I have to tell you a story. Not mine. Not about a stranger. Not about infertility. Not another loss. Something really special. The kind of magic you only read about. I have to tell you the truth. The truth is Baby K was not our first foster babe. The first little that walked through our doors is named T. (You’ll hear me abbreviate his name due to foster care laws, so stay with me.) I hate the term “foster child” it’s like molding them into this stereotype. Why can’t they just be called, Jennifer? Lauren? Mark? Whatever their name is. Why foster child? Anyway, on with my story. Last year 2017 on October 2nd our home was forever changed. A change I didn’t want and said NO to. Want to know what I said NO to? I’m going to tell you. It was an afternoon day, like any other day. Kids were home from school doing homework. Daddy was in the garage working on a project and I was in and out helping all of them. I got a phone call from child protective services placement department. I was instantly excited and wanted to say YES to whatever the woman on the phone was going to ask. Then came the words, “We wanted to ask you if you would be respite caregivers for about a week?” I was really disappointed, I said, “Oh, we were hoping for a placement. We aren’t really looking to do respite.” For those that don’t know the term respite, Its when other foster families watch each others fosters kids. Since this is a licensed caregiver situation, foster parents are not able to just leave their kids with whomever. So thats where respite caregivers come into play. Only for me personally, I wanted to leave our open space open for an actual placement. A child that would be ours for the time being. I did NOT want to do this. So I simply told the woman on the phone, I’m sorry we can’t do that right now. We are too busy. Her voice sounded so desperate, “are you sure you can’t take him for just one week? The family is leaving on a vacation out of state.” I never discussed it with any of the family and after I hung up I went about my business as usual. Only I have children who just know too much and overheard my conversation. Layla yelled out, “MOM why did you say no!? We want that kid to come here!” I just laughed, mostly a nervous laugh. Then she told Daddy and he agreed. Then Hunter agreed and I was canceled out. I was quite honestly a bit shocked, that they were all in and here I was afraid to help a kiddo out for a short period. Next, I did what any parent would do when you mess up. I quickly got on the phone to reach this woman who called. Only, calling CPS is like a needle in a hay stack. They call from private/non working numbers. I couldn’t reach her. Finally, I got a hold of someone in the office who left a message for her. I hung up and felt so bummed I made a decision for the whole family and I was wrong. THEN the phone rang and it was her! She thanked me for calling back but said she found a family willing to take him. I said, Okay thanks anyway. Then she said I will give the foster mom your info if thats ok and let her decide what the best fit is. I sort of just forgot about it and moved on because it felt like a loss. BUT it wasn’t a loss because the next day the foster mom called me and said, “Yeah your family sounded like a perfect fit for him so we picked you!” I got off the phone and said Hallelujah! I was pretty excited at this point. We had Never had any foster kiddos in our home, although we had been licensed for over two months at that point. The day came where we would be meeting this child for the first time. His foster parents arranged a time with us, to bring him over to meet our family and get acquainted before they would be leaving. I will never EVER forget the moment we met him. I could literally ugly CRY right now just thinking of it. We had spent the day cleaning up the nursery for him, fresh bedding, dusted, new wall art, blankets you name it. The door bell rang, and I felt butterflies. Like could we really just take in a kid for a week and be ok? Would he be ok? Will the kids accept him? I opened the door and my jaw literally dropped when I saw his little face.
I’m sure it was obvious to his foster parents. I don’t hide my emotions well. I’d like to think that was a good quality. I try to be as real as possible. HE literally was a spinning image of Hunter at that same age. He was 2. Just a baby. He had beautiful blonde curls and his eyes lit up. He was shy. He smiled. He played on his own and then with the kids. My heart could burst. Not just because he resembled us, but because there was this connection we had instantly with him. I felt like I knew him, and he knew us. He was everything and all we needed at that exact time. He quickly bonded with us, played well, slept well and cuddled close to us. Called me Mommy right away and Justin… Daddy. We didn’t tell him to, he just did. Don’t get me wrong foster care isn’t all peachy. There was fighting & jealously and pure exhaustion at the end of the day. I mean we got a 2-year old overnight. It was tough but at the end of the day we were a good kind of exhaustion! We fell in love. and it wasn’t hard or forced or even on purpose! In fact this was only supposed to be a seven day thing! Every day was hard knowing he would be leaving. We lived in the moment, played hard and loved hard. He made our family come alive. He took us out of our slump and brought us all together again. The kids played in the yard until dark on a daily. They came in with dirty feet, grass stuck to them and smiles. They slept hard and did it all over again the next day. Since we only got a week, we fit in as many experiences as possible. I know what you are thinking? Why? We did it because it felt right. We took the kids to the pumpkin patch, we did family walks, went out for ice cream, baked together, visited the Zoo, took him shopping and more! Layla was learning to read at the time and would bring T into her bed at night and read to him. I had never seen him so still before. He would just sit there listening intently.
I remember feeling like he had healed my mama heart… more than I knew was possible. I would rock him to sleep at night and he would often fall asleep on me. It was so comforting to know that I could love another child as my own. I loved him for him & we fully accepted him as our own.
T if I could tell you one thing right now, it would be thank you. Thank you for showing our family what true love looks like. Not that we didn’t love one another before you, but you showed us a new kind of love. A love that isn’t easy. A love this isn’t blood. A love that is unconditional. A love that felt safe. A love that was natural. You felt like my own child and I know God knew we all needed that. You were a God send. Our little Angel. Daddy bonded with you more then I knew was possible in such a short time. Layla loved you as her “Baby” and Hunter was tough on you but loved being a big brother for the first time!
Now for the hard part. The end of our story.
The night before you left Daddy & I balled our eyes out at the thought of you leaving! We couldn’t explain it, why we felt so strongly about you. You were so special. You fit right into our family so well and it felt meant to be. Only is wasn’t because you were going back to your foster family. It didn’t seem fair to have to give you back. We already loved you so much. That night Layla laid in bed crying herself to sleep. She’s our sensitive one. I felt her pain but didn’t know how to comfort her. Or what to say.
I packed your things while I cried. Asking God why he gave me a baby that I would fall in love with? Why God? Why did you give me a baby that seems like my own biological baby? Why?
We loved you for 8 days and wished for an eternity after those 8 days were over. The goodbye was hard but your sweet foster parents quickly became our friends. They brought comfort to us and were supportive of our feelings for you. We included some photos we took of you & a note to them. We expressed our love for you and asked to be a part of your life if at all possible. To our surprise they were welcoming to the idea. That night when we said goodbye, it was hard for you. You didn’t want to leave my arms and secretly it felt good to me. Holding onto you, giving you comfort and love. Your foster parents had us over for dinner and we all sat down together. It was easy and felt comforting. In that moment you had two mamas who cared deeply for you. It wasn’t a position I knew much about. Not being the first mommy and all, but I embraced it for you. We love you T and always will!
The days after weren’t as hard as I thought they would be. You know what happened? We saw him again. Isn’t that amazing? We played at the park and all was right in the world again. Then we saw you again and again. We shared meals together, we got together for a church activities, we played, we even babysat! Each time it was like a mini reunion. I remember T’s Foster mom saying to us, you just never know what is going to happen. I would always tell her that I can’t think like that. T was in route to be reunited with his biological parents. I didn’t agree with the reunification, after learning things about his parents but in the end it wasn’t up to me. We still loved spending time with T as often as possible but knew it would soon come to an end. It was hard knowing that. Meanwhile we had a placement of a baby girl named K. And after she left our home we had another baby girl named E. I remember the last night we would see you. You came over with your foster parents for dinner. It was a goodbye dinner for you. I hate goodbyes. We all felt sad at the thought of not seeing you ever again, but nonetheless enjoyed our time together. It ended up being a hectic night, and I was sad I didn’t get on the floor more to play with you. This was Goodbye to our boy T. I asked him if I could “squeeze” him. it was our thing and he smiled and said yeah! I gave him one last squeeze and we all said goodbye. The kids didn’t understand why this goodbye was for real. It was sad and hard to explain.
Only our story didn’t end here. It was supposed to end, but God had other plans for us. T was reunited and was home with his biological parents for about two weeks. Then on Easter Sunday, April 1st 2018 I got a call from T’s social worker. As we sat down to our Easter dinner just a family of five (We still had baby E at this point), I got word that things weren’t going well in his home. She asked me if T could come stay with us! While I was worried and scared for him I was also really relieved that I wouldn’t have to worry anymore. HE was coming HOME! The cool thing too was It was just by chance that we had decided to stay home for Easter. We quickly got things ready for him, a bed and bedding, clothes, blankets & a lovie. Hearing about what he has been through in the last two weeks was both heart wrenching and maddening! Easter alone was one of the most traumatic days yet for him. Thank goodness he knew us so well & he was coming home to a place he was loved. When the van pulled up to our house that night, poor T was screaming with fear but when he saw Justin he went right to him. He was shaking and his lip was quivering as he sat in Justins lap. I sat there holding little newborn baby E and my heart was literally crushed. I couldn’t believe or understand why you would traumatize your child like this! Layla & Hunter sat closely to T as he began to tell us everything that had happened to him that night. There sat this little person. Only 2 years old with the vocabulary of a much older child. He was so brave. He was comfortable & calm after he told his story. No one prompted this story from him, but he is a very intelligent child who has been blessed with an amazing brain. I think he knew he was home & he knew he was safe. Therefore he shared in an effort to decompress. It was both sad and amazing to hear what he had to say.
That night was rough. Like the kind of rough that I can’t even begin to explain. Poor T was so sad trying to go to sleep. In all our efforts to comfort, love and give him teddy bears and blankets he did NOT want to sleep! It was understandable BUT still hard. We set his bed up in Hunters room that night thinking they could share a room. All that did was keep Hunter up. T was so insecure he kept thinking we were going to leave him or that he was going somewhere else next. I can’t tell you the literal heartache that comes from witnessing this firsthand. We basically had to fall asleep next to his little toddler bed, holding his little hand. But this sweet picture I captured was taken the first morning after. It’s not much at all. But to me it’s the simplicity of seeing my three children playing together. I just love it. and I will always treasure it. The messy bed head. The unmade beds. It’s real life.
That next day turned into one week, and then a month and now six months later we are still together. This has been some of the greatest yet most difficult and challenging moments I have ever had to deal with. Changing our family dynamic yet again from 3 kids to 4. Saying goodbye to baby E and back to 3 kids. Teaching the kids how to get along. Hunter becoming an instant brother and having to share everything with a 2 year old! The trauma that took place has been our worst struggle. Getting T to sleep at night has been a battle. When he goes to visits with his bio parents it has caused him to come home and just cry and cry at bedtime. It’s super triggering to see them and almost without fail it disrupts his sleep. If I could take that pain from him… I would do it instantly! I can say, that just recently he’s made huge strides and he is sleeping at night & going to sleep without crying!! We love this little boy without a doubt & all this heartache is worth every bit!. I just hope he feels the love we have for him, because we sure feel his LOVE! Gosh, I remember praying for him almost every day after he first left our home and now here he IS.
six months became a year… and a year turned into something we could have never imagined. While dealing with some of the the most stressful times of our lives, we also felt so much happiness. People often think that the children, in foster care are the ones with the most issues. While they do have a lot of issues not of their own doing, our biological children were struggling with their own battles. The days were long and our nights were short. Too often we were going without sleep. Struggling to find time to work at our marriage. Yeah, I said WORK! If you think being married is easy and you don’t have to put effort into it…you’re wrong. Most days we didn’t have time for each other. We used up all our energy for the kids & after that we had nothing to spare. The days felt long not knowing where this would end. I didn’t have much desire to pray because I felt so little hope. Everyone around us would say, “He looks just like you guys” and knowing he might go back would sting hearing that. It might look easy, being a family and we might all look neat and well dressed but inside our home it was pure chaos! Chaos! Chaos! SO much damn fighting between our kiddos. I mean siblings fight right? It seemed normal to me but so exhausting. I think the big difference here was, most siblings start off one at a time as a newborn & an older child. They have time to bond, especially while the baby can’t talk. Can’t make that more obvious. However, when a two year old becomes your instant brother it makes things interesting. Especially when he annoys you to no end. Ha! It’s been a long rife my friends!
I will never forget the day I got “The call” on a warm fall afternoon. The phone rang while I was getting dinner ready, the kids were all playing loudly. When I answered it was our social worker, I quickly went into the garage so I could hear her better. Then I heard the words that I never thought I would hear, “We’ve terminated parental rights and we are moving forward with adoption and we are recommending your family to adopt” My heart literally throbbed right out of my chest, my jaw hung down and my mouth wide open with pure shock running through my entire body. I felt numb. I couldn’t speak. What should I say? Thank you? Yes? How sad? SO many emotions filled my heart. All I could do was thank God. I knew it was because of God that I had this sweet little boy. Although, I did feel sadness for the tragedy and the blessing in this moment. I wondered how his birth parents might be feeling in that moment. I was sad for the decisions they made that led him to our home.
Our trials didn’t end here. Often times when TPR (Termination of parental Rights) begins, it’s a long dreadful trial and road. Lots of court dates, paperwork and meetings. During this time Tylers Bio mom, had been in a serious life threatening car accident. They didn’t think she was going to make it. She was in a-coma. Even though we never has a good relationship I felt inspired to see her. Remember I was the enemy here. I was the one who had “her” son. Imagine for a moment what that might have felt like for her. Had she been awake, she probably wouldn’t have chosen to see me. However, our family had established this really beautiful relationship with Tyler’s bio grandparents early on & we went to visit Bio mom in the hospital together. When I walked into the hospital room and saw her laying there lifeless, bruises & blood exposed throughout her body. Flesh missing, broken bones, tubes in and out all over her body my gut was punched with a fist of sadness. My legs felt weak. Tears ran down my face. My skin itched. My eyes wide. My eyes scaled the tubes, taking all the bad blood out of her body and replacing it with good blood. Then the Doctor walked in the inform her parents she wasn’t going to make it and if she did she would be a vegetable from here on out. Her mother fell to her knees sobbing, just before she hit the ground her husband caught her. I couldn’t believe this news. Pure devastation. She had a 2-month old baby at home waiting for her to wake up. Because of this devastating news, Tylers case kept getting extended. It would be months before we could adopt. By some miracle, and I mean by GOD she woke up! She fought the odds and is walking, talking and a breathing human being. In the mean time we fostered the relationship between T and bio mom. In my hearts of hearts, this felt right. After all, everything we did was for him. What was best for him. I know I had more sympathy for bio mom after what she had been through. She was a miracle! God knew her journey wasn’t over. She was meant for SO much more. While her story doesn’t belong to me, I can only share how it shaped me and becoming Tyler’s forever mommy. What was next was difficult, Ty had an uprooting last visit with Bio Dad. Things were said to him that NEVER should have been said. It was so hurtful. he was 3 for heavens sake! We would pay for that for night to follow. Long nights that accompanied crying, nigh tares, behavior issues and more. We mourned with Ty for his loss and his pain. We knew he felt our love and had bonded with us. But loosing a family member forever, caused more pain for him than I think anyone will ever understand. You see Ty is uniquely intelligent. He knew all his letters and could sing ABC’s when he was two, he remembered everything, he started wiring letters at three and writing his name too. HE knew what he had lost. He knew he lost them and gained us. But you know what we got through it. Lots of therapy, and trust building. He had come so far from that first week he was with us when he saw a “white visit van” (Case aids pick up children in foster care to take them to visits with biological parents.) pull up to our house and his whole body shrieked climbing up my leg in utter fear! He never knew who to trust and who he was Safe with. I remember my Mom witnessing this one time, when Ty was picked up for a visit and she just started to cry. She could see how much pain these little children go through. I don’t think people talk about this enough. The trauma they continue to go through. The long nights. The attachment issues. All of it.
Would you believe me if I told you it took an ENTIRE year to adopt post TPR!? Yup, a whole year. It didn’t matter too much to us, because we were just grateful to be a forever family. We felt completely blessed by Heavenly Father. During that year visits had ended, we did however keep things open with bio mom. As long as it was safe and healthy we would let Tyler chat with her on the phone whenever he asked. It just felt like that was the right thing to do. That last year a lot of weight was lifted. We were able to call him by his new name Tyler James Billings. That made life really sweet. The next part I’m about to tell you, you might not believe until you live it. We were given an actual ADOPTION DATE! It was real. this was real. It wasn’t a dream anymore. This was real life. Ever since we were told we could adopt Ty, so much doubt filled my mind wondering if it would ACTUALLY HAPPEN and then it came true! on October 11th 2019, we woke up to wild pounding Santa Ana winds, some fires had already started and a sick little Tyler who was up all night with a 102 fever! But I told Satan that today our family was becoming official and NOT TODAY SATAN! NOT TODAY! Nothing would keep us from becoming a forever family! We put on our best clothes, and thanked God this day came true as we marched into the court house proud as can be. Friends, Family, Social workers, Case aids, friends from church, preschool teachers, little friends of Tylers ALL showed up for US! Talk about ugly crying….that was me! I will never forget this day. We sat as a family around a little table in front of the judge. He talked to the kids about some olden day history of judges. They sat so still. Tyler in my lap. Layla to my left, holding my hand. Hunter to my right taking it all in. Daddy on my far right. close enough for me to rest my hand on his thigh. My heart beating as if I were running a marathon. My throat felt tight holding in tears of joy. My hands unsteady and anxious to sign the adoption/birth certificate. Then he said it, Tyler James Billings was offocially and legally adopted. He would be ours forever. I leaned over to kiss Justin. Tears ran down my face. Tyler unfazed but any of it. He knew from Day one, I was mommy and Justin was Daddy. Today made no difference to him. but to us it meant the world. After 885 Days in foster care Tyler became a Billings Forever!
PC: Carly Martin Photography