For most of her life, all Lisa knew about fostering children came from watching Irene in Home and Away.
And it’s not something she gave much thought, until she and husband Nathan were dealing with infertility.
“All I ever wanted to be growing up was a mum. All I ever wanted to do was have babies,” the 35-year-old from north Brisbane says.
When they were trying to conceive, the plan was one, maybe two kids. But Nathan always joked they’d end up with six.
“What started as a joke ended as reality,” laughs Lisa.
The couple now have six adopted children aged 8 to 20, who first came into their care as foster kids.
The eldest is Courtney, who arrived at Lisa and Nathan’s home when she was 12.
At 16, she “proposed” to them with rings on a cruise, asking them to adopt her. It finally went through when she was an adult, aged 19.
This is her and Lisa’s story.
Courtney was removed from her birth parents’ care when she was 12.
She says the last three years with them was “pretty crappy”, but didn’t realise how bad it really was until she left.
“I realised that wasn’t a normal way of living,” she says.
She was placed into Lisa and Nathan’s care with her younger sister Tiffany. Later, her younger brother Jessie joined them.
Her two other brothers went to another family.
“My phone was taken from me and I had to move schools. So I was away from my friends.
“But I came to realise it was for the best and I saw how lovely Lisa and Nathan were.”
Lisa and Nathan already had three boys as foster children when Courtney and Tiffany arrived.
Courtney says she knew early on she wanted to be adopted by them.
“They already saw us as part of the family.
“At first they became our godparents, because the adoption process takes so long.”
Being the eldest of six kids, you’d expect Courtney may have assumed a parental role.
But she says Lisa and Nathan never let that happen.
“Most of the time they make sure I don’t have to take on too much — I still have my own responsibilities and life to live.
“They don’t want me to feel that pressure.”
Just as well, because Courtney recently moved out of home and is pursuing a management role in retail.
One thing Courtney would like people not familiar with fostering to know is that “we aren’t all a certain way”.
“I recently told someone I was [fostered] and they were like ‘Whoa, you don’t seem like you are’.
“People expect us to be crazy.
Nathan is in the military and Lisa learnt more about fostering through the wife of one of his colleagues.
“One was a foster carer and her mum worked for a foster agency — they were doing amazing things.
“In NSW [where we were based at the time] we learnt about to foster-to-adopt program.”
At the end of 2010, the same year they were told they couldn’t go ahead with a third IVF attempt, they were approved to become carers.
Before the couple had “permanent placement” children come into their care, they had about 20 kids come and go.
“Then we got three of the boys [Christian and twins Roni and Lucas] as emergency [cases].
“What started out as two weeks became six months, then long-term.”
Less than two years later siblings Courtney, Tiffany, and eventually Jessie, arrived on the scene.
Lisa remembers Courtney as a “little rebel” when they first met.
“She smoked cigarettes, she thought she could do whatever she wanted. But we had news for her,” she laughs.
“But she liked us early on and was pretty respectful.
“Once she started at the new school and saw the kids there didn’t think smoking was cool [for example], she settled right in and started to see the difference in lifestyle.”
Seeing Courtney “break the cycle” has made Lisa really proud.
“She’s really done everything she can to change. She’s determined.”
Lisa says she still has mixed emotions about not being able to experience pregnancy.
“But I wouldn’t change it for the world — I love them so much.”
Like Courtney, she and Nathan face a lot of stigma about fostering and adoption.
Some of Lisa’s kids have special needs, and she wishes more people were sympathetic to that.
“It is hard to make friends. Because the kids are harder than the average, or different, it scares lots of people to it’s easier for them to stay away.
“I get no respite.”
Her advice for other parents considering fostering or adoption is to “be prepared for anything”.
“And don’t let the stereotypes rule you, because every child is totally different.
“And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
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