Our kids are only sixteen months apart in age. We tried as hard as we could to plan out that ideal two year age difference, but it just didn’t work out. Our daughter came to us at birth, and since that was our only experience working with the foster care system, we started the process of adopting our second child when she was about twenty months old, thinking that the roughly six-month process of updating our home study and all would bring us a second baby at just the right time and age.
There had been a change in leadership at the Department of Children and Families since our first adoption though, and concurrent placements weren’t really the norm any more. When our daughter was born, the agency allowed social workers to make a decision whether or not to place a child in concurrent planning, which means that the professionals involved could work both for reunification with the biological family and eventual adoption. They could concurrently plan for both outcomes. Our daughter came into care immediately at birth because she was born with cocaine in her system and her birthmother admitted to drinking during pregnancy. Shortly after giving birth, her mother left the hospital, leaving her baby girl behind. On paper, the goal of the Department of Children and Families for this baby was reunification with the biological family. Based on the circumstances, as well as the birthmother’s history of incarceration, struggles with substance abuse, and losing custody of two children already, the social workers made the decision to place our daughter in a pre-adoptive foster care home, our home, because they believed that the likelihood of this mother maintaining her parental rights was pretty limited. Things worked out like the agency believed they would, and seventeen months later we legally adopted our daughter. Little did we know at the time that our son was already a month old and living with a foster family about an hour away.
At the time, the agency had developed a more firm policy of not placing children in pre-adoptive homes until all biological avenues had been exhausted. This philosophy makes logical sense. It protects the sanctity of the biological relationship while also protecting pre-adoptive foster families from welcoming a child into their home that may in fact be returned at some point. In practice however, many of these children will never be returned to their biological families, so the potential risk is probably outweighed by the security of placing these children in what might end up being forever families. Still, the policy was in place and his mother gave birth in a prison hospital, our son spent the entire first year of his life in a temporary foster home.
The foster home was terrific, and we’re so glad that he had that stability early in his life; had he been placed with a pre-adoptive family, he never would have been placed with us, so things certainly work out the way they are supposed to. At the same time, it made the bonding process difficult for everyone involved. The handover process was swift and challenging. I had time off from work and spent time with our son in his foster home, and then my husband joined us a few days into this process. About a week in, we began the transition, which included introducing him to his new sister. With the countdown to the big move at just three days, the three of us went to spend the day with him at his foster home, the last full day he would ever be there. The following day, his foster family dropped him off at our house in the morning, and we brought him back that night. The next day, we picked him up at his foster house, and he never returned. This was two weeks after his first birthday and it was Father’s Day.
That first night as an official family of four living under the same roof, we decided to dine out. We walked to a restaurant up the street. After we sat down, our son immediately reminded us that his foster family let him throw his sippy cup when he was done with it by tossing it nearly into the laps of the family sitting next to us. I retrieved the cup, apologized to the family, and returned to our table. “We do not throw cups in this family,” I said in my sternest dad voice. My son immediately started crying.
He didn’t sleep well, especially those first few nights after he officially moved in, and I’m sure he was wondering where the hell he was and why his family had been replaced by complete strangers. He had been diagnosed with a speech delay and wasn’t speaking at all at this point, but we still talked to him regularly about his new family and how happy we were he’d joined us. In the middle of the night though when he would wake screaming, it was incredibly challenging to keep my calm and not get angry. I wasn’t always able to do either.
I know now that I struggled a lot with my fears that I wouldn’t get attached to this kid, at least not in the way that I had so immediately become inseparable from our infant daughter. I can’t say when we all finally settled into one another, but I know it wasn’t immediate. I wish now that someone had told me this might happen and that it’s okay. My husband and I talked about it, but I remember being too afraid to actually admit that I wasn’t sure I felt like this boy’s dad yet.
The good thing is that it did happen eventually, and I think it’s good that I can’t actually pinpoint when it happened. I know that he is my son, and I am his father.
I know some people will read this and think, “That’s why I could never adopt a child,” but I can tell you that it’s something you will quickly get over. Before I wore contacts, I used to say, “I could never touch my eye every day like that!” but now I do it every day. Maybe that’s not the best analogy, but I wore glasses and I was sick of having to deal with them. I wanted to not wear glasses badly enough that I got over my initial fears of putting plastic on my eyeball, just like people who want to be parents badly enough–really want it–can get over their fears of attachment and welcome a child in need into their home, their family, and their hearts.