“Growing up in Los Angeles, I didn’t know anything about the foster care system. In fact, I only knew one person who was adopted and she and I are still best friends/sisters. Lori grew up to be an adoption social worker and over the years shared stories about her cases, and the tough job of the children she was assigned to place. I suppose seeing how well her life turned out and hearing about her experiences opened my mind up to the adoption option.
“In 2006, I began the process as a single woman, clear that my desire was to offer an African-American boy a permanent, loving home. I knew that African American boys were often the hardest to place and they face the most challenges, but that didn’t deter me.
“My desire for motherhood was greater and I had enough faith to believe that I would be able to assemble a strong male community to support him. The first step to the adoption process is foster care. The first two calls from the social worker were for children that did not feel like a right fit for me, but the third call, for a six-month-old, felt promising. A visit was arranged and by the time it was over, this boy felt as if he was meant to be my son. But we were far from the finish line. In fact, we were just getting started. Two weeks later, he was placed in my care and I officially became his foster parent. It was at that point that the journey began.
“Though his birth mother had lost custody, she still had parental rights. My first obligation was to take him for required weekly visits with his birth mother. At the discretion of the social worker, the decision was made for monitored visits without me being present. So, I drove to a designated location, handed him over to her and waited an hour for their return. We only completed four visits before the birth mother stopped showing up. I was relieved because her erratic behavior interrupted the normalcy of the life I was attempting to create for him. After a year, her parental rights were terminated. Another hurdle crossed. Part of the foster parent process also involved required weekly in-home social worker visits to monitor how he was adjusting and how we were bonding. We passed those stages with flying colors. The next step was adoption.
“Working with the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services was a positive but lengthy process that involved more social worker visits, more paperwork, and now, adoption attorney visits. It took two years and nine social workers before the adoption was final. But he was the best 37th birthday gift, ever. I chose a closed adoption to create a cocoon of protection around him and allow us time to bond with as little outside interference as possible. Family and friends helped with errands, babysitting, groceries, and anything else we needed.
“I am thankful that a close male friend stepped in and assumed the role of Godfather. Our circle has expanded to also include a group of families we call, ‘The Village’ that includes fathers that treat him as if he is their son too. My son is now nearly as tall as me, attends a wonderful school with great friends. Between Little League games, basketball practices, robotics lessons, and music classes, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But ‘The Village’ always comes through helping with pickups, drop-offs, and shared dinners.
“From the moment he could understand the concept of adoption, I began to read stories to him about the topic and shared with him the circumstances of his birth. His friends know he is adopted and treat him with kindness. In this age of bullying, that makes me happy. At five, he became quite vocal about wanting a sister. I attempted to change the subject whenever it came up, and hoped our two geriatric Yorkies and Beta Fish would suffice. But he persisted.
“Could I really raise two children?
“Before long, I was back on the adoption track. Two boys would be a handful, but I was up for it. God had other plans. A year later, we visited the home of his younger siblings. This was my son’s second interaction with relatives and we were both nervous. It ended up being a positive experience, as his younger brother and sisters were fun and their foster mother was kind and loving. While there, I did something I never do, held someone else’s baby. As I held his youngest sister, the feeling I had with him returned. Her sweet little face and calm spirit captured my heart. I told the foster parent if anything changed, I would take her. Weeks passed but thoughts of her remained. Call it divine intervention but a few months later, I got a phone call informing me the placement had been disrupted and asking if I would be willing to take both sisters (their brother had already been adopted).
“In cases like this, every effort is made to keep siblings together. I was not set up to physically, emotionally or financially take on three children. And girls definitely weren’t part of the plan. So, I respectfully declined. Several weeks later the court, social workers, and lawyers determined the best interest of all the siblings was to allow each sister to live with a sibling and/or close family member. Within days, we brought my son’s baby sister home. And we two became three.
“It was back to weekly social worker visits but this time around, two different agencies conducted the required visits on different days. At the six-month mark, the visits decreased to monthly with an adoption social worker and adoption attorney. In all, the process took a year.
“Girls are different. More sass. More spirit. More independence. But I love it – and the strong-willed girl she is growing up to be. We’ve settled in and “The Village” has embraced her too with gifts, hugs, kisses, and twirls in the air. Her giggles warm my heart and her pouts and hands placed firmly on her hips when she doesn’t get her way let me know that in a few years, I will have my hands full. Thank goodness I have time.
“A friend asked if I ever think, ‘what have I done?’ Naturally, those thoughts have crossed my mind, usually after a long and exhaustive workday. But it isn’t because my children are adopted. In fact, I sometimes forget that I didn’t give birth to them. It’s because like many single parents, I am trying to keep up with homework, sports practices, school activities, ballet lessons, evening baths, hair combing, and what to prepare for dinner.
“Most times I get it right, sometimes, it’s McDonalds, but at the end of the day, it’s always about love and what’s best for them. The anxiety quickly subsides when I hear my daughter say, ‘mommy’ and plant my face with kisses and hugs, or my son smiles proudly at me when he hits a home-run at his Little League baseball game. These two little ones have filled my life with an immense joy. I’m a better person because of them.
“So much is made about celebrities who’ve fostered and adopted. I applaud their choice. They have the wealth, resources, and connections to travel to other countries for children. But there are so many deserving children in the U.S. in need of loving, stable homes. I wanted to share the joys – and pains – of my experience so I started writing about it. My work has appeared in The Huffington Post, mater mea, Mutha Magazine, The Good Men Project, Essence.com, and Adoptive Families Magazine. This process revealed there is a dearth of information and resources for people of color so, I set out to write a book I wish had been available when I was going through the process called, My Eggs Are Fine…I Adopted Anyway: A Memoir About Race, Gender and Adoption.
“I also became a Certified PS-MAPP Trainer for the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services, where I co-lead workshops for prospective foster/adoptive families. I really want to inspire and support families, especially families of color, who desire to foster or adopt but worry that foster kids are troubled and unmanageable. This is a vicious myth that should die. Foster youth have it tough but they are resilient.
“I believe in the work of the National Youth Foster Initiative (NYFI) that offers foster youth a voice on the national level by creating paid internships with Congressional lawmakers with a goal to transform the foster care system. I’ve also worked Extraordinary Families(formerly Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency), the agency through which I adopted my daughter. The important thing to know about foster care and adoption is that it isn’t for everyone. And that’s okay. But if it is a desire, then be transparent, have patience, and make sure you are in it for the long haul. These children are worth it. They’ve had difficult starts and many disappointments. Foster care offers hope. Adoption offers a forever home and commitment.
“Friends have called me brave. And said they admire my choice to foster and then adopt not one child but two. Despite rough beginnings, they survived the foster care system and now lead happy, healthy lives.
“That’s what all parents want for their children. To me, they are the brave ones.”