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Notebook Lifestyle

Alberto’s mom and dad

Todd and Alberto (Britton Kendall)

Lifestyle

Alberto’s mom and dad

From the sorrow of infertility to the joy of foster parenting 

Britton Kendall pulled out all the stops throwing her first ever kid’s birthday party. She made tonkotsu ramen from scratch, allowed a silly string war inside the house, and handed out personalized certificates after a Super Smash Bros. video game tournament.

It was 15-year-old Alberto’s first birthday party, and he picked out everything, including a Luigi cake. Britton, 36, and her husband Todd, 37, became foster parents to Alberto (WORLD isn’t using his real name at the request of his caseworker) last October. At Alberto’s request, the partygoers included a few Kendall family members and three couples, in their 20s and 30s, from their church.

The Kendalls planned on throwing kids’ birthday parties a long time ago. Instead, like 1 in 8 couples nationwide, they have waded their way through infertility—15 years of it. Couples in their circumstances are often drawn to billboards and online ads paid for by fertility clinics selling expensive procedures like in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and donor eggs and sperm and promising babies.

But the Kendalls have become foster parents instead. Nearly 443,000 children are in foster care. The number has risen 10 percent in the last five years, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expects it to keep climbing amid the nation’s opioid crisis. Many states are struggling to meet the demand: At least half have seen a steady decline in available foster homes between 2012 and 2017, according to a study from The Chronicle of Social Change. 

Britton Kendall

Alberto (Britton Kendall)

“We’re looking at how to attract people, and for those willing to go through the fairly arduous process ... how to support them,” said Irene Clements, director of the National Foster Parent Association. Within the first year, she said, up to 50 percent of foster parents “give up and say, ‘This is too hard.’” 

Todd first recalls thinking he wanted to become a foster parent in high school after he heard a Christian camp counselor talk about his experience with it. Todd and Britton met as teenagers and new believers at a Bible study in Santa Barbara, Calif. Before marriage, a pastor performing premarital counseling likened abstaining from birth control as newlyweds to “standing in the middle of the freeway,” Britton told me with a laugh. 

The Kendalls attended an introductory foster care meeting in 2016 with another infertile couple from their church. That couple had been on an adoption agency’s waiting list for two years. Then, Britton heard about Royal Family Kids’ Camps (RFKC), a national Christian-run nonprofit that partners with churches to provide local foster children with a week of over-the-top love and fun. Camp activities include a pajama party for girls, a knighting ceremony for boys, a petting zoo, woodworking classes, a zip line, and a high ropes course.

In 2017, the Kendalls enlisted their church to join Sonoma County’s recently launched RFKC. Britton says camp “changed my whole idea of what it could mean to enter someone’s life midstory, even for a short period of time. You meet kids that you would change your whole life for.”

Mary Jackson

Britton shares information about RFKC with her church (Mary Jackson)

The Kendalls initially requested children ages 6-12. Most foster parents prefer younger children over teenagers, believing they will have experienced less trauma, Clements told me. The Kendalls took in Alberto after a trusted Christian friend who works at a foster agency told them he thought it was a great fit.

Ten months later, they recounted their many firsts. For the Kendalls: their first time attending parent night at school, their first Christmas morning with a kid, their first mother’s and father’s days, their first time making Easter baskets and hosting an egg hunt. For Alberto: his first time building a sand castle, his first trips to Costco and to a fancy restaurant, his first time doing laundry, his first time attending church, his first time watching The Princess Bride and Napoleon Dynamite.

The Kendalls and Alberto also live in the reality that he may leave. Foster care is often temporary, and social workers strive for reunification with a child’s family if possible. For Alberto and the Kendalls, reminders come as they meet weekly with a caseworker and monthly with a social worker. Alberto has visitation with his family at least once a month, and his case goes before a judge every six months.

Throughout the Kendalls’ journey, they have talked frankly with other congregation members, and they now bring foster care to the forefront. “Our young friends at church are Alberto’s old friends,” Todd says: Some are even becoming foster parents. Britton says, “The joy has far outweighed the pain of watching my friends have children … or scrolling through my Instagram feed and only seeing babies.”