Our first foster placement

Nicole Taylor recalls her early days as a foster mom

By Nicole Taylor

The noise of the emotional roller coaster we have been on is becoming a bit more distant now that Ben is gone. Yet, the highs and lows of this first foster placement are etched in my soul. After a year of paperwork, background checks, training, home inspections and interviews, Josh and I finally became licensed foster parents. It was that congratulatory phone call from our licensing social worker that turned the celebration into shock. During that call, she asked us to take a four-month-old boy that very day.

No one is ever ready

We were not prepared for what happened when we said yes that day. The truth is, no one is ever ready. Every child comes into foster care with a unique set of circumstances, trauma(s), and needs. It’s impossible to know the intricacies of their journey before they are in your home. It’s also impossible to prepare yourself for how you will meet the child/children that you will soon be parenting. That day we picked up our two biological children from school, drove to a building uptown, and met Ben.

The first meeting

Holding Ben in his car seat was a social worker we had never met. The floor was empty as it was now after hours. The social worker handed over Ben in his smoked-soaked car seat with a half-empty bottle. “I have to run to pick up my kids – thanks for saying yes,” she said as she was already pushing the elevator button.

She didn’t know his birth date or his last name. She didn’t ask us for our IDs to confirm who we were. When we asked if he had seen a doctor or had his vaccines she didn’t have answers. She didn’t know when or if we would find out more information about his health. She didn’t have any answers, and my questions were never ending. We loaded Ben in the car with our kids, who were overjoyed with a new baby. Josh and I drove home and didn’t say a word to each other (think deer in headlights – that was us).

We are the keepers

Our heads were spinning that first night with so many unknowns, so we did what we knew how to do. We changed Ben, fed him, rocked him to sleep and prayed. We prayed a lot. It took about 24 hours to understand that Ben had no “keeper.” There was no one calling us with his medical records or any information on his four months on this earth. I began to realize, we are his keepers now, and it is our responsibility to start gathering the details of his life. I remembered one of our foster trainers saying, “Advocate for your child like they are the only one in the system.” We focused on that and went to work.

Reunification is the goal . . . until it’s not

Ben’s story is complicated and is not mine to share, but it was made clear to us that this would likely be an adoption. We were told no family wanted him, and his biological parents were not in the picture. After nearly a year of reunification-focused training, the goal was quickly changed. From the first phone call to the first court hearing, every official along the way told us this would be a foster-to-adopt case. Our heads and our hearts sank into this differently than a reunification goal would have allowed.

There was no question of “should I get attached” – it’s human nature, and it happened instinctively. We claimed him. People warned of the challenges that might come with the whole situation: the courts, his health, my family dynamic – all of it – but there was nothing I could do. It was happening, and I didn’t even know it – I became his mom, and I didn’t even mean to.

The roller coaster

Thanksgiving, baby’s first Christmas, sitting on Santa’s lap, opening his first present, his first ER trip, many appointments related to his care and needs, we felt like we lived a year in just a few months. That was until I received a text one night during dinner. This text simultaneously took my breath away and made me feel like I was going to be sick. Text: “I am meeting with Ben’s aunt and uncle tomorrow; they are excited to take him.”

We did not know of anyone or anything that would change the course of what we were originally told. It was a shock because the moment I read it, I knew I was his mom as much as I didn’t want to say it out loud. He was mine. For the next two agonizing months, we tried to deal with the impending storm – the walls that were slowly closing in.

The weight of Ben’s departure was like a heaviness I’ve never experienced.

It’s not about me

My prayer from the moment we met Ben was that he would find permanency before he could remember a time he didn’t have it. I wanted him never to know the feeling of being in foster care. Three nights after Ben had transitioned to his forever home, I received a clear message from God as I cried in the early hours of the morning. “It’s not about me.” This whole process was never about me or my family or my feelings. It was about providing a safe place for a child in need.

It’s hard for anyone to understand what this process is like. You want to be alone; you don’t want to talk about it. It is exciting and you want to tell everyone about it, but you don’t want to answer any questions. You want to explain yourself and defend your emotions. It might be that you want to ignore the whole thing, or even cry all day long and not get out of bed. You praise God for allowing you to do this work. Your head and your heart don’t always align in the world of foster parenting.

Head and heart

The way I am wired – planner, researcher, always on the go, a doer – nothing about this whole ride was any of that. God forced me out of my comfort zone, and man did I learn a lot. There were days where the only thing I knew to do was pray and trust in him. He prepared me for this. That is not to say it was easy, but he made us do hard things. So we live with the pain and know that it was worth it. It doesn’t make it go away, but it does give me peace.

My heart now says, We will never do this again. My head says, How could we not?

Working in international orphan care for over a decade and travelling to many developing nations, Nicole thought she had seen it all . . . then she became a foster parent. The journey of her first placement led her to become a fierce advocate for children and families within the foster care system. Nicole serves as the executive director of Congregations for Kids.