By Sammie Mendez
When my wife Callie and I decided to become foster parents, it was one of the most difficult and also one of the easiest decisions we ever made. Difficult because at the time, we were convinced that after two years of trying to conceive (TTC) via an anonymous sperm donor with no success, this was our only opportunity to have children, despite how temporary some of those placements may be.
The idea of not having any children that were biologically tied to either of us was a very hard pill to swallow at first. Over time, we were able to understand that this was going to be our best chance at children, and in turn became the easiest decision. At the end of what would probably be a very difficult and long journey (as we now know for sure!), we would potentially have a child of our own that would join our family and help to complete it. So, we picked up the phone, dialed the United Way hotline, told them where in New York State we lived, and they set us up with a date for orientation.
Preparing ourselves for the possibility of a placement was pretty taxing. There was a 10-week course that we needed to complete, so every Saturday morning until early afternoon, we were confined to a room with 30 other prospective foster/adoptive parents…at the peak of summer…without air conditioning! There were also interviews with case workers and therapist and partners at the Institute for Human Development in our county. There were doctors to be seen, background checks to be completed, and when all of that was finally finished and the course was completed, not one or two but THREE different people came to inspect our home. Holy Babyproofing!
Finally, 6 months after the whole process began, we received a certificate in the mail stating that we were “NYS Certified Foster Parents”. Our life as a “Dual Income, No Kids” household was about to fly out the window sooner than we had expected. But during this whole process, something happened.
My hesitance with becoming a foster care/adoptive parent was that I was worried that there was no way I could love a child that I didn’t birth or that I didn’t have any say in helping to create. I was worried that a child in care would be so damaged and so traumatized that they wouldn’t be able to foster a connection with us, and that it would hinder me from wanting to create a connection with them. I was so distressed that they would always just call me “Ms. Sammie” and never “Mama” for the rest of our lives and that probably made me the saddest of all of my worries. I worried that the adjustment to having a kid to love on for months, weeks, even days and then having them ripped out of our arms would be too overwhelming and eventually debilitating.
But during this whole time that we were processing the “what if’s”, we were also creating a nurturing and loving space for a child to come into our home, and that’s when all of our doubts started to subside a little. All of our walls and all of our fears started to recede bit by bit. We started filling the room with a bed and toys and pictures. Christmas lights bordered the ceiling and brand new clothes were put in the closets. A cozy rug on the floor, and a squishy chair in the reading corner. And suddenly, we were so anxious to hurry up and get a child, and we are picking up the pieces of our exploding hearts because by then we were excited and we were ready and absolutely sure about making this next huge move. For weeks we waited, and our hearts grew bigger and fonder of this child that we hadn’t even met yet.
We got a phone call for an emergency placement. A day later, on March 28, 2014, Mary came to us just after midnight. She had fallen asleep on the ride home from the airport after taking her first plane ride ever. Bio Mom had absconded to another state and Social Services needed to bring her back to my county. It was so surreal to know that all of our planning over the past 6 months, all of the hassle of appointments and meetings and trainings, were finally paying off.
I will never forget the weight of my daughter in my arms, as I carried her 6 year old body to the front door of our apartment building, juggling her in one hand as I found the keys in my pocket. I will never forget how quickly over the first week with her in our lives my heart filled with an astonishing amount of love for a child that I barely knew, a child that 2 weeks prior, I had no clue existed. I will never forget the first time she took it upon herself to call me Mama, or the first time she told us she loved us so, so much, like we were her real moms.
The day my daughter told us that she loves her birth mom and wanted to see her, but we are her family and we are her home and we are where she wants to stay and share our last name – that day is forever etched into the “Ridiculously Amazing and Special Things That You Want to Remember Forever” department in my brain.
We’ve been gearing up for the adoption process now that Mary has been freed. I can’t know for certain if it will be a long drawn out process to terminate Bio Mom’s parental rights. I’m not sure if there will be a lot of feelings that come up during this time for both us and Mary. It’s unclear if any of Mary’s other relatives will contest the decision made by the judge to allow us to be Mary’s forever family.
The one thing we are sure about?! Opening our home to a child/ren in need so that they can feel safe, secure, and loved has expanded our hearts to the point that WE started feeling all of those things as well. In fact, even before our own biological children came into our lives, we had opened our home to another 3 children in 1 short year. They came and went and took a piece of our hearts with them. Opening our home has opened our heart in a way we could have never anticipated, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.