Foster to Adoption: Is It the Same?

foster or adoption, girl and a cat

The doctor told her that she could not physically carry another baby full term. Her miscarriage had been emotionally and physically taxing, but without the doctor’s prohibition, she would have tried again. She told me how much she loved her children and how much she ached for the one she’d lost. She wanted more, but was wary of foster to adoption. She asked me, “Is it the same?”

It was brave of her to ask. I imagine she is not the only one with the question. As a mother to a blend of biological and adopted children, I can answer from my own experience: No. It isn’t the same.

My first pregnancy was a series of minor miracles to me: the first flutter, the green tinged hormonal changes, the first solid kicks, the fear and anticipation of her birth, the somewhat complicated but successful natural delivery, and the gratifying first wail of my perfect baby girl. My husband held her and tearfully whispered, “Oh, honey. She’s beautiful.”

She is growing up. She watches the birds in our yard daily and wants to study ornithology. She catches lizards to show her sisters. She does well academically and is an asset to her teachers. She swallows peas as if they’re medicine, but will never turn down pepperoni pizza. She reads voraciously and her fingers fly when she plays the piano. Despite her more mature tastes, she will stop and play dolls or blocks with any little child that asks her to. Watching her progress is mesmerizing and magnificent.

My first foster child was an infant, two days old and coming to us straight from the hospital. We had prepared for months, giving our Saturdays to training classes, interviewing with social workers, locking up medications, and adhering to a plethora of other state requirements. The process had been slow, but the placement came less than a week after we were officially licensed. Once the state had called, we scrambled to set up the cradle our first born and our subsequent children had slept in. We pulled the appropriate clothing out of storage, washed blankets, wiped down the car seat, and prepared the children to receive a new addition.

She was so small. Her infant seat seemed over large as I unbuckled the straps and carefully, tenderly lifted her out. As the state worker talked to us about her case, I changed her diaper, prepared her bottle, and fed her until her sucking slowed. My husband took her to the rocking chair to pat out the air bubbles. The state worker informed us that they had yet to find a family member available to take her, but that some may come forward. “Don’t get attached,” she said. My husband looked at the precious, perfect infant softly sleeping in his arms and said, “Too late.”

She grew. She was social and locked people in with her almost cartoonishly large, round brown eyes. Her sweet, soft infant smiles gave way to playful baby giggles. She rolled, reached for toys, and then began to scoot around on her back with her head tilted forward to see where she was going. She finally flipped to a crawl, walked, and then ran to keep up with her pseudo sisters and their perpetual play that initially fluttered around her, then engaged and included her.

It was ages, aching, agonizing minutes and days and months, before the adoption was finalized. We told ourselves we’d signed up for it. We were foster parents. If her destiny was to be reunified with any member of her biological family, we told each other that would be a victory, too. We would be happy for her. We were delusional. It would have torn us to shreds. Perhaps we would have picked up the pieces and recovered, but thankfully we never had to.

Was it the same? No. It isn’t meant to be. It’s a tragedy, in a way, a child born to a mother who can not or will not care for them. She feels the flutters. She bonds with the unborn. Then, for a myriad of different reasons, some selfish and some breathtakingly selfless, she chooses or is forced to sever those ties and someone else takes over. It’s a triumph, too. It’s people opting to take up a child they have no obligation to care for. They raise them, cherish them, and mold their lives around their happiness.

It’s different kind of miracle. It’s another brand of magic. She’s mine. Wholly, completely, unequivocally mine. She’s a creative three, now, and she tells me about her dreams of butterflies and alligators, adding to them as I encourage her by expressively asking, “What happened next?” She loves to swing and recently learned to manage one all on her own at a younger age than any of my others. I’m captivated by her distinct, whimsical personality. I’m taken back by the tenuous nature of the process that brought her to my door. We didn’t have to adopt. We had four children already. We might not have fostered then and often thought of putting it off. Good Lord, what if we had? I hate how fragile our initial claim was. What if they’d called someone else? What if the paternity test had come out differently and she’d gone to a grandparent? We are so completely devoted to her that any outcome other than adoption seems outrageous.

No, adoption is not the same as having your own initially. The licensing process and the subsequent waiting for a placement call is a peculiar kind of pregnancy. Their arrival is an altered birth. Accepting them, holding them, and bonding with them without reservation is a labor rich with rewards. It doesn’t matter to me so much how they came as the fact that they did. Their standing here isn’t any different now. Both are an irreplaceable part of our family dynamic. To say that I love them feels inadequate. They are essential to me.

To my friends who have asked and to the strangers who hold the question, let me answer it at the root. You can find fulfillment as a parent, completion to your family, and new depths of compassion by welcoming a child to your home through the miracle of adoption. You can love and be bonded to a unique little someone whose eyes don’t hold your color, whose skin tone contrasts with your own, who did not come from your body but instead comes from the labor of your beautifully vulnerable and wonderfully empathetic heart.