What if you knew that you could lose your child at any moment? How would you live your life differently and where would you find your faith?
BY Loren Stow
John and Jane Smith have recently welcomed a baby into their life, a little girl that they never even realised they had been dreaming of, but who arrived at a time when they needed her most. She may be taken at any moment from their loving arms, they have no guarantees, and so this Centurion-based husband and wife are living on faith as if it were air.
A long road with a surprise detour
After years of fertility treatment and three consecutive IVF cycles that ended in failure, 31-year old Jane felt as though her life was ruled by her deep desire to fall pregnant, and the emotional strain that not achieving this dream put on her and her husband.
John, a 41-year entrepreneur, is the father of a teenage daughter from a previous marriage where he and his ex-wife decided that a vasectomy was the right decision at the time. However, after his divorce he met Jane and the couple courted for four years before they married in 2006.
“We knew that falling pregnant could be impossible the natural way, but this didn’t stop us from getting married,” Jane explains. But the couple did want children, and John attempted to have the vasectomy reversed, but this was not possible – the next step for the couple was in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
For all intents and purposes, the couple were excellent candidates for IVF, and so there was no real reason why it couldn’t be a success. But this simply was not to be the case. Over a three year period the couple endured as many cycles of IVF, “It was very difficult and emotional, and John felt responsible in some way,” Jane shares with obvious emotion filling her eyes.
“I had begun to lose faith, the fertility treatment ruled our lives, our relationship was strained and the financial burden was enormous,” John shares. So, without actually sitting down and discussing it, both wounded and low, the couple decided to stop, take stock and start the process of accepting their life as a childless couple.
A fork in the road
In December of 2012, the week before Christmas, the couple decided to go to church with John’s daughter who was visiting on holiday. When they arrived at their local church they realised they were too late for the Afrikaans sermon, and so decided to wait for the English sermon to start a little while later.
While sitting in the parked car the couple received a Blackberry message from Jane’s sister, who got word from her boyfriend’s aunt, who is a foster-mother to a young girl, “She said that the biological mother of her foster-child was expecting another baby very soon which the courts would most likely remove from her custody at birth. The social worker on the case was looking for a foster family to step in and give this newborn baby a home when it arrived,” Jane explained.
The couple, who had never really considered adoption – not to mention fostering a child – had only ever discussed the topic once. Not only was John passed the required ager to legally adopt in South Africa, but the couple would only ever consider a newborn baby. It just seemed a totally unlikely scenario, and they left it at that.
Jane obviously shared the short conversation with her sister, and so they were now faced with an urgent appeal that they needed to answer almost immediately, with no clue as to the process of fostering, if they were prepared, and what they would have to endure.
The couple decided to attend the English service which started moments later, in the hopes that something in that sermon would calm the now turbulent questions in their minds, fed by uncertainty in their hearts. “Not only did the sermon guide us, it was in fact a direct answer – that day’s theme was of adoption. It was too amazing to be just a coincidence,” John smiles, still wide-eyed with the wonder of it.
This settled it immediately for John and Jane, who responded to the message with a resounding and faith-filled yes. John describes the moment as fate, where God’s plan for them could not have been communicated with any more clarity. Of course the couple were unsure of the process that lay ahead, but of one thing they were certain, that they were on the right path and needed only to walk it with faith.
What followed was yet more uncertainty as days turned to weeks and the court order to remove the baby from her biological mother crept along, while it was also unclear whether the baby had even been born yet.
Acting on faith
While most parents prepare for the arrival of a baby with showers, decorating a nursery and packing their hospital bags, all things that Jane and John had dreamed of doing themselves, theirs was a path less travelled.
Instead the couple registered as a foster family – along with all the tests, proof of income, police clearance and so on that was required. They attended training for foster families, and left clutching a book on being a foster parent and a very clear understanding of their role. “It was actually very well done, the course was excellent, and the people were really friendly and grateful even, because they are always looking for good foster families,” Jane describes.
They then prepared a space in their home, and waited, and waited. “Jane and I refused a baby shower because we just didn’t know how it would all pan out.” And so, when they received the call to come and fetch the baby, they dropped everything. Even Jane’s employer was understanding and gave her three months maternity leave. That weekend their home was filled with family, friends and neighbours – all bearing gifts and celebrating the arrival of a baby into the Smith home, after years of wishing it to be so.
One day at a time
As they each hold the little baby girl that they clearly love deeply, soothing and nurturing her throughout our interview, I am struck as a mother by how difficult it must be to embrace a little life – so desperately wanted – without any guarantees that she will able to stay.
While the biological parents of their foster-daughter has a total of four children in foster-care, they are not willing to give their children up for adoption and they may never be. Jane and John are in touch with them through the social worker, as they have visitation rights and the couple decided to approach them with love and compassion.
“We actually have a very good relationship with the biological parents, and they understand that we care very deeply for their baby,” there is no room for judgement and condemnation from the couple, only an attempt to understand.
Of course, what keeps them going is their faith, which is fuelled by their deep sense that they are in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, “One can’t argue with God’s plan, and we have no doubt that this is where he wants us to be,” John believes.
With uncertainty having been part of this husband and wife’s journey, through their numerous IVF treatments, to accepting a foster-daughter into their lives at a moment’s notice, the one thing that they repeat over and over again is to have faith.
“Of course, I have asked why… why did our IVF cycles end in failure and why are we now fostering a baby that may be taken away from us? And then I was answered again through a sermon which was about walking the path that is put in front of you so that the experience could prepare you for what’s to come,” shares John wisely.
Not only do the couple see their beautiful foster-baby as part of their path, but they see themselves as part of her path too, and how they will influence her in a way that she needs in order to fulfil her purpose in life as well.
I look at the Smith’s, who live life with the daily possibility of losing the baby that they have wanted for so long, a little girl that has obviously and unashamedly burrowed her way into their hearts. But I am at once reminded that no parent has a guarantee that there will be another year, or week, or day with their children. Life itself is fragile, and those of us who think we have a guarantee should stop and think again, taking a leaf from the book that Jane and John are so bravely filling, day by glorious day - we just don’t know for sure - and I have certainly hugged my children a little tighter every night since meeting this couple and their tiny gift from God.
*Names of the children and foster/biological parents have been left out to protect their rights and privacy
The heartsongs of foster parents
“Bonding with the baby – our baby, we feel – was so natural and happened in an instant. I was initially overwhelmed by so much advice and a constant stream of visitors in the first weeks, but now that it is quieter I look into her eyes and I really see myself in there. Of course, my fear of her being taken away is almost constant, but it cannot stop me from falling in love with her.
I have to laugh sometimes as I take her for walks and strangers come up to me and tell me that she looks just like me, I just smile and nod because I don’t want to go into the whole story…”
“From the first day we have worried about her being taken away, and I really tried not to bond too much for fear of losing her, but it is too late. We really consider her to be our daughter, and in this uncertain time we can only rely on faith.
It makes it easier to know that our path is divinely chosen, and our purpose is to make a difference in her life so that her purpose can be fulfilled.”
What may lie ahead for John and Jane?
After initially being considered by law to be ‘a place of safety’, the social worker re-applies bi-annually until their foster-child turns 18 years. Should the Children’s Court find that the biological parents circumstances have change in accordance with the Court required/stipulated ‘rehabilitation plan’ required of them, they may have the opportunity to be reunited with some or all of their children who have been placed with various foster-families. They may also choose to legally give their children up for adoption. Although it is ultimately the choice of each foster-family, the four sibling’s meet up as often as possible, and every attempt is made for them to be together on birthdays and special holidays.