As a young girl, I dreamt of marriage and children, perhaps two of the latter. After just a few years of marriage, my husband Chad and I were expecting our first child in 1998. That short-lived joy became devastation when we were told our child no longer had a heartbeat. While processing our grief, we became pregnant again with our son Cole, who was born in 1999. Two years later, we were blessed with another pregnancy, and our daughter Morgan was born in 2001. She was born with congenital heart disease, which led to surgery, hospital stays, and lots of doctor’s appointments. We thought our family of four, with a son and a daughter, made us complete. On a Sunday in February 2011, however, my husband and I sat in church and learned of something that would forever change our lives, foster care.
We were honestly naive to the hundreds of children in our community that didn’t have a safe place to sleep, or arms to hold them as they were scared. We wondered why we had never heard of this crisis in the news or the papers. Perhaps it’s because there aren’t orphanages on street corners, like in the movies, where you see their faces. Once we became aware, we knew we had to do something.
As we visited with our children about becoming an open foster home, none of us could come up with a good reason not to open. Later that year, we had completed all paperwork, attended training through The CALL, and had our home study. Once this was all complete, we officially became an open foster home in April of 2012. Within hours of officially being an open home, we received a phone call for a little boy, to which we said yes. That yes turned into another yes, as we found out he had a brother. A weekend stay for the boys turned into eleven months. Those first two “yes-es” turned into twenty-one of the same responses in just five years. With each yes, I would honestly get both butterflies and knots in my stomach. My mind would race with a million thoughts as I would think, “What did I just do?” “Can we do this?” “I wonder what their story is…” “Will they like us?” and so much more. We’ve said yes to every age group, boy and girl, singles and siblings. Some would stay a night or a weekend, but some nearly a year and a half. Each and every one of these children will forever hold a special place in our hearts.
Two of our little ones, separate cases, not siblings, I was able to co-mother. I mothered alongside their birth mothers while they were in my care, as they worked to get their children back. I would send notes, pictures and share updates of milestones reached. I loved these children as my own with no holding back. I rejoiced and cried with them and their mothers. Then, with each one, the day came to let go. I’ll be honest here, the heartbreak of not tucking them in, kissing their heads and hearing their giggles was more than I could bear at times. But, with each, God continued to show me that there were more little ones who needed to be rocked, comforted and shown unconditional love. So, I would press on as my heart would heal.
During our years of saying “yes” to foster children, our eyes became more open, as well as our hearts, not only for the need of foster homes, but for the need of adoptive families. Once again, we were unaware of how may children did not return home to parents or family members.
In Arkansas alone, there are over 500 children waiting for a forever family–a family that will celebrate a good grade on a test, enjoy holidays and vacations with them, and a family that they can call theirs, for the rest of their lives. We began to pray, visit with our children, and inquire about adding another Smith to the family. Once the decision was made to proceed, we began receiving profiles of children waiting in our community and around the state. Finally, after six months, we met our daughter… a lovely twelve-year-old girl, exactly five months younger than our biological daughter, to the day.
In December of 2014, our daughter officially became a Smith–Haleigh Celeste Smith. Parenting a child who has suffered severe trauma has challenged me more than I could have ever imagined, but she is worth it. I am thankful to be her mother. Many days I may not show my thankfulness as I learn to parent her and help her heal, but I am. I am thankful that her dream of one day walking down the aisle, to say I do and starting her own family, will not be done alone. She, now and forever, will have a family that loves her and is there to celebrate little and big moments in her life. I am so thankful for all of my children: biological, adopted, and foster. What a joy and a privilege it is to be their forever mother, or their middle mother. My childhood dream of becoming a mother is so much more than I ever could have imagined. I am blessed!