On our fourth wedding anniversary, Justin and I decided to take the leap.
We set up a kid’s bedroom and playroom, and we were thrilled to pass the gruelling checks.
When a child needed fostering, social workers would ring potential carers.
Given a brief description, the carers had to quickly decide if the placement was right.
The first couple of times I got the call, my gut told me that, as first-time parents, we weren’t a good fit.
But then, in May 2016, I got a life-changing call.
‘There’s a three-and-a-half year old girl, and an 11-month-old boy,’ the social worker said. ‘They’ve been neglected and the girl has speech issues.’
In that moment, I just knew we were meant to look after them.
With a day to prepare, we rushed around buying clothes and a cot for the baby.
Now, waiting at the window, we couldn’t wait to meet them but worries crept in.
Would they like us? Would they feel safe with us?
When the car pulled up, we raced outside.
‘You can take them out if you like,’ the social worker said.
I held the dark-haired little girl, Noelle, and Justin took baby Tyler.
‘Hi!’ I beamed.
What shocked me was how dainty and underweight they were.
We’d bought clothes based on their age, but they’d be swamped in them.
When they came inside, Noelle walked around, a huge smile on her face.
Then the social worker brought us up to speed.
Theirs was one of the worst neglect cases authorities could remember.
As more information tumbled out, I caught a word I didn’t fully understand - ‘feral’.
‘Oh and it’s Tyler’s birthday in three days,’ the social worker added.
‘We’ll need to arrange a party,’ I said.
Then, it was just me, Justin, and the children. A brand new family.
Taking them to the playroom, Noelle was thrilled.
But she didn’t seem to know how to play with the toys.
As Justin sat down on the floor though, she ran over and sat straight in his lap.
Despite her tough start to life, Noelle was very loving and tender.
Later that day, I typed ‘feral’ into Google.
Resembling a wild animal, especially after escape from captivity, I read, shocked.
My heart went out to these tiny kids.
The truth was, Noelle didn’t just have problems speaking. She couldn’t speak.
She couldn’t tell us what she needed, what her favourite colour was or sing nursery rhymes.
Sometimes, she managed ‘no’ but the rest was a high-pitched screeching.
And she’d shake her hands, trying to express herself before sobbing.
At the dinner table, she didn’t want to eat and she wasn’t used to sitting on chairs.
But the truth was, these children were capturing our hearts.
Organising a cake for Tyler, we celebrated his birthday together.
‘Can you imagine them leaving?’ Justin asked the next day.
‘It would be completely devastating,’ I admitted.
They weren’t biologically ours, but we already loved them so much.
And we were going to do everything we could for them.
We took them for the jabs they’d never had, and Noelle had lots of dental work.
It turned out her decayed teeth made eating painful, but soon she was tucking into her food.
‘She’ll never catch up with kids her age,’ specialists warned us.
‘She’s bright,’ I insisted, seeing how curious she was about her new world.
Noelle was full of magic, it was just that no-one had taught her how to sparkle.
On top of regular speech therapy, I devoted myself to teaching Noelle.
Holding flash cards, I repeated words over and over again.
Playing with games and puzzles constantly, I sang songs and helped her paint.
It was utterly exhausting but more than worth it as our determined girl learnt new words.
‘Tyler, let’s go play!’ she called one day, after months of work.
Her first sentence, I realised, over the moon.
And she just kept improving.
In May last year - two years after they’d come to live with us - we adopted Noelle and Tyler.
We’ve also adopted a gorgeous baby girl, Everly.
Noelle, now six, and Tyler, four, are thick as thieves.
And Noelle loves to paint and read, and has lots of friends.
Dropping her off at school, I started to cry when a teacher told me Noelle would be taking classes with the year above.
‘She needs to be challenged,’ she said.
‘I guess I just finished everything I needed to do,’ Noelle smiled, taking the news in her stride.
Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone ever calling our loving girl feral.
Our children don’t just sparkle, they shine!