Daniel and Amber Tucker fell in love after high school. She is from Yadkinville. He is from Stokes County. They both were embarking on medical career paths — he as a medic and she in nursing school at Winston-Salem State University.
They came from similar backgrounds and similar towns, where everyone knows everyone and seemingly everything about each other.
So when they met through Amber’s college friend who is Daniel’s distant cousin, the familiarity of the backgrounds was comforting while the mystery of meeting someone from another town was exciting.
He moved to Yadkinville to be closer to her, they got married and committed themselves to their careers and their relationship.
Early in their marriage, they didn’t even know if starting a family was something they wanted.
“We literally had those conversations, saying ‘I don’t know if I want to have kids,” Amber recalled. “We were young. We were in jobs we loved. Who doesn’t like working three 12-hour shifts a week and having 4 days off. If we worked it right, you could get like a week’s vacation.”
“At the time, our jobs were what we thought were demanding,” said Daniel, who is still a member of the Yadkinville Volunteer Fire Department and spent nearly two decades working a 24-hours-on then 48-hours-off shift. He just recently accepted a promotion to serve as the Yadkin County emergency services operations manager, which is an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday job.
The Tuckers had seen family members and friends begin to have children, and they were close with relatives who went through the adoption process. Those adopted children developed a “niece-and-nephew” relationship with the Tuckers, coming over for babysitting or to spend an entire weekend.
That experience made them realize their desire to start a family. Eventually, fertility considerations became part of the process for them.
“It got to the point, I felt like a human pin cushion,” Amber said. “It was like ‘take this, do this.’ You lose the human aspect. I just remember sitting in there one day and they said, ‘OK, we think in vitro is the only thing left.’ To me, that was playing God in a petri dish.”
So they enrolled in the 30-hour required training for prospective foster parents called Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting, or MAPP. Required by the state, the course takes place in the evenings and includes speakers such as custody judges and attorneys and current foster and adoptive parents.
According to the county’s Department of Social Services website, “the curriculum is designed to help you decide if fostering or adopting a child is a good choice for your family. The classes are taught by social workers … and they are typically offered in the spring and fall of each year. All classes are free of charge but you must register in advance.”
The programs prompts prospective foster parents to examine their own childhood and parenting experiences. For the Tuckers, they said it brought them together even more as a couple.
“It’s a lot of time and you really get to know each other again,” he said. “Basically, you also figure out things that you need to work on that every couple needs to talk about.”
Amber agreed that the process was transformative and really equipped them to make the life-changing decision whether to become foster parents and whether to seek adoption through that process, as the court and legal aspects can be stressful.
“When you finished, you knew for sure yes or no this is what you want to do,” she said.
Amber said the couple was particularly prepared for some of the realities the process would involve, such as the reasons a child may enter the foster system, from her time working in the pediatric emergency department at the hospital in Winston-Salem.
“Seeing the abuse cases and seeing those kids come in, you know what’s got to be done” in terms of a report being sent to social services,” she said. “We had kids that would be physically burned or injured by a parent, and for those we had abuse protocols.”
Four children in seven years
It was spring of 2011, and the Tuckers were nearing completion of the MAPP program and preparing to apply to receive their license to be foster parents — they also have to pass background checks and a home safety inspection, among other criteria — when DSS called. A three-year-old girl needed a foster placement and would very likely be a candidate for adoption. They went to meet her.
Foster parents can take some time to consider whether a child is a match for them, but for the Tuckers, that just isn’t in their nature.
“Now you’ve seen a face, seen a name, and I was like what am I supposed to say now? Say no?” Amber said.
“We would go by and visit with her at her child care,” Daniel recalled of the meet-and-greet time period. “We would take her to the park a little bit, talk to her and stuff.”
They hadn’t fostered the little girl long and the adoption process moved along quickly, as their soon-to-be adopted daughter had grandparents who were working to help facilitate the adoption after the child’s mother had gone to jail.
By the fall of that same year, DSS called Amber while she was at work.
“They had a group of children they had been trying to place,” she recalled. “The youngest sibling was three-and-a-half-months old, and the only record they had for him was he was delivered at a hospital.”
The child had had no medical care in the more than three months since he was born.
It was heading into Thanksgiving weekend. Amber’s mom came over and gave the baby boy a bath. Daniel’s mom started to bring over baby stuff. The Tuckers had never had an infant, so they did not have a crib or any of the myriad items that land on baby registries.
They headed to Walmart.
“Everybody else is getting turkeys and we were cleaning out the baby section,” Amber recalled with a smile. “Because Walmart’s going to be closed on Thursday.”
While their first daughter’s adoption was smooth and quick, their son’s adoption was not complete for two and a half years, as his mother often sought to regain custody by making the changes that DSS required. The system is designed to help biological parents have every opportunity to reunite with their child.
For the Tuckers, they experienced all of their foster son’s “firsts” — first steps, first words. And while their training prepared them for the potential that adoption may not be the end result, grappling with that reality was intense.
“That is one thing as a foster parent, it’s always in your mind,” Daniel said. “Being a foster parent, it is a roller coaster. It’s up and down and circles and circles and you know what the child needs, and sometimes it’s hard because of some of the steps that DSS has to take or with the court system.”
Their training program — and the ongoing support from DSS — also helped them talk to their children about things like what foster parents and adoption are.
But in the end, it was their first adopted daughter who was the greatest support to her eventually three siblings in explaining those things.
The Tuckers maintained their foster license in case children with medical conditions needed temporary placement, since the Tuckers have the medical background to care for them. They didn’t plan to adopt any more children.
Amber got a call at work that a child needed just that — a temporary placement.
“I was like, ‘Sure, send her on.’ I was thinking a weekend,” she said. “Monday comes, the phone doesn’t ring. Tuesday, the phone doesn’t ring.”
Daniel jokes that a lot can change in a day.
“I leave the house, and I have two,” he said. “When I came home, I have three.”
Later that day, DSS let them know that the grandparents had decided they wouldn’t take custody of the child as had been expected. The child’s mother was very young. Shortly after, “DSS said the parents want to talk to you, so we went to the courthouse. The parents were sitting there and they said, ‘Will you just adopt our kid, and … we’re going to sign our rights over today.’”
In all of the Tuckers’ experiences adopting their foster children, they said that the child’s parents expressed that they were trying to do what was right for their children.
“I truly feel like they put their kids before themselves,” Amber said.
‘Would you do it again?’
The years moved along, and the Tuckers continued to keep their license active to assist in temporary emergencies.
In 2018, DSS called again. They had another infant, this time born to a mother with a drug addiction who left the hospital hours after giving birth, leaving the infant behind. There was one more detail about the infant: It was their first adopted child’s brother.
“I was like, ‘How am I going to explain that to (our daughter) in 15 years?’” Amber said. “I did call Daniel that time.”
The baby boy was in the NICU for two weeks. He wasn’t allowed to go home until he was weaned off the medication he had been on since birth due to his mother’s drug usage.
The transition off of the medicine involved what the Tuckers called “blood curdling screams.”
“I walked the halls for 24 hours with a screaming young’un,” Daniel said. “At 24 hours, he finally stopped, and he started resting.”
Families with biologically born babies have months to plan maternity leave, the Tuckers noted. In this instance, they had a matter of weeks, all while caring for three other children and working full-time jobs. Their employers were always supportive.
The Tuckers’ youngest is now three years old, and their oldest is —as they say with a smile — 13 going on 30.
They have attended countless MAPP trainings as guest speakers, and field many questions about foster care and adoption. For those who express a desire to make a difference in child welfare but who are intimidated by the commitment of foster care, they have a message.
“You’re not going to save them all, but if you don’t do something, then you’re not doing anything at all,” said Amber, who listed volunteering as a Guardian ad Litem child advocate as a low time commitment with a big impact.
Of course, most of the time, no one knows whether the Tuckers’ children are adopted or not.
“My favorite is when we’re out in public and people say your kids look like their dad,” Amber said.
And her favorite question she gets about their foster and adoption decisions is, “Would you do it again?”
“There’s never been a time when I’m like, ‘Why did I do this?’ I feel like we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.”
Lisa Michals may be reached at 336-452-1414 or follow her on Twitter @lisamichals3.