It’s been six months since Jayden came to live with us and two months since he legally became part of our family. I have been asked to share this story, but I’ve been hesitant because:
- Much of what I could share is actually Jayden’s story, or his birth parents’ or foster parents’ stories, and these aren’t mine to share;
- I am scared that I will say the wrong thing — that I’ll overshare or offend or say something that I will have to apologize to Jayden for one day; and
- It would be easy (and is tempting) to share this story in a way that puts Ryan and I at the center and/or portrays us as the heroes, which we are definitely not.
I’m still nervous about all of these things, and I know that I will mess up on all of them in some way. Despite that, I feel like it’s time to write about how Jayden came to be our son. I hope that this story makes much of God’s power and love, and that I am able to play a small part in normalizing foster care adoption.
On May 29, we had been on our adoption journey for 18 months and had been “active” (able to be matched any day!) for 9 months. Ryan was out of town on a work trip when I refreshed my email inbox before heading to bed. My heart skipped a beat, as it always did, when I saw a message from our adoption caseworker. The email began:
“We have an unusual opportunity that has come up and we are seeing if you may be interested in getting some additional information on this child and pursuing adoption. I recognize this may be far outside of your comfort zone; however, I wanted to ask just in case you may be interested.”
I immediately called Ryan, who was in an airport waiting to board his flight home and hadn’t seen the email, and I read him the rest of the message. It told of a 13-month old boy who was in foster care and whose biological parents’ rights had recently been terminated. Our casework was correct when she stated that it was far outside of our comfort zone. We were in the domestic infant adoption program at our agency, meaning that we were only supposed to be matched with newborns or expectant mothers. Jayden also had significant permanent health issues that caused his doctors to be unsure of his future. I can’t help but smile as I remember saying to Ryan, “I assume we’re going to say ‘no,’ I just wanted to make sure we touched base before I responded.”
“Yeah — wait, shoot, the plane is taking off.”
“Do you want me to let them know that we aren’t the right family for this child?”
“I can barely hear you… Just hold off, pray about this for the next couple of hours, and we’ll talk when I land. Gotta go. I love you.” And his phone cut off.
So we did. Though not together or even able to communicate with one another, Ryan and I individually hit our knees (me literally, him metaphorically), and asked God the same question that I had asked Ryan: “We’re not the right family for this child…. right?” Who knows what would have happened if Ryan hadn’t been on a plane and we had been able to respond to our caseworker with our immediate reactions. Instead, God gave us the grace of a few uninterrupted hours in which He was the only place we could turn. As I knelt there, repeatedly informing the Creator of the universe that this had not been my plan, I remembered words written by Heather Aves in her book The Lucky Few:
“Today I’m aware of all the times I have said no to opportunities God has placed before me because I think I’m not rich enough, equipped enough, talented enough, strong enough, or crazy enough to say yes. All the times I have mistaken good things for bad. All the times I have allowed the opinions of an ignorant majority to guide my thinking instead of looking to Jesus and his heart in the matter. I wonder how many times we, his children, choose a comfortable no over a terrifying yes – the kind of yes that will lead us to the only place we should ever long to be: in the arms of Jesus.”
When Ryan walked through the door late that evening, I was still awake and waiting for him. I’ll never forget the way we looked at each other and knew that we had both experienced the same comforting presence of Jesus since we had last spoken.
I was primarily conflicted because Ryan and I had made the decision almost a year beforehand that our “hard no” would be any situation that required one of us to not work full-time. This child’s health — a physical disability affecting all four limbs, severely premature birth, brain damage with unknown future cognitive effects — seemed like something that would require full-time parental care. Surely it could not be in his best interest to be in our family. Finally we made the decision to stop assuming and get professional input.
Over the next week, we went back and forth with our caseworker, Jayden’s foster care worker, and our pediatrician asking more specific questions about his diagnoses and their implications, his biological parents and the termination of their parental rights, and logistics about his needed level of care. With each email sent or phone number dialed, I assumed that this correspondence would be the one that closed the door. In reality, each conversation made two things more and more clear. First, God has a plan for this child. The phrase we heard over and over again from all the medical and foster professionals we spoke with was “miracle baby.” During his three-month stay in the NICU following his traumatic birth, the doctors had given up hope and made plans to change the trajectory of their care to one that ended in the NICU. That morning, Jayden reached a goal that caused them to hesitate and give him a bit more time. And then a bit more. And then a bit more. Secondly, there wasn’t a reason to say ‘no’ that sat right with us. The doctors had informed us that they predicted that we would both be able to work. Each time we started to talk ourselves into the ‘no,’ it didn’t feel right.
After days of information gathering, we finally asked our agency for a picture. I received the following photo in a text, and we knew there was no turning back. (Look at that face!!!)
On June 6, we met Jayden at our adoption agency, along with two agency caseworkers, Jayden’s foster mom, his CPS case worker, and his court-appointed advocate. I was so nervous as the whole room of people watched me interact with him for the first time. I felt like after this one hour of time, we would be deemed “an appropriate fit” for this child or not. As it turns out, that wasn’t too far from the truth. Ryan and I left slightly nauseous, emotionally exhausted (I remember going to sleep at 7:30 that night), and unsure what would happen next. The following day, our caseworker came to our house and told us that his foster parents, whom he had lived with for the previous nine months and knew him better than anyone in the world, had reported that they had no doubts that we were his parents.
On June 21, less than one month after we received that first email telling us about Jayden, he came to live with us. On November 1, we legally adopted him and changed his last name. There’s so much more I want to say about the last eight months. I could write a whole blog post about the couple whom Jayden lived with from the day he was released from the hospital until the day we picked him up. I firmly believe that the love and care of Jayden’s foster parents dramatically changed the whole trajectory of his life. Nothing can change the deep appreciation we have for them.
There’s also so much I could say about the woman who gave life to our son. Although we have a closed adoption (meaning we have no contact with her), we are so grateful for the information and pictures we have. We will one day share all of those with Jayden, should he desire that.
This journey hasn’t been easy. Logistically, the scramble to become foster certified so that we could take placement of Jayden was stressful, and we had to push against the established system in order to expedite his adoption. Not surprisingly, he was confused and scared at first (as were we!). Ryan and I have bickered more than at any previous time in our marriage as we’ve adjusted to diminished sleep, leisure, and flexibility. His therapies and doctors appointments are often inconvenient and discouraging. We have attempted to maneuver attaching to a toddler whom we just met while showing each other as much grace and forgiveness as we can.
On December 8 at our church, we dedicated Jayden to the Lord. We don’t believe this has any bearing on his salvation; it was a recognition by Ryan and I that Jayden is a gift from God. We committed to teach him the Word of God and pray that he would one day have a personal relationship with his Savior. It was also a reminder to me as to why we started this whole process in the first place. In the perfect world we long for, there would be no need for adoption. There would be no death or addiction or poverty. That’s why adoption is so complicated. While we celebrate Jayden’s addition to our family, we also grieve for his lost relationships with his birth parents. We do not pretend that he was always ours or that he won’t have scars, regardless of how “well” we parent. We pray that he won’t feel any shame or hesitation in coming to us one day with questions about his adoption. By God’s grace we will be able to walk with him through any insecurities or pains, admitting that we are imperfect people doing the best we can to guide and care for him through a broken and complicated situation.
I cringe when I think about how radically Ryan and I will inevitably fail in that endeavor. But I am so thankful that it’s not about us or up to us. We serve a God who loves Jayden more than we ever will, and because of that we can relinquish the pressure of perfect parenting. With each new day, we are learning to better care for one another and our son, to humbly lean on our community in times of need, and to recognize the good, good gifts of a God who loves His children.