For some, parenting is the most natural thing in the world. For others, learning to be a parent takes a little more struggle and intentionality. Jenny Townsend says her husband, Reed, is the former type and she is the latter. But the fact that their first parenting experience was through fostering certainly didn’t make the job any easier. It was trial by fire.
They became foster parents after trying for several years to have a biological child. After hearing about Buckner through a presentation at their church, Stonegate Fellowship in Midland, Texas, they made an appointment to talk with Buckner staff about their adoption options. They felt Buckner was a good fit for their family and were drawn to foster care when they learned about the enormous need for loving families.
“I’d say our faith was the starting point as well as the motivation to continue,” Reed says. “We felt compelled to do adoption in the first place because we are adopted into Christ’s family. That’s a blessing we receive which we did nothing to merit. And we just saw that we’re wonderfully blessed and we have the capacity to take care of children. We have extra room in our house and finances. We have more than we really need. Because of that we felt like we wanted to give the same thing to someone who didn’t have a healthy family and wasn’t going to have a good foundation for their life.”
After their informational interview, they started the process of becoming certified as foster parents.
“We had gone to the pre-service training and started the paperwork,” Jenny explains. “Then we found out we were pregnant. We were overjoyed, but we also felt like adopting was what God was asking us to do, so we continued the process of getting certified.”
Jenny was five months pregnant when 10-month-old Alexis was placed with them. She arrived bearing signs of neglect – clothes caked in dried, crusty food, dirt on her face, a fungus on her toenails and a double ear infection. She had to be taken to the doctor immediately and started on several rounds of antibiotics.
“We didn’t know anything about her habits or what she was used to when she was placed with us,” Jenny says. “Only later did we find out that Alexis was in the habit of sleeping with a bottle. So the longest stint she slept for the first night with us was an hour and a half. Generally she would wake up every half hour or 45 minutes.”
Reed took off work for the first three days to help Jenny while they tried to settle into their new life as parents, but “neither of [them] knew what [they] were doing” when it came to taking care of a baby. Two weeks in, Jenny found baby books that taught “tried and true ways to teach babies to get on a schedule.” Soon, Alexis slept more peacefully and so did Reed and Jenny.
Nehemiah was born in February of 2013 and they went from no children to two little ones in five months. Alexis was 13 months at that time and learning to test boundaries. Jenny says one of her biggest personal struggles has been attaching to Alexis.
“It was difficult with Alexis because we weren’t parents yet. I didn’t have a lot of [innate] mothering in me,” she explains. “When you have a baby from birth, you have all this time that they’re not challenging you, you’re just taking care of them. You have time to pour into them and enjoy their sweetness before they start fighting you. With Nehemiah bonding was instant. He taught me to love Alexis better, because when she first came I didn’t have experience being a mom, and we didn’t have time to bond and get attached before she was ready to start challenging and fighting everything we said.”
The four have grown together as a family during the past two years and have seen many ups and downs. The biggest high in the whole process is “just Alexis,” Jenny says.
“She’s really, really, really empathetic and caring. She’s very sweet, very happy. And very sensitive and emotional. She probably has 15 baby dolls in this house. She carries them around. When I was nursing Nehemiah, she would nurse her dolls. She carries them around, puts them down for naps, comforts them, pats them on the back and says, ‘It’s OK.’”
The Townsends became Alexis’ forever family today at 10:30 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Odessa surrounded by family and friends. They celebrated at lunch with family afterward and plan to go inactive as foster parents for at least a year while they give themselves time to let it “settle in psychologically” that Alexis is officially their daughter.
“They were very happy to finally finalize their adoption,” says Catarina Medrano, their Buckner case worker. “They had been looking forward to this for a long time because Alexis has been with them since she was an infant and she’s almost 3 now. Alexis looked really happy, too. She’s a smart little girl and so precious.”
“It’s definitely exciting and it’s a relief,” Reed says. “At certain times through the process it felt like a done deal, and at other times it felt like we were going to lose her the next day. That’s one thing I won’t miss; there’s no more waiting to find out. Adopting from foster care is long and it’s hard and it hurts, but it’s worth it.”
Lauren Hollon Sturdy is the web content editor for Buckner International. Reach her at lsturdy[at]buckner[dot]org.
Photography by Mary Grace Longo.
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