Our adoptions social worker arranged a meeting with two darling school-aged girls at the park, told us that these girls were in foster care and would likely be available for adoption. After the visit, he asked us if we wanted to adopt them. Where these our long-awaited children?
In our minds, my husband and I had pictured a family being created the “typical” way – with the arrival of a baby. And indeed, we had investigated adopting infants from other countries, or through a private adoption in the states. But somehow, we just never did it. But we were open to what life would present us and I was confident that it would all work out.
My husband and I quickly made the decision to move forward. We were instructed to create a scrap book about our family – what we liked to do and who we were. The social worker would present the book to the girls to get their approval.
It’s difficult to imagine that a four and seven your old – who loved their birth parents and wanted to be with them – could give an informed consent, or even understand the magnitude of what was happening (Our younger daughter – for years – would make comments that she really liked being with us and hoped she could stay.) I don’t know what the social worker said or how the issue was presented. But we moved forward.
I was expecting that overnight we would become a happy family and love would heal all wounds. Instead, we began a few day visits which turned to overnight visits. The girls had been in a temporary foster home for a year, and I felt the foster parents eying us with suspicion (I could feel our older daughter-to-be eying us with suspicion as well). Really, I’m sure that after caring for and loving these two girls, the foster parents wanted the best for them and wanted to make sure that we would offer these girls the love and stability that they deserved.
The visits were fun – movies, dress up, outings, art projects, games. The girls loved our dogs, and our dogs loved our girls. Still, the girls had been raised in one type of family and then fostered by another type and now would hopefully be placed in our type of family. We all had our different nuances and traditions (My family doesn’t eat pork, and at one meeting, the foster parents wanted to meet at a local diner, where they ordered bacon and sausage for the girls (who devoured it).
In retrospect, I was naive to think we would suddenly morph into a seamless family unit (but my heart was bursting and my hormones, raging). In California, once children are placed with a fost/adopt family, the adoption cannot commence until after a 6-month trial period – to make sure both parent(s) and child are a good fit.
It’s important to note that there are no pre-qualifications for foster parents, other than the ability to provide a loving and stable home for a child. The parent can be single, married, LGBTQ+, old or young, a legal citizen or not. You don’t have to own a house and you don’t have to pay anything for the county adoption – it’s free.
It’s also important to know that the courts don’t like making children orphans. So, ideally, a parent’s rights aren’t terminated by the court until the child is in a potential adoptive home. So, there’s a bit of a time when it’s hazy, with no end-result guarantees.
This is because when a child is removed from their birth family due to abuse or neglect, the birth parents have a short amount of time to prove to the court that they can become safe parents. The county social worker creates a plan for the parents that is approved by the court – the plan can include things like drug counseling, drug testing, parenting classes, etc. With the passage of time, it becomes clear as to which birth parents will be able to safely “reunify” with their children (which, of course, is the goal – those children should be able to live with their parents and parents should be able to protect their children) – and which won’t. Occasionally, it’s not so clear.
It’s a bit of a risk. And your heart may be broken. But some of my friends who have given birth have experienced the same fear and bitter disappointment. Parenthood is always fraught with risks.
So, when we were told that the girls’ birth parents were appealing the order terminating their parental rights, I had a streak of fear, but by and large I felt that these girls would become our daughters and that their birth parents were doing what any parents would do — fight for the children that they loved. I knew that it was unlikely that the parents would prevail, based on their inability to show the social workers and the judge that the parents could now safely parent, but that was the rational side of me. My emotional side a combination of anxiety and terror). But if the parents were someone able to convince the court, at least I would have the opportunity to know that I could love children (it’s amazing how quickly foster parents can bond to foster children) and offer the girls my love as they traveled on their lives’ journey.
After the social worker told us that the appeal was denied, I was still filled with anxiety – would the biological parents track us down and steal our children? Would we randomly bump into them in our small town? But nothing like that ever happened (and I’ve never ever heard of anything like that happening anywhere.). A biological grandmother wanted to meet us (again – terror!) but she only wanted to bring the girls gifts, hug them a last time and exchange photographs with me. She just wanted to know that the girls would be safe and loved.
At some point, you just have to give it up to The Universe and accept that the right children will find the right parents (I have seen this phenomenon repeatedly). I’ve never been pregnant, but I would imagine that to a certain extent, conceiving a biological child is similar: You trust that your baby will be beautiful and healthy, and you will love your baby and your baby will love you. There are no guarantees and awful and unfair things do happen — but mostly there is happiness and not sadness (though any type of parenting – foster, adoptive, biological – involves a mixture of both. As one of my friends with children said, “there’s always something to worry about.”
Our beautiful girls came to live with us full-time in October and in July of the next year, I was surrounded by loving friends and family as the judge made the adoption final. This is my family. These are my children. I may not be their biological parent, but I am their mother – and they are my daughters – forever.
Hadassah is a national nonprofit and a critical part of its mission is to advocate for women’s healthcare. The organization launched reConceiving Infertility in 2020 to raise awareness of and destigmatize, advocate for increased insurance coverage of infertility treatments at the state and national level, and empower patients women take control of their own health.
One of the elements of reConceiving Infertility is a series of videos narrated by Amy Klein, author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind. Klein’s family-building journey involved nine rounds of fertility treatments, 10 doctors and four miscarriages – in just three years. The videos, “How to Help People Struggling With Infertility During COVID-19,” “What Not To Say About Baby-Making” and “Infertility: Costs, Coverage and Creativity,” can be found at www.hadassah.org/infertility. The initiative has since created other programs and is developing new ones. Information can be found on the website.
The inability to have a child affects 6.7 million women in the US, or about 11 percent of the reproductive-age population, according to a Centers for Disease Control study. With our country’s limited access to insurance and staggeringly high cost of infertility treatments, many families incur substantial debt or are prevented from seeking treatment altogether. reConceiving Infertility is an important step in changing the way our society addresses infertility.
There are many wonderful ways to create a family – but too often adoption through the foster care system gets left out of the conversation. We need to examine all options – you never know where life might lead you. For more information on adopting through the foster care system, visit www.AdoptUSKids.org.
Anastasia Torres-Gil is a former Asst. District Attorney for Santa Cruz County, served as the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s first Hate Crimes Unit Coordinator and is a National Board Member of Hadassah. She is the creator of the pro-Israel comic strip “Zionist Pugs” (www.zionistpugs.com).