When I got married 19 years ago, I never thought I would be a foster parent to over 40 children with special needs. It never occurred to me that I would have the blessing of being a stay-at-home mom for 14 years. I never would have thought I would end up with six forever children and two grandchildren before the age of 42! I have been blessed, and it all started when I said yes to taking in my first foster child – a little seven-month-old boy with severe hemophilia.
My husband had testicular cancer in high school. I knew our chances of having children biologically was less than 1%, and I was ok with that. I had my daughter, Jenna, from a previous relationship, and Matt had been in her life since she was 3 months old. Together we adopted our son, Conner, from Ukraine. We had our boy and our girl. Our family could have been considered complete. But I had this desire for a large family, and so Matt and I embarked into the world of foster care to add to our family.
I still remember my caseworker calling me and asking if I would be willing to foster a seven-month-old little boy with hemophilia. She went on to say that if I said yes, I would have to go for training at the Hemophilia Treatment Center. I had no clue what hemophilia was, but I didn’t care. I knew we could learn how to care for his medical needs and we immediately said yes to taking him in. Needless to say, we fell in love immediately! When I went to pick Chris up from the foster care agency, the first thing I noticed were the bruises on his forehead, his legs, and his ribs. What in the world had happened to this little baby? He couldn’t even crawl at this point, so how in the world did he get so banged up? That’s when I realized we had a lot to learn about this hemophilia business.
We made our first trip down to the Hemophilia Treatment Center and were given a crash course in all things hemophilia related. We learned that the slightest pressure of us picking Chris up would cause bruising around his ribs. We learned that just rolling over could cause bruises to his head, arms, and legs. We learned the importance of memorizing the HTC’s phone number and keeping a travel letter on hand at all times to prove we weren’t abusing this child! At this time, Chris didn’t have a port in his chest, so we learned when to recognize a bleed and how quickly the local hospital would be at getting us in for treatment. We also learned the importance of reaching out on social media and immersing ourselves into the hemophilia community for support.
I realized quickly that I excelled at caring for Chris’s special needs. Once he got his port placed I loved the freedom of being able to do his factor on my own. Knowing that I could provide the factor in my own house and not rush to the emergency room for every bump and bruise was liberating! In my mind, I knew if I could handle pushing a needle into my child on a regular basis that there was nothing that I wouldn’t be able to handle. I was even more excited to learn how to infuse directly into Chris’s veins. It was then that I realized that I was going to continue fostering children with special needs.
The hardest part about being a foster parent was the knowledge that more often than not, our foster children would be returned to their birth families. This happened with Chris. It was very unexpected but he was returned to his birth family before Christmas. We were devastated. We thought long and hard about giving up our foster license, but the knowledge that Chris might come back into foster care caused us to decide to stay licensed.
Knowing how well we handled our first foster child with special needs, it wasn’t a surprise when the foster care agency continued to place other children with special needs in our home. We learned how to care for children with mood disorders, fetal alcohol, shaken baby, PKU, ADHD, cerebral palsy, feeding tubes, and many other special needs. Every time we got a placement I would go online and find a support group to help me learn how to effectively handle the children’s needs. I would research everything I could so that I could provide the best care possible. I loved the challenges of raising children with special needs. I loved watching them grown into their true selves with proper medical care and love. I can honestly say that Matt and I found our calling. We were meant to be short-term parents to these special children, and God willing, full time parents to those we were able to adopt.
A little over a year after Chris left our home, his mother voluntarily placed him back into foster care. We immediately started fighting to get him placed back into our foster home. Thankfully the caseworker was on our side and managed to get him returned to us.
We were eventually able to adopt Chris, as well as his half-brother, Xander (who also has severe hemophilia). Xander came to us at three months of age with three healing fractured ribs. He had been in and out of the hospital five times in his first three months of life. Thanks to our knowledge of hemophilia from Chris, we had a much better handle on how to deal with Xander’s special needs.
Looking back, I am so thankful that my first foster care placement was a child with hemophilia. Chris taught me that I can handle anything life throws at me. Everyone always talks about how they could never take on children like we have. My response is always, yes you can. If God is calling you to foster or adopt, then you will be able to handle the journey. Children with special needs are just like everyone else: they simply need love and attention. I won’t lie and say it’s all a bed of roses. It’s hard work raising children – whether biological, adopted, or just through fostering them. They will stress you out, push you to your limits, and cause you to want to hide in the bathroom for hours. But they will also make you laugh, they will make you see the joy in the little things, and will teach you just how much love your heart is capable of. I encourage anyone thinking of fostering or adopting to pray diligently and if you feel led, to just do it. The reward is worth the effort and sacrifice!
Anna lives in Indiana with her husband, Matt, and children, Jenna (22), Conner (18), Macie (14), Chris (14), Joey (11), Xander (10), and Maddie (9).
*Note: “Infusing Love: A Mom’s View,” is a blog collection of personal opinions and a representation of individuals experiences. While extensive efforts are made to ensure accuracy of the content, the blog entries do not represent HFA or its Board of Directors. The blog is also not intended to be construed as medical advice or the official opinion/position of HFA, its staff, or its Board of Directors. Readers are strongly encouraged to discuss their own medical treatment with their healthcare provider.