For many couples, the path to parenthood does not always go as planned. Three years ago, Natalie and Bennett could not have imagined the life and family they have today after beginning the process to become foster parents. Hear firsthand about what led them to foster care and ultimately adoption, and how they have emotionally navigated reunifying five children with their birth families in the following interview with Children’s Bureau.

CB: How did you find Children’s Bureau and why did you choose to foster or foster-adopt through this agency?

 When Bennett and I decided to become foster parents, we attended a few orientations because we really wanted to pick the right agency. We wanted to be part of an organization that felt like a family, like home. We were not only new to being foster parents, but we were also new to being parents. It was important to join a professional team that was going to be able to support us in both journeys. As soon as we walked into Children’s Bureau, we knew we had found our foster care family. We knew we were home.

CB: What was the process of becoming a resource parent and how long did it take?

We went to an orientation in April 2018, started class in July and were approved by October. Our first call was just 72 hrs. after being approved.

CB: What inspired you to become resource parents and how has it changed your life?

Foster care was a topic that was always on the table. However, we thought we would have biological children and then foster kids later in life. Our path to parenthood didn’t go as we planned. When we struggled with infertility, we reassessed what being a family meant to us. Ultimately, we knew in our heart that a child didn’t have to come from my body for us to love them like they were our own. We knew our hearts and our family’s hearts were big enough to love any child who needed us.

We had a failed IVF transfer of our only viable embryo in April of 2018. We were devastated. If on that day you had told us how complete our lives would be three years later, we may have not believed you. I do not know if we could have even imagined it. In three years, we have been lucky enough to parent seven children. In that time, we have done it all, we have reunited five, stayed in close contact with one, and adopted our beautiful son Miles. Bennett and I had no idea this life was possible and how fulfilled we could be through this emotional rollercoaster that is foster care. Being a Children’s Bureau resource parent has completely changed our lives.

CB: How have you helped the children transition back to their families? What was that like for you?

We’ve transitioned five children back to their birth families or with the foster families of siblings. It’s never easy and we always cry. It doesn’t matter if the kids were in our home for just one day or a year. We are always sad to see them go but are thrilled that they have found their forever home. There is a lot of that in foster care, having two completely different emotions spinning around in your body at the same time. The longer you do this the better you get at allowing those emotions to share the space and be ok with it. We like to send kids to their family with a little note that has wishes for their future. We also send a gift and anything we had bought for them while they were with us. Lastly, we make a list for the parents that has a rundown of anything they need to know. Medication schedules, sleep schedules, upcoming doctors’ appointments, and anything else we may know that they don’t. I also let them know that if they need anything, we are here to support them. We encourage them to reach out if they ever need anything. We are a judgement free and safe place to go for help.

CB: What were the birth parents/family like and how much contact do you have with them?

Every child that has joined our family has had a different amount of family time or family contact. Some saw their families weekly and others have families that we have never met. All the birth families we have met have been kind and thankful that we are taking care of their kids. They also clearly love their children very much but just need some help learning how to keep them safe.

In our house, we always put reunification 1st. The goal from day one is for kiddos to go home. When we talk with the biological parents, we say something along the lines of “we want you to know that your child is safe, we are giving them a ton of love, and we are taking very good care of them until they get to go home to you”. Having this mindset and letting the birth parents know our intentions is what has helped us build positive relationships together.

Reunification has been the most challenging part of being a foster parent. Going through the process of reunification while not knowing if the child will rejoin their family, or not, is emotionally challenging. Keeping the “foster care hat” on during the entire process helps us to continue to be foster parents. My advice to all resource parents is to love children that join your family deeply and at the same time be ready to send them home. Again, it’s learning how to have dueling emotions in your heart and be ok with it.

CB: How did you incorporate the birth parents/family into your child’s life?

We foster babies so this question is a little different for us. Mostly, we talk positively about the birth parents to the child. On our way to family time, we talk about who we are going to see and how fun it will be. On the way home we say things like “Wow, your mom was so happy to see you” or “You and your dad had so much fun playing in the park”. We also try to incorporate positive talk about their biological parents and family time throughout the week. I think every little bit helps them create a bond.

Another way we support the bond is to ask the biological parents if we can take pictures of them with the baby so we can put a framed picture in the nursery. We will invite the bio parents to any doctor’s appointment or update them during family time. We want the parents to feel as though they are a part of everything that is happening even if they cannot attend the appointments.

How has Children’s Bureau helped you on this journey?

Children’s Bureau has been there to guide us when we weren’t sure footed, listened to us when we needed to vent, offered an alternative perspective when we felt stuck, and reminded us why we signed up for this when we felt lost. They have been there to help when we needed it judgement free and full of confidence in us and our ability.

CB: What activities/therapies have the children joining your family through foster care experienced?

We have worked with therapists on development issues and added tons of tools to our parenting toolboxes. We feel like every therapy appointment helps us be better parents.

CB: How did you manage your and other family member’s feelings when a child goes to live with another family?

We have spent a lot of time talking with our family and friends about what to expect. We felt it was important to prepare them as much as possible for the journey we are all embarking on. Bennett and I had gone through PRIDE where the truth about how often reunification occurs but unfortunately, our family had not.

During the first year we had to manage everyone’s expectations. Occasionally someone would say things like “for sure she is going to stay” or “there is no way she’ll go”. We would gently remind them that the goal is always reunification until that is not an option. Now after three years, they are experts at being 100% onboard for as long as the kids are with us.

CB: What challenges have you faced as a resource parent and what have you learned?

We’ve learned so much, I am not even sure where to start. I’m a type-A personality and it’s always been very important for me to have a plan and know what is coming next. Obviously, in foster care that is an impossible way to live. I learned that if I am always worried about what’s coming next, I will miss what’s happening right now. I have learned to live in the moment and enjoy every second I’m allowed to be momma to these kids! I have also learned to be ok with having opposite emotions live within me. I can hope that every child who joins our family stays and at the same time hope that they get to go home as well. I know that both of those situations can’t happen but I’m not willing to hope someone else fails so that I’m able to get what I want.

CB: Tell us about your children today and their interests.

Miles, our adopted son, turns two in November. He loves cars and singing. He is a super happy kid with a contagious smile. He wakes up happy and only moves by running. Our 5-month-old boy who joined our family at birth is an easy- going kid who just figured out he has hands! He sleeps through the night and has a huge smile. One child was with us for 13 months and now lives with her dad but comes back to visit once a month. She is almost three and is amazing! She is a strong-willed and outspoken firecracker. She loves to sing and dance and loves to play make-believe. She is an amazing sharer and loves to help with the babies.