When *Luke and April decided to become foster parents, they weren't really sure what the job would entail. Their own four children were growing up so quickly. Three had already left home and the couple began to feel the effects of their soon-to-be empty nest. When they contemplated how they would spend their newfound freedom and time, their thoughts turned automatically to children. They both loved kids and seemed to have a gift for making children laugh. April, in particular, had always held a special place in her heart for babies and teen moms. Fostering seemed like a natural option for them.
They contacted the local Children’s Aid Society and started the process. As they began to take part in training sessions and welcomed workers into their home, they became more and more excited about the possibilities. They prayed that they would be able to bring hope to children and families in difficult times. Current statistics show more than 78,000 Canadian children are in foster care and about 30,000 are waiting for forever families.
Finally, after several months, the family met the criteria and began to accept children into their home. They were weekend warriors at first, providing respite for other foster families. Then April got the call that would change their lives dramatically.
“Will you meet me at the hospital?” the children’s services worker asked. “We have a mother in labour and we will need a temporary family right away.” She was First Nations, which pointed to another staggering statistic: First Nations children are up to 12 times more likely to be placed in care, and in some provinces, they account for to 80 percent of the children placed.
April arrived at the hospital and shivered a little, looking around the waiting room. The walls were bare except for the black and white photo of a pregnant mother with the slogan, “No amount of alcohol is safe”. Two nurses at the desk quietly discussed their weekend plans, not seeming to notice the flurry of activity behind the door marked “Obstetrics”. Kerry came back into the room. “You can see him now,” she said. She filled April in on the details of the birth and the drug-related complications as they walked toward ICU. When April learned that the baby’s mother would be leaving within a few hours, her heart ached. She wished there was something she could do for her. Kerry assured her that taking care of her child would be more than enough.
April was almost afraid to breathe when she saw Nicholas for the first time. He was so small. Even amongst the tubes, he was precious. His dark skin looked smooth and she could see thick black hair peeking out from under the blue knitted toque. He opened his eyes when she slipped her hands into the incubator gloves and touched the downy skin on his back. “We'll get through this together,” she whispered.
April became a fixture at the hospital during Nick’s recovery while Luke and their teenage daughter travelled back and forth as much as work and school allowed. Tears of joy streamed down April’s face when she held him for the first time and he timidly accepted milk from the bottle she offered. Each ounce that he gained was cause for rejoicing. Finally, Nicholas was strong enough to go home and the family took on temporary, full-time care of the infant.
It wasn't long before a case worker asked if the family had considered the possibility of adoption. Since they had already thought through a lengthy list of potential issues, they were able to respond with an enthusiastic “yes”. Paperwork, roundtable discussions and home visits increased as court dates were scheduled and pushed back repeatedly. The process seemed to take forever.
While the months passed, Nicholas and his new family bonded together. A natural fighter, the infant grew stronger and met all of his developmental milestones. Luke, April, their children and their extended family have been learning about aboriginal culture, figuring out how a new baby fits in to their already established family patterns and loving each other as much as possible. He has quickly learned how to use his winning toothless grin to wrap each and every family member around his little finger. Immersed in a loving, enriching environment, the future looks bright for baby Nicholas.
Adoption is rarely cut and dried. While Luke and April may not have to deal with a child who remembers a traumatic upbringing, they do face many questions and uncertainties about their future. Will Nicholas have any special needs because of his mother’s drug use during pregnancy? Will he have a hard time with the fact that his skin colour is different than theirs? Will they be able to teach him about his birth language and culture while maintaining their own? No matter what the circumstances, they are incredibly thankful for the blessing they have been given. They have been able to give this baby unconditional love and hope for his future, constantly praying that they will be his forever family.
*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
Shari Talbot is a freelance writer based in Wasaga Beach, Ontario.