Mom adopted a child. Years later, she learned who she really is. Sarah knew that she wanted to foster children, but nothing could have prepared her and her husband, Stewart, for the journey that awaited them. Two special boys has changed everything they knew about being a family and left a courtroom laughing and crying at the same time. Here is their story.
Sarah and Stewart’s Teenage Romance When Sarah Kozad went on her first date with Stewart Shank, it looked like the average cafe date. The pair of teenagers were exchanging small talk when Stuart started hitting his date with real questions. About 15 minutes into our first date, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. Did I want kids? Sarah recalled.
I told him I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, although I knew for sure if I was going to have any children in my life. But Sarah didn’t mean it in the most conventional sense. Sarah had a purpose. Though she was hesitant to share this fact with her date at the age of 19, Sarah felt committed to experiencing motherhood. However, she felt more drawn to fostering children rather than getting pregnant.
She was well aware of the disadvantages kids in the foster system faced and wanted to try and make a difference. While Sarah was confident in her convictions, she also knew that her passion for fostering sometimes came across too strong. However, something in her gut encouraged her to share with Stuart, and his reaction caught the 19 year old off guard, to say the least.
To Sarah’s complete and utter shock, Stuart was on board with her vision of parenting and fostering safe to say that his open mindedness made Sarah fall for him even harder, and it didn’t take long for the pair of them to start planning a future together. As time went on, Sarah and Stewart’s connection only got deeper.
So a few years after their first date, Sarah and Stewart said, I do and started navigating the world of fostering together. But it wasn’t as easy as they’d hoped, and the newlyweds soon understood the uphill battle ahead of them. Being approved for children in the foster care system isn’t as easy as the ABC and Sarah and Stewart had their work cut out for them and trying to prove that they were responsible enough to take it on. In the months that followed, the young couple jumped through Hoops, including courses, police checks, social worker visits and more. But their dedication paid off and they got the golden stamp of approval to become foster parents.
Thrilled with the news, Sarah and Stewart immediately signed up for temporary and emergency cases where the kids would be staying for short periods of time. But that would all change less than a week after getting approved if the long bureaucratic lead up to getting their license. With any warning, Sarah and Stewart thought they’d be waiting for months before getting the chance to foster, but the opposite ended up happening. We were immediately called asking if we could take in a baby for a week, Sarah said. It was happening so fast for the couple.
Luckily, Sarah and Stewart fell up to the challenge and enjoyed every moment shared with the precious baby. It went great and we loved it, the new foster mom Gushed. The couple was ready for whatever would come next, but nothing could have prepared them for the next foster child that came through their door. Riding the high from their first fostering success, Sarah and Stewart made sure that the fostering agency was aware that they were ready for another opportunity. Their wish was granted, but this time, instead of a baby, they were asked to foster a three year old boy for the weekend named Michael.
We said yes, Sarah recalled. While the stay was meant to be short, Sarah and Stewart felt a deep connection from the moment the three year old walked through their door. That weekend turned into a week and that week into months, Sarah shared. Three months later, they took Michael to a supervised visit with his older brother. It would change everything and in the lead up to the visit, Sarah and Stewart had some hesitations, mainly because of the seven year age gap between the siblings.
However, all those worries melted away. Michael ran with all his might and jumped into DeShawn’s arms. Sarah remembered from the visit. The brothers had really missed each other. For Sarah and Stewart, the connection between the boys was as clear as day.
They couldn’t remember seeing Michael that enthusiastic, which meant a lot. Sarah knew that something had to be done to keep these brothers together, but she had some serious hesitations about proposing the idea. It was that second that Stuart and I looked at each other and we truly understood that Deshawn and Michael needed to be together, Sarah remembered. The couple began discussing what welcoming Deshawn into their home would be like, especially given the small age gap between Deshawn and Sarah. Sarah was only 13 years older than Deshawn and felt a little out of her depth by agreeing to foster a preteen.
But rather than shy away from the feelings, Sarah and Stuart decided to be open with Deshawn and lay it all on the table. And the conversation changed Sarah and Stewart’s perspective completely. I started talking to Deshawn. All my fears went out the window, Sarah wrote in Love What Matters blog post. He breaks every single stereotype about teens in foster care.
He is the most emphatic and compassionate person I’ve ever met and his maturity was also apparent in his work ethic. He worked so hard in school and is so funny. He wants to be either a basketball player, a doctor or a social worker when he grows up, Sarah shared. The couple knew that Deshawn was a great kid who just needed a chance and so they decided to make a difference in his life. Having spoken with Deshawn, Sarah and Stewart felt ready to take the next step in formally fostering the two brothers together.
For Deshawn, it meant a fresh start in a loving home where he could get the support to make all his dreams come true. The ten year old fit in perfectly with his foster family. Michael and Deshawn carved a special spot in the hearts of their foster parents that Sarah and Stewart couldn’t have ever anticipated. As the boys became settled into their temporary home, Sarah became overwhelmed with love for the brothers and nervous about what the future had in store. Sarah was determined to keep Michael and Deshawn in the same home, but also wanted to make sure that they’d be in the right environment to help them achieve all their potential.
She knew about the risks of transitioning to a new home and didn’t want the boys to get lost in the system. Sarah knew she had to do something. No matter the joy Sarah and Stewart felt by having Michael and Deshawn in their home, fostering came with some difficulties as well. The foster parents felt a Gray cloud hanging over them as the phone could ring at any moment, letting them know that the boys were being relocated. They didn’t want to lose what the four of them had.
Knowing what was at stake, Sarah and Stewart decided to fight for their family of four and start the formal adoption process. And while the couple got some criticism for their choice, they knew it was the right thing to do. Being his mom feels so natural, Sarah explained. While Sarah and Stewart pursued the adoption process, fueled by their love for the boys, it also served the young brother’s best interest in staying together. Sibling relocation has proven to be rare, and while agencies try their best, Michael and Deshawn could have ended up separated in their next foster home.
And just the thought of that made Sarah and Stewart leap into action. They could see with their own very eyes just how much the two boys benefited from being with one another. But just like becoming foster parents, Sarah and Stewart were in for a long journey. Sarah and Stewart jumped through every hoop thrown their way in order to fight for their family, but the process was far from easy. The case took on a life of its own and the fragile family of four waited on edge for years, hoping to finally get an answer.
The uncertainty of it all took a toll on Sarah specifically. I think the hardest part was the flip flop of emotions we went through throughout their very long case, Sarah reflected. The court switched between adoption and reunification over and over again. Sarah and Stewart tried their best to be strong, but it definitely played with their emotions. Three years of finger crossing passed as Sarah, Stewart, Michael and Deshawn waited to hear their fate.
In addition, while the four knew that their days together could be numbered. It fueled a closer relationship than they ever could have imagined. It also taught Sarah an important lesson that she will never forget. On August 13, 2018, Sarah, Stewart, Michael and Deshawn made their way to the local courthouse filled with a motion. Would they be leaving together as a legal family unit?
While their future was uncertain, there was a whole lot of love between the four of them. Sarah and Stewart were especially filled with pride when they saw the boys on their best behavior and dressed to the nines for the special occasion. They all shuffled into the courtroom and answered all the questions the judge asked of them. Even Michael and Dessert had a chance to speak. The young brother’s heartfelt words convinced the judge that they were in the right home.
Their forever home. She gave her seal of approval. And just like that, Sarah and Stewart were the legal parents of Michael and Deshawn. Everyone in the courtroom burst with excitement, but someone had a little something to say. As if the whole occasion wasn’t emotional enough, Deshawn decided he had some important words to share with everyone in the courtroom.