The first time I picked up my foster kids nothing could prepare me for the trauma of the hour long drive home with them screaming for anybody but me. At three years old and 12 months they had already seen too much, been given too little and yet their safe place at that moment was not here in this car with me.
My little girl screamed, scratched, found the strength to unbuckle her car seat and she threw herself on the floor in front of her brother’s seat while the car was travelling 110km an hour on the M1. She didn’t know who I was, where she was going and there was nothing familiar to soothe her. Minutes later rocking her little body in my arms on the side of the road with cars zooming past in turn rocking me with their force, I had no idea of the metaphor of the moment I was in. Our world was about to be fully rocked to its core, I’d invited an earthquake into our home and together we were about to rebuild all of our lives.
The pursuit of parenthood was not an easy path for my husband Gerard and I. The fertility fairy didn’t get the memo for our plan for a family of four. When we finally had our little miracle, Millie Valentine, it was back on the infertility train as we tried to give her a sibling. The year’s dribbled by, our bank account drained and so we decided to take some steps to become foster parents.
State of Origin night we finally took the plunge.
While pies and beer were being eaten and drunk in homes eager for Queensland to win, we sat at a foster information night in a church hall with an organisation eager to win our hearts and safe homes for the sake of children in need. Interestingly while we wanted to learn how to care for other children, it proved impossible to get one to care for ours on football’s night of nights. So with colouring books packed in a bag we took our three-year-old along for the ride.
Lying on the floor at our feet she coloured, sang, and popped up occasionally to tell me a secret in a roaring whisper “Daddy’s do fart’s and Mummy’s do fluffs but Georgia’s mum calls them pop-offs and isn’t that funny”. The educator pushed through her information over the din of my child’s noisy racket while potential foster parents asked heartfelt questions like “how hard is it to give them back?”
With such seriousness going on in the room, Millie decided to lighten the mood. Before I could stop her she walked up to the front of the room and gave her carefully coloured in unicorn picture to the poor woman trying to do the presentation. If this was the first test of our parenting skills in front of people who assess parents for a living, we had failed. We couldn’t even prove we could contain our own three-year-old who was excited to be out late at an important adult meeting, let alone a foster child. As Millie sashayed back to her seat, saying hello to all the strangers she passed, promising that she would now draw them a picture, I lent over to Gerard and said “Are you sure you want to do this all over again?!” He looked at me, rubbed my shoulder and said “Absolutely”.
The Motherish confessions: The time I felt like a terrible mother. Post continues below.
So in we dove and I was truly delighted by the love and support we received from friends and family when we shared our fostering plans. It felt like I had announced I was pregnant again. One of my mates even offered to throw me a baby shower for our impending arrival. Being the kind of girl who celebrates breakfast I understood the lovely gesture, but thought it might be inappropriate to celebrate receiving a child who, despite their treatment, would probably have preferred to stay with their real parents.
The next step was training and assessment on our home, minds and intentions. I was a bunch of nerves. I was not worried about caring for a child, I was nervous about not passing the foster parent test to get a child in the first place. Years of infertility can play on your mind like that and all of a sudden I was on a reality show, ‘So you think you can be a Foster Parent’. There is understandably a lot of checks and balances we had to pass in order to be approved, no matter how good a person I thought I was, I was still worried the judges wouldn’t turn their chairs.
The judges, I mean care agency insisted (in a phone call the day before they arrived for their first visit) to not go to any trouble, so naturally I scrubbed my house from top to bottom and back to the top again. The irony was that by polishing the toddler height finger marks from the fridge, hiding all the toys, and sending Millie to Kindy for the day, I hid all proof that a child already lived here happily and never hungry. Thankfully, despite the lack of parental evidence my home passed the pressure test. Months later after parenting modules and pretty intense assessments we received a certificate in the mail declaring we were now foster parents.
You can listen to the latest episode of Mamamia's parenting podcast, 'This Glorious Mess'. Post continues below.
It’s a strange feeling to celebrate such a certificate. Like a fireman who doesn’t want a fire, a foster parent shouldn’t hope for a foster child. And yet an excited flicker ignites inside of you. All of a sudden you know for sure that all you have longed for, a child, or another child, or even children will become a certain reality and it did for us only a week after the certificate was filed away next to our birth and marriage certificates.
We were offered the opportunity to give respite care for two siblings. The first few weekends with our new little people in our home were the absolute hardest of our life. Our daughter didn’t cope as we’d hoped. All of a sudden she had to share mummy’s hip, hand and heart. She wasn’t used to that. She did not make it easy for our frightened foster kids to settle in. The day they arrived she was so excited and wanted to love them, but they didn’t love her, that threw her. The result was two children too scared to do anything but cope and one child too confused by their fractured behavior to cope with them.
Every toy they touched, every piece of clothing they needed to borrow, every time I picked one of them up, she cried, fought and protested. She made the days hard. The nights offered no respite either. With the darkness of night my foster daughter's night terrors plagued the household. She screamed the house down every two hours and called my name. The result was exhaustion. Our first three week stretch with them was like I had a new baby in the house, and in a way I did.
But kids learn fast. If you just keep trying, caring and loving they pretty quickly get that this is their new reality and that it’s a pretty good one. We all fell in love. My daughter now wants to only wear matching clothes ‘so everyone knows we are sisters’ and our little man can barely breathe from the face full of smooches he gets daily from his brunette and blonde sisters. They run to us with glee when they see us, and cry when we have to leave and if I wasn’t an adult, and had to be all adulty, I’d be doing the same.
We were warned that becoming foster parents would change us, and it did. The system in Queensland is complicated, clunky, and slow. You have very little control and you invite more than just the children into your lives but we, as a family, are closer. The adversity and reality has bought us strength and clarity and I’ve never loved my husband more (he’s as sexy as hell when he has three little bodies draped over him on the couch watching Frozen). I went from wondering “why me?’ when it came to infertility, and now I know ‘why me!’
This week is NSW Foster Care Week. Emily Jade is a breakfast announcer on the Gold Coast for 102.9 Hot Tomato. She and her husband Gerard have only been respite foster parents for 8 months and have had the same kids for that time. This is just one of the thousands of enriching yet complicated stories of fostering and she fully acknowledges that not everyone has had the same experience she has had or will have.