This week’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” installment features an exclusive glimpse into a family’s first days with their new foster child. — Corinne Lightweaver, RaiseAChild.US
Last week RaiseAChild.US received the following message from Kris Journey: “Just wanted to share -- two days ago we were placed with a 13-day-old baby. We are ecstatic! Oh it all just got real! He is beautiful and there is a high chance we will be able to adopt him. We went through DCFS -- we went to your event in WeHo about 15 months ago and knew we needed to be moms! Thank you!”
It is always inspiring for us to hear from the families we help bring together and we wanted to share with you our subsequent conversation with Kris. She and her wife, Shelli Culley, live in the Larchmont area of Los Angeles. Shelli, 44, works as a personal assistant. Kris, 45, a former drug and alcohol counselor, will be staying home with the baby.
Corinne Lightweaver: Congratulations, on this wonderful event in your life! So you came to our education and outreach event for prospective parents at the art gallery in West Hollywood in December 2012?
Kris Journey: Yes, we did! There were a lot of smiling faces and friendly organizations when we arrived. We had hors d’oeuvres, and everyone was so sweet, kind and hopeful. We talked with a number of agencies, but Ivonne Crescioni of DCFS (Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services) really won us over and that’s the agency we ultimately went with.
I remember there were all kinds of parents on the panel and some of the stories were heartbreaking and really touched us. One dad talked about how his foster daughter arrived with her clothes in a trash bag. A teen transgender girl in foster care spoke. And then (comedian) Alec Mapa was so fabulous and funny with his sweet story about how he and his husband adopted from foster care.
Corinne: How close were to making the jump then, or did something really change for you there?
Kris: Shelli and I had been together about ten years at that time. We were talking a lot about having a baby, but neither one of us wanted to get pregnant because of our age. Somehow we heard about the RaiseAChild.US event and went to it.
When we left there, to be honest, I just broke down crying and said, “This is what we’re supposed to do. We need to be moms!” We signed up with DCFS right after that and we went to their orientation with them and then we went to classes.
Corinne: How long was that process?
Kris: It took 14 or 15 months from the very start, from the first time we went to the RaiseAChild.US event in December 2012. We had to wait a few weeks because of Christmas and New Year’s. Then we attended an orientation and then we started the training classes. Before the orientation, I didn’t realize all the steps involved, all the logistics, like legal work, CPR, fingerprints and home inspections. It seemed like a long process at the time. But looking back at it now, it seems like it happened very quickly.
We were working with one social worker and it was taking awhile to get a placement. It was hard to be patient. Then our social worker told us she was retiring and said, “I will hopefully get you placed by the time I leave.” But it didn’t happen.
But then we got to meet our new social worker, Nira Ba’er, last Monday, and on Wednesday she called us said there was a baby! So that part went quicker than we thought it would! [laughs]
Corinne: Wow, and were you prepared or did you have to run out and do things?
Kris: Well, for about a year we’ve had a crib and clothes of all different sizes, but needed diapers. We really thought we were prepared. We had what you would think was everything. And then when we got the baby, we were like we need a bouncy seat, we need a basinet, we need small clothes, diapers and formula. We have clothes, but he can’t fit in most of the clothes quite yet. We had some newborn clothes, but not a lot.
Corinne: So, you got the call on Wednesday. When did you pick him up?
Kris: We got a call that he was in the hospital and the social worker said, “Would you like the baby?” and we said, “Yes!” We drove out to meet the baby’s social worker and then together we drove to the hospital.
Corinne: Does the baby have a name yet?
Kris: Yes, he was given a name by his birth mother, but we’re calling him Cooper. The social worker said there’s a very good chance we’ll be able to adopt him. (There’s a rustling sound.) Oh, okay, he got a little fussy, I had to pick him up. (Cooper coos as she cuddles him.) They said there’s a very good chance we’ll get to adopt him, which we really hope happens -- we’re already so attached -- but we know there’s always a chance it won’t. We’ll see what happens.
Early on in the training classes, they explained that it might be a temporary situation when a foster child comes to your home, that they can be reunified with the biological family. They even had a couple come and speak who had a boy in their home for nine months, and then a relative stepped up and said they would take him. Shelli and I talked about it and about what it would be like. We said we have to be really strong and know that whatever happens is supposed to happen. If the child is reunified, we will know that we gave that child a loving home for the time they were with us. And we talked about how we have to keep our support system and friends close by so we can lean on them and each other if that happens.
Corinne: Did you have any issues with being gay -- and the system?
Kris: No, our social worker was welcoming and there was another gay couple in the class. They were placed with a little boy a few weeks before we got Cooper. Everyone in the class was really supportive. What was really awesome was on the first day of class, there was a “very” Christian heterosexual couple and after we met them we were nervous about being judged. But they are the sweetest people and we’ve become such good friends. They’re true Christians who love everybody. So there was never any issue.
Corinne: So how would you compare your life today (Tuesday, July 29) to last Tuesday, July 22, the day before you met Cooper?
Kris: My life is amazing. It feels so right! I’m going to be 46 in a couple days and I have all these nephews and nieces and I love them, but I didn’t know what I was missing being a parent. We hope Cooper is with us forever but if not, if he is reunified with his biological family, we are here to love him and show him what love is.
Corinne Lightweaver is the Communications Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,200 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”