If you’ve been a Chic reader for a while, then you know that Dave and I went through the adoption process for almost five years. If you don’t already know about our journey and you’re curious, you can start with this post about our Ethiopian Adoption and then this post for when our plans all changed.
We walked through foster care and then to adoption which later failed… all before finally getting our precious daughter Noah. If you’re curious about what we walked through before we decided to do independent adoption, you can read about the journey below.
July 23, 2015 – After many years of trying for an international adoption we have finally reconciled with the fact that we likely will never succeed. Sadly for us, and so many other families, the adoption system in Ethiopia has slowed to a near stop. We made the decision this year that rather than switch to another country we are going to adopt domestically. The process of domestic adoption is so much different than what we’ve experienced so far. For one thing, Los Angeles county requires that you become qualified as foster parents to enter the adoption system. Read the whole post here.
Oh, this family. Sawyer with his insistence on making zombie faces in every photo. And Ford who refused to wear shoes. And Jackson who wants to dress “cool” which as far as I can tell just means wear clothes for someone twice his size. What a motley crew we are. Yesterday Dave and I went to our second foster care/adoption class and it was– heavy. Heavy because we’re reading case studies and learning about how hard life is for these families in the system. Heavy because we recognize more and more what a challenge this will be– and if I’m being honest –what an absolute disruption to our totally comfortable lives. When we explained to the boys that we’d have to foster for 6 months before we were allowed to adopt, Sawyer told me, Mommy I feel like I would be really sad to have a baby for a while and then have her taken away. And I agreed, Yes, that will be really sad. But like we told the boys, we would rather help people even if it’s hard, even if it makes us sad, then do nothing at all because we’re afraid of being hurt. This adoption process is heavy guys, but when you have a family like ours (shoeless and zombie faces and all) the load feels much lighter. #HollisChurchClothes
October 20, 2015 – For six weeks we met every Saturday at a community college across town from 9AM – 4PM. It was a heavy experience because for hours we watched videos or read case studies or listened to lessons on children in the foster care system. Imagine spending the bulk of your weekend listening to stories about children who’ve been moved over and over from one home to another. Imagine hours of focus on precious babies who’ve been physically or emotionally abused. Imagine trying to wrap your mind around the emotional scars that your adoptive child might have because of that. The purpose was to best prepare us to parent those children but it was so sad and so discouraging. We’d drive home almost every single Saturday thinking, What are we doing? Who are we to think we can take on something this big? Read the whole post here.
It seems there’s never a day in our #adoptionjourney where I don’t cry about something. Today the big boys are filling out their part of the application answering questions like “What would adoption mean for your family”. I love their unfiltered, precious answers.
A photo posted by Rachel Hollis (@msrachelhollis) on
December 2015 – We got a note in early December that DCFS had lost half of our paperwork on file. Now, I will preface by saying that I can’t even imagine how overwhelmed the staff must be there and it takes a special kind of angel to do their work. That being said, you guys, I was devastated by this news. Anyone who’s ever gone through the adoption process knows how intense the paperwork is. So to have worked so hard to get physicals (for our kids and ourselves) and blood work and the boys school report cards and bank statements, etc, etc, etc all turned in, only to find that they’d misplaced it? It was so upsetting. The clincher too is that a lot of the paperwork has to be sent in directly by your doctor or a lab so you can’t tamper with it. Which means we couldn’t just send in copies, we had to have everything filled out again. I spent a few days feeling really discouraged by how ridiculous the situation was and then I got some clarity. One day it occurred to me, if this process is so hard for us (educated adults with connections and resources) what is this process like for a tiny baby without any voice or advocate? So as stressful as it was, we set out to turn it all in again.
Painting the walls isn’t a big deal. Unless you’ve been waiting 8 years to decorate a room for a daughter– Then it seems monumental. We have our home inspection in two weeks and so we’re officially starting this phase of our #adoptionjourney. I’ve cried at least four times. I cried when I started taping the baseboards. I cried when the boys asked if they could help. I cried when I chose the color and realized the name was ‘Yogurt’. “Lord,” I thought, “let whatever baby sleeps in this nest find joy and whimsy under these yogurt colored walls”. I’m ridiculous and emotional– and covered in paint. But so, so, so happy to take another step down this road.
Early January 2016 – Since we had gone through and completed our home inspection by the state in November (side note: when you do foster to adopt you have to get licensed by both the state and the county. The state inspects your home and the county inspects you.) the only inspections we had left were through LA County. Once all the paperwork was turned in again we were assigned a social worker who has been totally lovely to deal with. We had our first round of interviews in early January. They were individual interviews with both me and Dave that lasted about 2-3 hours each. In that interview they ask everything you can possibly imagine: from your relationship with your own parents, to your marriage, to why you’re in therapy, or whether you’re on any medication to how much sleep you get at night. I’m guessing this could be a pretty stressful for some people, but since y’all know I’m basically an open book I just laid it all out for her.
Late January 2016 – Having passed our individual interviews our social came back for our couple interview and an interview with our boys. The couple interview is where we talked through our answers in the individual sessions as well as went through what we will and won’t accept with a baby (I’ll get back to this in a second). She also interviewed each of our boys (with us in the room) and that was honestly pretty stressful. Stressful because I was super nervous that one of the boys would try and be funny (we’re a pretty sarcastic family) and when they asked something like “what scares you?” they’d answer “when mommy chases me with a knife!” to try and make a joke. Luckily for us all, they boys took it very seriously and were great.
What we will and wont accept in a child was the next thing we discussed, and wow that is an insane conversation to have! First of all, when you go through your required parenting classes they say approximately 900 times “Be honest about what you can handle!” and so Dave and I have had a lot of conversations about that. One of the things we accepted a while ago was that if we wanted a baby (we’re approved for a girl between the ages of 0-2) there might be a chance that the baby has had some exposure to drugs in utero. So we sat with our social worker and discussed what we would and wouldn’t accept. “Would you accept a baby that’s been exposed to marijuana?” Yes. “Cocaine?” Yes. “Meth?” No. “Alcohol?” No. At some point I started awkwardly giggling because I couldn’t believe we were discussing something so terrible the same way you’d pick out a car. “Do you want heated seats?” Yes. “Eighteen inch rims?” Nah, we’re good. The whole process was totally surreal and yes, I am making a joke at the awkwardness of the situation… because it’s either laugh at it or cry and there’s no way I’m going to make it through this process if I can’t find some levity. We also went over what race we would accept. Any, we told her. “Any? Let me just go over the list so you can be sure,” she said. Not necessary, we told her, we’ll have any race at all… we’ll have whoever God wants us to have. We also agreed that we’d be open to relationships with: birth parents, relatives, past foster families, and siblings. Apparently the relationship questions aren’t usually so easy to get trough but honestly, if we can have a relationship with our daughter’s family that’s healthy for her and us, then why wouldn’t we? And as for race, I’m not naive enough to believe that there won’t be things that pop up if she has a different skin color than we do, if that’s what’s meant to happen then we’ll navigate it alongside her.
All of these questions brought us to the end of our interview and a startling announcement. The social worker told us that our paperwork should be processed by February 1st and that, at least with the foster care portion, we will likely have placement fairly quickly.
Now, let me back up a bit for those of you who (bless your hearts) are still with me all these paragraphs later. LA County requires families to foster for six months to qualify for adoption. But here’s the tricky part, the baby you foster isn’t the baby you adopt. So we’re essentially on two different tracks: foster care baby girl and adoption baby girl. Now what happens if we get our adoption baby girl while we still have foster care baby girl staying with us? I guess we have a big slumber party y’all! And what happens if the baby girl we’re fostering comes up for adoption when we already have our adoptive baby girl in our home? Well then, I guess we have a big slumber party that lasts forever! Meaning, we could very well come out of this with two babies or just one and we have no idea what will happen.
So back to that startling announcement… beginning of February, as in, next week! What?! After waiting for years and years the knowledge that this is so close is mind blowing to me. We’re actually leaving on Monday for a family vacation and then I have four work trips in February alone (a total fluke for me) so we kindly asked our social worker to not officially enter us into the system until the first Monday in March. As in, five weeks from now!! You guys, the nursery isn’t ready and I don’t have anything… not diapers or clothes or anything because I don’t know the age of the baby we’re getting. So I’ll spend the next month (in between all those business trips) prepping the best that I can and praying for peace. Because really, what else can I do? I know that the next month, six months, year is going to be a wild ride but you can’t totally prepare for the unknown. So we’re just walking in faith and trying to support each other through one of the most surreal things our marriage has ever encountered. Thanks for coming along on our foster to adopt journey and thanks in advance for your prayers… we need them!
Look who arrived today!! I have no idea if she’ll be here for 2 weeks or a year. I have no idea of anything except that they called and asked us to take her and we said yes. Pray for us guys, and also, pray for her Mama who’s certainly going through a hard time right now and has to be missing this little bird. #HollisAdoption #fostertoadopt
Early April 2016 – In April of 2016 we got a call for our first foster placement… an 11 month old baby girl. In foster care you’re not allowed to use the real name of the child on social media so we took to calling her Birdie. She was an absolute precious addition to our home and we all fell in love with her from day one!
“Mommy should I take a picture of your outfit?” Jackson can’t understand why I’m unironically wearing jeans and running shoes in public. But then, he can’t understand this level of exhaustion. I didn’t know to prepare for it myself. I’m at least as tired as I was with a newborn, which makes no sense because Birdie sleeps like a champ. This tiredness is all emotional. I’m so emotional I could cry at anything– and I do, all day long. I cry for Birdie when she’s too scared to crawl away from me for fear I’ll be taken away too. I cry for her sweet parents who have such a long road ahead of them but who love this baby so much. I cry for Birdie’s big sister, who we didn’t even know about until a few days ago, who’s getting shuffled around in this system. I never knew I would fight like a mama bear for children that weren’t my own. I never knew we’d find ourselves in the midst of chaos and then agree to take on more. There are so many things I didn’t know and I’m wandering around in tears trying to process all of this new information. For almost a year I prayed this prayer, “Break my heart from what breaks yours.” But what I was really asking for was to be safely shown sadness. “Give me compassion for the homeless… Make me aware of the orphans” God granted my prayers by shredding my heart. Today as I was feeling utterly raw and breakable, He reminded me of that prayer. You want to know what breaks His heart? Every one of these babies. Not just Birdie and her siblings but their parents too. They’re also babies fighting through this system and my heart hurts while my hands struggle to hold the brokenness of it all. In the midst of this pain, I have found clarity: I will never do anything more important in my life than this walk through #fostercare. It will fundamentally change me– it already has. We went to church today, and I wore a cute outfit, but my faith in action? It looks like this. Tired, mismatched Mama running though Target trying to get supplies to bring another baby girl into our home so she can be with her sister again. These are the most Imprtant #HollisChurchClothes I’ve ever worn.
Late April 2016 – A few days after getting placement with Birdie we got a call about her big sister. They asked us if we would please, please, please consider taking this two year old who had nowhere else to go. It was one of the craziest decision we’ve ever made to go from three kids to five kids in the span of a few short weeks but we said yes, again.
I will never, for as long as I live, forget the joy on this little girls face when they pulled up in front of our house today and she saw her sister for the first time in 3 weeks. When they called to tell us they were on the way with Scout I’d been sick in bed for two days. I think the stress of all the fighting to get them reunited finally caught up and I’m full blown antibiotics McGee. I feel like crud and the last two weeks of battling to get her have been absolutely brutal. But… she’s here. Thank you Lord, she finally has a soft place to land and all the graham crackers she can eat.
May 2016 – On Cinco de Mayo we got a call that big sister was on her way to our house! We had to fight so hard to reunite these two girls so the moment when they were finally back together was infinitely precious. I won’t forget it for as long as I life.
I tried to find the words today. I tried to find the words to write a post and explain everything but I just don’t have it in me. It’s too soon. It feels like it will always be too soon. But I want to tell you all where we are. You have been the most incredible community– you have been our cheerleaders and our friends throughout our adoption journey and this is another stop along the way. Someday I hope I can explain it all. But today, all I have in me to say is that the girls transitioned back out of our home. We always knew that foster care wasn’t permanent. But truthfully, there were times when I convinced myself that maybe they would be ours forever. It’s that little, rose-colored part of my heart that feels shattered today. We will be OK. They will be OK. And the next time we welcome a baby into our home she will be our forever girl. I know all of this is true, but it also feels like I lost an innocence I didn’t even know I was still clinging to. #HollisAdoption
Late June 2016 – Our foster girls transitioned back out of our home. While we knew that it wasn’t a permanent placement, that day was traumatic for me. A baby should NEVER have to endure being passed around from one home to another. It’s unnatural for them to go from one adult to another, from one social work to another. Them leaving will forever be a scar on my heart. Not because they were upset to leave, like I had anticipated. But because to them (who have been passed around most of their short lives) getting into a car with a social worker who was a total stranger, didn’t phase them at all.
End of July 2016 – On July 25th we got a call from DCFS saying that there were newborn twin girls who had been abandoned at the hospital. We never in our wildest dreams thought we’d have twins and we only had 30 minutes to make THE biggest decision of our lives. We talked to the social worker and prayed together over the phone and ultimately came to a decision. We said the biggest YES of our whole lives! We would adopt newborn twins!
I feel like I should start with the most important info… I promise I’m wearing shorts in this photo, they’re just bunched up which makes this look awkward. Beyond that, guys, my heart is swollen to capacity. We never, not for one single second considered that we might have twins. But they called yesterday and told us about the girls and we had approximately 30 minutes to make this big, life altering decision. We debated and prayed and freaked out a dozen times about how hard twins would be… And then we just decided that every step of this journey has been a leap of faith and so we held hands and jumped. Cannon ball. And now I’m snuggled up with all my babies and I can’t believe this day– this life, this level of magic. Please allow me to introduce you to four and a half years worth of prayer. Atticus Lou and Elliott Rae are already the coolest girls I know. #HollisAdoption
The time after the twins came home is one of the happiest in the history of my life. It wasn’t an easy time mind you. Newborn twins are incredibly hard to care for and these babies were both born with medical complications that made their first weeks of life tough. Even still… I had waited SO long to have a daughter and I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. I would spend hours upon hours just laying in bed with them cuddled on my chest.
It’s hard to believe our little warrior twins are 4 weeks old today. It’s hard to believe how much has happened –an entire lifetime it seems– in such a short stretch. It’s hard to believe how hard this road truly is. Not because of them –they are the most precious creatures I’ve ever known– but because we chose to adopt from #fostercare which is a broken system built on top of such devastating circumstances. In the last couple of weeks we’ve been informed that the girl’s biological dad wants them now. That doesn’t mean it will happen. It does mean that an already rocky road became inexplicably longer and more treacherous. It does mean that I have to battle the urge to feel bitter that four and a half years have brought us here– that more than once I’ve thought “God, why did you give me the desire for a daughter if it was never going to happen?” I am the most hopeful person you know and more than once, more than a dozen times, this has felt completely hopeless. I’ve been terrified, numb, anxious and angry. I’ve been every emotion you can name. Dave and I swing back and forth between feeling like it’s going to be OK and feeling like this is a waking nightmare. We’ve learned so many things about the uglier, darker sides of this world in the last four weeks and a part of me grieves deeply for the innocence I walked into this #fostertoadopt program with. “Look at what’s in front of you,” God keeps whispering. “Right now you hold them in your arms safe and sleepy and smelling like baby lotion.” “But for how long?!” I scream back. On this, there is no clear answer. Maybe it’s forever, maybe it’s four months or five minutes– I have no idea. A month ago my friend @jenhatmaker told me “Adoption doesn’t make you a savior– nobody can truly save anyone else. Adoption is simply saying, I am strong enough to walk this road with you.” So this is what I tell myself 80 times a day in response to every question and emotion that tears at my heart. I am strong enough to walk this road and keep them safe for as long as I’m allowed to. Even though it’s hard– especially because it’s hard. #HollisAdoption
August 2016 – 4 weeks into having the girls in our home, we found out that they would go back to their biological family. At the time, I was in total denial because they’d told us the girls were abandoned. It honestly never even occurred to me that family would want them back because we didn’t realize there was any family at all. From the second I held them in my arms they were my daughters and I believed that would always be the case.
I’ve never posted a black and white photo on here before… It feels fitting today. It’s a gray morning in LA, my mood fits in perfectly. I’ve been trying to think of what to write, or how to explain in one succinct post all that’s happened. There isn’t actually a way. The twins left out home yesterday. I started to write “our twins” but I deleted it– corrected myself. They were never really ours. Even though that’s what we were told, even though they put them into my arms in a hospital and asked “Do you have names picked out Mommy?” Turns out the bio family was always in the picture, turns out they were truly foster babies, not adoption babies, and maybe in a desperate effort to find someone to care for them, they left out the details. The really essential details. So much has happened in the last month. So much life altering, soul shredding, hardest of the hard things. I’ll explain it all to you when I have the words. Today I don’t have the words. Today is dark and gray. But I thought you should know. My sweet friends who have prayed with us and cried with us and were as excited to hear we’d gotten adoptive placement as we were. Our #adoptionjourney has taken a turn we never saw coming. And I’m sad. I’m so freaking sad I want to crawl into a corner like a wounded animal and cry and cry. But there are still babies here: three beautiful boys who are looking to us and right now, in real time, learning how to manage sadness. This might be the most important lesson we teach them out of this whole process. This is how you experience sadness. This is how you hold it in your hands, and your heart, how you let yourself feel it’s weight. This is how it will make you stronger. This is how your experience with sadness will give you a heart for others pain. And this, my sweet boys, is how you reach for joy even when it’s foggy and gray. Today is gray but I know how blessed we are to have our boys, our marriage and access to $9 Sauvignon blanc at our local grocery store. We will be OK. The twins will be OK. We will add the memory of this gray dark day to the pile of others that make us who we are. #HollisAdoption
September 2016 – The twins transitioned out of our home.
Even now, four months later, it’s still difficult for me to talk about. I feel like it will always be difficult for me to talk about. I always knew that DCFS would favor biological families– I just didn’t realize that was a possibility with the twins. I held nothing back. I loved them with everything in me as if they’d be mine forever. In retrospect, I truly believe this was the way God planned it. Newborns need a mama who feels that way and even if it meant their loss left a scar on my heart that will never be filled, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.
After they left us we asked DCFS to remove our names from the system. Truthfully, we no longer trusted DCFS to be honest with us and therefore the idea of adopting through them didn’t feel safe. Adoption didn’t feel safe. Ethiopia failed. We dealt with the pain of foster care. We lost twins we thought would be ours forever. I honestly didn’t want any part of adoption after that. The idea of adopting again felt scary and incredibly painful.
The other day, Dave and I were eating lunch together at one of my favorite restaurants. The meal was wonderful, but the conversation was hard. We were talking through our adoption journey and whether or not we’re willing to start again. Starting again means more paperwork and blood tests and home inspections– means more years of waiting. I am emotionally exhausted. I feel like I had daughters and we were so happy, and then they were just gone and I don’t know how they are or who has them or if they’re well loved. I truly don’t know if I have the courage for any of it to happen again. Honestly, this month has been so hard because I’ve been praying for guidance and haven’t found any. So we’re going over everything and I’m sitting in this restaurant crying behind my sunglasses as we struggle through the conversation and whether or not we were able to try again. All of the sudden this guy who’s sitting at a table next to us alone, leans over and says “I’m so sorry to bother you but I couldn’t help overhearing what you’re talking about…” then he tells us he was adopted. He was in foster care and his parents adopted him and now he works in music and is happily married and he just kept saying “You can’t give up! You just can’t. If my parents gave up I wouldn’t be sitting here. I heard what you said to each other, I know your road has been long, but when your daughter is 20 or 30 or 50 you won’t even remember these hard years.” You guys, I cannot adequately express what this stranger’s words did for me. Not just for the perspective, but because I have been praying so hard asking, “God where are you?!” In that moment I heard His voice in my heart, “I’m here… I’m always right here.” I am still scarred from our adoption experience– maybe I always will be– but for the first time in over a month I feel hopeful again. #HollisChurchClothes
You can read what happened next in this post about the loss of the twins.