Hey gang! November is National Adoption Month and we want to share some stories from our friends who have built their families in this unique way. This week I sat down with Timbrel and asked a lot of sensitive questions. I hope you enjoy this portrait of her journey!
You and your husband have been involved in the Missouri foster care system for 2 years now. What caused you two to choose that path?
Erik and I always knew we wanted to have a family together. Plus, we decided early in our marriage that someday we would foster and/or adopt, after the biological children came. Actually, from the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mom. I knew in my heart that God had a plan for me to rescue children. I just didn’t know until the last few years what that would look like. So when the doctors diagnosed us with “unexplained infertility” we decided to pursue foster care sooner rather than later. Being parents together was a non-negotiable part of our dream.
That sounds like devastating news to receive from a doctor. Was it a surprise? Would you mind being vulnerable for us and sharing your first reaction to this news?
Infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant after 12 or more months of trying to become pregnant. So, by the time we went to a doctor we knew that something was not right. We had very mixed emotions because “unexplained” is not the answer you want to hear. For me just going to the doctor was a realization that my dreams were being crushed, and I was heartbroken.
I know there are several treatment options available to couples now. How did you and Erik proceed?
Fertility treatment is expensive, time consuming, and seemed to me like embarking on an emotional roller coaster. Also, it wasn’t a guarantee that we would have a child if we committed to this process. However, we did try treatment for a few months anyway, but to no avail. We were in complete agreement to stop. Though the failure felt devastating, Erik and I agreed this wasn’t the route for us to pursue further.
How did you move on from your decision?
We spent some time grieving and praying, asking God for a miracle healing. Finally, we then decided that instead of continuing to grieve, we would take a different kind of action and become foster parents. I know what you might think- this too is time consuming and an emotional roller coaster. Foster care doesn’t guarantee us a family any more than a doctor could.
Joining the Foster Program
Then why choose that route? How did your heart grow to be willing to take these risks?
We began to learn more about foster care, and that caused our hearts to really open to the possibilities. There are thousands of children in foster care and far too few foster parents. We believed we could be the ones to take in children who were already born and in need of a family. These children need people to bond with that will love them unconditionally. We knew it could change the course of their lives. (This was not something that we fully realized going into foster care, but it is a lesson we have definitely seen play out on our journey.)
What was the time line from your initial decision, to seeing it actually play out in your home?
First, we attended the an informational meeting and formally committed to becoming foster parents. Then we waited several months for spots to open in the required classes. Finally, we completed the licensing process. This includes home inspections and interviews, both one-on-one and as a couple. From that initial meeting, it was 10 months until we met our first foster daughter.
Can you describe the thoughts and emotions you experienced, being suddenly responsible for a helpless little stranger?
It was amazing and overwhelming! We fell in love the moment we laid eyes on this little baby girl. She had been born and left alone in a busy hospital with only the medical staff and social workers for a solid week, until we came. That fact was heartbreaking! Additionally, we dealt with feelings of cluelessness. Now, I know that is normal for first time parents, but imagine how unnerving it can be when the child isn’t yours! Plus, we weren’t the only ones making decisions for her.
Our Amazing Family
I’ve met your gorgeous little man Alex. How did you get so blessed to become his parents?
During the months of the foster licensing process, we were approached about a young woman who was soon to deliver a son. She didn’t feel that she could raise him. We had a two week whirlwind schedule to get a private home study, meet her in person, and gather everything that we needed for a baby. We had nothing! Added to the craziness, Erik was out of town on business. We had to work as a team – him by phone and me in person. It was exciting and scary! Missouri law says that a woman can’t sign her parental rights until the baby is 48 hours old. Holding our son in the hospital felt precarious because we knew that she could yet change her mind. When we stepped out of the courthouse with custody, it was with deep sorrow and gratefulness to her, mixed with a joy like we’d never felt before! (This young woman put her baby before herself. Partly for that reason, we decided to do an open adoption. We have regular contact with Alex’s birth family. This has been a great adventure for us from the very beginning.)
Some people might have exited the foster care program at that amazing juncture. What led you and Erik to carry on?
We were weeks away from being licensed and we had too much invested to stop at that point. Plus, we still wanted more family. Our definition of family had already permanently changed. It was no longer just Erik, Timbrel and the forever children we would have. It became our foster children too, and their birth families!
Caring for children removed from their birth homes can get really complicated. How did you choose empathy for the families, instead of revulsion?
Surprising to me, the birth families and adoptive families became part of our hearts too. These are the families of the children we love. We’ve learned to see them for what they are – real people, not stereotypes. There are parents so addicted that they can’t get their lives straightened out. There are those who chose to let another family raise their child because they believe it’s for the best. There are grandparents, who tried to raise their children right, but whose hearts are now broken. Don’t forget that there are always other siblings involved as well (these are “my kids” too, even though they don’t live with me.) My heart is moved on their behalf! I want them all to get the help they so desperately need.
I’m sure foster care never gets predictable – always a new challenge to face. Where do you turn for encouragement and empathy for yourself?
In the past 17 months we’ve had 4 newborns counting our son Alex. Yes, it’s exhausting! Yes, we become attached and our hearts break when our babies leave. Other foster families are the ones who truly “get” my crazy family. They understand what I am experiencing. Our church is also very supportive of foster/adoptive families. These families have treated each child as though they belong. This is not always the case with foster care. Having this support is so important for us. I know there are people I can call anytime day or night and say, “Pray for me (or my kid)!” I am blessed to know other moms who will just listen and then speak encouragement. When they say, “I understand what you’re feeling,” they truly mean it.
Your life is unusual. What else would you like to tell those of us who are on the outside looking in?
I challenge you to learn about foster care. There are many ways to become involved, even if being the actual care-giver isn’t a fit for you. Get to know the foster families around you. Pray for them. Find ways to encourage them, i.e. take them a meal when they get a new child or offer to watch the kids for date night. Become trauma informed – learn about kids from hard places and why their brains don’t work the same as ours. Remember, there’s no such thing as “bad kids.” Choose empathy towards the birth families. Birth families are part of every child’s life/history, even if you never meet them. As foster parents and people around foster care, we must have compassion and understanding towards them. I would ask like to ask, “Could you open your heart and home to a child and their family?” If you’re able, please at least consider being a foster parent. Don’t be afraid to love them or be stopped by fear of attaching to a child who may leave. There is every age from newborns to teens that all desperately need families right now.