It was a Thursday afternoon in July of 2017. I had just finished at the gym and checked my phone on the way to my car – over a dozen missed calls – my immediate reaction was, “Who died?”…
Rewind to the fall of 2016, my wife & I had decided to start the process of becoming foster parents. These is much debate between Kristen and I about what specifically sparked our interest in foster care, but we agree on one thing: we both had a desire to share what we called our “embarrassment of abundance”. Not necessarily financial abundance, but the simple fact of having two stable, sober parents is significant abundance to many kids. Having both been raised by single parents, Kristen & I recognized we had this to offer foster children.
We received our first foster care placement in January of 2017. Due to the great need for foster parents in our area, our first placement actually beat our foster care license to our house! She was the prettiest one-month old you’ve ever seen and we loved taking care of her from January until June, when she was reunited with her Mother. Our family, especially our three biological children, were sad to see her go, but were well equipped with the family support structure we needed to cope with the loss. The exact thing foster kids don’t have. Reunification with biological parents is always the goal of foster care, but it is still difficult to give them back.
We decided to take some time off from foster care to nurse our emotional wounds (mostly our kids) and spend some time as a family. We went camping, ran a 5k adventure race in Medora, and were quickly back to our normal selves and ready to face our next foster care adventure.
We had no idea the adventure that awaited us.
Back to that fateful afternoon in July, I hurried to return the missed call to my wife, assuming some terrible news awaited me. I could tell by her tone when she answered the phone that she had news. “Are you ready for our next placement?” she asked. The way she said it let me know that wasn’t the whole story. “It’s a sibling group”, she said. We were only licensed for one child, and we requested children under four years old (Ben – aged 5 at the time – made this request) I asked if it was twins. “Triplets!” my wife exclaimed, “and they need an answer right now because they are being placed tomorrow, either in one home or in separate placements”. I picked my jaw up off the floor and immediately said no. I believe my exact wording was, “Only weirdos have six kids”. I asked Kristen to call my Mom (an NICU nurse) and her Grandma, knowing that they would be the voice of reason.
I quickly drove home from the gym, knowing I might be facing some stiff opposition upon my arrival home. Much to my surprise, my wife had called my Mom and her grandma, and they both were on her side. My Mom said she would help in any way she could, and Grandma said “I’ll pray for you”.
In all honesty, I was quick to get on board the triplet train, partially do to the fear that the babies could be split up, but also because I was starting to get excited about the challenge.
Medical information about the girls started rolling in, they were micro-preemies, born at 27 weeks, just above and just below two pounds, and no prenatal care (a few other significant concerns that we will withhold for their privacy). Two of the girls had achieved their goal weight of four pounds, and were able to be discharged from the NICU. Violet, the smallest, was eligible for discharge later that week.
To properly contextualize how fragile a four pound baby is: The girls were discharged from a hospital about 3 hours away. They were so fragile the social workers had to pull over every hour to let the girls stretch their necks, due to suffocation fears from weak necks and car seats.
Kristen’s version of that afternoon, in her own words from our sworn statement for the court:
“Saying “yes” to these girls was easier for me than I would like to admit because they were absolutely meant to be with our family or because I’m too impulsive, probably both. After telling the caseworker that I would get back to her, I had a feeling of “what if another family scoops them up before I call back!” not realizing that they were concerned it would be difficult to even place all three girls together in the same home. I am a former nurse and stay at home with our children and Benjamin is very flexible with his schedule and his business. We would be the perfect family to love these girls for however long they would be with us! Benjamin’s initial reaction over the phone was “no way” but we would discuss it when he got home as he had been at the gym after leaving work a little early that day. It did take some time and conferring with other important people in our lives before calling back to give that answer. Afterall, committing to one premature infant is a little scary; three was way past that! Our three kids were on board just like that. No questions or hesitation at all from them! Three other important people we made calls to include my best friend who added blunt honesty to what this challenge would entail along with her support and willingness to be there for us, Benjamin’s mother who would be extremely helpful as a grandma and knowledgeable NICU nurse, and lastly, my grandmother who would be the voice of reason.”
I’d love to tell you that first year was a fairy tail, but it was quite the opposite. Kristen and I nearly gave up several times.
Eating every few hours, the triplets took over our room, no adults allowed. My wife (Mom Hall of Fame Candidate) slept on the couch in our living room for a year until the girls slept through the night. I shared a bed with our Kindergartner. To make things worse, the girls developed colic and stuck with it for 14 weeks. Our house had a permanent bouquet of dirty diapers and vomit.
Did I mention diapers? Oh the diapers!! In the fog of it all, we didn’t realize the volume of diapers we were consuming. Not until mid-winter 2017 when the snow was too deep for the garbage to be collected, when we realized we had 400 semi-frozen diapers in our garage (thank God it was winter).
Also thank God for the resilience of our biological children. When changing over 800 diapers a month, there’s no time for superfluous things like changing tables, we changed these girls right on the kitchen counter. An assembly line that would make Henry Ford proud.
I’m not exactly sure how our marriage survived this chaos (maybe we were too tired to argue?), but like most challenges in life, we are stronger for it.
Life is still a whirlwind as we prepare to finalize the adoption this afternoon (April 23rd). Being the frugal financial planner that I am, we (LOL “we”) didn’t want to purchase a larger vehicle until we were certain the adoption would be official, so we drove two vehicles everywhere for nearly two years. Larger van finally purchased, and larger home pending, an element of chaos still exists, but we couldn’t be more grateful for these girls and can’t imagine our lives without them.
Our big kids, ages 11, 10, & 7, adore these girls. The highlight of every day is getting the babies out of bed. Our big kids are greeted with happy squeals (and immediate breakfast requests) from the babies as the big kids scoop them out of their cribs. Our older girls are going to have a serious baby-sitting resume in a few years. Through all the tribulations, our big kids never wavered for a second, I’m not sure this process would have been possible without their help and encouragement.
In hindsight, as we were led down the path of becoming a foster family, there wasn’t a direct reason for us to do it. We just started discussing it and away we went. Through our faith, we completely get it. We were led right to these girls. The way they melted into our family so naturally is indescribable.
To be clear, adoption is NOT the goal of foster care. Foster care is about caring for children in need. Do not use foster care as an adoption agency, that is a recipe for heartache for everyone involved.
However, if you feel a calling to share your home and your heart, please investigate foster care for yourselves. Kristen and I aren’t special and you don’t have to be perfect. In Bismarck alone, there are ~150 kids in need with only half as many foster families to care for them. Bismarck isn’t unique, if your city has a meth or opioid problem, you likely also have a foster care need.
If you’d like to learn more about foster care, please check out http://www.instantfamily.org/
(Watch the movie too)
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