There are moments in life that stand out.
Moments where we have to do a U-turn and suddenly find ourselves on a completely different path. The moment we met our future spouse. The random email that led to our first job. The time we decided on a whim to move to California.
I was 16 when my parents agreed to become foster care parents. I don’t know if this was one of these moments or if it was just coincidence—all I know is that I was not the same person as I am now. Neither is my family. We have changed and grown in countless ways, including in number. By taking in more than 15 babies and adopting two, we are now changed forever.
We are different. We are better.
It didn’t necessarily start out that way. Before this all began, I didn’t want my mom and dad to become foster parents. Ten years have passed and I am still knocked off-balance by this particular truth. It presses on my chest. It is an ugly shame of a thing.
Today, and every moment since they came into our family, I have loved and adored my two adopted siblings. They are unequivocally and irrefutably part of our family. They hold pieces of my story, pieces of my heart, in the way only siblings can.
I believe that there are two kinds of people in this world.
People who crave more, who try to do more and be more. People who expand. People who believe in things like abundance and miracles and faith and joy. People who believe in the power of giving.
And then there are people who lack. People who hoard and scrimp and fear and panic that they don’t have and will never have enough. By nature, I am this kind of person. I am a person who hoards. I save and stockpile for a rainy day. I fret and I stress and I watch over with baited breath. I am an anxious person. I fear the unknown. I struggle with faith.
I am a fearful person. And that fear was never more obvious than at age 16, when I was afraid of opening up my family. I knew that becoming part of a foster family was a risk. It would change things. It would rewire our frequency. The very foundation and structure of our family would change.
We would be different. I would be different.
Foster care is a strange beast of a thing. I was right to think it would permeate my family. It did, and it changed everything. It was consuming and difficult and left us all gasping for breath at one point or another. It altered us in small and big ways. Our family had shifted; our frequency was rewired.
By the time we met my sister, we had fostered nine babies. Some went back to their families right away. Some stayed for a while. All of them were loved and cherished. All of them made me feel loved and cherished.
That’s the thing about love: we get more by giving. Love breeds love. The sheer act of loving someone makes us feel loved because it reminds us of our own lovability. Love takes us home. Love reminds us who we are.
And yes, it was hard: gut wrenchingly, heart-breakingly hard, the way these things tend to be. It cracked us open, both collectively and individually. But I learned that things like sadness and pain often walk hand in hand with things like love and joy. They are different sides of the same coin. If we’re really, truly living, we’ll find that one cannot be present without the other.
Foster care was like this. There were days when my heart felt like it might shatter and days when I was ballooned up by the massive amount of love that comes simply by giving and embracing and opening up to others.
At the time, I didn’t believe in abundance or how to truly love or give or be of service. I didn’t understand the value. I didn’t know if it was worth the risk. Now I do.
I know because I watched my family grow and expand and become weirder and larger and louder, and then I watched my own heart grow and expand just as much.
I know because of baby snuggles and hide and seek and bubbles on the porch and chicken fights in the pool.
I know because of the community that rose up around us and supported us through the process.
I know because of the way my heart felt on National Adoption Day, when my brother officially and legally became part of our family.
I know because of the pride I feel when I tell people I am the oldest of seven children.
I know because my family feels more like my family than it ever did before.
I didn’t understand it at the time. My parents did. They said they wanted to become foster parents because they had more love to give, because our family had more love to give. I didn’t understand then, but now I do.
There is always more love, and it is always worth the risk.
If you’re interested in adopting or becoming foster parents, I highly encourage you to learn more about the process. The National Foster Parent Association is an informative resource to help you get started and connect with a local representative in your area. Adoptive Families is another great starting point that lists information about various avenues for adoption, including through the foster care system. Even if you can’t make the commitment to adopt, there are several ways you can still help children in foster care. Every little bit makes a difference!
Author: Jillian Stacia
Image: flickr/Beverly & Pack
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock