The first time I heard my son’s name spoken, my heart leapt. It was a deeply spiritual moment, as if his name had been indelibly stamped on my heart, and I just knew he was meant to be ours.
My husband, Jordan, and I were brand new parents when Robert came into our lives. Our biological son, Rainor, was 3 months old. We were overwhelmed with the new responsibilities of parenting. I was struggling with persistent post-partum depression and dealing with physical pain from a difficult labor. Rainor was a hungry, fussy baby, and we were exhausted from trying to keep him happy and maintain some sort of sanity for ourselves. We felt like life had turned upside down and we were struggling to keep our balance.
Jordan had just graduated from college and started at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin as a pediatric ICU nurse. One day after work he mentioned there was a baby who needed a home. It wasn’t intended to be a serious discussion, but I jumped on it. However, it took only a couple minutes to decide there was no way we could do this. This precious little one had severe medical needs that would require 24-hour care and attention. It just wasn’t a good time in our lives to take on such responsibility.
We couldn’t shake the thoughts of this baby boy
We had always planned to adopt and had considered foster care, but it was something we had assigned to “someday”. We figured once we had another decade of life and parenting experience and a little more stability in our lives, then it would be the right time. We were in our early twenties and living in a very small house. But we couldn’t shake the thoughts of this baby boy, waiting in the hospital for someone to bring him home.
After a couple weeks of praying, journaling and talking, we decided this was what we were meant to do. We had peace despite all our misgivings, and we began the process of becoming foster parents in order to bring Robert home. Our wonderful licensing worker at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services worked long hours and seemingly performed miracles to get us licensed in under a month. During that time, we began training to be able to care for Robert’s medical needs. We packed our tiny house with medical equipment and supplies, and set up a second crib in our nursery. Rainor was 5 months old when we brought home his “twin” brother — a precious, cherub-cheeked, 6-month-old Robert.
Struggles and joy
The next two years were full of struggles and joy. Robert underwent nearly 30 surgeries and procedures. We spent 45 nights in the hospital within a year. We were up before dawn every day and didn’t stop moving until long after dark. The social situation with Robert’s birth parents was frustrating and challenging. But Robert was thriving! He was growing healthier and stronger than anyone imagined. He was developing beautifully, despite an initial grim outlook. He was a happy, content baby who loved to make people smile. He was always cheerful, even when subjected to constant surgeries, shots and procedures. We never once doubted our decision to bring him into our family. He simply belonged.
I expected the hard work, stress, joy and tiredness. But one side of doing treatment foster care for a medically needy child surprised me. In many ways, God used Robert to save me. The post-partum depression I had been struggling with was lifted due to the strong sense of purpose I felt in caring for Robert. I was overwhelmed with one child and thought surely I would be even more so with two. But instead I felt a clarity and focus. I had been living in a rather disorganized and discouraged state, but now that I had dozens of doctor appointments, supervised visitations and social worker visits to keep track of. I felt like I was on top of things. Even Rainor, who had been fussy and unhappy, became content and cheerful, and began sleeping better! We saw one prayer after another being answered.
Just over two years after we brought him home, Robert John Michael Schneider was adopted into our family on Feb. 9, 2016. It had been a long and emotionally exhausting journey, and we were so thankful it was over! In that time, we had added another biological child to our family, another sweet boy named Jude. We decided our cup was full, and we were done fostering for the time being. We told our licensing worker we would keep our license open for respite, but planned to let it expire at the end of the year.
Treatment foster care changed us — for the better
Still, we received call after call to do treatment care for children with long lists of complicated medical needs. Though it broke our hearts each time, we had to say no. We had three children ages two and under, and couldn’t handle any more. My husband and I were both in online college, along with his work at the hospital and my writing. We wanted to foster and adopt a girl someday, maybe ten years or so into the future. But now — it just wasn’t the right time.
One day just a couple months ago, my husband got a call from our initial licensing worker, JoBeth — the one who had performed miracles for Robert. She had a baby girl who needed a home. At first, we felt that sadness that we would have to say no, AGAIN. But as we listened to the details of this precious one’s story, we both felt the strong tugging in our hearts, and the familiar peace-despite-misgivings. We spent a couple hours struggling within ourselves- praying and discussing. How could we possibly do it? But through it all, we knew — we just knew.
That afternoon we met the beautiful little girl, and found ourselves saying YES. Yes, we’ll take her in. We’ll care for her and look after her and take her burdens as our own. Because the timing may not have been right in our eyes, but it was right in God’s. It was right for HER.
So when is it the right time to do treatment foster care? For the answer, you’ll have to look within yourself. Like us, you may have a million reasons to say no, or simply not yet. But look again. Treatment foster care has changed our life—changed us—for the better. Caring for children with medical, physical, mental or behavioral challenges is hard. But could anything be more rewarding and life-giving than offering love to those who need it most? So don’t be surprised when the “right time” comes along, perhaps when you least expect it.
– Charlotte Schneider, licensed foster parent
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services recruits, trains and provides support services for foster families. The need for foster parents in Wisconsin is great. Contact us to receive information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, or visit our website to learn more.