Some names have been changed in the course of this story. These ‘entries’ are compiled from an interview with Jason and Martina Ahlbrandt. They have approved this retelling of their story.

Dear Journal,

I’ve been thinking about fostering and adoption a lot lately. Mom said something the other day about how I used to drive them crazy all the time to adopt kids when I was little. The same questions keep playing around in my head, though. Aren’t foster parents old people who already know what they’re doing? Don’t we need to have our own kids first? And why do people adopt babies from all over the world, when there are children available in the US?

So, I did some research. Turns out, a lot of kids between birth and six years old are not waiting to be adopted because they’re in foster care. Even when children are removed from their homes early in life, it generally takes years to get all the details sorted and parental rights terminated, if they are going to be adopted. Often, the foster parents actually adopt the child at that point.

Also, I realized what a ridiculous notion it is that I need to have my “own” children first. The heart I had as a little girl wasn’t to have a fake brother or sister. I wanted another sibling. When we adopt, he or she or they will be ours.

Oh, and by the way… God answered my first question this week. I found a blog today, written by a young woman named Krista who fosters with her husband. They don’t have any biological children and they’re currently in the process of adopting two little boys, 3 and 4. The only thing I kept thinking was how much they look like us. Foster parents aren’t young, with no biological kids. But they can be.

If I really want to do this, though, Jason will have to be totally on board. I have no idea how to even begin that conversation.

Martina.

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 Photo credit: 535 Photo

 

Dear Journal,

I was able to get in touch with Krista! She’s been so open to talking about their experiences. There’s this book she told me about called “Adopted for Life.” And she gave me the name of a podcast to download. I’ve been listening to the podcast, and I downloaded the audiobook for “Adopted for Life.” We just had a long ride in the car and I listened to the whole thing. I kept telling Jason to listen to this or that chapter, but I’ve been really careful not to force him into anything. If God wants us to walk that road, He’ll make it happen. This feels big, though. I know it’s the right thing.

Martina.

 

Dear Journal,

We sat at the dinner table tonight as usual, me spouting off all the statistics I’ve had in my head about adoption and fostering (I’m sure Jason had been getting sick of me constantly bringing it up), and Jason broke down in tears.

I didn’t know what to say. There’s been a nagging doubt this entire time that he just wouldn’t feel the same way I did. And even if he does, I know how long it took my heart to come to the place I am now. But he told me to make the phone call and see where we should get started. The chapters he heard from the audiobook really had an impact.

In that moment, I knew our whole life was about to change.

We are doing this. And I think it’s our calling. I’ve never felt so strongly that God was telling us to do something. I remember so many sermons and teachings I’ve heard about calling, and how people know so strongly when God has called them to something. Now, I understand. I don’t know what this will look like, but I am so ready. Or maybe ‘ready’ isn’t the right word… I’m sure this will be the hardest thing I have ever done. Maybe the right word is ‘determined.’

Martina.

 

Dear Journal,

We’ve been studying and starting to get into logistics. Children are removed from their homes because of three main issues: abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Sometimes juvenile delinquency plays a part in it, but generally, it’s the first three. At some point, someone reports to Child Protective Services or an arrest occurs, then an investigation takes place to determine whether or not the child should be removed. We have a lot of training to do, but this is happening!

Jason.

 

Dear Journal,

We have our first placement! Her name is Brittany, she’s about a year and a half old. She was abandoned at day care, and DCS is working on a solution. Brittany is so friendly, and never meets a stranger.

It’s only been a few days, but we had to commit from the beginning to be Dad and Mom for as short or as long a period as we have with these kids. We already feel attached. I’m just praying that we are whatever she needs at this moment.

Jason.

 

Dear Journal,

The most beautiful thing happened today at the ice cream parlor down the street! Brittany met a new friend, a lady who must have been going through chemotherapy. They met in line and started talking, and Brittany ended up spending the better part of our visit in her arms (with our permission, of course). It seemed like she really needed it. Her face was bursting with joy!

This Sunday, at church, I remember singing the song “Beautiful” by Amy Davis. As we sang, I remember thinking, “Jesus, I want to see Your face!” Brittany’s eyes immediately came to mind. Sometimes when I’m looking into her eyes, I’m looking at Jesus. I truly believe this is about more than me or Jason. It’s about more than even these kids. This is about affecting a much broader spectrum of people. I have a feeling today will just be the beginning.

Martina.

 

Dear Journal,

It’s been five weeks since Brittany was placed with us. After so many meetings with DCS, she was placed back with her grandmother.

My heart is broken. I feel like I lost my own daughter. I know this is best for her in the long run, but my emotions need a break. I don’t know how long it will be before we will accept our next placement. I just didn’t expect it to be this hard.

Jason.

 

Dear Journal,

It’s after 1 AM. Three weeks have passed since Brittany left. Earlier tonight, at dinner, before Jason left for a road trip, we got another call from DCS. They told us they had a 2-month-old little girl in need of a placement.

My first thought was that it’s not convenient. What excuse could we think of to say no? Then, I remembered that this was never about our convenience. I’m sure it’s not convenient for this little girl, either, so I will just trust that God knows what He is doing.

We accepted the placement. Child Services had already been monitoring little Ali since birth – her birth mother has already had three children removed from her custody by the state, all related to neglect. DCS said Ali was drug-exposed at birth, but doesn’t show any affects. Ali has been with a neighbor for a few days – her mom seemed to just disappear for a bit – and finally, Child Services was called to pick her up.

One of their first questions was to confirm that we were a pre-adoptive home. It’s not likely Ali will be able to return to her birth mother.

She got here at 9, screaming and reeking of cigarette smoke. Jason picked her up, mid-scream, and she calmed down right away. I could see it touch him, even in that moment.

We will have to wait and see what the next several weeks hold.

Martina.

 

Dear Journal,

I’ve had one day to get to know Ali, and I can already feel an attachment forming. It’s odd at first – this morning, I walked into her room to feed her and immediately thought, “I don’t know you,” as I looked down into her crib. But even after today, going through the motions of taking care of her, I know I’m going to love this girl.

Martina.

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Dear Journal,

It’s been five days. Today was our first meeting with DCS about Ali. Someone had gone to her mom’s apartment to pick her up, and the mom refused to come. She said right then she was going to surrender her parental rights. It’s so strange, because usually, there’s a family member willing to take an infant. Rarely will an infant even be placed in foster care because of that. It’s much more likely for older kids to be placed, because family has had time to see their behavioral issues.

So, five days in, we love this girl, and it looks like she’s going to be ours. It’s such a whirlwind!

Martina.

 

Dear Journal,

Today was a bad day.

We’ve had Ali for 6 weeks now. We’ve heard a little about this woman who is apparently godmother to two of Ali’s half-siblings. Ali has never met her, but they keep referring to her as “Ali’s godmother.” Because of DCS’ “kinship” policy, they will usually choose a placement or adoption with someone considered ‘kin,’ (blood relative or some kind of other authority figure the child has already gotten to know) over non-kin.

We had a big team meeting today to discuss what was happening. Martina’s parents were there – her dad’s a psychiatrist and was able to attest to the additional trauma it would cause for her to be moved again after 6 weeks – and we also saw Ali’s birth mom again. She’s obviously dealing with a pretty hardcore addiction. It’s pretty hard to watch.

Martina and I sat in a room for two hours and watched people argue about Ali’s future. People would argue that this “godmother” would be a better placement, because it would mean Ali would be connected with some of her half-siblings. But Ali doesn’t even know her! At one point, someone made a point to say, “What if you two get divorced? Fathers leave children all the time.”

Obviously, she was hurting from some past experience. But how unfair, to put that on us, for no reason whatsoever.

The meeting ended with us being handed paperwork stating Ali will be leaving us in two weeks. A two weeks notice that our foster child… No, our daughter, will be removed from us for no legitimate reason and placed with someone she doesn’t know.

I’m about to get on the phone until someone listens. We are fighting for Ali. We know her best option is to be with us.

And I’m praying.

Jason.

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Photo credit: 535 Photo

Dear Journal,

After Friday’s fiasco, Jason called and continued to call until he reached the top of DCS. He was finally able to speak with the Regional Administrator. She decided to call a meeting for more details.

Then, today, Tuesday, was her permanency plan hearing. The idea of these hearings is that DCS presents their plan for permanency (child will be reunited with birth parent after XYZ takes place, or, in Ali’s case, adoption is being pursued with the parental rights being surrendered), then the magistrate approves the plan.

The judge, unaware of what was going on, saw us with Ali, asked if we were a pre-adoptive home, and when we said, “Yes,” seemed to be thrilled that things were going to work out perfectly for Ali.

Then, DCS began explaining their position.

After they explained that adoption was being pursued, Ali’s attorney stated that he wanted to make it clear he was uncomfortable with DCS moving her to another foster home. The judge was blown away… Just shocked. She asked for an explanation, and the DCS attorney explained about the other lady to whom they planned to send Ali.

Our judge called a continuance. She knew it wasn’t within her jurisdiction to say which foster home Ali would go to, but she refused to approve the permanency plan. We have to go back a week from today for another hearing, where DCS has to explain what they are doing and why it’s best for Ali.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I know is that we aren’t giving up. And it feels like someone is finally on our side.

Martina.

 

Dear Journal,

It’s been a week since the magistrate called her continuance. We were feeling, from what we heard from our caseworker, that things were headed in our direction after the meetings around their office this week. Ali was still technically scheduled to leave us in three days, but we were hoping that wouldn’t happen.

We got to the courthouse in the late morning (we were on the docket for 1 PM), and saw Ali’s caseworker immediately. She shook her head at me slowly as soon as we made eye contact. This was not good news. My mom was with us, and the three of us and Ali sat down, already feeling devastated. The caseworker told us they had decided at this morning’s meeting to stick to their kinship policy.

But I knew they were just saving face. We are much more ‘kin’ to Ali after the two months she has been with us than this stranger had ever been.

Then, she told us that Marsha (the ‘godmother’) should probably meet Ali, to see how they interact.

We walked to Marsha and introduced ourselves, then handed our baby to her. She kept asking Ali if she liked music… If she wanted to play the trumpet. Jason had already said he would love to teach her to play the guitar, so our hearts are already being run into the ground, before the hearing had even begun.

Ali couldn’t take her eyes off her daddy. She has been a daddy’s girl from the first time she saw Jason. As I looked at him gazing at her, I thought to myself, “She’s about to lose a father again. She will grow up fatherless.”

Finally, our attorney called us into the courtroom. We walked in after Marsha, who was still holding Ali. I know we looked devastated.

The judge wasn’t devastated. She had fire in her eyes – she was furious.

DCS explained their position – that they consider Marsha kin, due to her being the godmother of two of Ali’s half-siblings. The judge asked some clarifying questions – is she a blood relation? Is she actually Ali’s godmother? Does she actually live with Ali’s siblings? Is there any documentation that she’s their godmother?

No. To all of the above.

The judge just stopped it. The chaos died down, then the judge asked us why we hadn’t petitioned for custody of Ali. Our response was, “I have no idea what that means. We didn’t know we could.”

She told us she needed a five-minute recess. She returned twenty minutes later. While she was gone, Marsha passed Ali to us so we could change Ali’s diaper and then we passed her back to Marsha. I also texted everyone we had been keeping up-to-date with the situation to keep praying, because it wasn’t over. Mom kept praying.

My heart has never ached like that before. I was praying, and excited, and scared, all at once.

When the magistrate returned, she had a huge law book in her hands.

She asked, “If I were to give you custody today, she would no longer be in DCS state custody. She would be in your custody. You would have to pursue adoption at your own expense – hire an attorney, do a private adoption.”

Normally, the state pays for adoption from foster care. Ali’s mother had already terminated her parental rights. And of course, we said, “Yes, we will.”

Then this magistrate judge, this angel, this gift from God, scribbles a legal document out, giving us full custody of Ali. She said, “I’m doing this as a shelter placement. It’s a better alternative than being in foster care and state custody that she’s in the custody of these people who have a relationship with her and love and care for her.”

And her gavel slammed to the table.

She’s ours!

Martina.

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Photo credit: 535 Photo

Dear Journal,

It’s been a few months since we got full custody of Ali. Things are great! We’ve started the process of building a house, because we need more space to continue to foster additional children, and we’re currently out of room.

It turned out the expenses of adopting Ali were very minor. We were able to fundraise the little we needed, and everything is moving along smoothly. It looks like Ali’s adoption will be finalized right after her first birthday!

I’m writing today specifically because I got a very unexpected email. About a year ago, we met a lady going through chemotherapy while we had Brittany. Well, she found me. She must have been looking, because it doesn’t seem like something that could happen by chance. She told me how much it meant to her to have spent time with Brittany that day. She told me that it made her month – it had been a really difficult time for her. She made a point to say that she isn’t “spiritual,” but she knows something special happened in that moment.

I was reminded again that it’s not just about the kids. It’s not just about us. It’s about a much larger picture. Praise be to God!

Martina.

 

Dear Journal,

It’s August. Ali’s adoption is finalized! The judge who oversaw the hearing was ecstatic – generally, he does divorce proceedings, so you could tell how exciting this was for him.

It’s like a dream come true.

Jason.

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Photo credit: Beth Rose Photography

Dear Journal,

Jason told me a while ago, after making all those phone calls to DCS when we thought we might lose Ali, God spoke to him that we would have the opportunity to make an impact at the political level, not just as foster parents. It seems that’s already happening. We were contacted by the magistrate judge and asked if we would speak on her behalf for a position for a head judgeship, replacing someone who is retiring.

I spoke, giving the 1-minute version of our story, and retelling that she made a bold decision to do what was in our child’s best interests, even when it went against the DCS recommendation. She was someone to whom I would trust the well-being of children. And she won the vote! She is now the head judge of the juvenile court system.

Martina.

 

Dear Journal,

We took some time off fostering while we built our new house, but now we’re back into the swing of things! We’ve had two other foster kids since reopening our home for foster care, one boy, and one girl. Having two toddlers at once is tough, but so worth it. We’ve learned how to partner with parents and help them in any way we’re able. We have decided that we don’t want parents to feel like we’re ‘stealing’ their children – we want to help them get through the complicated political stuff and support them, so they can become fit parents. And so far, they have been thrilled for the support. And it feels good, to feel like we’re making a difference.

All the mess with DCS and courts and the stress of not knowing if we could keep our child – it’s worth it. It’s worth it to know we’re working to make something better, not just accepting a bad situation. And I will never be able to explain how thankful I am for Ali. My daughter is the most beautiful human being I have ever seen. I can’t wait to meet her future siblings!

I keep telling Martina she should write a book. Maybe we will.

Jason.

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Photo credit: 535 Photo

Martina is an avid blogger, writing anything from design and home care techniques to fostering and adoption lessons. Visit her at My MCM Life.

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