It is with great privilege and honor we share with you the story of Andy & Lee Ann Conrad in our BRAVE STORY SERIES. We have walked alongside this family and can testify their BRAVERY is unrivaled. When the world said “No” they said “Yes.” Their son is amazing and is being healed by love every day. Every child in foster care is more than a case file. Fear tells you to stay comfortable while faith tells you to be brave and do the right thing, even when it’s hard.
– Kelly Newcom
16 Placements Later, We Said Yes
Our foster/adoption journey began through my career as a 5th grade teacher. Although I enjoy all of my students (yes, even the ones who drive me crazy), I always had a soft spot for the students from a local Residential Treatment Center who attended our elementary school.
As a mother to two precious daughters, I know that unconditional love that parents feel for their children. EVERY child should feel that love. Over the years, I would share stories with my husband about my students in the foster care system and every year I felt the pull to make a difference in the life of these amazing children.
As the “empty nest” was becoming closer to our reality my husband, Andy, and I acknowledged we weren’t done parenting yet. We bravely jumped on to the foster/adoption route and went full speed ahead. After months of training, reading, background checks, home inspections, more training…we were ready.
I had two amazing students in my class that year, two boys who were good friends! One of the boys went back to live with his biological family (which was fantastic!) while the other had little to no hope of finding a forever family. We learned he was available for adoption as our caseworker with our foster agency obtained his information.
She shared her concerns with us about his background and his chances for success in a “family.” We would be his 16th placement since birth, including 2 other failed adoptive placements.
He was at the “Specialized” level of care and on multiple mood stabilizing medications. Fear could have had its way, binding our courage up, but we didn’t let it.
The truth is, if I just read the file of this child, I would have declined placement.
But he wasn’t just a file, he was a boy that I knew and cared for!!
We experienced the “honeymoon period” for about a month and then the “roller coaster ride” began. He could be a kind, cooperative child one moment and then oppositional and abusive the next. To me, at first, it felt like he was guest in our home, rather than truly part of our family. His verbal abuse escalated and I was called names that I would never repeat in civilized society.
His fits of anger would lead to completely tearing up his bedroom, multiple holes punched in our walls, and eventually shoving, grabbing, and threats of violence. He didn’t trust us! He believed that we would give him up and send him back to the system, so why not just move the process along. When he was in those fits of rage, there was no reasoning with him at all. He just had to work through it and calm himself down.
Andy was excellent at talking to him after these episodes and eventually getting a big hug before bed. For me, it took much longer and with help from family therapy I was able to let things go and truly bond with him.
What I hadn’t realized was that we would have to hit “rock bottom” before I sincerely believed that this had to work out. Because even though I knew this was the RIGHT thing to do, it didn’t make the HARD work of doing it any easier.
About a year after he became our foster son he had a particularly bad meltdown and threatened to kill me and got very physical with me.
We called our caseworker and told her that we were “done” – we couldn’t live like this any longer. She came over and helped us pack up his stuff and we all took him to Laurel Ridge Hospital for help.
As I sat in that waiting room, I realized this would be that last time I would see him. This would may be his last chance of ever finding a forever family and we would add another tally mark of failures on his heart. It hit me – THIS IS MY SON!! No matter what I will love him and not give up on him.
Andy and I asked for one more chance! It was our turning point.
Our adoption day occurred three months after “rock bottom.” It is certainly not all sunshine and rainbows after adoption, but he knows that he is our son “no matter what”. The roller coaster still continues, but the drops have become less intense and less frequent. We definitely have more ups than downs now. He is no longer just a “guest” in our home, but our son.
He is loved as deeply and intensely as our biological daughters, even though I didn’t know that it would be possible.
This journey has been completely crazy, beyond anything we could have imagined, but we would do it all over again.
Written by Lee Ann Conrad