Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fostering-to-adopt: Our story, Part 3, The Big Reveal

For my part 3, I'm so excited that Deanna (Leyla's first foster mom) agreed to co-write this post with me.

Up until this point, our lives were very much separate. They were foster parents of a darling almost-1-year-old. We were licensed foster parents with no placement and no prospective placements, who just so happened to babysit their daughter a few times.

And then life -- OK, God -- threw us together in this crazy plot that none of us could have written on our own.

Before you continue with my Part 3 (and Deanna's Part 4), be sure to catch up on our stories.
My Part 1 and Part 2.  And Deanna's Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.

And now . . .  the big reveal.

The next part of the story has no logical order of events. It gets all jumbled up in my head when I
remember it, because I’m pretty sure it all happened simultaneously. And really fast. It happened really fast.

In January, we met a new respite family: the Lewis family. Dropping Leyla off for the first time we met Ryan and Rachel and their sweet daughter Maddy. Conversation flowed easily and we were confident in the loving care Leyla would receive in their home. It was such a treat to receive pictures and updates and an occasional question via text message while we were away. They were able to watch Leyla for us on a few more occasions that winter.

 I'll never forget when the Gemmers first walked through our front door and into our lives. We talked easily enough, crowded together in our entry way by discarded coats, shoes, a huge suitcase and a tiny child strapped into an infant seat. 

Laundry was spread all over my living room (but I think it was at least folded.) I felt self-conscious suddenly. What if our home . . . what if WE . . . weren't good at this? What if we weren't enough somehow?

In spite of the copious amounts of laundry, the Gemmers never let on that they were uncomfortable leaving Leyla with us. As much as I enjoyed the small talk, I was ready to get that sweet baby into my arms. :) 

As I mentioned in my previous post, it did not take long for me to fall completely head over heels for Leyla -- and feel in my heart as though she were already mine.

A few days after Leyla came home from one of these respite visits, I received a call from her social
worker checking in on a few things. Before we hung up, the worker asked me how the weekend at the
Lewis’ had gone, and I just knew.

From the tone of her voice and the way she asked the question, I knew that she had the Lewis’ file on
her desk and that they were in consideration to be Leyla’s forever family.

I had quite a bit of traveling coming up, and in between my trips, we had respite planned for Leyla. I think we had her for about 3 different visits over a few weeks.

I remember going to our MEND leadership conference in Texas, and I looked at the pictures of Leyla that I had on my phone from our visits each night before I went to sleep. I was smitten. I was pretty much counting the days until she could be with us again.

Ryan decided to take the First Placement class that we needed to take to keep our license current. Sigh -- more training. At least this time, we both didn't have to take it. Which freed me up to work my business, and take care of my traveling. 

During this time between respites, I was taking a 36-hour class required for our foster license and,
though most of it was very interesting, it little had to do with the baby in our care. So I spent a lot of
time in class cross-stitching, listening, and thinking about our sweet girl.

One night I went home and suggested to Darin that maybe we shouldn't keep Leyla until she was legally free. That every day she was reaching new exciting milestones and wouldn't her forever family be sad that they missed them? That every day she was becoming more attached to us, and wouldn't that make things harder on her in the long run? That maybe there would be a family out there willing to take the risk and take her now?*

Turns out Ryan Lewis was in that 36-hour class with me. Even though I didn’t have any official
information, my gut knew that their file was on our worker’s desk. I knew that they were a lovely family. I knew that we had connected. I knew bits and pieces of their story of infertility and loss. I knew they were completely smitten with Leyla. I knew they had an empty crib.

I wondered what God was doing.

*Leyla was not yet legally free, and wouldn’t be for quite a few more months. This meant that while
adoption was looking likely, there was still a chance the biological parents would be given more time, a smaller chance that would be granted custody, and still opportunities for a relative caregiver to come forward.

The night I got home from my trip, I was sitting at my computer. I'll seriously never forget this moment. You know how you remember exactly where you were when you found out Princess Diana died? OK, kinda like that. Except . . . no one died. But the memory is seriously vivid.

It was really late at night. Ryan was about to head to bed. He had just finished his foster care class. And then, he drops a bombshell on me.

I really wanted to stay quiet, I really did. I asked God to hold my tongue and let him work. But I also
didn’t want this amazing family to get away. I knew I didn’t get to choose Leyla’s family, but I really
wanted it to be this one. And so when I look back I don’t know if what I did next was right, but it is what it is.

I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation, but after class one night as Ryan and I were chatting, I told him that Leyla was likely headed towards adoption, but that our family was going to continue to do foster care, and therefore were not available to adopt. We left it at that, but I knew a seed had been planted.

The phone call I received from Rachel within hours of my conversation with Ryan confirmed that.

"So, uh, the Gemmers are not adopting Leyla," Ryan mentions before he heads to bed after a long night at training.

Shock. Silence. A billion questions at once. And then tears. Lots and lots of tears.
Someone might have thought someone had died. But they hadn't. 
I cried for Leyla. I cried for this little girl who had already lost once, and would lose again. I wondered how she could cope, being away from the only family she ever knew. The loss of a second family was too much it seemed for someone so young, vulnerable and small. 
I never judged the Gemmers. Not once. But boy did I mourn for Leyla. 

Since Ryan could not answer any one of my billion questions, I called Deanna just as soon as I could. I can't remember if it was that night, or the next morning. But I knew that yesterday wouldn't have been soon enough.

I didn't know what the plan was for this baby. But I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

I needed to know why they weren't going to adopt. 

And then, I wanted to know if we could.

We met up for coffee a day or two later and while carefully skirting the line between sharing
information, and keeping confidential things that were meant to be confidential, I told her much of our journey, and she shared a lot of hers. I told her that it would be a risk to take Leyla with the hopes of adoption, but I also shared my reasons for feeling now would be the right time for her to move.

We met at Starbucks. Deanna came in her adorable yellow peacoat. She was so put together, so immaculate. Even as I tried to smear my makeup on in an acceptable manner that morning, I still felt disheveled. It was not so much an outward thing, I don't think. It was more like I was having the most important interview I would ever have, for a job "title" that one does not normally interview for. How could one ever feel prepared enough to talk to the current mom of the baby you hope to adopt?

We discussed as much as we could legally without crossing any lines. It's hard in foster care, because until you're "in" . . . there is so much you are not allowed to know. 

I remember she had a friend sitting at a table next to us. She introduced us, and the whole thing felt awkward. How does one say, "Hi, I'm Rachel, and I'm trying to learn from your friend here if we might be able to adopt her baby." Deanna instead introduced me as a new friend, and the old friend had no idea what Deanna and I were up to.

I think I drilled Deanna on everything that I could. And she answered guardedly when necessary, openly when allowed. I learned why they weren't adopting. I shared with her my stories of loss. It turned out, we had lots in common. And (I think) we just generally liked each other, and were excited at the prospect of what God seemed to be up to.

But everything still rested in the hands of our social workers. And until our social workers officially asked us to adopt, our hopes and plans could have been for nothing.

The next few weeks are sort of a blur, but basically our agency and our social workers were clued in that Rachel and I were on the same page. There were so many conversations that I really can’t tell you how it all went down. Maybe Rachel remembers?

Yep. I  remember. For about a week, I knew the Gemmers weren't adopting, and I was hoping for a call from our social worker. Meanwhile, Ryan and I were already thick in the throes of deciding whether we would adopt if we were given the opportunity to do so. We had our dear friends and family praying a TON about it.

I was in the bathroom, getting ready for the morning, when our social worker called. She let us know that the Gemmers wouldn't be adopting, which I already knew. She asked if we would consider taking in Leyla now, with the goal of adoption if the parental rights were relinquished.  (YESSS!!!!)

I gave her all the right answers, like "We'll have a lot of questions we need to discuss with you." And "Ryan and I will have to do a lot of talking and praying." The truth is, I really could have given her an answer right then. Ryan and I had already decided that we would be Leyla's potential adoptive parents, and were ready to take her in. But I didn't want to sound like I was making a casual decision. And Ryan and I did decide that we would hear ALL the details on the case first before we gave our final decision.

We were invited to come to a meeting with all the players in her case where we would go over all the details on her case, as well as her prognosis and any medical issues or delays she might have.

I do remember one final hurdle before the Lewises fully committed (although I was pretty sure it was just a formality at this point), was a big meeting at my house. It was Leyla’s 6-month review with the Holly Ridge Center and their birth-through-3 early intervention program. This was my status update that afternoon:

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It was a great meeting where we were able to celebrate the amazing progress that Leyla was making,
and address some of the new challenges we were facing.

And ultimately the meeting gave the Rachel the confidence to know that she had the skills and the
support to mother Leyla well.

I already knew she had the love.

She’d had it from the first day she met her.

Sitting in the Gemmer's home, surrounded by strangers with a little girl playing at my feet, was a very surreal experience. I listened to all the experts (the Gemmers, of course, and the physical therapist.) I learned fully of her background and prognosis. As many questions as I could come up with, they disclosed as much as they knew. 

And at the end of the meeting, I told them.

"We want to be Leyla's parents. And we're willing to take her in now."

The only thing that was left was to tell Leyla's biological parents of her move into her home. And to plan out her move into our home over the next few weeks.

 Keep posted for Parts 4 & 5: Transition.


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