Safe Families and Foster Care: Which is Best?

“Why aren’t you doing Safe Families instead of foster care?”   This is a question that is often posed to me as a Christian foster parent.  I am always open to questions, and happy to share my reasoning.  Something I do not like about this question though, is that the wording seems to imply that it is better to be a Safe Family than a foster family.  It brings to mind Russell Moore’s statement that, “The people of God, it seems to me, are perpetually pulled toward replacing a ‘both/and’ ethic with an ‘either/or.’”  This has been on my mind a lot lately, so I wanted to express my thoughts on the matter.

To clarify, Safe Families and foster care are two very different and separate institutions, with some areas of definite overlap.     

Safe Families is an amazing, church-based “movement”, that serves whole families, and has a high success rate at keeping these families together.  Safe Families does an excellent job involving multiple people and resources to help families through crises.  Safe Families is a voluntary placement organization, which means that the parents place their children in another home by their own choice.  Safe Families is self described as “before” care, meaning they are trying to be a preventative measure before “bad things” happen to a child, essentially preventing the need for the involvement of foster care/the government.            

Foster care is a government institution.  Foster care is designed to protect children who have experienced abuse or neglect, or whose parents are otherwise unable to care for them (e.g. hospitalization, incarceration).  So, while Safe Families might be described as “before” the bad happens, foster care is for “after” the bad happens.  Foster care placements are most often not voluntary.  They are often the result of the law intervening in families where the law is being broken.  Sometimes foster care results in reunification of the family, other times it results in the parental rights being terminated, whether voluntary or involuntary.  Foster care also often employs resources and programs to try to help reunify the family.

While both organizations have a goal of protecting children, they differ from each other in many ways.  I weep that we need either of them, but the heart-wrenching truth is, we need BOTH of them, and we need the Christian community to be involved in BOTH of them.  It would be devastating if every Christian foster parent left the foster care system and moved to Safe Families, just as it would be devastating if the reverse was to happen.  Children need to be cared for both before and after trauma.  Is the foster care system broken?  Absolutely.  As is Safe Families.  As am I.  As are you.  We live in a broken world, and, when I see children harmed in the fallout of this, I cry and pray, “How long, oh Lord, how long?”  

In answer to the initial question, my husband and I believe that we are called by God to be foster parents.  We desire to be a safe “after” haven for children who have experienced tragedy.  We desire to help these children reunite with their families when that is possible.  We are open to potentially adopting some of these children when reunification is not possible or safe.  We also love Safe Families and everything they represent.  We have friends who have placed their children in Safe Families, and we have seen many families stay together because of the beautiful mission of this organization.   We may very well be led to join Safe Families someday.  But, for today, we are foster parents, to the glory of God.

Fly to Jesus

O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me,when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

Psalm 139:1-18 ESV

Today, we found out that we lost both babies.  Their names are Skylar and Charlie.  We now have five little babies in heaven.   The grief is so heavy.  The hopes and dreams and plans we had for these little ones will never come to fruition.  The sense of loss is overwhelming.  We had so many questions about these little ones.  How will they look?  What will their personalities be like?  What will be their strengths and weaknesses?  What will they do that will make us laugh? What will they do that will make us cry?  How will they interact with the world?  How will they grow?  We grieve that their lives were so short…and yet, they were on this earth for 21 years. We grieve for our babies, for ourselves, for our daughter, and for our friends and family who already love these little ones.  There are so many tears that flow and flow.

We have known all along that before we even launched on this journey God had a specific plan for us and for all five of these little ones.  We had thoughts and ideas and hopes about these plans, and we prayed fervently for long healthy lives for these little ones.  We are thankful that they are no longer in limbo, and that we got to love them and give them the opportunity to thrive.   We know that right now they are souls that are no longer frozen and waiting, but are free in the hands of a loving God.  We will get to meet all five of them someday, when there is an new heaven and a new earth.  Oh! That will be a glorious and beautiful day!  All of this is true.  Right now, though, is hard and sad, and right now our hearts are raw.  We will miss our babies until the day we get to meet them.  We know today is part of God’s plan, a plan that we often do not understand, and today is still so very hard.

We love you Sam.  We love you Taylor.  We love you Jesse.  We love you Skylar.  We love you Charlie.   Fly to Jesus, and LIVE!

His Fingerprints on Flakes of Snow

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They are so beautiful, aren’t they?  Our two beautiful little embryos already bear the image of God.  They each have beautiful, intricate DNA, stamped with God’s fingerprints.  It is challenging not to worry or be fearful as we wait to find out if they will “grab on”, if God will continue to knit them together in my womb.  We find peace and assurance, knowing that God is the author of life and these little lives have always been and always will be in His loving hands.  He knows every word they will ever speak, every step they will ever take.

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My brother sent me a picture of the verses in the hymn, “Creation Sings” (by Stuart Townend, Keith Getty, and Kristyn Getty.) In the first verse, he circled that it has my name, flakes of snow, and newborn baby’s cry.   Obviously, this song is not really about me or about “snowflake babies”, but then again it is, because it is about God’s creation, His fingerprints in all of it, and His majesty.  We hope, through this entire journey, to glorify Him, and to share with our friends and loved ones the beauty we see, His fingerprints on our littlest babies.

As I think of all the other “one million and counting” frozen souls out there, I can see His fingerprints on them too.  “His fingerprints on flakes of snow.”  They matter to Him, and He loves each one.   I am thankful that God has allowed us the opportunity to add our fingerprints to five of these frozen little lives.  And for the two that are now living in me, how we pray that they will keep living!

 

 

Embryo Transfer Day

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Today was the big day! A bittersweet day, colored with lament, and joy, and hope!

Three of our babies did not make it to today. We know they are in the loving arms of Jesus. Their names are Sam, Jesse, and Taylor. We lament when we think of the lives they did not live, and we grieve our earthly loss. Still we smile, with tears in our eyes, when we think of meeting our three precious babies at heaven’s gates. And we are thankful that their lives are no longer in limbo.

The two survivors are beautiful and healthy. Embryo transfer was at noon. The procedure was pretty quick. We suited up and were escorted to the procedure room. Matthew held my hand while these two beautiful babies made their journey into my womb. Our fervent prayer is that they grab on (implant) and stay healthy and thrive. Our blood pregnancy test will be in 10 days. So for now, we wait and trust.

Our doctor was talking about how amazing it is that these two embryos are 21 years old and are doing so well and that now, so long after conception, they have an opportunity to be born. We are in awe. When we were teenagers, we could never have imagined that our future babies had already been conceived! 11 years before we met, our babies were already alive! How incredible is that?

We talk often about how God has a plan for each of these little ones and for us. Sometimes, just like we have been learning though foster care, it is easy to clench our hands around what we want and say that it must work out this or that specific way. Daily, we open our hands and say, “God we trust that You know best, and we want to glorify You with our lives.” We are so thankful for this opportunity to love five little souls that He has knit together. We hope and pray that these two little surviving babies make it! Thank you, friends, for being our village!

So…We Adopted 5 Babies!

We adopted five little babies…the littlest that babies can be.   Embryo adoption (or snowflake babies)—until recently, we did not even know that there was such a thing.  Our babies are two-day-old cleavage stage embryos.  There are five of them and they have been frozen for 21 years.  These babies were conceived 21 years ago.  Their lives have been on pause for 21 years.   These five little image bearers, five little frozen souls, are now our babies.  And there are hundreds of thousands, maybe even over a million, more out there just like them.

Basically, how embryo adoption works is, first, you adopt one or more frozen embryos, donated by families that chose to give their leftover embryos an opportunity to be adopted.  There are open and closed embryo adoptions.  Our embryo adoption is closed, so the donor of our embryos is anonymous.  However, we have profiles of our babies’ biological parents that exclude their names, so we do have a medical history for them.  Once you have the embryo(s), you then set a date for embryo transfer.  After tests and hormones and other medications to prepare your body for pregnancy, the embryo(s) is/are thawed and transferred to your uterus in an outpatient procedure. Then, 10 days after transfer, you take a blood pregnancy test to confirm if the embryo(s) implanted and survived.  Once pregnancy occurs, your body does all the things it would do if you had conceived on your own.  Typically, you keep taking  extra hormones for a while though.

I started taking hormones this month to prepare my body for pregnancy.   Everything with my lining and hormone levels looks great, so the plan is to transfer 1 or 2 of the embryos into my uterus this Friday.   The doctor prepared us for the thawing of the embryos.  The expectation was that only one or two of our embryos would survive the thaw because of the age of the embryos and the older cryopreservation methods.  Because our embryos are only two days old, they needed to be thawed four days ahead of transfer, so that they can grow into the blastocysts before they are transferred, to increase their likelihood of surviving the transfer.   We went into this day knowing that, most likely, three or more of our babies would die.  This was heavy on our hearts, but we knew that they would be loved and they would no longer be in limbo.  We pray for and love each of these little ones.

I did not expect a call from the doctor’s office today, so when I saw an incoming call from my doctor’s office around noon, my heart lurched.  “Why are they calling?” I wondered.  “Did none of our babies survive?”  I answered the call and found out that all five of our babies survived the thaw!  So now, we will see how they develop between now and Friday.  We were told that each embryo has a 50% likelihood of surviving.   Depending how many survive, they will transfer up to two on Friday, and the remaining living embryos will be frozen again for future transfer.  I feel like I am living in world where science fiction is reality!

We never thought we would announce a pregnancy before it even happened.  But we also never expected to carry children that genetically came from someone else.  We wanted to share this with you so that you can love these littlest babies with us and pray for them with us. Please pray that they live, that the transfer is successful, and that they are healthy.  We know that, whether these precious little ones survive or not, they are in the hands of a loving God who has a plan for them and for us.  He knits little babies together in their mothers’ wombs… and sometimes even in petri dishes.  We know that He is the Author of life, and that these little image bearers matter to Him even more than they matter to us.  Pray for our hearts, as we trust Him, and as we learn to trust Him more.