Sometimes we choose motherhood, other times it chooses us. For 28-year-old Victoria it seemed that foster parenting was destined for her, despite having always dreamed of a big family of her own. I spoke to this remarkable mother about the difficult times and the wonderful rewards of being a foster mother.
Written by Brisbane-based family photographer Minna Burgess as part of the Remarkable Mothers blog series.
Victoria grew up in Brisbane as the eldest of two girls. “I remember always begging my mum to have more kids because I wanted to be part of a big family,” she says. “All I wanted was to get married and have lots of kids.”
At 23, a year into her professional life as a high school teacher, Victoria bought a one-way ticket to London and less than one month after landing at Heathrow airport she met the man that would soon become her husband. “14 months in London, 12 months in his home country South Africa and 7 days back home in Brisbane and we were married. It was December 2010 and Brisbane was about to disappear under water, my husband and I both had jobs to find, a car to buy and a house deposit to save for so despite my childhood intentions to have a baby the moment I got married it was over a year before we started to try and conceive our first child,” explains Victoria.
“Throughout this entire time however I was not on any form of contraception, choosing instead to use a natural family planning method of avoiding pregnancy so that my body was as healthy as it could be. I have always had perfect regular cycles and by the time we started to try and fall pregnant I knew my body and my cycle better than anyone” she says. When three months later there was no sign of a positive pregnancy test Victoria knew intuitively that something was wrong. “I was only 28, and ignoring the fact that it is recommended a healthy couple of that age try for at least 12 months before becoming concerned, I booked an appointment with our GP.”
Victoria’s husband started months of testing and during this time Victoria attended the Lord Mayors Christmas Carols in the city. “On the back of the program for the event was a full page advertisement for a foster care agency. This was the first time my attention had been drawn to this path and I kept the program because for some reason something was drawing me to it.”
A few weeks later the difficult news came that Victoria’s husband was infertile. “I declined our GP’s offer for IVF and other fertility information and reassured her that I didn’t need time to grieve like she said I would. I wasn’t rushing into things just because my plan was to call the foster care agency I had seen advertised the minute I got home,” recalls Victoria. “There was no decision making process. I just did it. It felt like that was what I was meant to do.”
The decision was a little less straightforward for Victoria’s husband. “My husband was slightly more hesitant, more willing to pursue fertility treatment, perhaps because he felt responsible for this circumstance that we now found ourselves in. However, he followed my lead and neither of us have ever looked back.”
The couple decided not to tell people straight away. “We waited until we found out we had been officially accepted as foster carers to share because I wanted to make a ‘pregnancy announcement’ just like every other mother.”
On a sunny Saturday morning in early September 2013 the day came to meet the little boy who would be their first foster child. “We had spent the evening before buying bed sheets, clothes and games that we thought a 7-year-old boy might like,” Victoria remembers. We were given the address of a house we were to arrive at to pick him up. We knocked on the door for ages before anyone answered, looking back now it was probably because he was as anxious as we were. I have tears in my eyes as I think back to this day and how far we have come nearly two years on. I didn’t realise at the time how possible it would be to care so deeply about someone else’s child.”
The couple’s first child is still with them and will be until the day he chooses to leave. “I am not sure how I will cope with that goodbye. We have had many other children come and go for short respite stays, so the goodbyes are different and often ‘see you next time’!”
In Victoria’s own words the key to raising children is very simple. “Strong boundaries, calm approach, choices and related consequences, love, quality time and attention, nothing much more and certainly nothing less. It is impossible not to see a positive difference in a child that lives with those things,” she says.
There have of course been many difficult and tricky situations for Victoria and her husband over the past two years. “Each circumstance is difficult ind different ways,” she explains. “There have been many days I have had to explain to my boss that I need to leave work immediately to head up to the school because my little man is refusing to come down from a fence, or throwing rocks at people, swearing at teachers or hitting people.”
“There was the Friday night when we welcomed a 4-year-old into our home and the first thing he did was grab a large, sharp kitchen knife and stab my husband in the hand with it. And the Saturday morning that a quirky 8 year old girl announced to a group of rugby fathers (who didn’t know my husband was not the dad in question) that her dad had killed her baby brother when she was a toddler.”
“There was the night I drove over to my friend’s house in tears after being screamed hatred at by the 9-year-old boy I would give the world for because his emotions were all over the place after a neighbour’s mother had let him play grand theft auto on the playstation. Then there are the moments when I think about the fact that I will never get to post pictures and boast about my kids on facebook, have a baby shower, announce subsequent pregnancies, do things without seeking permission, be my little boy’s actual mum, not feel awkward on mothers day, raise a child from birth exactly the way I want to … those are difficult situations.”
“The children that come into my care need someone who doesn’t let them down and keeps their promises, someone who will give them strong boundaries and lots of love and attention. Someone who will listen to them, someone who will tuck them into bed each night and sit holding their hand until they fall asleep. I have never found it hard to be that person,” Victoria says.
In Queensland alone around 7500 children under the age of 18 live with a foster family. To open up your home and be able to provide a secure, stable environment to children who come from very difficult backgrounds, you need to consider the following, says Victoria:
“Foster parenting is not a replacement for having your own child, nor should it ever be, you are always going to be caring for someone else’s child. You need to be strong enough to handle a child, that you would give the world for, tell you that they hate you. You need to accept that despite everything you do for them they would probably rather live with their biological family. You need to be ok with being judged, and stared at. You need to be willing to advocate for your child with medical professionals and school principals. You need to understand that, for a while at least, your life will be on hold for someone else’s. You need to realise that it’s possibly one of the hardest things you will ever do but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it because at the same time it’s probably the most meaningful thing you will ever do. Being a foster parent has made me a passionate advocate for the rights of children and the importance of motherhood and family.”
For Victoria there is no doubt that the rewards by far outweigh the difficulties.
“My children have taught me that life is complicated but very beautiful and very good, and most certainly worth living. I am a stronger, more patient, less judgemental and more empathetic person as a result of being a foster mother. I can’t ever see myself doing anything else again other than advocate for motherhood, families and children through my life and work.”
If you would like more information about foster parenting in Queensland you can visit this website