I have mentioned before that I am a non-traditional traditionalist, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that home and family are two of the things I value most.

During my childhood, my family consisted of myself and my mother. We rarely lived close to extended family members, but I loved whenever our extended family was able to get together, usually at my grandparents’ home in upstate New York. Those shared times and memories planted a seed in my heart where I came to value family connections.

Having said this, I want to say that the desire to have a home full of love and connection has not come easily to me and is a daily work in progress.

Our family story didn’t start as I had anticipated, but honestly, I love our story.

In the Summer of 2013, my mom was recovering from knee surgery and was taking a water aerobics class at the nearby rec center. One Saturday, she asked me to join her. I met her at her home, and we drove over together. On the drive, my mom told me about a dream she had the night before about how the only way she could get me to clean out my second bedroom was that I had adopted a baby. I laughed and teased her about who would take care of this baby when I had to work. She reminded me that she had recently retired and could take care of the baby during the day. I changed the subject as I pushed the thought from my mind. I was not going to adopt a baby. Heavenly Father had other plans.

It didn’t take long for the idea of adoption to get stuck in my head. I couldn’t get the thought to leave, so I searched online to learn more about the process of adoption. I quickly discovered that adoption was expensive, and I knew that I did not have the funds needed. Again, I tried to push the idea away, but instead, I had the idea to reach out to two friends I knew had adopted their children and ask about their experiences.

My one friend wrote me back and shared the story of how they had adopted their daughter. She shared the cost and what they had learned about adoption and the matching process. She shared, “We’ve known some people who have adopted from foster care.” I didn’t think that foster care would be for me, but once again the idea wouldn’t leave me.

I didn’t know anything about being a foster parent, so I went to the search engine and typed in Foster Care in Utah and found a website for an organization called Utah Foster Care. I read about the requirements of adopting through foster care, but I still had some questions, like would I even be allowed to foster as a single woman, so I decided to fill out the form to “learn more.”

A kind woman named Amy reached out to me, and we emailed back and forth for a few weeks before I was ready to set up an initial consultation. You could say the rest is history because everything just fell into place from that moment. The process I thought would take about three to six months came together within one month. I was fully licensed and waiting for my first placement in less than two months.

It has been nine years since I became a licensed foster parent. During that time, I had nine children come into my home – male and female, between the ages of newborn to 9 years old. Each story was different from the one before. There are similarities in the reasons they came, but how long they stayed in my care and the experience each set of parents had differed. One stayed for only a week before moving on to a family member; another stayed two weeks until she could return home to her mother, who continued to work with the social worker in their home. Others stayed for a few months, and two of them are now legally my daughters.

While I am no longer taking placements, I am grateful for my time as a foster parent and its impact on my life. Foster care was the most exhausting, rewarding, emotional experience ever. It caused many tears and frustration but taught me so much and gave me the greatest blessings of my life. While I started doing foster care to adopt, I was amazed at how quickly my perspective changed. It came to be about helping others, loving children, and providing support.

While my family grew because I adopted my two daughters, I wasn’t expecting my family to grow by gaining new family members from their biological families: new grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, sisters, and more. My life is better because of my experience with foster care. If you are interested in learning more and live in Utah, go to utahfostercare.org. If you live in another state, contact your local foster care agency (you can search for your state’s agency here).

And that is how our family came to be.

Our family also includes our two dogs and two cats: Sammy, Moo, Milo, & Anna (pronounced like the princess in Frozen – and yes, my daughter, who was five years old at the time, was the one who named her).