'll provide a home for both.

    Scary at first but wow, we've been blessed.

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  11. Thanks so much for this story. We are about to start training for foster to adopt and can use all the info and encouragement we can get. Congratulations on your little family :)

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