Welcome to National Adoption Awareness Month. Here at David & Margaret we are sharing stories of local families who have created or expanded their families through adoption. This post comes from our Director of Community Engagement, Maggie Bohlman. Here she shares her journey as a foster-adoptive parent, we hope you enjoy the post.
I met my son when he was 3 weeks old and in the NICU. He was 3 lbs 11oz at birth and about 9 weeks premature. He had in-utero exposure to alcohol and crystal meth, although I did not know that at first. He was looking for a foster and possibly forever home and was considered hard to place due to his birth mom’s history of mental illness.
Having gone through the foster parent training, as a single working woman I had determined I was best able to foster a child between the ages of 3-7 who had no fetal alcohol complications and had not had multiple placements or any significant behavioral issues…..I knew what would work and was waiting for the perfect placement.
I said no to a handful of potential placements, each one I considered and felt I did not have the resources to support that particular child in the way they would need. And ,then I got a call for a 4lb baby boy, and even though he was not what I was planning on or prepared for, within 24 hours I had said yes.
Very few people knew of my intention to fost-adopt. It was a personal choice and one I didn’t want to be dissuaded from nor hear a myriad of opinions about. So you can imagine my friend’s surprise when I called and asked if she wanted to come with me to meet my potential foster child! Luckily, I have great friends and they were all incredibly supportive. I was happy to have someone with me on the day I met (and totally fell in love with) my son, and she now can share in that amazing memory with us.
I met my son on a Saturday and he came home from the hospital with me on that Monday. Not a lot of time to get ready for a newborn! But I managed, friends helped a lot and we launched into our new lives surrounded by supportive and loving friends.
As we (the social workers, Adoption agency staff, me) learned more about my son’s story it became clear that his birth mom was not able to parent him nor was anyone in her immediate family. She suffered from schizophrenia and drug addiction. She often lived on the street by choice, refusing offers of support from her family. The individual she named as the bio father did a DNA test as was indeed not the bio father. The question of who his bio father was, was never answered. Maybe someday DNA tests will close that loop for my son, but for now it remains an unknown.
In Foster care there are usually visits with bio family members as all children in foster care have a goal of reunification. While a child is in foster care there are social workers looking for relatives who are willing and able to care for them. And often times bio parents are given supportive services and a plan outlining what they need to accomplish to regain their children. This whole process involves countless social workers, doctors, evaluators, judges, etc. It is never simple and it shouldn’t be, peoples’ lives are deeply effected by the outcome.
While we had multiple social workers, my son never had visits with his bio family. Those visits need to be initiated by the bio family, and in our case they never did. During this time my son was assessed to have a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Meaning there were physical signs of damage to his brain and development as a result of his bio mom’s alcohol consumption. As a result I took him to multiple early intervention services that were either provided for or supported by the department of children and family services (DCFS). He was a client of the regional center for his first three years where many of the services were accessed. I am relieved to report that the impact of this has been less than anticipated/predicted and my son is a happy “normal” 8 yr old boy.
Even without a plan for bio family involvement our adoption took 2.25 years to finalize. It was such a happy day when we went to court, surrounded by friends to celebrate becoming a forever family. Easily, the happiest day of my life.
As we have together grown through the phases of my son’s childhood we have always discussed his birth mom. He has known from a very early age know she wasn’t able to care for him because she was sick. As he got a little older I taught him about mental illness and that is what his bio mom is sick with. He has always expressed love and empathy for her. He wants to know that someone is taking care of her.
When he was in first grade I shared with him that his brain worked a little different than other’s because of the fetal alcohol exposure. It was traumatic for him, but we worked with a therapist who works with kids with fetal alcohol exposure and it was an important step to make sure my son understands his own story and how it impacts him moving forward.
My son has asked to meet his bio mom (who we just refer to as mom). I have never met her but I know that she has been in and out of jail on drug charges over the years. I want my son to know his birth family but it is hard to know when and how to do that as we have no contact. I have my cell phone number in his case file at DCFS in case she, or other bio family members ever inquire. I want to keep that door open. It is complicated, but then again family often is.
It is an honor to parent my son, he brings me great joy, frustration, happiness and mess! I wouldn’t change it for the world. There were parts of the fost-adopt process that were frustrating and I know there will be challenges navigating relationships (or a lack there of) with birth family at some point. And even with the ups and downs, this is the best thing I have ever done, hands down. I strongly encourage anyone who is thinking about foster or adopting to explore and see if it is right for you.
Maggie works at David & Margaret Youth and Family Services and we are grateful to her for sharing her story. Want to explore whether fostering or adoption is right for you? Learn more at our orientations, or contact our Foster Family Agency at (909) 596-5921, ext. 3189, or Foster@DavidandMargaret.org.