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Autism: Choices Made Long Ago

This morning I woke up early with a nearly overwhelming urge to plan What if? Not what if I get this job, or win the lottery, or suddenly find myself pregnant, but more on the lines of: What if I could return twenty years in the past, indwell my twenty year old body, and live and make decisions based on who I am now, and what I now know?

If that were possible, what would I do differently? What would I do the same? Where would I live? (On ‘my little corner’ where I always find myself in my dreams?) Who would I live with? What job would I do?

If I didn’t move across the country, would I still have turned to church and found faith? If I hadn’t met my husband, what would his life be like now? (Probably much messier, much simpler, and easier for him, I imagine.) If I hadn’t tried to adopt “my” children, would someone else have succeeded in adopting them? Would they still be together now?

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If I hadn’t moved away from home, would I have followed through on homeschooling my son? If we had remained close to our families, would my son be more social? Would he have friends who lived close enough to visit? Would he seem so alone?

If I didn’t have twenty years of failure behind me, would I still have sought my Autism diagnosis? Would I have brought my son in for his? Would we still have gotten it?

I am completely overwhelmed by the reality that my choices have such lasting consequences – and that if I choose wrong, working to fix it won’t remove all that was set in motion due to that choice.

I don’t know whether this is in spite of, or because of, my form of Autism, but I spend an unreasonable amount of time and energy considering things that are outside of the laws of the world I find myself in.

And though I know making plans for what I might have done is at best a waste of time, the pull is so strong that I will likely spend my day fixated on it anyway. Though I realize it will ultimately lead to me feeling trapped so far from home, for a while – a very little while – I will believe that “anything can happen,” and there I will find hope.

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Autism: Morbid Thoughts

If I died, I would be okay. Those are the thoughts that have been consuming my mind this weekend. Morbid thoughts, I admit, but my thoughts just the same. The difficulty is that I am sick. Really sick. I have been battling these issues for many months, but they continue to get worse. I don’t know that I am dying, but… have you ever been so sick with the flu or something that it felt as if you were going to die? And it was so bad that in the moment, you really didn’t care if you did die, if only you would stop feeling so sick? That is how I have been – only I don’t think this is the flu.

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I also don’t think that I am dying. It is possible, and as I consider that, I consider all the people I know who died young for health reasons – two of my cousins (cystic fibrosis – age 21 and 26,) four people I went to highschool with (heart attack – age 33, stomach problems – age 34, brain tumour – age 36, breast cancer – age 39) three of the people I went to school with had very young children they left behind. At least I don’t have that. Then there was the boy.

A beautiful little brown haired, green eyed boy, with an amazing personality. When the other kids were fighting, he was the one who stepped in – despite being only two or three years old, he was able to get everyone playing nicely again. Much more mature than I was for all of my 27 or so years, and training in this area. He was just good at it.

Funny, and social, and caring (“but the owls can’t eat the bunnies,” he told me when looking through an encyclopedia – I know, but the kids loved the books – “the bunnies would be too sad.”) and smart… that boy had a lot of potential. Even my son liked him, and my son didn’t like ‘little kids.’ My boy was four years older.

He had his forth birthday party, and I dropped off my son, and a nephew. They had a lot of fun. I might have stayed, but I knew his family. I had known them for two years. I stayed for his third birthday party, and left the boys for his forth. And it was fine.

The next week, as he was dropped off for daycare, I noticed a limp. It came through the day, but (though I supervised carefully) I hadn’t noticed him hurt it in any way. Day after day the limp got worse, and this energetic little boy started napping during our early morning time outside. He was so tired all the time.

He could have pulled the muscle riding the bike he got for his birthday. Maybe another (quite rough) boy in my daycare knocked him down. “Try keeping them apart,” I was told. But the solution wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t helping. He just kept getting worse.

And then I got the phone call. Leukemia, they told me. I filled up a whole sheet of paper listening to his grandma on the phone. I still have that paper.

He fought for two years, brave, beautiful child that he was. And as I was in Vancouver with my children, placed just a few months before, being told that all three had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, this little boy passed away while playing crib with the nurse. “Fifteen two, fifteen four, and a pair is six,” I am told were his last words as he fell asleep. I was standing in the kitchen making supper for my third anniversary with my husband.

The first time I left my children with a babysitter (with anyone other than my husband and mom) since placement was for his funeral a few days later.

Tomorrow is my 13th wedding anniversary. It has been 10 years, and as I think about how strong this pain and these thoughts of death have been this weekend I realize… it is not for myself that I cry. These tears are for him.

 

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The Adoption Part Eleven: September 21

It is Monday, September 21, 2015. On this day, six years ago, my children were taken from my home for the final time, and it was not for something I did wrong in parenting them. The social workers even admitted that, but they took them just the same.

Like this year, the 21st also fell on a Monday then. We had been battling lice in our house that month. First with our younger son, and that weekend, with our older daughter. It was not fun, but when you have children in the school system, lice is something that happens.

We felt it was unfair when, at the beginning of the school year, after a summer spent in their daycare, our son’s daycare left us a message on our phone that our son had lice. None of our other children had it, and that was the only other place he went, but they blamed us as if the cause were in our parenting.

We were driving to the airport that day to drop my mom off, after having spent several weeks in our home helping out with the children. We do not have cell phones, and so were not able to answer the call. We were just (at the insistence of the ministry) switching respite providers, so our emergency contact at the daycare was wrong.

It really seems like poor judgment on the part of the daycare – or perhaps cruelty, it is hard to tell. I wouldn’t think that the children’s ministry should be called for a matter of a child having lice on the first day of school. That is what they did, however. Not being able to reach us, and not having an emergency contact number that was in use, they called the social workers to report to them that our son had lice.

We treated him, and all of his bedding and toys, as well as everything he might have come into contact with. I shaved his hair, and treated his head, and he was back to school the next day. We checked all of our other children, as well as each other, but none of the rest of us had any signs of having lice.

Every night and every morning, I french braided both of my daughter’s hair. If they had this issue, we would have been pretty quick to find out. As it was, it was about 2 weeks later before my older daughter was found to have any.

We treated her, and everyone and everything in the house that weekend. We got out all the lice, but missed a few eggs, and her school refused to take her that morning.

As was our routine, we dropped our younger son off at school that morning, expecting to see him again after daycare that afternoon. As my husband went into the school to talk to our older daughter’s teacher to see if she could attend that day, I played on the playground with my baby. At nearly 4 ½ years old, she was very excited about birthdays, and mine was coming up at the end of the week.

On the playground, she pretended to make me birthday cakes, and had me blow out the candles. I wasn’t feeling good that morning, and wish now that I had been more involved in her game – but I did my best, and she seemed to enjoy herself.

My husband came back with our daughter, and we took our baby down to preschool, expecting to pick her up just before lunch a couple of hours later. She asked for a hug before she left that morning, and I didn’t give her one. I think I will regret that decision for the rest of my life. I was sick, and was staying in the van with our other daughter. I was also frustrated about the lice issue, and didn’t want to lean through the van to reach my baby. There was always later, I thought, but later never came.

We had an appointment that morning with the ministry, and called ahead to see if we could have someone watch our daughter while we were in the meeting. They said, no, and so we brought along our older son.

When we got there, we gave her her lunch so that she could have snacks if she wanted. For whatever reason, they wouldn’t allow our son to go in to the room to watch her during our meeting, so he sat awkwardly waiting in the waiting room.

They spoke a lot of words that meant very little, and finally came down to them saying they had decided to (suddenly, without reason) take our children. They promised they wouldn’t, but promises mean little to social workers.

I said, “but we did everything you asked us to, and we haven’t hurt our children at all” and they responded, “we know.” They took them anyway, and there was nothing we could do.

We left all three of our children with full expectation that we would be seeing them in a few hours. I never would have done that to my kids – broke an unspoken promise to be there for them – I never would have left them expecting us to show up, and then suddenly have them taken by someone else. I never for the world would have hurt them that way – but the ministry did, and we had no options.

I got my son from the waiting room, and we left. We left, and the three of us went home to cry alone.

Six years. Six years and it still hurts as much as it did that day every time I think of it. They took my kids. The ministry might not have thought of them as our children, but when I think of them – no matter how hard I try to change that, to lessen the pain, it remains. They took my children, and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

September 21st.  Four days before my birthday, and it has now become the hardest day of the year for me.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Faith Walk

 

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The Adoption Part Ten: The Final Months

We got them back with a list of rules, and a stomach full of anxiety. How would this time go, and would we be able to keep them this time? How could we trust the ministry with all they had done? How could they trust us with the children they placed in our care, not knowing if we were being truthful or really had harmed them, and were able to convince people otherwise?

Whatever questions and anxiety going around from both sides, the children were brought home, and we were grateful.

The children had been enrolled in school and daycare while they were back in care, and this was something we had to continue. Unfortunately, their foster home was in a different bus district, and we were unable to transfer them once they were back home.

With our son in fourth grade and after school care, our older daughter in half day kindergarten, and our younger daughter in two different preschools four days a week, it was tricky, and time consuming to drive them to all of their programs and back. Above this, we also had many appointments and meetings to attend each week.

My husband had been laid off of work very shortly before the children had been removed, and had this not been so, it would have been impossible for us to follow all of the ministry’s demands. For all of that time while our children were back home with us, he was unable to search for other work, as the ministry required him to be present and participate in all of the meetings, and the care of the children.

Their time in care caused many challenges for our children. They came back home with a strong lack of trust or respect for us as parents. Their already fragile attachments had been broken, and their challenges more pronounced than when they had first been placed with us over two years prior. They lied more, stole more, fought and argued more, raged more… it was a difficult year. A year in which none of us had a chance to heal or overcome due to the demands placed on us by the social workers.

Our older daughter, being overwhelmed in attending kindergarten, would come home raging every day. We could not distract her, or calm her, and leaving her to rage meant great fears over the children being removed again. For that reason we, along with several of her specialists, requested after school daycare for her as well.

As she would require a one on one assistant to attend daycare, which was highly challenging to get funding for at the kindergarten age as they limited that funding to a couple of hours a day, and she would require about 5 hours a day, we had to battle quite strongly to have this put into place.

When we got that for her, she would go straight from school to daycare, come home for supper, have her bedtime routine, and go to sleep. She wouldn’t have time to rage, and in this way, we were able to deal with her going to school. It was the only way.

However, unless we had in writing from the specialists, which the ministry would accept, we could not have this funding continue once our children were moved back to an adoptive placement (which we were told was the goal.)

So when we spoke with the Intensive Family Preservationist, who we were required to see once the children were brought back home to us, we spoke of these concerns, and asked her to, in no uncertain terms, write that in order for our daughter to attend school, we would also require the funding for her to attend after school daycare. She wrote that down, and we agreed to her wording – but in the end, the social workers twisted the wording, and used it against us. So unfair, as we asked for it to be put there in the first place, and all they would say to that was, “that is not how we understood it.”

Before the children were moved, they were eating diets free of sugar, food dyes, wheat, and cow’s milk. I found it had a significant impact on the behaviour of my middle two children, and the health of my youngest. They all had really good appetites, and would always take seconds, lick their plates clean, and thank me for their food. When they were given back to us, we were no longer allowed to restrict their diets.

This made meals a lot cheaper and easier to prepare, however, the children’s appetites became very poor. During almost every meal, at least one would complain about the food. Most of the time, this was food they had requested, or enjoyed the last time we had it. It was very difficult to get them to eat, though what they did eat caused them to appear bloated.

How the food affected their behaviour during that year made little difference, as they were struggling anyway, but was this what the social workers felt good parenting was? Providing foods that were less healthy, and caused bad appetites, just to get them to gain weight in unhealthy ways? It didn’t make sense to us, but still we followed through.

This move also taught our children that if we didn’t give them what they wanted, or if they were upset with us, all they had to do was say we were hurting them, and they would be able to go to “grandma and grandpa’s” house. This was very bad, and happened very frequently during those last 10 months in our home, and it was no longer confined to one person, or even the person closest to them.

There were times when the social workers were even in our home talking to us, when one of the children was across the room from us, screaming that we had scratched, hit, or hurt them in some way. It was obvious this was not the case, but that is an example of a truth about our children that the ministry chose to ignore.

On one occasion, our son was at one end of our breezeway, heading towards our van. My husband was on the other end, about 20 feet away, when our son began screaming that my husband had punched him. We dropped him off at school, and I broke down and cried as I said to my husband, “they are going to be taken away, and there is nothing we can do.”

During those months, there was so much required of us and the children, that even though neither my husband or I were working, it still took all of our time and energy. For hours each day we were taking the children places, and in between, we had meetings and appointments to attend. The children, also, were feeling the pressures, and were pleading with us to allow them a break – but we had no options, we had to do what we were told.

That is no way to raise a child, and they knew it. Pretty soon they learned that we were powerless to help them, and their trust for us as parents was strongly impacted.

It was a very difficult year, but it didn’t have to be that way. It felt to all involved (including the children’s many specialists, psychologist, and pediatrician) that the social workers were piling all of these things on us in order to cause us to either fail, or give up. We did neither.

In the end, it wasn’t something we did with the children, or even an accusation against us, that caused them to remove the children from our care.

In the end, it was about respite and mediation, and nothing more. The social workers, for whatever reason, decided that the children’s respite provider (their previous foster parents, who they knew as “grandma and grandpa”) would no longer provide care for the children.

While the children were still grieving that news, they brought in a new foster parent, a complete stranger, and told us all that she would be taking the children for the weekend. That was hard on all of us – especially the children and I.

I did my very best to prepare the children for that weekend, and to get them excited about going to a new place. The new foster parent had a pool, and since all of my children liked to swim, I thought that would help them.

She picked them up from daycare, and never even told us where she lived. I provided her with a booklet containing my children’s routines, and what I hoped would help make the transitions easier. She thanked me for that, and was on her way. I went home and cried.

Two days later, when she brought my children home, they were all screaming. She wouldn’t even let me go in to comfort them, but pulled me off to the side to tell me that “for no reason at all, the social workers could take your children away from you.” She was upset with me for telling the daycare that she was our respite provider (how was I supposed to introduce her?)

She was upset with me for giving her a list of routines, that were impossible for her to follow since she didn’t know them ahead of time – how was I supposed to give them to her, I never had the chance? She was upset that the children had to be supervised at all times; apparently that wasn’t possible – I couldn’t understand that one, she was a foster parent after all.

When I finally got away from her, and was able to return (very shaken from her conversation) to my children, I was told in tears by my son that she had discussed her drinking habits with him, and that she was a smoker, and would go off to have a cigarette. All of my children were upset from the weekend, and begged to never return there.

That is when I asked for mediation. It was for my children, because I needed to be able to say, “that is enough” and have some way to stop the ministry from adding in something that was harmful.

Instead, they took the children, saying that asking for mediation meant that we were too stressed out working with them. They told us right from the beginning we could ask for mediation. They promised right from the beginning they wouldn’t do this… they lied.

They moved my children into that foster home which my children had begged never to have to return to. Six weeks later they moved them again to their previous foster home. Six weeks later, they moved my older daughter to another home, and tried to move my son, but that placement fell through.

After they were told specifically they couldn’t handle change. After they promised never to do this again. After they admitted to me that we hadn’t done anything wrong. Still they moved them, and six years later, it still breaks my heart. It didn’t have to be that way.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Faith Walk

 

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The Adoption Part Nine

It took them two months to come to the decision to allow our children to come home, and I was very grateful. Those two months were some of the hardest in my life.

It wasn’t a full restoration, however, to what we had before. Our children were being given back to us, but not as an adoption placement. It was what they called a “free placement” pretty much meaning that we had to do whatever they wanted, and really had no say in the matter – but it was better than nothing, and we accepted it.

In time, they told us, we would return to the adoption placement, and would move towards finalization as our children’s adoptive parents.

While our children were back in care, the older of our two daughters had her full assessment in the big city. We were to drive down there and hear the results, along with the adoption social worker. What we were told was that she not only had Fetal Alcohol, like her siblings, but that she also had Reactive Attachment Disorder as well.

During the time when infants are supposed to be learning to trust their parents, she was living in a volatile environment. She could not trust her parents to respond well to her cries. Often she was left in her crib, and it appeared that when they did respond to her cries, it might have been much worse, which is why when she went into a rage, things would get worse if we tried to calm her instead of leaving her along.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is the challenge faced by many of the children who were adopted out of orphanages, such as the ones in Romania. While the parents poured as much love and structure as they could into their children, in many cases, there was little success, and the children continued to grow into violent adults with little conscience.

There was some hope for our daughter. We had seen some progress in those first two years, though it was extremely slow going. In this meeting we, along with the social worker, were told in no uncertain terms that our daughter was not emotionally resilient. She could not handle even small changes, and absolutely needed a consistent home.

After this meeting, our social worker made a promise to us that they would not suddenly move the children from our home again. She promised that they would make a full investigation if anything should happen again as had caused them to remove the children from our home in the first place BEFORE they decided to take them out.

She PROMISED… and then they let our children come home, and I was filled with thankfulness at having my family together again.

 
 

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The Adoption Part Three

The adoption seemed to be foreordained when we found out that I had watched the older child in my daycare for 2 years, while he was still living with his birth mom. During that time, he struggled quite a bit, especially with transitions in the beginning, but he quickly settled into life in my home. As a toddler and preschooler, he was often in my care not only during the daytime, but overnights and weekends as well.

To find out that we were now to adopt him and two of his siblings led me to feel a sense of peace that we were doing the right thing.

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We received the paperwork with the reports on the children, and it was heartbreaking. To think of how much they had experienced in their short lives, and how it had affected them, just tore at me. I determined to make it my mission to help my children to not only heal, but to thrive in my home.

For me that meant a lot of reading and research on their issues, as well as on how to help them through their challenges. I very much enjoy reading and research, and so by the time they came, I felt I had a good understanding of what we were facing and the best ways to help them through that.

Before placement, we were told that the older two children especially had significant attachment issues. It was the social workers recommendation that I give up my daycare license, and focus on my kids; that because of their attachment issues, we should not leave them in the care of another for the first six months after placement, and that all gifts and food during those early months should come from my husband and I.

Those early days with our children were both highly exciting, and highly overwhelming. There was so much to do. I think it was a mistake, likely, that we spent much of that first summer up at the lake. The girls were too young, and there were too many people up there. That tied with the fact that we were supposed to be providing for all of the children’s care, and relatives at the lake wanted to participate, quickly led people to be dissatisfied with my parenting choices.

I tried to explain that it was at the social worker’s recommendation that we were not allowing them to watch or feed the children, but they didn’t understand. I think that showed the beginning of my downfall. When I am given rules such as these, and reasonable reasons behind them, I follow them. I can’t help it. I suppose they could call me controlling and rigid in this (and they did) but it isn’t even as if I came up with these rules on my own. I was only following what I had been told to do.

Over the next two years we settled into a routine of homeschooling (for which we had permission), crafts, stories, games, outings, appointments… life was full, and rewarding. The children were healing, and settling into our home. I even took them on a cross country trip (by car, camping along the way, no less) to meet with my family.

Knowing my children as I did by this point, I decided to make the trip a long one. Three months, including the 12 days or so of driving. I knew that my middle child would rage at the beginning and end of the trip. That was her response to disruptions in her routine. I knew the others would struggle with her rages, and we would all be exhausted for a while. Still I thought it was worth it, and expressed to others the reasoning behind my plans.

So when we returned, and it was followed by weeks of rages from my girl, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. I had told them it would happen. Still they blamed me.

Unfortunately I agreed with my husband to take the children to the lake during this time, despite feeling it was too early, and my elder daughter was not ready. I went, and hoped it would work out… but it didn’t.

Having Reactive Attachment Disorder, my girl saved the worst of her rages for me. Others would come up to her, and she would walk with them, smiling. They would look to me as if to show me how it was done, but she would come back and be worse than before. They didn’t see it. They didn’t understand. It was the hardest weekend I had had, both with my children, and with my husband’s family. I felt judged, and misunderstood, when I needed support and understanding.

After we got home, my daughter healed. Things were finally getting back to normal, and I was still thankful that I was able to make the trip.

We had a meeting with multiple professionals in the children’s lives, including their previous foster parents and social workers. All of them commented to me on how well the children were doing, and how pleased they were with our care.

Since things were going so well, I once more agreed with my husband to take the children up to the lake. We did like it there, and it was often a lot of fun for all of us.

Unfortunately, my sister in law was also up there. She has never liked me. I have known this since the first time we met. She is a very intense person, and I don’t do well with intensity. She is also a teacher, and possibly the fact that I was already homeschooling my birth son by the time we first met was seen as a threat to her. Whatever the reason, she never liked me.

The children did very well that weekend, and aside from one instance where I was too paralyzed by her presence to get my children water when they asked for it (we did get it as soon as she got up and left) we did well in our parenting of them that weekend. There was no reason, then, as to why she would call the children’s ministry on us after we had left.

She confronted my husband on that trip, and we fought back. She questioned our parenting, though she neither witnessed my daughters rages, nor any struggles we had with the children, and still she questioned us – so we told her to leave us alone. That is why she called the ministry.

The children were removed from our home that Wednesday, and despite how the social workers and foster parents praised us the week before, they were suddenly all against us. Guilty with no chance to be proven innocent. And that is still how I see the world responding to me. Is it any wonder I have such anxiety?

 

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The Adoption Part Two

Though I was very nervous about the pre-adoption classes, I didn’t find them particularly hard. It had only been a few years since I took my Early Childhood Education, and at the time I was still running my daycare, so I knew quite a bit about children going in.

I am also a researcher by nature, and by the time we had our classes, I had read a lot of material about the main types of challenges we might face adopting out of the foster care system. I wasn’t naive enough to believe that it would be easy, but my concerns at this point were more about how to pass the home study, and whether we had enough bedrooms for the children.

While I did all that I could to prepare, the future is an abstract concept to me that I find difficult to imagine. I can dream of what the future might bring, and with that comes both excitement and fears, but I can’t put myself into that space to see how I would do there.

Since I was already used to having 7 children around me each day in my daycare, my husband and I decided that we would ask for a sibling group. I believe that it is especially important to keep siblings together when they have experienced a trauma, as all of these children have.

It was winter when I called for information on adoption, spring when our classes started, and fall of that year was when we started our home study. By this time, the social worker already had a sibling group in mind for us to adopt, and I was very anxious, and very excited.

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As is true to my nature, I put all of myself into the home study, and the projects that we were given to complete during it. Our social worker said she had never had anyone who was so thorough in the things she asked us to do – but that is who I am.

It was hard for me to talk about my past to the social worker – both because my early years were traumatic themselves, but also because of my difficulty in making the connections between thoughts and words. It would have been really helpful to have questions written out that I could answer beforehand, but of course, we didn’t know about my Autism at that time. I highly doubt that we would have been allowed to adopt if they had known.

That is not to say that I believe Autistic people couldn’t make good parents, whether adoptive or biological, but the Children’s Ministry is very strict about who they allow to adopt. There is good reason for that, as these children have already had a difficult beginning, and the social workers need to feel confident that the parents are healthy, and emotionally stable going in. They just don’t understand enough about Autism to have that confidence at this time.

For myself, I believe I had a lot of strengths to give to my children – if only the ministry had understood the reason for my weaknesses in order to work with and around them. For it was my weaknesses that ultimately brought about the removal in the end. I did try to express my needs in positive ways, but it was my weakness they saw just the same.

But here, I am getting ahead of myself. We are still in the home study at this point, and my dream is not yet over.

I made it through the home study, and spoke fully about all of those difficult topics that I dreaded bringing up. I also spoke of all I had done to heal from that time, and of all the effort I had put into learning how to care for children since then.

So we passed the home study, and then came the wait. The wait was hard, and filled with anxiety. They knew at that point which children they wanted us to adopt, but still we had to wait. It was hard knowing our children were out there somewhere, growing up in foster care, and we were losing all of those months that we could have been getting to know them. It was hard, but there was still a lot that the social workers had to do on their end before the move could take place.

And then it happened. The following summer came, and suddenly we had three more little children to call our own. We were a family of six, and I was happy.

 

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