Since we had welcomed him into our home at such a young age, we assumed that we knew most of his backstory and family history. Based on what we had been told and the circumstances surrounding his situation, our hopes for Jayden having a safe and healthy relationship with his bio family seemed unlikely. That was, until this past August.
We got a call from DHR on a Monday morning. His Great-Aunt Julia (who goes by JuJu) wanted to meet him. She had not learned of Jayden's existence until very recently and was, obviously, very concerned that one of her family members was in foster care.
My heart dropped and I nervously paced while talking with his social worker. While Brian and I had always prayed that Jayden would have a permanent home in a safe, loving environment, we had also prayed it would be with us.
It was decided by DHR that we would meet with JuJu that Friday morning. She would have the opportunity to get to know us and decide if she would petition for custody, which was her right as a family member.
That week was a blur, but it was filled with a lot of prayers, tears and extra snuggles with our boy. We weren't sure what Friday would bring.
We headed into the meeting with a few things on our heart.
First and foremost, we wanted JuJu to know that though Jayden had been in foster care for most of his life, not one minute had gone by when he was not loved or wanted.
Second, we wanted her to know that J-man had never been our "foster child." He was, simply, our son. Even if he ended up leaving our home that day or never shared our last name, he would always be a member of our family. We weren't his "babysitters" and he wasn't a "paycheck." He was our much loved and treasured gift.
Third, we wanted her to know that if she decided not to file for custody and chose to leave him in our care, our desire was to remain in regular contact and communication with her. In the state of Alabama, DHR only facilitates closed adoptions. This meant that if and when we were able to adopt Jayden, the file would be closed and no information would be given to anyone (including his biological family) about his whereabouts or his adoptive family.
Brian and I have always believed that open adoption is the route for our family, if there are stable and healthy relationships that can be maintained. But there was nothing legally binding that could be used to assure his aunt of our desire. If Aunt JuJu decided that her nephew's best interest was to remain with us, she would have to blindly trust us and rely solely on the word of two random strangers. It was a lot for us to ask.
We walked into DHR that Friday morning, full of nervous energy. There was both excitement to meet a biological family member and anxiety about the unknown course of our family's life.
Just inside the lobby, we all met and hugs were given all around. Immediately, it felt like we were family.
JuJu understood that Jayden needed a little warming up at first, so there was some time for me to share our photo books from the past two years. I wanted to give as much information about him as possible by filling her in on his milestones and adventures. We wanted to paint the fullest picture of the life he had lived.
For almost two hours, we talked about Jayden, our family dynamics, and her side of the family. There were many pieces she was able to fill us in on. We learned about a huge side of the family that had never existed to us. It was exciting to envision the possibilities for future family connections.
After talking together for a while, Aunt JuJu shared her thoughts on the entire situation. She had come that morning with every intention of filing for custody of Jayden. He was her blood relative, great-nephew, and she wanted what was going to be the best for him.
Yet, in the first moments of meeting us, she saw how Jayden called Brian, "Dada," and clung to him for dear life. She observed the way he was bonded to us and to his brothers, Tyson and TD.
With a selfless perspective and a level grace that I could only hope to have one day, Aunt JuJu gave us a precious gift.
Instead of petitioning for custody, she entrusted us with her great-nephew.
The fact of the matter is, that she didn't have to even meet with us. She didn't have to sit and listen to us talk about our family. JuJu could have just filed a petition and won custody of him a few weeks later, guaranteeing his departure from our home.
Instead, she drove three hours to get to know us and her great-nephew. Then she spent the rest of the weekend sharing about our meeting with the rest of her extended family. She answered their questions about his well-being and his future and went to bat for us, advocating for him to stay in our home.
This is an amazing woman with an open heart and mind that I'm now excited to call family.
Aunt JuJu is an answer to so many prayers for our son. Though Jayden will now legally be a "Word," he will have biological family members consistently in his life. Generations of family histories will be passed on to him, a gift that we could never give him.
Since August, we have kept in regular contact with Aunt JuJu, as well as his Great-Grammy in Michigan, and his Great-Great Granny who also came to his 2nd birthday party.
A simple blog post cannot truly convey how grateful we are for our son's biological family. Over the past six months, they have welcomed us into their family with open arms. After every conversation with Aunt JuJu, we walk away feeling affirmed and encouraged as Jayden's parents. She is such a blessing.
Open adoption has provided us with not only a son, but also an extended family across the country. The prayers I whispered in our first few months with Jayden have been answered in ways I could have never imagined.
God's story is always, always, always better.