By Jacqueline Niccolai, Wisconsin Right to Life Events Manager
Each year my husband and children give me one special gift right before the holidays that gives me the greatest joy in the world: family photos. I am filled with pride when I look at our children and see how much they grow every year. When I get our beautiful family photo, I rush to post it to my social media page, to share it with my friends and family. Then, I stop. I have to edit my photo before I share it, because the faces of foster children cannot be shared on the internet.
Five years ago, my husband and I felt a calling from God to contribute more to our community, but specifically with children. I knew when I was a little girl that I wanted to adopt one day. As years passed and we started building a family, my dream of adoption seemed to be behind me, and now we just wanted to serve families. Our church introduced us to Foster Care, and the more we learned, the more we had to get involved. Our goal is to rebuild families and help make them stronger.
“Hello, is this Jacqueline? This is **** calling from the foster care placement line. I have a child that was born 3 days ago and needs a short-term home. We have a family lined up to take her, pending background checks. Can she stay with your family for about 2-3 weeks?”
I called my kids and husband right away to see what they would think about having a tiny visitor stay with us for a little while. Of course, they wanted to open our home for a sweet, temporary guest. The days and weeks ahead were something we could not have prepared for. This beautiful baby’s health began to decline rapidly. Already very tiny at birth, she was now sick and losing weight. The family that had been preparing to take her was no longer an option. What we thought would be two weeks turned into two months. At four months old, she had gotten so ill that we feared she would not wake up. The doctors diagnosed her with Failure to Thrive. We spent a week at the Ronald McDonald house watching the doctors and incredible nurses aid her back to health. Our family stayed by her side every minute.
By the time she was 9 months old, we could see her healing and growing. Her problems seemed to start disappearing. The doctors told us she would likely be a late walker due to some structural issues in her hip and legs, but the next month she took her first steps, almost completely skipping the crawling phase. She reached milestone after milestone early and fantastically. Oh, what love can do!
Two weeks before her second birthday, May 2020, God stretched our boundaries again by blessing us with a teenager. Our natural oldest is 12 years old. The amazing young lady that moved in with us is 14. Saying that we felt nervous about this is an understatement. So now we are a family of 7; our youngest and oldest are our foster daughters.
We got our family pictures delivered to us a few weeks ago, and I love them. The stories and accomplishments in each of their eyes brings tears to mine. Our lives will change again and again because our doors remain open for the foster community. At this time next year, we will have adopted our youngest daughter and our oldest will be back living with her dad and siblings. God only knows what other children will be in our family photo next year. All I know is that this year, I have two hidden faces on my social media. One face will be uncovered by next year’s photo, but more will be added.
Sometimes the hidden faces go unnoticed in our communities, but they are never hidden from God. There are foster care associations in every county in Wisconsin; I hope that my story gives hope and inspires others to get involved. Each year children are placed into foster homes in December, and the foster parents scramble to make sure they have gifts under their tree for them. That was our family last year. We were showered with gifts for the two children that came to us 2 weeks before Christmas. It is such a blessing to have a supportive community, but I think that as pro-life advocates, we can do better. We need to support foster children in our communities by (a) becoming foster parents or (b) supporting foster families. My family and I could not have done as much as we have if we didn’t have the support of our friends, family, and the community. Together, we can accomplish anything. This holiday season I hope we can all make children with hidden faces feel seen.