Choosing Love to Build a Family

05/11/2018 .
Ryan and Geri Carson  .  Guest Storytellers

Even before Ryan and Geri had their first biological child, the couple always felt that God had adoption planned for their future. They told themselves that they would “have two and adopt two.” After the birth of Ian and Van, their first two biological children, Geri was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Following treatment, her doctors  strongly advised her against getting pregnant for one year.

“As the age gap between our kids was growing, this was the perfect time for us to begin looking into adoption,” Ryan said. “If we wanted to keep our four kids close in age, adoption was the key — or so we thought.”

After getting certified for foster care a year later, Ryan and Geri welcomed their first placement — a three-year-old girl.

“We bought her toys, decorated her room, hung her name on the wall with wood letters,” Geri said. “Everything was going to be wonderful. It was so exciting!”

“We loved her so much and fully embraced that we would end up adopting her,” Ryan added. “We knew her mother had a thick criminal file, with a history of prostitution and heroin addiction. Our little girl had been exposed to domestic violence and knew all too well who the police were.”

Their first little girl ended up being reunified with her mother after seven months. But that reunion was short-lived. She was back in Ryan and Geri’s home within a few weeks.

“Our precious little girl was smart, and she was difficult,” Geri said. “She was so difficult, I lost my joy, I could barely smile ... I felt like I had to fake it. I had nothing to give to our family. We had to really trust God that it would get better.” Within a year, the girl was out of their home again. Even though she’d been difficult, she left a hole in each family member’s heart. They hoped fostering to adopt would get easier; they weren’t ready to give up just yet.

“Our daughter would lock herself in rooms, scream at the top of her lungs in public, and bang on the walls during timeout,” Geri said. “When she left after a year, our hearts were broken even though she had been challenging. We had poured ourselves into her. Our boys wanted nothing to do with adoption ever again. In many ways, our first foster placement was wonderful, but it also made us realize how challenging foster care can be.”

Ryan and Geri planned to take a least a year off from foster care. During that year, Geri got pregnant and had a little girl, Gwyn. The foster care agency doesn’t allow placements until a new baby is at least one year old. The new baby gave Ryan and Geri some space to recoup before bringing more foster children into their home. A few years later, Ryan and Geri felt ready to dive back into foster care.

“We only wanted one more so that, in total, we’d have four,” Ryan said. “First, we had a couple older kids who ended up going to live with their aunt and uncle. We had a six-week-old baby who we really got attached to and thought we’d get to keep for sure. But the county moved her to the foster family who had her siblings. She left us at seven months and it was hard for our family to part with her.”

“During another break, we said we would temporarily take two little ones. It was supposed to be for only one week,” Geri said. “While we still had the two little ones, we received a call for a four-week-old baby girl (we’ll call her Grace). Even though our house seemed full, we had to say yes! After all, these other two would only be here for a short time. The one week the first two little ones were supposed to stay turned into two weeks and then to indefinitely. We started to wrap our minds around the idea of having six kids! We got a bigger vehicle, bought a ton of diapers, and abandoned the hope of finding time to sleep.”

Eventually those two little ones went to live with their grandparents, who remain close to Ryan and Geri to this day.

“We see the kids at church all the time, and we even get to have them over to the house sometimes,” Ryan said. “That relationship has turned out to be one of the coolest gifts of foster care.”

Grace came to the family when she was four weeks old. But at this point, Ryan and Geri had built really high emotional walls, not thinking for a moment that the foster kids would stay.

“It feels like they always go back,” Geri said. “Which she did. We had Grace until she was seven-and-a-half months old. But we loved her mom and we were rooting for her.

“After Grace left, we got a call for a little boy, Cody, who had just turned two. He had been severely abused. They couldn’t tell us much because it was a criminal case. They told us he had been in ICU for two weeks, where he celebrated his birthday. He was then moved to a medically fragile home and was now ready to be released. They said he didn’t like diaper changes and had been malnourished and wouldn’t eat much, so we’d have to give him Ensure. They dropped him off and we thought he was a cute, sweet boy. At least for the most part. He would hit Gwyn really hard for no reason and call us the ‘b’ word, but other than that, you’d never know that he had been abused or neglected. Then we were called, again, about Grace. Three months had passed, and she came back to live with us just before her first birthday.”

“When my parents decided they wanted to take up foster care, I was actually very excited,” 14-year-old Ian said. “We got our first placement, and she was horrible in my nine-year-old mind. I got so mad at her for everything, like not loving me back and for not taking my love. I felt like, ‘Wow, this is nothing like I expected.’

“These kids need so much care and love, and it is so exhausting. When we got our second and third placement, I had a better perception of foster care. Many times, the other kids would do something and not get in as much trouble as I would for the same thing. I had a hard time processing this and felt jealous. I have learned a lot of different lessons through foster care and grown in certain areas. My patience would not be what it is today if I hadn’t been put in this position. I probably wouldn’t care about other people’s feelings as much, either.”

Van, Ryan and Geri’s 12-year-old son, said, “Before foster care, we were only a family of four. Life was normal, and school was normal. It was a much easier time. When my brother, Ian, and I heard the news that we were going to try to adopt, we were pretty excited. A year later, when I was five, a little three-year-old girl came to the house, and we welcomed her into the home with open arms. Surprisingly, she was naughty, sassy, and really annoying. But we found a way around it. I don’t remember how. Our family was not successful in adopting her. However, we gave her a safe and secure refuge for about a year.

“We didn’t stop with one child that needed extra care. We helped a whole list of either abused kids or children that came from parents who struggled with substance abuse. We repeated the process of welcoming and accepting. With more mouths to feed and messes to clean up, it’s no wonder why my mom and dad only got four or five hours of sleep at night. In this long adventure, with every child we’ve taken care of, God makes us more patient, more accepting, and wiser.”

“I feel excited when someone gets adopted into our family,” a five-year-old Gwyn added. “I like getting new sisters and brothers. They get to stay with us every single night. I would be sad if I didn’t have brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters love each other.”

“Our friends and family have been our biggest supporters through our foster care and adoption journey,” Geri said. “Their support is one of the best gifts of all. It makes me stand in awe of God! Our friends and family have stood in the gap for us — watching our little ones while we go on dates, attend trainings, monitor visits, and court hearings. They've gone through babysitting certification and taken our kids to activities because we had a worker coming to the house.

“One time when we went away for the weekend, our small group let themselves into our house and left a week’s worth of meals just because they knew we could use a break. This is neat because it gives them the opportunity to love these kids, as well. It pushes all of us to be better.”

“After seven years of foster care, and eight foster children, we’ve just finally adopted our son, Cody,” Ryan added. “Soon, we will adopt our three-year-old, Grace. With our oldest being 14, we’ve given up trying to keep them close together in age.”

“My dad often gives me a big hug and tells me how much he loves me and how proud he is of us and what we do,” Geri said. “Then he’ll proceed to tell me that he’s so glad that my siblings and I have pursued the things that make us happy. He’ll say, ‘Your brother moved away so he could hike and be with nature, your sister and her husband decided not to have a lot of kids, so they could travel the world because that’s what makes them happy, and you guys decided to have a lot of kids because that’s what makes you happy.’ I smile and think to myself, ‘Oh Dad, you totally don’t get it.’ We did not sign up to have a lot of kids because it makes us happy. We have decided that this life — this one chance we’re given to live maybe 80 years or so — should not be spent to make ourselves happy and comfortable but rather to make a difference. What we love about foster care is that it gives us a chance to be God’s hands and feet. And there’s no wondering if it’s what we’re called to do.”

“We get to see miracles happen,” she added. “Sometimes it’s a bio parent becoming clean, or a family being reunified. Sometimes it’s by adopting a little boy who came from an abusive situation that brought him to be in ICU for two weeks, then to a medically fragile home before coming home to us, his forever family. The biggest miracle to us is seeing the bond that takes forever to form, actually taking place. It’s a miracle to see other kids in the home grow in character. They can go from serious feelings of hate when their worlds are rocked by a difficult placement to genuinely rejoicing in permanently adopting a new brother or sister.”

Click HERE to learn more about foster care and adoption.