Britanie and Adrian Ramirez had three daughters in three years. Though they decided they were finished having biological children, they both had an inkling they weren’t yet done welcoming children into their home.
“We didn’t know what that would look like,” said Britanie Ramirez. “We just knew these three girls were not the end of our parenting journey.”
Britanie, the director of Oklahoma City nonprofit organization Whiz Kids, which provides reading tutors for metro students reading below grade level, has always had a heart for the underserved. Previously the director of a street outreach program working with homeless youth in Emporia, Kan., she saw firsthand that children aging out of the foster care system had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. By reaching those children earlier, whether through tutoring at Whiz Kids or serving as a safe place to live while biological parents get back on track, the Ramirez family realized they could make a difference.
“We can alter the trajectory of these kids’ lives now instead of waiting until they are a burden on society, financially, educationally,” said Ramirez. The Ramirez family didn’t enter their decision to foster lightly, knowing the depth of emotions they and their girls would face. The first court case Ramirez attended while with Court Appointed Special Advocates in Kansas involved children from her kids’ school. A mother signed over parental rights to a father, and Ramirez had to explain the situation to the children, taking them to say a final goodbye to their mom.
“I gave them to a dad who didn’t hug them or tell them it would be OK,” said Ramirez. “I realized the depth of pain that kids in foster care, or kids in limbo, or kids just aching for their parents are in.”
The Ramirezes wanted to wait until their girls were old enough to process and understand how fostering children would impact them.
“We constantly remind them that our goal is to get these kids back to their mommies and daddies,” said Ramirez. “But it’s devastating to them when children leave [our home].”
When their youngest daughter was 8 years old, the family decided together they were ready. Living in Kansas at the time, they told their case worker they preferred to foster males, ages 5 to 7, black or hispanic, because Ramirez understood that was the demographic with the greatest need. She laughingly admits after fostering 23 children over nearly three years, both in Kansas and Oklahoma, their family has never had a child who fit their original specifications.
Instead they found their niche caring for infants, some straight from the hospital, some medically fragile. Though the Ramirezes began their fostering journey in hopes of adopting someday, they quickly realized the beauty in simply fostering to foster.
“We get to walk through this dark place with a baby and family and see the restoration process,” said Ramirez. “We have a frontrow seat to celebrating successes and experiencing heartbreak, too. Of course you want parents to succeed but that’s not always the case.”
About a year into their fostering journey in Kansas, Ramirez got a placement call for a baby girl born at 24 weeks, medically fragile, only weighing 4 lbs and connected to various monitors the day they welcomed her into their home. Eventually her big brother came to live with the Ramirez family, too.
Unlike older foster kids who exhibit challenging behavior, difficulty trusting others or developmental delays, the foster babies in Ramirez’s home may not show visible signs of the trauma they endured by being removed from their homes but the family knows it’s there.
“They knew their mom’s voice and heartbeat, they knew they were with her and now they’re not,” said Ramirez, who has found most babies removed at birth due to parental substance abuse, “Their brain doesn’t forget and we are trying to connect some of those things in their brain that were disconnected.”
The Ramirez family gives their foster babies excessive love through consistent interaction, holding and baby wearing. Though the Ramirez girls are a bit timid around brand new or medically fragile babies, once they can smile and play, the girls are very involved in their daily care, and they understand the hard places and challenging family situations the babies have come from.
“This is the world we try to protect our kids from, but foster parents are throwing our kids into that world,” said Ramirez. “I want my kids to be aware of it and have a heart for it because that is what our family is called to do.”
Ramirez bristles when she hears people say they could never foster because they couldn’t give the children back to their biological families, remembering how painful it was to reunify these siblings with their mom, even as they celebrated all she had accomplished to get her kids back.
“Just because we do it doesn’t mean our hearts aren’t broken, too,” said Ramirez. “I loved her as if she were my own, knowing she wasn’t. I held her after surgeries, taking her to seven doctors in a week.”
Ramirez aches remembering youngest daughter Liviana physically and emotionally break down as she said goodbye, magnifying the experience and demonstrating the “invisible loss” her daughters experience each time a foster child moves on.
“We are grieving people who are still alive, knowing we may never hear from them again,” said Ramirez.
In the midst of their grief, the family finds healing in processing their emotions together, relying on their faith and joy in serving alongside each other for a greater purpose. Though the family decided to take a break from fostering after the sibling set, they received a call just a few days later for another medically fragile baby boy. Adrian declared that baby’s need for a home was more important than their need for more time to heal.
Six months after taking in the baby boy, the Ramirez family had the opportunity to move to Oklahoma for Adrian’s new job as a pastor at LifeChurch. The Ramirez family wouldn’t leave Kansas if it meant him being in limbo, but thankfully he was able to safely transition back to biological family. Ramirez recently received a video of him playing with a toy she gave him for his birthday, at a party thrown by the two families together.
“They introduce me as his other mom,” said Ramirez. “My grandparents, who watched him every day while I was working, are his Nanny and Papa, and they will stop to see him on their way to come visit us.”
Bridging has become Ramirez’s favorite part of fostering. Each time she hopes to build a relationship through which parents can ask questions about their children and Ramirez can share photos and milestones, with the intent that if a child can return home, the Ramirez family will remain a support system.
Not all of their bridging experiences have been easy or led to long-term relationships, but Ramirez has realized that the biological families are doing the best they can with the set of circumstances life has dealt them, and she is determined to love them through the challenging times.
“I’m not going to love you so much that I let you stay the same,” Ramirez explains. “If I am fighting for you and your kid, you better fight just as hard as I do, if not harder.”
In addition to Ramirez’s grandparents, the family has found extensive support from their church, both in Kansas and Oklahoma. Whether dropping off diapers and pacifiers or making dinner when they know the family is expecting a placement, Ramirez says people don’t have to be foster parents to make an impact. Her friends and family who simply love their foster children unconditionally have given them the strength and encouragement to keep pursing their calling.
“We give up our comfort and stability and welcome their instability and brokenness,” said Ramirez. “And we’d do it time and time again because it’s always worth it, to make a baby more comfortable, to protect them, to fight battles they don’t even know are happening.”
Generously sponsored by Kimray, this is part one of a series that will provide stories of OKC foster families. Find more information about the foster care system and how to become a foster parent at www.metrofamilymagazine.com/foster.