“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be a mom to 10 children. During our nine years of infertility and repeated miscarriages, our biggest hope in life was to be parents. The deep hole of depression and despair infertility brings consumed me. I would cry myself to sleep. I questioned God, wondering why He would cast this suffering onto me.
My husband, Josh, and I did not care how we became parents, we simply longed for a child to share our lives with. When we learned there were over 100,000 children in the United States foster care system who were already freed for adoption and waiting for a family, we knew it was the right path to parenting for us. We completed the mundane training classes and intimidating home inspection, and in the summer of 2009 we were officially licensed as Foster and Adoptive Parents!
We began to search the online databases of children available for adoption. We applied our Adoption Home Study on many children, with no luck. Case workers were not willing to choose us because we had no parenting experience. It was like another slap in the face: We couldn’t be parents, because we weren’t parents. It didn’t matter we were educated with careers and owned our own home and cars, we weren’t enough. By the fall of 2009, I had nearly given up. I remember sobbing on the end of my couch in our cozy family room. The Christmas tree stood sparkling in the corner, and once again there would be no child to wrap presents for and place under the tree. The tears flowed as I cried out asking God to end this pain and answer my call to be a mother.
On January 12, 2010, we got THE CALL. We had been matched with an adorable 4-year-old redheaded boy named Alex. He was in the South Dakota foster care system. They had chosen us out of 200 inquiries on him because of my red hair! And because his Case Worker saw my determination to parent him through my repeated follow up phone calls and emails. She said she knew I have what it takes to advocate for everything my child will need in life. Josh and I were thrilled! We couldn’t believe it! We had a SON! Since we live in New York, it was a 6-month process to even get Alex home to us. The paperwork battle for crossing a child in foster care over state lines in extensive. In June 2010, we flew 3 flights across the country, then flew 3 flights home with our charmingly inquisitive son, Alex. Due to the nefarious court system in New York, it would take us another 11 months to finalize Alex’s adoption. On July 16, 2011 he officially became a Dougherty! Our lives were complete!
Or so we thought. God had other plans. Six days later we found out we were pregnant with Zoey. It was an extremely rough pregnancy, with constant ‘morning sickness.’ I never thought I would be happy to be sick 24/7, but in my mind I knew it meant she was healthy and growing, and I cherished the pregnancy symptoms that most women complain about. When you’ve experienced infertility and pregnancy loss, you don’t take growing a healthy baby for granted. On April 10, 2012, Zoey was born!
For the next year we settled into life as the parents to two beautiful children. In the spring of 2013, our Case Worker came for our annual inspection to re-certify our home. On a whim she asked, ‘Any chance you’d be interested in adding another redhead to the family?’ They had a 6-year-old boy on their case load who needed an adoptive family. So on April 26, 2013, James moved in. What a surprise it was to suddenly find ourselves the parents to three children! The transition from 2 to 3 children was, by far, our hardest shift. You’re suddenly outnumbered! But we didn’t have too long to dwell on that fact, because 2 weeks later we found out we were pregnant with Dash. On October 4, 2013 we finalized the adoption of James, and on January 11. 2014, we gave birth to Dash.
Four. We were the parents to FOUR children in 4 years.
In August 2015, we had our home on ‘hold’ from accepting any new placements, as we were still trying to figure out life with four children. A Case Worker called and asked me if there was any way we could take twin babies for 5 days. She knew we were on hold, but she had called every other home and no one was willing to take 2 babies with special needs. She really didn’t want to split up the twins between 2 foster homes. I said, ‘Sure! No problem! I can handle ANYTHING for 5 days!’ One of the twins, Jason, was in the hospital recovering from 2nd and 3rd degree burns, and the other twin, Jordan, was at an emergency foster home for the first night. I drove to pick up Jordan from the other foster home and as I turned onto her road God spoke to me, clear as day, and said, ‘You’re going to pick up your son.’ I had to pull over on the side of the road as panic took over. I thought, ‘No. That’s silly. The case worker said 5 days.’ I shook it off and continued driving to pick up Jordan.
The other foster mom handed me Jordan at the door and I wondered if I was going to be able to do this. He clearly had special needs, on top of being extremely malnourished. I buckled him into his carseat and drove home wide-eyed, hoping I made the right decision. While caring for Jordan and our other 4 children at home, I would go to the hospital for a while every day to love on Jason as he endured skin graft surgery over his largest burn.
Five days came and went. The cousin they were supposed to go live with didn’t end up being a safe resource. Other family members came around as possible homes for the twins to go to, but the courts didn’t feel that anyone could successfully and adequately meet the twins’ special needs. The twins stayed in our home as children in foster care, being loved and cared for as if they were already Dougherty’s.
During these 3 years we would end up giving birth two more times. Bodhi was born on October 4, 2016. Harlee was born on August 7, 2018. Pregnancy was increasingly hard on my body. My anemia got progressively worse with each baby. We made the decision to have my tubes removed during my C Section with Harlee. It was no longer healthy for me to carry pregnancies.
After a long battle in foster care, we were blessed to adopt our twins on National Adoption Day, November 16, 2018. The feeling of relief was immense. These babies could finally move forward with their lives knowing that they had permanency and stability. We could all move on knowing that our twins were here to stay. While we would have supported reunification, if it had been safe and plausible, we knew firsthand what raising these boys entailed, and their needs are extensive. It is not a task the average person can handle. By this point we realized we were far from average. Our years of longing for children had built up the strongest, and most stubborn, level of parenting possible. While there would be moments we felt weak, and wanted to give up, we held strong to our faith. God had these children planned for us. Had we not endured so many years of anguish trying to become parents, we would not have held to our strong conviction that the children brought into our lives were meant to be here.
We were happily enjoying our newfound family with 8 official Dougherty children. By this point we had transferred our license to the agency Children Awaiting Parents. By county standards our home was ‘full’ and could not take in any more children. Josh and I felt like our journey wasn’t complete. There were still so many children out there needing an adoptive family, and we had just been fortunate enough to move into a larger home, which meant we had more room for more kids! The agency we hold our license with now does not have the same number criteria as the county. We have worked closely with this agency in advocacy work for years. I even started a support group, and a Community Closet, through them.
One day I was at the agency office having a meeting about our support group when their Wendy’s Wonderful Kids worker, Toni, came in the room with paperwork on a sibling group of 3 she had on her case load. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids workers are advocates for finding homes for the hardest-to-place children in foster care. She was telling us that they were going to have to split up the 3 siblings because no home was able to handle their behaviors. They had repeated failed adoptive placements, both together and separate. Two of them were living in a Residential Treatment Facility because no home could manage their explosive tantrums. I took one look at those kids and I said ‘No no no. Do NOT split them up. We will take them all.’ These kids had already lost so much of their childhood, I did not want them to lose each other on top of it all.
Toni inquired with their case worker if my proposition would be allowed. At this point the foster home decided to adopt the middle sister, leaving the other 2 still needing a family. On March 26, 2019, we started to transition Bree and Patrick into our home. We would drive over an hour away to pick them up and drop them off for day visit. By late spring they were allowed to stay for the weekends. And on July 12, 2019, they moved in. Being a large family made transitioning children from a Residential Treatment Facility easier. Bree and Patrick were used to having a lot of kids around. And all of their new siblings in our home meant they always had someone to play with, or something to do. When every other family had given up on these two, they were now thriving in our home. On November 27, 2019 their adoption was finalized. And in that moment we became The Dougherty Dozen.
We went from 0 to 10 kids in nine years. I can equate our parenting journey to riding on a rollercoaster. Every time we think we have life all figured out, there’s suddenly a drop or a turn. Each child brings their own set of challenges, but they also bring their own enthusiasm and love for life. The combination of these 10 children is the quirkiest, yet most beautiful entourage there ever was. They have settled into this Motley Crew with a fierce love and loyalty for each other. Even though they don’t look alike, and they don’t all share the same blood, they are all Dougherty’s, and they carry this name with pride.
As for Josh and I, this whirlwind path to parenting 10 children has been nothing short of amazing. Yes, some days are exhausting, and we feel in over our heads. In those moments we raise the red flag and seek out our support system. For the most part our sense of humor has gotten us through a lot. If we didn’t laugh we’d cry. So instead of drowning in the chaos of parenting a large family, we find the hilarity in the unplanned moments.
God certainly has a sense of humor, that’s for sure. He knew we’d be a family of 12, but He also knew we needed to endure repeated loss and longing so that we had the willpower to endure parenting such a diverse, and eclectic tribe. The privilege of parenting is not lost on us.”
Read part one of Alicia’s incredible story.