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Foster Care, International, Domestic and Private Adoption: The Road that Lead Us to Our Noah

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This is Noah. She is my beautiful, loved-beyond-measure daughter. She has three older brothers who adore her. One day I’ll tell her the journey we took to making her a part of our family. One day I’ll explain the heartache and mess and five years of trying we endured to get here. And, I’ll make sure she knows that I would do it all over again.

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Our adoption journey has been filled with messy, heartbreaking moments that at times left us discouraged and wanting to give up. I certainly never imagined the process would be easy, but I don’t think you can truly understand how difficult it is until you’re inside of it. We began our adoption journey in 2012. We weren’t sure where she would come from, only that we knew that she, was a she. I have three incredible boys but I always knew I wanted a daughter. Our initial adoption process began with Ethiopia. After nearly a year of paperwork, blood tests, in-home visits, etc., we finally got our dossier on file in Africa. About 18 months into that process and waiting game, we found out that Ethiopia had closed down adoptions with the U.S. It was so discouraging—it was also the first of many times we asked ourselves if we should give up. But I felt called to adopt and the dream wouldn’t go away so easily. We decided that our next step would be to adopt domestically.

We began the adoption process in LA County with an orientation for adoption and mandatory education classes. That entire process was heavy and heartbreaking. For six weeks, we met every Saturday at a community college from 9:00a.m.-4:00p.m. We spent hours watching videos, reading case studies or listening to lessons on children in the foster care system. The bulk of our weekends were spent listening to stories about children who had been moved over and over from one home to another or stories about precious babies who had been physically or emotionally abused. It was a draining process and many days we left asking ourselves, What are we doing? Who are we to think we can take on something this big?

It was during those classes that we also learned one key factor for adoption in LA: you have to commit to six months of foster care service before you can move into the adoption program. The news was devastating to us – we would have to foster a baby that wouldn’t be able to stay. She would be taken from us within a week, a month, a year – no one knew. Following that startling revelation, my husband Dave and I had one of the most important conversations of our relationship. Ultimately, we concluded this: we knew we were called to adopt. And yes, this would disrupt our family and rock us to our core, but we would continue to walk into it head long.

In December of 2015, after months of gathering paperwork, bank statements, school reports and more, we received notification that DCFS lost half of our paperwork on file. We were devastated by the news. I can’t even begin to imagine how overwhelmed the staff must be there, but it’s so frustrating to try and navigate a system that’s asking for support but at times feels like it makes it as hard as possible for people to be supportive. I just kept thinking, if this process is so hard for us (educated adults with connections and resources) what is this process like for a tiny baby without any voice or advocate? We re-did all of the paperwork.

After turning in our paperwork again and passing our interviews, we waited. In early April of 2016, we got a call for our first foster placement – an 11-month-old baby girl. A few days after getting placement of her, we got a call about her big sister. They asked us if we could please, please consider taking this two-year-old who had nowhere else to go. Going from three kids to five in the span of a few short weeks was one of the craziest decisions we’ve ever made—and dude, parenting five kids is NO joke, but I’m so thankful we did it. The look on Birdie’s big sister’s face when she saw her little sister for the first time in three weeks was one I won’t forget for as long as I live.

While we knew it wasn’t a permanent placement, the day those two girls left our home in June 2016 was beyond traumatic for me. A child should NEVER leave a home. I will forever carry a scar on my heart from them. Not because they were upset to leave, but because to them (who have been passed around most of their short lives) getting into a car with a social worker who was a total stranger, didn’t faze them at all. The stark awareness of the reality they’re forced to live in was devastating.

I told my husband I needed some time to heal before we were put into the adoption program. Unfortunately, that’s not how the system works . . . they called us with adoptive placement four weeks later.

I was sitting in my office at work when I received an email from our social worker. The subject line was: Twins?

We never anticipated taking twins. We weren’t signed up for two babies at all, but apparently agreeing to take on the second girl in our foster care journey had made it possible for us to consider it.

We weren’t told much about them. The girls were three days old, they’d been abandoned by their mother at the hospital . . . and we had thirty minutes to decide. We sat on the phone together and talked through it while freaking out. Newborn twins?

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Could we do it? Were we ready after so recently experiencing the loss in foster care? We prayed it over, and ultimately we called the social worker and said the biggest yes of our whole lives.

After waiting four years for an adoption call, we barely slept that night. We spent hours coming up with names. We were so excited we couldn’t eat the day we went to pick them up. At the hospital I thought I might be sick waiting for them to bring the babies into the room. And then there they were—so precious and tiny and beautiful I felt like the luckiest person in the whole world because they were ours. Certainly I knew that in foster-to-adopt there would be hurdles and roadblocks, but the story we were told about them led us to believe that reunification was a slim possibility. We took them home and didn’t sleep for days because, well, newborn twins. But we didn’t even care. It was one of the happiest times of my life.

I would spend hours upon hours just lying in bed with them cuddled on my chest. Four weeks into having these new additions in our home and in our family, we found out that they weren’t actually available for adoption after all. Their biological father wanted them. Turns out, he’d always wanted them and we’d never been told. They were never actually up for adoption. They were definitively in foster care and had only needed placement until his court date. I’m trying to think of how to explain the way this knowledge hit me, and I just don’t have the words.

We got a call for the twins after four years of waiting to adopt. That call felt like the answer to years of prayer. But soon we were living a nightmare.

When they left, I felt cheated. I felt tricked. I felt devastated to the marrow of my bones.

I felt like someone had died. For five weeks I had these beautiful daughters, and then one day they were just gone. Their nursery was still there, the bassinets, the baby wraps . . . it was all still there, but they weren’t. I didn’t know where they were or how they were. I wrote out this long schedule for them both: when they ate, slept, what music they liked at bedtime. Was anyone following it? I had no idea. I obsessed over the idea of seeing them again. I prayed for it all day, every day. I asked Dave to reach out to see if it was possible for us to visit them and everyone in DCFS acted like we were aliens for even considering it. That went against procedure. It wasn’t a possibility we were told. Please stop calling they said.

I felt shredded. I felt like I was being punished. I cried all the time.

I cried at work when I was in my office alone. I cried at night while Dave held me and tried so hard to comfort a pain he couldn’t understand. I cried and cried. I had an infinite capacity for tears.

In the midst of all of this pain and questions and wondering, we had something big to decide . . . were we going to continue to try and adopt.

My gut instinct was absolutely not.

International adoption and foster-to-adopt weren’t areas we felt comfortable exploring anymore, which left us with private adoption. Private adoption is something Dave wanted us to look into from the beginning, but I felt like there was a greater need in international or foster care. But now he was asking me to consider it again, and I needed to make a decision quickly. One of the hardest parts about adoption is how long it takes. So even if I wasn’t sure about moving forward, I recognized that if there was any chance we might want to in the future we’d need to start a new path as soon as possible. Home visits, blood work, applications, hundreds of pages to fill out – it takes a while, and unfortunately, none of it is transferable so we had to start from scratch. Also, we knew nothing about this world or how you even go about it. Did we go through a domestic agency? Should we get an attorney? It all felt so daunting in the midst of what we’d just gone through.

I cannot tell you how incredible my husband was during this time period. If you ask most adoptive couples they’ll tell you that the wife originally came up with the idea. Men statistically struggle with the idea of adoption at first. Certainly, there are exceptions to the rule but most of the time women are the ones who push for it. I was the one who pushed for international adoption and later, I was the one who urged him to consider foster to adopt. Now, I was wrung out and incapable of feeling hopeful and Dave was the one encouraging me to reconsider. I think I’ll remember that conversation for the rest of my life . . . me sobbing in the backyard where the kids couldn’t hear us and him fighting for our dream of having a daughter. “Yes, it’s hard! But our dream didn’t go away because it got hard Rachel. We’re going to have a daughter even if it takes longer . . . the time will pass anyway. We can’t give up!” It was Dave who did the research on an adoption attorney. It was Dave who called friends and colleagues and doctors offices to get referrals on where we should go. It’s Dave who scheduled the doctor’s appointments and blood tests and filled out all of the paperwork when I was too sad to do much of anything. When my daughter is older, I’ll tell her that too. You’re here because of mommy’s dream but ultimately, you came home because of your daddy’s strength.

We were matched with Noah’s first-mom at the beginning of January of this year and she was due at the beginning of March. I am SO grateful to this incredible woman for so many things but letting us be there, and the hours we got to sit with her and her parents while she labored, will forever be a sacred memory.

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After paperwork went through in Noah’s home state and her new state, we were able to bring her home. When we finally landed in LA, the flight attendant gave a speech I’ve heard hundreds of times but never really taken to heart. “If you’re visiting, have a great flight. If Los Angeles is where you live, then welcome home.” I started to cry as I whispered the words down into her tiny, perfect ear. “Welcome home Noah.”

There were balloons spelling out her name from our sweet friends when we arrived, and three little boys fighting over their turn to hold her next. Much like the letter we sent to perspective birth moms all those months ago said, the house was loud and smelled like bacon and a little dog was wagging his tail and begging for a moment to give her a good sniff. It’s all controlled chaos around these parts and our hearts are full to bursting that we’ve added this long-awaited girl to our team. Looking forward to teaching her all the sweetest dance moves, inviting her to Friday night pizza parties, Sunday church clothes, summer pool days, family Halloween costumes and a thousand other adventures we haven’t even thought up yet. What a long and hard-fought journey, what a beautiful story of faith in action and God’s redemptive hand. What a miracle. What a blessing.

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