Why (Some) Infertile Couples Should be Encouraged to Foster

A couple of weeks ago, I read a Babble post by Rebecca from Fosterhood. If you read foster blogs, it’s likely you’ve come across Rebecca’s and you may even be a frequent reader. Rebecca has foster-adopted a precious little girl and is fostering another precious little girl. I’m not hoping to pick a fight with Rebecca or anyone else. But I do need to give insight into the experience of an infertile foster mom and invite Rebecca to see beyond the judgments she makes in her post.

Rebecca argues that, because infertile couples have already been through an arduous and unsuccessful journey to grow their families, that they just don’t have what it takes to be great foster parents. They expect too much; they give too little. She points out that some have “given back” a foster baby because they weren’t willing to work with the child’s biological parents. She’s rightly critical of adults who are unwilling to make a commitment to caring for a foster child they’ve welcomed into their home. But here’s where I have to take issue – she seems to imply infertile couples are inherently lacking in the conviction to do what great foster parents do every day – work towards reunification and stick out a difficult journey for the sake of a child’s physical and emotional security.

What Rebecca ignores in her post is that MANY adults are unwilling or unable to do the difficult, ongoing, committed work that fostering requires. Being infertile or fertile is no qualifier or disqualifier. It’s also well documented that many foster parents do not provide the care and respect that children and families engaged with the system deserve. In some cases, the results are tragic.

For just this reason, it is vital that communities continue to recruit foster parents who WILL live up the calling of standing in the gap for a family that’s falling apart. How can a community do that if they turn away some of the very people who could make great foster parents?

Here’s the thing about those of us who have been on years-long infertility journeys. We have lost something we’ve never held. We have fought to feel whole then that loss made us feel broken. We have fought to feel like real men and women when that loss made us feel like imposters. We have fought to prove that our lives are fruitful when our loss made us feel barren. We have fought to prove that we belong to a world where it seems no one is like us. We have fought to feel understood when no one bothered to ask what we were feeling. We have learned to advocate for our well-being. We have learned to empathize with anyone else who fought hard for the life they wanted, and failed. We have learned that grief can swallow you whole, but it can also allow you to be reborn. We have learned that grief and joy can live together, and that life is often richer that way.

And what is it that foster children and adoptees need from foster and adoptive parents? Understanding. Honesty. Compassion. An advocate. Someone to sit beside, who will listen. Someone who doesn’t judge. Someone who understands that loss is real, grief is real. Someone who knows that everything will not be patched up, that some wounds will be left open, that some wounds will take a lifetime to heal.

And what is it that families in crisis need from foster parents? Understanding. Honesty. Compassion. An advocate. Someone to sit beside, who will listen. Someone who doesn’t judge. Someone – who through their own experience – understands that a family is worth fighting for, even in the face of hopelessness.

Some infertile couples will not feel up to the task. Many fertile couples don’t either. Some infertile couples would rather travel a road with more certainty. Many fertile people do as well.

But some, some infertile couples will recognize that what they have been through, the grief, the loss, the ongoing journey of healing, has prepared them to serve others in just this way. With encouragement, with training, with support, infertile couples can put their hard-earned wholeness, their carefully tended joy, their capacity to walk through grief and to the other side of grief, to good use as foster parents.

Foster parenting is hard. I anticipated it would be, and it is even harder than I anticipated. I’m not perfect. Infertile couples aren’t perfect. But does one need to be perfect to be the kind of foster parent a child needs? To be a partner and mentor a family in crisis needs?

I could make judgments like the one Rebecca has made. I could say that fostering as a married couple is a struggle, so we should discourage single people like Rebecca from doing it. I could say, fostering as a straight person is a struggle, so we should discourage people who are gay from doing it. But no, I won’t. It’s obvious how unfair and harmful that would be.

Instead, I encourage anyone who believes they can make this commitment to children and families to begin to learn what it takes. I encourage individuals and families of ALL types to educate themselves about foster care, about child development, about addiction, about mental illness, about therapy, about adoption, about loss, about the joy of service.

Because there’s a beautiful something that can happen when your heart’s been broken and then put back together. Sometimes, it makes you kinder. Sometimes, it makes you brave. Sometimes, it makes you the kind of person that’s willing to let a child break your heart so that they can begin to put theirs back together.

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