It’s been a little over six months since our lives changed... again.
Married 26 years, we’ve been through a lot of changes. Change isn’t anything new to us. And it’s not something we’re afraid of. If anything, I’d say we welcome it when we see it coming. In a way, that’s been good for us. We’re less resistant to trying new things and we find that we’re often blessed because of it.
In early June of 2017 we reopened our home to begin fostering again. We had adopted our youngest son and daughter (Harris and Katie) in December of 2016 and wanted to take a short break from fostering so that we could fully adjust to the new normal. Our first son, Franklyn, needed time to get accustomed to sharing a room with Harris and we needed to figure out the rooming situation for any future foster children.
As soon as we opened back up we got a call about a three year-old boy and his one year-old brother. I was scared to even consider taking on TWO more children, but something in me said to do it. Scott agreed and we accepted the placement. The DCS worker brought them to our home early one Monday morning. This was only our second time accepting a placement and we didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t long after the worker left that we realized we might be in over our heads. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that the children had issues we weren’t prepared to handle. I was in tears within a couple of hours and it was obvious we’d have to disrupt the placement. The boys ended up spending one difficult night with us and DCS found them a different home the next day. (Side Note: We recently ran into their worker and asked about the boys and they are in that same home and are thriving!)
Because of the disruption, I was worried that DCS would somehow punish us and not call with another placement. We hadn’t limited ourselves to any particular age group, only requesting that any placement calls be for children younger than our youngest daughter who was ten at the time. We didn’t want to bring in an older child that might influence our younger children in a negative way. There are so many unknowns in foster care and we simply wanted to protect our children. Regardless, we assumed it would be a while before DCS called us again.
Less than a week later, on Tuesday, June 13th, I was at the neighborhood pool with the kids. We had just started packing up to head home and get ready for Harris’s counseling appointment later that afternoon. My phone started ringing and I was surprised to see DCS Placement show up as the caller. My heart started pounding. I was in utter shock when the lady said they were trying to place a newborn baby boy. Still reeling from the failed placement the week before, I was scared. I told her I needed to call my husband and pray about it. I called Scott and we prayed together for wisdom before discussing every aspect of the case based on the information we’d been given by Placement. The baby had been exposed to numerous illegal and prescription drugs. Even though we were stepping into the unknown, we decided to accept the placement and leave the outcome in God’s hands. The lady with DCS said that the baby was being released from the hospital the next day. We were expected to ‘room in’ with him that night in the NICU at UT Medical Center. He would come home with us the next day.
The next few hours were a complete blur. I called my mom to come help me shop for baby items at Target. We were up and down the baby aisles grabbing everything from an infant car seat to Boudreaux’s Butt Paste. Then I loaded up the kids and took Harris to his counseling appointment. I was sitting in the waiting room at the counseling office making a list of things I’d forgotten to pick up for the baby when DCS Placement called again. It was the same lady who had called earlier. She wanted to let me know that the baby we were supposed to room with that night and bring home the next day was no longer going to be placed through the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. His birth mother was moving to Kentucky and she requested that he be placed in a home in that state. My heart literally felt like it sank into my stomach. Fortunately, the lady continued speaking. She said that there was another newborn baby boy coming into DCS custody the next day. When she asked if we’d like to foster him I immediately said yes. He was also born exposed to illegal and prescription drugs, so the circumstances were similar to the placement we’d already accepted. Details including his name and room in date were not yet available so a DCS worker was supposed to call me the next morning with more information. Scott and I were excited, but nervous.
The next morning I received a call from a gentleman in Placement. His first words to me were, “Good morning. Are you the one taking custody of baby Graham?”
I. Was. Floored.
Goosebumps went up and down my spine.
Here’s where you need a little background information…
When Scott and I were in our first years of marriage, we decided on baby names for our future children. The first boy’s name we came up with was William Franklyn. William is my dad’s first name. Frank is Scott’s dad’s middle name. Lynn is Scott’s mom and sister’s middle name. We loved the name and felt like we’d covered some bases by naming our first child after family. The second name we came up with was made up of two names we just loved. It was Harris Graham. When we were a few months away from adopting TJ and Anna we had suggestions ready for when they decided to change their names. TJ liked the name Harris, but he was not a fan of the name Graham. He decided on Harris Dane and we were happy with that decision. However, Scott looked at me and said, “I guess I’ll never have my Graham.”
Fast forward less than a year….
When the man with Placement said the baby’s name was Graham, I nearly dropped my phone. My mind was going a mile a minute as I tried to focus enough to write down the little bit of information he was able to give me. The baby’s name was Graham. He was born a little over four lbs. We would be able to start visiting him in the NICU at Children’s Hospital the next day, June 15th. It just so happened that the next day was our 26th wedding anniversary. I decided that was the best anniversary gift I could ever ask for.
The next day was a little crazy. Scott had a lot going on at the church and wasn’t going to be able to go by the hospital with me to visit baby Graham that afternoon. I loaded the kids in the car around 3:00 and drove the short distance to Children’s. I had so much running through my mind. I was scared to death. I’d NEVER cared for a newborn baby and I knew literally nothing about what to expect. I felt certain the rug was about to be pulled out from under me and I’d wake up from some crazy, exciting dream. It just seemed surreal that I was on my way to meet this little baby that would be heading home with me for some unknown period of time. I had people telling me, “Don’t get too attached,” and “Be prepared to love him and let him go.” It was all a little overwhelming.
When we got to the NICU floor I sat the kids down in the waiting room with their Nintendo DS’s and signed myself in. I was in a fog as I scrubbed my hands and sanitized them before stepping into the actual NICU wing. The lady at the desk explained the digital sign in process and directed me to baby Graham’s room. I think I remember every single step I took as I turned the corner to make my way down the hallway. It was like walking on a cloud. The anticipation was killing me. Would he have dark hair? Would he be teeny, tiny? Would he be able to open his eyes? I was so excited.
I walked into Graham’s room, stopped, pulled out my phone, and took several pictures of him. He was asleep and I quickly decided he was the most beautiful creature I’d ever laid eyes on. His blanket was tightly swaddled around him and he had on a precious little light green onesie. Tubes and wires were hooked up to his ankle and his toes. He was so very tiny. His sweet nurse walked in and asked if I’d like to hold him. I don’t know that I’d ever felt such a mixture of joy and fear at the same time.
I sat down in the chair beside his bassinet and held him close. My eyes examined every inch of his precious face. He had the most adorable little button nose, a wide little mouth, and a fuzzy head. I had a lump in my throat from trying to hold back tears. I was already in love.
I took videos and pictures of everything he did while I was there. If he sucked on his pacifier, I made sure to video it. If he took a bottle, I got a picture. I didn’t want to forget anything about that day.
His nurse, Sara, came in and spent a lot of time with me. She had to ask several questions for Graham’s paperwork and she gave me a little bit of background on his situation. According to Sara, Graham’s paternal grandmother had been with him every day since he’d been admitted to the NICU at one day old. Sara said she was an amazing woman and only wanted what was best for Graham. I was happy to know he had a grandmother that was interested in doing what was best for him.
I had a Bible study to lead that night and I stayed at the hospital right up until the last minute. It was hard to leave. I just wanted to bundle him up and take him with me right then and there. I called my mom as soon as I got in my car. I was going on and on about how he was the closest thing to heaven I’d ever laid eyes on. The kids were in the back seat saying, “Wow. Thanks a lot, Mom!”
Scott and I went back to the hospital later that night so he could meet sweet, little Graham. Scott has never been one to want to hold babies, but he didn’t want to put Graham down once he got his hands on him. I think it was love at first sight for both of us.
We were able to visit Graham off and on for the next few days. I spent a great deal of time in that hospital room loving on him and telling him how precious and beautiful he was. It was hard knowing it was most likely a temporary placement. Scott and I had gone into foster care to help restore families and that was our honest goal. But the thought of bringing home a newborn only to hand him back over to someone else after falling in love was very, very hard to come to terms with. We just held on and trusted that the Lord would give us the strength when the time came to let him go.
When you take custody of a NICU baby through DCS, you have to ‘room in’ the night before you take the baby home. Our room in with Graham was scheduled for Sunday, June 18th, which just so happened to be Father’s Day. We went to church that morning feeling this crazy excitement and anticipation. We left Franklyn, Harris and Katie with Scott’s parents and headed off to the hospital early that afternoon. Throughout the afternoon and evening, we received training on how to care for a newborn, especially an NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) baby. When we first found out about the ‘room in’ process, I honestly thought it sounded like a waste of time. After going through it, I think it’s one of the most valuable things I’ve ever been through. I learned so much that night.
We had to sleep in the room with Graham and, even though this wing of the hospital was only 7 months old, it was lacking in a comfortable sleeping area for parents. There was a long narrow couch in his room that we could sleep on. Let’s just say Scott did all the sleeping. I spent most of the night in the chair by Graham reading or holding him. Graham’s nurse would come in periodically throughout the night to check on him and see if we needed anything. It was an exhausting night, but it was one that I’ll never forget.
Me trying to sleep in the limited space not consumed by Scott
The next morning, Monday, June 19th, we prepared everything to head home. Around noon, Graham’s DCS worker called. We were still waiting to be discharged and she was beginning Graham’s first CFTM (Child Family Team Meeting) at the DCS office. She asked me to participate over the phone. Graham’s two grandmothers were present, as well as his DCS worker and her supervisor. We discussed Graham’s history, his birth parent’s history, and the current situation regarding who might be seeking custody. Graham’s paternal grandmother had recently retired and felt like she was too old to raise another child. She wanted him to be adopted by a loving family. His maternal grandmother was already raising Graham’s two older half-brothers and didn’t feel like she could take on a newborn. Graham’s birth parents were both suffering from addictions to a wide range of illegal and prescription drugs. They left the hospital the day after he was born and had not returned. It appeared they both came from happy, loving, middle class homes, but they had made bad choices and ended up walking the painful, tragic road of addiction.
We were discharged much later that day. Graham’s favorite nurse, Sara, carried him in his car seat down to the NICU pickup area. It felt so strange to be leaving the hospital with a baby. We hadn’t signed one single piece of paper and hadn’t paid a dime, but we were headed home with a tiny, little infant…
On the way home we stopped at Buy Buy Baby. That’s the first store Graham ever went in! We bought a Halo Bassinest because that’s what the nurse had recommended he sleep in. It was expensive, but it ended up being worth every penny. If you’re expecting a baby, Google it and check it out! It’s one of the smartest purchases we ever made!
The first few weeks with Graham were absolutely amazing. I was exhausted and forgot to eat a time or two, but I was happier than ever. Graham was a little over five pounds when we brought him home. He had weekly visits from a Children’s Hospital Home Health Nurse. She would weigh him each time she came and I was so excited to see him reach six pounds and then seven pounds! It made me feel like I’d actually accomplished something when I could see him gaining weight. Those were exciting days!
Graham was so tiny!
After Graham had been with us for a couple of weeks we had a visit scheduled with his paternal grandmother at the DCS office. We met her and knew that she was going to play a special role in his life, no matter where he ended up. She was his greatest advocate. A retired dentist, she was well educated and more than willing to do whatever was necessary to see that Graham had access to the best life available. Also a professing Christian, she spoke a great deal about how she had been praying for baby Graham since the moment she found out her son was going to be a dad. She feared for baby Graham’s life and his future if he were to remain with them after he was born. During the visit, she referred to me as Graham’s mom and she made it known that her desire was for us to be his parents. At the end of the visit, we hugged and cried. Because she wasn’t one of his parents, we weren’t required to have visits with her, but we knew we wanted to continue to see her and allow her to develop a relationship with her grandson.
We started meeting his grandmother and grandfather at Panera Bread every few weeks. It was so nice to have a connection to his birth family. We learned a lot about his birth parents and felt such compassion for them.
Around three months after we brought Graham home, it was obvious his parents weren’t going to be able to get him back. They both decided to surrender their parental rights. It’s hard to explain how we felt the day they surrendered in court. We saw them both in person for the first time and it was heart wrenching. There was such joy on our end, but also such a feeling of loss for what they were losing. The paternal grandmother had brought Graham’s father, also named Graham, to court that day. Even though it was painfully awkward, we walked up to big Graham and introduced ourselves. We asked him if he’d like to hold his son and I placed him in his arms. He held him close, lowered his head, and sobbed. His tears were falling steadily onto baby Graham’s fuzzy little head. It was painful, but beautiful at the same time. He loved his child enough to do what was best for him. Graham’s mother, Danielle, was in police custody and only got to see him in the courtroom. She was brought in through a back door and wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone or have physical contact. We made a firm decision that day that we would keep his first name Graham (named after his dad) and change his middle name to Daniel (to honor his mother, Danielle). Our desire is to honor them for choosing to give him life. They made so many mistakes in life, but giving him life was an honorable choice. We will always respect them for that.
After Graham’s birth parents surrendered their rights, DCS put us on the road to adoption. We filed the Intent to Adopt in early October and we were told to expect an adoption date sometime in December. It all happened so fast. We’ve always loved baby Graham as our own, but to finally know he was actually going to be a Whaley was an amazing feeling.
I met Graham’s grandmother and great grandmother in Maryville for lunch one day in November. We sat and talked for a couple of hours. His grandmother, Kathy, told me an interesting story. When baby Graham was born, Kathy heard from her cousin in Texas whose daughter and son-in-law were unable to have children. Her cousin had heard about the baby and asked Kathy to give her daughter’s name to DCS so that they could get custody of him. Kathy said that she told her cousin she’d pray about it. She prayed and prayed and she said she never felt God leading her to give DCS their names. During the first CFTM with DCS, when I was part of the meeting over the phone while waiting for Graham to be discharged from the NICU, Kathy said she heard my voice and knew that I was meant to be baby Graham’s mom. I’m not sure what she heard in my voice that day, but I know I was already overwhelmed with love for that sweet baby boy and it must’ve been evident in my voice.
So, that’s the story of how sweet Baby G came to be a Whaley.
Scott and I have experienced a lot of loss and a lot of hard times in our 26 years of marriage. There were years where we thought we’d never be parents. We had decided that our kiddos would be those we ministered to in the youth ministry and we were fine with that. Then, we were blessed with the opportunity to adopt internationally. What an amazing journey that was! Never did we imagine we’d have the joy of adopting three more children! When we were at the courthouse last week to finalize Graham’s adoption, our attorney asked if we were planning on coming back the same time next year since we'd adopted two Decembers in a row. Well, we’ll leave that up to the Lord. All we’ll say is, never say never.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…”