Our Family Story
Written By: Yani Sanchez (Foster and Adoptive Mom)
I am beginning this story with the phone call I received from my mother two weeks ago after our last foster baby left with family who will eventually adopt him. My mom said something to me that made me take a step back because I never quite believed that she truly understood why I continue to foster even though I’ve already adopted 2 of my 3 children. She wanted to check up on me to see if I was okay because she knew this baby boy who had been with us for 6 months had left an imprint on my heart. She said she was proud that I was doing something that really matters. That I was giving my life and unconditional love to children who really need it. Although she feels great pride in what I do, at times she feels fear that one day I will get hurt and feels sadness of the “hard” that is sometimes every day. She has seen the “hard” in each of my almost 3 adoptive children and at times she wonders how I have managed to keep it all together.
I met my oldest son Cameron when I worked at the Guardian ad Litem Program. I was assigned to his case to represent his best interest in court. He was a 42 lb 8-year-old boy who looked like he was 5 due to malnourishment and physical abuse. Cameron was the oldest of his biological sisters and the target child of his father’s abuse. He was guarded, detached and very angry. He had experienced several foster placement disruptions and was finally placed in a shelter with his sisters. As his Guardian ad Litem, I received daily phone calls from the shelter and his school regarding his defiant behaviors and emotional outbursts. It was during this time that I found out that his sisters were going to be adopted by their teacher. I met this amazing woman who had agreed to open her heart and her home to his sisters and was contemplating on taking him as well. It was a big commitment to make and I could see it in her eyes that she was afraid and overwhelmed with the thought of taking all 3. I drove home that night and thought about this fragile little boy with the raspy voice who always kept me on my toes and in very rare moments would enlighten me with his broken smile or sarcastic sense of humor. It was those rare moments when I felt a connection to him, a closeness that I never felt with any of the other children on my caseload. I remembered saying goodbye to him that evening after our weekly visit and he was angry because I had to cut my visit short. He refused to say goodbye to me. He said, “Just leave, like she left me, like trash on the street.” I was speechless and before I could compose myself he walked away. I walked out to my car holding back tears and before I knew it, I felt little arms wrapping themselves around my waist. I turned around and kneeled before him and embraced him into my arms. I knew in that moment that I could never let him go. One year later, he became my son.
I never thought I’d be able to love so deeply as much I loved Cameron but then my heart surprised me once again. I met Enzo when he was 8. I was now a supervisor at the Guardian Ad Litem Program. The Guardian ad Litem volunteer assigned to him came to me with concerns that his mother was once again putting him and his siblings in danger. He was then removed from his mother and placed in foster care and separated from his sisters. 2 years later after I left the Guardian Ad Litem Program, I decided to start the foster to adopt process again. During the process I spoke to a case manager whom I had known for many years and shared my desire to adopt once again. He told me about a 10-year-old boy who needed a permanent home. I told him I wanted a baby, but he continued to talk about this boy. He showed me a picture and I immediately recognized the face of the boy I had met 2 years prior. He began to tell me that his sisters were going to be adopted but that the family did not wish to pursue adoption with him. It broke my heart to hear this as I remembered how close he was to his sisters. After several weeks of thinking about Enzo I picked up the phone and called his case manager to set up visitation. We had a supervised visit with Enzo, his case manager and my son Cameron. The boys hit it off immediately and several weeks later our visits became unsupervised and then moved onto overnight. Enzo went to court and told the Judge he wanted to live with us. His adoption was finalized within the year.
In July 2015 I met a beautiful baby boy who changed my life, my perception of this world and defined the true meaning of “fostering.” Prior to meeting J, I had tried to conceive a child of my own and after several failed attempt of fertility treatment, I decided to go the adoption route once again. I met J when he was 5 months old. But the truth is I knew him long before he came to exist. I met J’s biological mother when she was 13. She was one of the kids on my caseload as a Guardian ad Litem. She was smart, musically inclined and determined but also very broken. I remember her telling me one day that all she wanted was to have a baby that she could love and would love her the same in return. She wanted to be a good mother and give her baby everything she never had. 4 years later which included multiple runaway episodes, domestic violence and aging out of this broken foster care system, she had a baby boy. Except things were not as simple as she envisioned. She was unable to regain custody of her son.
One day during a board meeting I met J’s foster mom. She walked into our meeting with a beautiful baby boy who slept peacefully in his stroller. She told me that his mom was not doing well and that they would probably begin to search for an adoptive home. I began visiting with J and he was eventually transitioned into my home when he was 8 months old. To everyone’s surprise, J’s biological father was located, and he also expressed a desire to be reunified with his son. I approached this situation with judgment and hesitation as I did not know him. After a year of co-parenting I soon realized that J needed a dad just as much as he needed a mom. His father, also a product of foster care, has become an extended member of our family. Not only did J bring his father and I together but he also brought his previous foster mother and I together. She is now my partner and J’s other mom. J’s journey has not been an easy one. It has been filled with anxiety, frustration with the lengthy process of his adoption, trying to navigate the world of autism and balancing a blended family with foster, adoptive and bio children.
Cameron is now 15. Enzo is 13 and J is 3. I also have a 17-year-old step daughter. Ivette and I continue to foster because these children need our love and support to thrive whether its for a week, a month or a year. My mother is right to worry about me. She is right to fear and to be sad with the “hard” because the hard comes often as our children come with emotional baggage that they will carry for life. But with the “hard” comes a force of unconditional love that flows in an overwhelming beautiful, powerful and healing way that I and others like my mother thought impossible. So, at times my family and the outside world may not understand why we do what we do, but I know what we do inspires hope and a gratefulness that there are others like Ivette and I who have the unbelievable capacity to do this work.