So okay with being so sad

September 2020 · Foster Family Features

Four months after receiving their first placement, Noah and Kelsey Mathes felt as if their hearts were breaking. Phoning family to tell them that the little girl they’d cared for since she was eight months old would be returning home had seemed completely natural. After all, they’d called everybody when they learned she would be placed with the Abilene, Texas, couple. Those conversations, however, were celebratory; this one … not so much. Yet, Noah could still say to Kelsey, “I’ve never been so okay with being so sad.”

Like most young couples, they talked about kids even before they were married. They had even discussed foster parenting as something they might do down the road. Growing up, Noah’s home had always served as a place where families and friends might land for a while.

“As I got older, I realized just how much of a blessing it was for those people to have somewhere they could go and feel safe and not have to worry about having a roof over their head,” he said. “That appealed to me, and I wanted to be able to provide that for somebody.”

Once married, the two kept talking about kids but realized it wasn’t the right time for a pregnancy. Still, they shared a need, a desire to have children in their home.

“There are so many children that need somebody,” said Kelsey. “We have a perfectly good home and lots to give. Fostering was something we could do, so we thought, ‘why not now?’”

They chose to work with babies, mostly because they’re both still in their early 20s and felt they lacked the life experience to guide older kids. Besides, Kelsey was studying to be a neonatal intensive care nurse and looked forward to caring for infants.

“I’d also worked as a nanny for newborns and babies,” she said. “Starting out, we wanted to work with an age range that was the most comfortable for us.”

A year and a half after licensing, they’ve fostered three more infant girls. One, they’ve had in their home since she was two days old, and unlike the others, she’s never left. She recently turned one year old, and Noah and Kelsey will be adopting her in a matter of days.

“We’ve always said that if any of our placements become eligible for adoption, we would do it in a heartbeat,” said Noah. “Yes, we’re always glad when a child gets to return to her family, even though it’s bittersweet. But, if the parental rights are terminated and they don’t end up going to a relative, we’re more than happy to adopt.”

That means they’ll continue to foster, even as they start their family.

“It’s hard for me to justify not doing it,” said Noah. “So, yeah, I’m a 22-year-old firefighter, and maybe I’d have more time to hang out with my friends if we weren’t fostering. But, if one of these kids were standing in front of me, I couldn’t bring myself to even say that. They need help, and I can provide it. I don’t want to keep it from them in any way. We feel this is what God is calling us to do.”

“Our first placement was really tough,” said Kelsey. “At that point, we’d had her longer than anyone else, and it was hard to let go. I remember going into her room each morning, and she’d be standing up in her crib waiting for me with her arms outstretched. I’d pick her up and we’d come sit on the couch, watch TV, and snuggle. So, when people say they couldn’t foster because they’d get too attached, I understand that. But, getting attached is what you want. If it’s not hard when they leave, then you didn’t love them hard enough.

“For me, it’s all about giving your love in the moment. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. We don’t know when the next baby will arrive or what kind of case we’ll get. Some of these cases are heartbreaking. Neither do we know when they’ll leave. But, if you know you’re the one called to step in and change that child’s story for the better, then it makes having to let them go worth it. Going into this, you have to be willing to do that.”