A Foster Care Success: Melissa’s Story

It’s easy to get overwhelmed knowing the constant struggle in foster care, making it more important than ever to know the success stories.  

Here are the words of Melissa, a mother of one such story:  

“We are Melissa and Kevin from Northeast Ohio. We have four children ages five and under: two adopted sons, ages three and two, and two biological daughters, five and eight months.   

In the beginning of 2020, I had a dream that we were foster parents. I woke up and immediately told Kevin. His response was a stern yet confident “No.” He expressed his fear of not being able to love a child who wasn’t biologically ours. I tried to understand this fear, as I did not feel the same way at all. I knew we had to be in this together- both 100%. I asked him to pray about it, and he agreed. The very next day, he found a business card in the parking lot for a foster parent recruiter for an agency on the east side. We knew exactly who put that card on the ground for Kevin to find. The next day, we called them and began our training. Then Covid hit. We were delayed.   

It took us ten months to become licensed. During those ten months, we prayed and prayed and, many times, adjusted our prayers. I remember it was July of 2020 when I started to pray for a child with a biblical name to be placed with us. We were fully licensed in the middle of November. On December 2nd, we got our first call for a newborn named Noah who needed placement. Jesus sent him to us. 

He was two days old and tested positive at birth. When his county caseworker arrived at our house, she told us that “he is a strong case for adoption.” Here I am, this naive mother of two kids overnight (Ruth and Noah), already thinking about adopting him and what that would look like. I tried really hard to reel my thoughts and emotions in. I’m embarrassed to even write this, but it is true. In my mind, I had it all planned out. I wanted everything closed: no contact with any birth family or family of origin, no pictures or videos, and no visits. Nothing. Like it never even happened.  

We had always been certified as foster to adopt, but with concrete knowledge that the kids may be reunified. We knew that. That is the goal of foster care. We were trained to know that. But I had my fears. “How can I get attached if they’re going to leave? My heart can’t handle loving them and saying goodbye. What if they’re reunified and then enter back into care?”  

Despite those fears, we both agreed that as adults and as foster parents, we were going to love the babies so hard that it put the hurt on us, not them. But we also knew that reunification doesn’t always happen, and from day one, we agreed to adopt anyone who was placed into our home. We parented knowing that these children weren’t ours. While it didn’t change the way we parented, it was an emotional and mental challenge at times. They are entrusted to us for a certain amount of time, and it is our job to love, protect, and care for them as long as they’re with us. We both did that every day for Noah, even when it was tough.   

Noah was born in December of 2020, during the height of Covid, before vaccines. The county policies and procedures at this time were so incredibly unique, and the experiences we had will probably never happen again. The county wasn’t holding in-person visits, so visits were conducted via Zoom, and I was in charge of offering and scheduling the visits with Noah’s bio mom. I was also in charge of supervising during the visit and submitting visit notes and documentation to the caseworker. It was hard for everyone involved. It was hard for Noah’s birth mother to bond with him over Zoom. It was hard for Noah to stay engaged via Zoom. It was hard for me to establish and maintain a weird co-parenting relationship with her while also feeling like the enforcer.   

Six months later, the county resumed in-person visits. I became responsible for driving him downtown and dropping him off for a two-hour in-person visit with his birth mother (let’s call her Sarah.) It had been months since he had seen her. The first visit lasted only a few minutes. Noah’s worker asked if I would start attending the visits with him so he would be calm enough to bond with Sarah. I agreed. When I stayed with him, he was able to visit with Sarah for the entire two hours. While Sarah really loved it, it was very difficult for me. She was not very kind to me. She was actually quite nasty with both the comments she made towards me and the tone that she used. It was incredibly awkward and tense. At the end of the visits, Noah and I would leave via a separate exit while supervised by a County employee, and Sarah would leave by herself via another exit.  

Sarah constantly asked both the case worker and me for pictures and videos. Whatever I sent her was not enough. She was insatiable. She responded to most of the pictures and videos I sent by criticizing me Noah was wearing the wrong color in the photos; he should’ve been wearing a hat at all times while indoors with heat (at one point, she told me that the picture was no good because his teeth weren’t visible when he was smiling.)  

Her comments broke me. I tried very hard, only sometimes with success, to put myself in her position. After nine months of taking care of her child, she had no choice but to surrender him to a total stranger. Whatever control she had was gone immediately upon his birth. She was grasping the ability to make decisions and control someone else. When I reminded myself of that, I felt better. But it was not easy. That was by far the most difficult part of our journey. The strange headspace of parenting someone else’s child, going over the top to do everything right to try to calm her fears, and then being treated like this was somehow my fault that I was the bad guy.   

A few months later, Sarah called her caseworker and decided she wasn’t going to work on her plan. She decided to surrender her parental rights on one condition: That my husband and I would adopt Noah. She wasn’t going to fight or contest. She was voluntarily surrendering. I had no words, no thoughts, no emotions. I couldn’t believe what was happening. When Sarah and I spoke on the phone, she brought a completely different tone and dynamic. She complimented us, thanking us for taking such good care of him, and told us she knew that we could provide more for him than she ever could. She was crying, and I was crying. I’ll never forget that conversation with her. She had one request of his upbringing- that he play sports if he was interested. We agreed.  

 

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized what kind of a mother Sarah is. She had sacrificed so much while pregnant with Noah. She was sacrificing so much during COVID-19 without visits and hands-on interaction with him. And that day, she did the most selfless thing that any mother could do. She put his wants, needs, and livelihood before her own. She made the most sacrificial and loving decision a mother could ever make. Her courage and complete selflessness brought me to my knees. And I realized that I was wrong. I was wrong to want a private, closed situation that did not include birth mothers or bio family. I was incredibly selfish in wanting to keep that part out. So, I decided to take a page from her book and be selfless instead of selfish.   

We had our final visit with Sarah around Noah’s first birthday. We all had lunch together, and I gifted her with a baby book of Noah’s first year of life. She was very grateful to have the photos of him. She told me that she wants Noah to call her “Sarah,” and for him to call me “Mom,” stating because I am his mother. We both agreed to an open adoption, and she is able to reach out anytime she wants and ask for pictures and updates. We also send her pictures and updates voluntarily. She has since relocated, and my husband and I talked about taking all of the kids to visit her one day.  

We were able to relax into this new reality where Noah was ours, and we loved living life as a permanent family of four. We found out we were pregnant just a few weeks after our final visit with Sarah. A few days later, we miscarried our child. We were completely devastated. I remember saying to Kevin, “but someone is missing.” He will tell you that’s my code word for “I’m ready for another baby.”  

Less than a month after our loss, we got a call from our foster care agency, asking us if we were able to take placement of a two-day-old baby boy. We immediately said yes, and later that evening, he arrived at our home. It was then that we learned the situation surrounding his conception and birth.  

His mother was sexually assaulted. She chose to love him and carry him for nine months and not just give birth to him, but ultimately give him LIFE. Just like Sarah, she made the most loving and sacrificial choice to surrender him permanently, which made him eligible for adoption after just six months of living with us. She chose not to name him so that we could. She decided that she wanted a closed adoption with absolutely no contact. We understand and respect her decision completely. And if she ever changes her mind about that, we are more than ready to welcome her into our family.   

While I cannot begin to even try to imagine or understand what she went through, this is what I do know. Her unthinkable trauma and unimaginable pain created one of the most beautiful blessings that has ever been entrusted to our family. I know that her sacrifices and selflessness will never be forgotten. I know that bio moms tend to have a generally negative reputation, and I am here to tell you that that is not always the case. 

Despite both of my sons being born into difficult circumstances, they are both thriving. Not because of me. But only because of the sacrifices their bio moms made. Ultimately, the decision was theirs, and they both chose with their sons in mind. I also know that people tend to make it all about the Foster and Adoptive Parents. People often say, “wow, the boys are so blessed to have you both as their parents.” And I am here to tell you that it’s us. We are so blessed to have them.   

We rejoice in the beauty of adoption. We speak about adoption using only words and statements that create an adoption-positive environment and household. When Michael was adopted, our oldest daughter, who was four years old at the time, asked the judge, “When am I getting adopted?” At first, I was mortified. But after reflecting upon her question, I was so proud.   

Noah and Michael are aware that they are adopted, although neither of them fully understands what that means. Noah and Michael know they have two moms, a tummy mom and me. Noah will tell you that Miss Sarah carried him in her belly and took care of him because she loves him. We speak openly, lovingly, and respectfully about both of the boys’ tummy moms. We make sure that the boys receive gifts from them on their birthdays and for Christmas.  

We honor their birth mothers. I will be the first one to tell of their strength, courage, incredible selflessness, and sacrificial love for their children. And Kevin loves to talk about his unfounded fear. He will tell you that if you have that fear, it’s not real. He proudly loves all of our children unconditionally.    

Although we currently have no children in foster care in our home, we remain licensed, and our home remains open. We know that we will welcome another infant into our home in the near future.  

We would encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest in foster care or Foster Care Adoption to get the process started. If it doesn’t work out, and foster parenting isn’t for you, there is a way for you to help and still be involved. Any foster family would gladly take a meal, a cup of coffee, or an extra set of hands around the house. There are many different ways to help families and children in foster care. If anyone has any further questions or wants to chat more, or if there’s any other way for us to help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.” 

Mary-Beth Cole, the Family & Community Support Coordinator at Starting Point, was serving as Noah’s caseworker at the time. After attending Noah’s adoption, she reported on the experience, “What a joy to see this young boy, who had little to no chance of returning to a biological family, find a loving and nurturing forever family! We cannot appreciate Kevin and Melissa enough for being that family to Michael and Noah!” Throughout this journey, Mary Beth and an organization called Cleveland Angels stayed by the family’s side. This organization stayed with the family through the adoption process and even provided support when tragedy struck and their home burnt down. Their work made this story one of success. 

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