Never did I imagine that by the time I was 25 years old, I would have experienced miscarriage and a full term pregnancy, adopted our first son, and began the foster care journey.
When I envisioned myself as a twenty-five year old, I surely didn't think I'd be in the broken trenches with little humans, so worthy to be safely and securely loved but so deprived of it too. It's much more "attractive" and "Instagram worthy" to live that cute life of procreating biologically, and in order, making little mini-me's, perfectly spread out. You know? We all know typical families aren't perfect, but it's often easy for me to look at them and think, "Dang, they are sure cute and sweet. I wonder what that's like." I’m sure people have looked into my tiny frames in the past and had similar thoughts...that’s just the thing with social media...right?
Three of my four kids's stories started in trauma. (And if you count birth trauma, which psychologists do, then all four of them stem straight from trauma. But I tend not to at this point).
The day before our two girls moved in—our daughters via foster care—we knew they were likely coming. Not one hundred percent sure, because that is not how DHS operates, but we were pretty sure.
They and four of their siblings had been waiting for a foster family resource (like 77 other kids in our county right now) for a few days, lived with our friends for a couple days, and then moved in with us... indefinitely.
We greatly debated and processed and considered also becoming a resource for two of their older sisters, but after much discussion, we felt we did not have the space they would want as teenagers. With Loren in grad school and unable to work (only five weeks left!!) we felt we wouldn't be able to offer them everything they need at this time. And honestly? It was intimidating considering growing our family from four to six to eight in less than a week. But anyone who walks the journey of foster care knows it is kind of an intimidating and crazy journey no matter what.
I can confidently say I am convinced that Jesus has invited us into this terrifying yes, even while in our own mess.
It is terrifying, you know? Not knowing anything.
Not knowing what to expect day by day, letting go of the comfort of familiarity (I mean, I was a fan of having just my two super busy and adorably cute toddlers and our routine together), not being able to foresee how all the children will interact and transition together, not knowing how the trauma will unfold and reveal itself in each individual child, unsure how to answer tragic questions being asked or comments shared by 4 and 8 year olds, not knowing how long these new extensions of your heart will live in your home and be your children... saying “yes” to vulnerable kids in foster care is full of uncertainties and pain-filled conversations. These kids come from the hardest places you can come from.
But, I know it’s worth all of it. I believe to my core that every child deserves a safe home, secure love, and someone saying yes to them.
Besides, do we ever actually know anything? I mean, I like to air on the side of, "I most likely don't know what to expect each day," even if I kind of do.
Saying yes to foster care is something Loren and I feel strongly to do, even with our permanent two under two. And not because we are amazing or saints or anything but imperfect and human.
Our yes stems from knowing the need, seeing the crisis, and having an AMAZING community. We are doing our best to be trauma informed. But even as we sit in trainings and seek out learning from those who have gone before us, when I am in each moment of parenting these two older girls—parenting ages I have never parented before—I find my heart racing a little bit, wanting to make sure I am choosing the right words and body language and structure.
The drumming in my heart beats wild, wondering if they are acting a certain way because they are emotionally half their chronological age (studies show trauma does this in children) or because of an unknown trigger or simply because they are kids trying to figure out the world they have suddenly been thrown into. I find myself learning, more than ever, to be comfortable in the discomfort, settled in constantly-learning. Who knew a kid could eat until she threw up? Not me, now I do: some kids need a little structure around how much to eat and when.
I am confident, though, that the discomfort and nerve-wracking fears we carry are but a fraction of what these kids experience. So we say yes, and we will attach to them, and we will do our best to serve them each, exactly where they are at. Especially when it’s uncomfortable.
Trauma seeps out in so many different ways, I feel like I’m constantly holding my breath waiting for the next melt down and wondering if it’ll unfold the same as the last or in new ways.
Even on mostly somewhat “smooth” days, I find my shoulders a little more weighed down and tense than before, simply from sensing the thick sorrow living in my home and being carried (to the extent it can be carried) in my heart.
Pretty much every time I use a firm voice, one of our girls breaks down sobbing and asks me when she can go home. I obviously don’t take this personally, her tender heart is so confused, and I remind her every single time multiple times a day: "I don't know. This is your new home for now. But it makes so much sense that you miss your family and your other home. I am so so sorry, this is so hard."
I’m not yelling, I’m not threatening, I’m not being aggressive to incite her sudden outburst of sadness; I’m simply on her level looking into her beautiful brown eyes and using a calmly firm voice when she refuses to listen to my instruction. But the melt downs are often, and the sobs pour out, and I sit and I rock her and I tell her it's okay to be sad, it's okay to cry, and also she needs to listen to my words.
It’s a constant balance, this nurture and structure, this trust based relational connected-parenting.
Our other girl is constantly questioning if she’s beautiful, if I love her dark skin, and what about her hair...is she smart? I’m grateful for our community of color; so many friends of mine have so quickly loved these girls and stepped in as representation of Brown-skinned, curly-haired, safe role models. The moment she allowed me to see her hair (she wears a hijab) I knew I was going to need a little extra guidance. I called on my friend Dauvia who invited us over the very next day, and spent over four hours with her, solely doing hair care. It was so sacred, I will never forget those hours spent and the consecutive days after.
One girl is completely clingy, breaks down sobbing most times when I leave her or prepare her for me leaving for a few hours even with a good amount of prep; this isn't just a little cry. This is a full on, often over an hour, body quaking sob. The other hugs any human who smiles at her, asks to go live with any person showing the slightest hint of love, and is pretty detached from deep emotion. I'm constantly praying these two differently-broken attachments will heal, but I know healing always takes time.
Becoming mom to these girls has been clunky, chaotic, and humbling. It's only been two weeks, so I know we just opened the prologue. I go by "Mama Natalie," "Natalie," and "What's Your Name Again? Can I Call You Mom?" Loren goes by "The Dad" and "Daddy" and "The Dad, Loren."
We cannot step into foster care alone, this is something that was made very clear very quickly. Every time I am praised for stepping into this journey, I do my best to remind whoever it is that we are absolutely not doing this alone. I am trying to find the balance of receiving encouragement that yes, I am actually doing hard things and that Loren and I have decided to make sacrifices by saying yes.
However, we are not making these choices or sacrifices without a community backing us. The only reason we are confident to say yes without crumbling is because we know we have people on our team, ready to lend a hand (or multiple hands) or do a school pick up or watch a few of the kids or bring us a meal or teach us how to do hair that is so different than mine.
These four kids’s stories each started so differently than each other’s and what a privilege it is to walk alongside each of them and help create additional childhood memories, even though it’s hard and chaotic and so so so so so busy.
All kids deserve patient, kind, selfless love. All kids deserve safe homes. All kids are worth it. Every child.
There are currently seventy-seven children TODAY needing a foster family resource in Multnomah County alone. If you don't follow Embrace Oregon on Facebook, you absolutely should.
If you are unable to be a foster family, some things you can do to support foster families are:
- Take or drop a meal off for a family
- Become a respite provider
- Offer to drive a kid to or from school/practice/dance/gymnastics/etc
- Come on over and help scrub toilets, fold laundry, do dishes
- Offering over night respite care or even a date evening
- Gift a couple a dinner date
- Send coffee or coffee cards
- Support organizations such as: Embrace Oregon, With Love, Every Child
Thanks for joining us in this journey and learning alongside us.