We have all heard the phrase in movies “it’s a Christmas miracle”
This is the time of year that wishes should be granted, hopes fulfilled, dreams to become reality. As my twins turn five this month and I struggle to make their birthdays special and separate from Christmas I am reminded that they are indeed Christmas miracles.
They are our only biological children but they are not our first children. In 2008 we had the amazing opportunity to be foster parents. After a struggle with infertility my husband and I decided to pursue adoption through fostering. We dove into the lengthy and invasive foster parent certification process with an open but cautious attitude. At the time our friends were fostering an infant and were in the process of finalizing adoption. Their fostering journey had been rough and messy, physically and emotionally draining. So we knew not to expect a smooth road but at the same time we were hopeful that eventually, hopefully, our application would come to fruition in the form of a child to call our own.
When the call came from the foster placement agency I had to pop into an empty office at work for privacy. A quick stunned agreement with my husband and we would be welcoming twenty month old twin boy and girl siblings that evening!
Ethan and Samantha* lived with us for eleven months. During that time we learned a lot about the foster care system.
We learned that our case was unusual in that we had the same caseworker for the entirety of their time with us. We learned that foster parents shouldn't cut their foster children’s hair without asking for the parent’s permission first. We learned that biological parents are given every chance possible to regain custody of their children no matter how long they take or how little effort they are able to give.
We learned that children in foster care can suffer ptsd and hide their fear and sadness with smiles and eager compliance. But foremost we learned that children are great adaptors and will flourish and begin to heal in a short amount of time when placed in a safe, loving environment.
Once the courts filed for termination of parental rights, Ethan and Samantha’s mother immediately regained custody of them when she was ordered to enter a rehab facility for women and children. She would receive counseling, job training and parenting classes and the children would live with her in the facility.
The children spent a bittersweet Christmas with us. We watched holiday shows together, decorated the tree, played in the snow and celebrated Christmas as a family. It was a painful slap in the face, but sobering reminder to have the caseworker casually tell us that even though the children would be leaving us we should still buy them presents. These children were ours to nurture, care for and love but all of it would be temporary.
As we prepared for their departure two months later we tried our best to describe the fun they would have living with mommy, going to a new school and making new friends. We cradled them on our laps and gave them big hugs. Trying hard not to cry or show sadness. Their toys and clothes heaped in piles of bags and boxes by the door.
The speed in which those children were ripped from our lives still brings a tightness to my chest. Under the impression that we were all taking a trip in the car they happily swung their legs and fussed with us buckling their seatbelts. They even wanted to push the sliding door button to close it. Once the doors closed however they looked up and realized that the car was pulling away with my husband and I on the outside. Samantha’s screaming wails through the car window pierced my heart as I shuffled quickly back to the house.
The next few weeks were both easy and hard. No toddlers to dress or coax into eating. No toys to put away or teeth to brush. We removed all traces of them from the house. But the phantom presence of children still permeated the rooms. Months later I would find a plastic hot dog from the toy kitchen stuck behind the dresser and my heart would leap. The caseworker kept us in the loop on their mother’s progress and to mention that the children asked after us and our dog. After a year the pain of the loss was still there but dulled. We thought of them daily and still reminisced about funny things they said and did. I avoided the room they slept in for a whole year.
In Spring 2011, two years after the twins left us the Dr. handed me a form to sign stating that I understood that they would be implanting two embryos and the chance of them both taking was around 20%. Knowing how difficult IVF journeys are from statistics and stories we had read we smiled and initialed fully expecting to have the treatment fail let alone both embryos implanting.
My c-section was planned for my 36th week, December 16th, 2011. Gabe and Lilly were born on December 4th early morning. Healthy boy and girl twins.
Fate and destiny, words some use to describe things that were meant to happen. Some hold the belief that we have no control over occurrences that shape our lives. Then there are those who believe a divine power directs our present and future. We can live a good life, follow the rules, and if we are deemed worthy, we are granted a once in a lifetime wish, a reward for our good deeds. I would like to believe that Ethan and Samantha came into our lives as a gift. Their childhood was shaped by us for a short time but their effect on ours would be lasting. Not only would we be forever grateful for the experience of fostering twins, we will always be in awe of the twin blessings that came to us when they left. Our children, truly Christmas miracles!
*Names changed for confidentiality