I’m Nichole, and my husband Zach and I have been on quite the journey to grow our family. Early in our marriage, we decided to start trying for a baby. This was earlier than we had originally planned, but we felt inspired by the Lord to start our family, and obediently we tried. After almost a year, we sought medical assistance to help us obtain a pregnancy. We completed four rounds of artificial insemination (IUI) and one round of in-vitro (IVF). None of our attempts were successful, and we were
labeled with “unexplained infertility”, This was devastating. We always knew we wanted to adopt, even before getting engaged we talked about expanding our families by helping those who need a family.

After the failed IVF, we started our adoption journey with a profile on adoption.com. We had so many scammers, reluctant mothers, and more scammers. Its beyond believable the amount of people who pray on those vulnerably trying to expand their families. We matched with a mom names Destiny from Maryland. We are in the Atlanta, Georgia area and flew out to see the mom and an ultrasound appointment for our baby Gabby.
We worked with birth mom to name the baby together and all agreed upon Gabriella Marie. Only days before Gabby was due, her father backed out and wouldn’t agree to the adoption. He was reluctant to having a black baby in a white family. Gabby entered the foster care system and we do not know what has happened to her since.

Two days before we lost our Gabby, I found out I was pregnant. This helped to soften the blow, but doesn’t compensate for the sweet baby we feel we lost. Our hearts and home were fully prepared for her arrival. After three long years of trials trying to start our family, we had our first baby. Juliette was born in December of 2016, but we knew our journey was far from over.

We were so prepared to adopt and KNEW that we still needed to. As we prayerfully considered how to proceed, we decided that when the time was right we would seek to adopt a sibling set. We felt so strongly that this was our calling. We needed to keep siblings together and give them the opportunity in life that all children deserve. We set that idea aside until we felt prepared to proceed. We enjoyed a very short four months with our daughter, until I received a call from my cousin Zack. His three younger
siblings, Joseph, Sophia, and Grace, had been taken into DCFS custody. Was this it? Was this our time? This was family, shouldn’t we help?

My uncle passed away on October of 2016. He was involved in many things he shouldn’t have been, and the rage between his family and another in Nevada caught up with him. In an incident that escalated quickly at a gas station, my uncle was murdered in front of his two oldest sons. This was rough for all of our family. Not only did we mourn the loss of a great man that made poor choices, but we worried about the many children he left behind.

Zach and I turned to the Lord in earnest prayer and felt overwhelmed with the idea of going from one to four children. Very quickly, we felt at peace and knew without a doubt that this is what Heavenly Father had prepared us for. We found a home study advisor that lived close by and within ONE WEEK we finished the process to be ready to adopt our kids. This was in April of 2017. We even went and bought our van. As we reached
back out, fully prepared, my Aunt decided that she was not willing to part with her kids. She wanted to work with the system to get custody of her kids back.

This devastated us. We knew without a shadow of a doubt these kids were meant to come to our home. They were homeless last we got to speak to anyone, and we worked earnestly with a case worker in Nevada to find our children. Finally, I got a lead, made a call, and our kids were taken and finally in a safe place. They were placed together in a home in Yerington. I will call their foster mother “G”. Prior to being placed with G, the plan was adoption. She fought tooth and nail, coaching our kids against us and ensuring them that we were just trying to take them away from their mom. We had phone calls, if you can call them that. We would call and G would say “oh sorry honey, they’re outside playing” even when we had one scheduled call every two to four weeks.

We got assigned a new case worker, and everything took a large turn, and not for the better. She believed moms charismatic claims, sided with G on needing to keep the children in Nevada, and basically blocked us out. Mom was showing up to half of her visitations if even. She was pregnant, and our sweet Sophia did not understand why she got to keep that baby, but couldn’t keep them. We finally made some leeway and were granted visitation and went to see our babies in person. I cant even begin to explain the excitement we had to finally see their sweet faces in person.

We arrived April 26th, 2018. After a LONG morning flight across the country, we were in California, ready to drive and meet our babies! When we arrived to the office, we were notified that we needed certain documentation from the case worker (who hadn’t provided it). We prayed so hard in panic. Everything fell into place. Someone answered the phone two minutes before closing, someone else answered their phone during a meeting, and everything aligned so that we could be approved for our visit
prepared. We sat in a small playroom and waited until the case worker asked if we were ready to follow her to the childrens home. It was the longest three minute drive of my life.

Briefly, let me explain Yerington, NV. This is in the middle of nowhere about two hours from Reno. It’s dust, houses, no grass, and lower class living conditions. There was one main road that ran through the town and we were in absolute culture shock. We pulled up to a house that was actually a duplex, it was two bedrooms, very small, very dirty, and very crowded. As we arrived, we saw the cutest, saddest, dirtiest faces I have ever seen. My heart shattered. It grew with love I never knew I could offer. Immediately too, not even over the course of the visit. They were so small, scared, and
again dirty. I just wanted to take them home, wash them, and put shoes on their tiny dirty feet.

G was rough. She had a personality that was very hostile, timid, and edgy. She was older, well warn, and was not the caring person I was hoping after our crazy phone calls. The first night, Zach (my husband, not my cousin) took Joey to the park to play baseball while I warmed Sophia up to the idea of possibly trusting us and staying in her safe known area of G’s home. We painted nails, jumped on a trampoline, and rode her bike (that had no seat cover or brakes). Juliette was prepared for our visit and promptly was acclimated to three kids (when she’s usually always shy!) and playing with them. She was meant to be a little sister; I can’t explain it. When Zach and Joey got back, we headed to dinner at a local pizza place. Sophia had warmed up to us and wanted to come in our rental van.

At the pizza place, Sophia quickly (really quickly yall, like before the pizza even got to our table), started to complain about G and how she treated our kids at home. She talked about how G and her other “children” (she babysat a variety of kids) made fun of Sophia and how they ate all the food and Sophia wouldn’t get some sometimes. When G and the other children (whom she said weren’t in her home and they indeed are) showed up at the restraint, she even ran and hid under one of the arcade car driving machines. We talked her out, and ate together while G ate at another table with her people.

We had to return them home, but took a brief detour to the park to play. It was the windiest day I ever experienced. After no jackets, lots of attempts to play, we headed back to G’s home. They wanted us to stay and we hung out as they got their showers and prepared for bed. I’ll always vividly remember when Sophia took her shower. She came out, and G promptly asked her if she could smell her hair. Sophia walked over and G smelled it. “YOU STINK” she yelled. She sent Sophie over to the oldest girl still
at her home (apparently staying the night, which was the norm according to our kids). “A” said she stank too, and G sent her back to the bathroom. With the door closed, I heard “STOP PULLING MY HAIR YOU’RE HURTING ME!” with a returned “THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME” screamed in anger and some cries from Sophia. It took everything I had to sit and not storm into the bathroom. It didn’t faze anyone else there which was alarming to us.

After the hardest goodbyes, we headed to our hotel to try and sleep before we saw them the next day. The rest of our visit went roughly the same way. G was horribly mean. Sophia was “sick” every drive back to G. It was obvious anxiety as we went on many drives and adventures, but she was only sick upon returning to G each day. We hated it! We watched them grow so much in a few short days, and learned so much about them! They all have the cutest personalities and we clearly all bonded and it was
difficult to attempt to say goodbye. They had many questions about why we came to visit and why we loved them. We specifically were told we cannot let the kids know we are pursuing them and adoption. We simply let them know that they’re family and we don’t give up on family.

We printed pictures for each of them to have to keep from our visit prior to leaving. We reminded them that they can call us anytime! We got to tuck them in for the night right before leaving our last night there and Joey got very crazy. When I finally calmed him down he said “I have to be crazy because I don’t want to cry.” So we cried together and I calmly reminded him that we WILL be back, we WILL always be there, no matter what, and it is absolutely OKAY to cry. Sophie shut down on us, because that’s what she does, even now. Before we burst into complete tears or Juliette had any more of a meltdown leaving her newest family members, we escaped to our rental van. Zach kindly reminded me we had a long drive and I should go to the bathroom first, haha. I hurried back in only to find our kids ALREADY BEING YELLED AT! I could have lost it! She was so mad at them for enjoying their time and being upset that we were leaving.

Skipping all the travel drama, we eagerly awaited a call back from the kids. It didn’t come for quite a while. G argued that the kids didn’t enjoy their time with us, they acted out heavily, and that we weren’t the right fit and she wanted to keep them. She spoke like they were a possession. I was absolutely not giving up the fight. After lots of arguing for OUR kids and pushing for our family to stay with FAMILY, I was finally awarded a concurrent plan of adoption. That simply means that IF their mom doesn’t get reunification (to get her kids back), then we would be awarded adoption. Now G pulled all the strings. She claimed that the counselors advised the kids stay another SIX MONTHS. Six months for what? Delaying the inevitable for them coming to Georgia? I couldn’t understand. We argued more, we fought through all the ICPC legal red tape, we spoke with I don’t even know how many supervisors, we did anything and everything we could to speed this up. Meanwhile we watched precious time with our sweet family fly by.

In November 2018, just before Thanksgiving, We were invited to attend court during our second visit to Nevada. Folks, after much fighting, we were going to keep them for a week over Thanksgiving at a hotel in Carson City!! So our first day there, we scooted on to court and waited in the long wooden hallway while we waited for our names to be called. We were so nervous, and had no clue what to expect! The door opened and they asked for the Collins. We stood and proudly walked in with our one year old
daughter! We didn’t know anyone in Nevada that could watch her, so she came to court and we did the best we could! The case worker presented the facts, and supported adoption. The counselors advised a six month wait for placement. Their state appointed attorneys supported their counselors. I was overwhelmed, stood up and said “Your honor, with all due respect I disagree. No progress is being made with birth mom, she’s awaiting trial for three felonies, and if the children are placed with us, we are delaying their ability to thrive in counseling in Georgia and become a family.” He acknowledged with a nod, said nothing, the CASA worker stood and agreed with me using supporting facts from her current studies. We were sick to our stomachs. We KNEW the judge was not going to place the kids in our care.

He heard everyone else out, gathered everyone’s attention and then awarded adoption to the Collins family! Oh my goodness! We almost fell out of our chairs! THEN he said with placement in DECEMBER!! Y’all that was only a month away at the time!! We couldn’t contain our emotions. At that point, it was over. We all walked out, briefly met our newest case worker, and left to go get OUR KIDS!

I was told I couldn’t tell the kids we were adopting them, but after a lot of questions I texted our case worker and said I wouldn’t lie to the kids. She gave permission for us to tell them we would get to adopt them and that we would be taking them home soon.

We waited in a small DCFS office with a tiny playroom for the kids to arrive. It was advised that we didn’t pick the kids up from their home because if you didn’t catch on, G was not very happy with us taking away her paycheck. The kids were awkward, but warmed up so quickly. Juliette jumped right in and was SO excited to finally see them again. We loaded up the van and went to our hotel for the week.

We checked in our hotel and did so many fun things! We celebrated Zachs birthday, we told our kids that they would get to be our family forever and that we would be able to bring them home soon (which went over better than we every could have dreamed it would!), we swam at the indoor pool, we saw Santa Claus, we cooked Thanksgiving dinner, we went sightseeing, we took them shopping for new clothes, and we played, laughed, and bonded as a family of six.

We said our hardest goodbye. I had strength that I didn’t know possible at the time though. I could see the end. We would be back in three short weeks to get our babies. Not to mention we were going home to our brand new five bedroom home so that we had space for each of our babies. We needed to prepare and get everything ready for them!

The house got settled in, furniture delivered for their bedrooms, skype sessions to help pick out bedding, and all the details to make it perfect. We had our security system installed [flashback story – Joey FREAKS out that someone drunk will break into the home and hurt him or his family – this happened at both hotels and in restaurants and
stores] it was all set so that Joey would feel safe!

I left on December 17th, 2018 at 6:00am from the Atlanta airport. I had a connecting flight, and then landed in Reno to pick up our kids! Here, the kids were excited and in much better moods than I anticipated! We hugged, collected luggage, and headed on our way! Joey got sick multiple times on every single flight! It was a looooong journey home, but we made it with Dad, and little sister eagerly waiting for us! Everyone was excited! The kids were squealing like Christmas morning over the greenery in Georgia and were so excited to see their rooms. The babies held hands the whole way home. When we pulled up to the house, they jumped out and ran straight inside. I’ll always remember Sophia standing at the top of the stairs and screaming “I don’t even know where to go! I’m lost OUR house is so big!” Our house, not their house, but our house.

So lets fast forward.. We had so many behavioral issues, so many issues with red tape and the logistics or when we get to adopt our kids. We had tantrums, trauma, hitting, biting, picky eating, getting all shots (they never had shots before), catching up on nourishment and weight, trust issues, lies, and above all of those LOVE. We went through hell. We still are, but we are on the upswing. I love looking back at the tender mercies of God and showing us how much we all have grown in love.

Joey got evaluated pretty quickly for psychiatric assistance. This helped him pretty quickly. He has PTSD, ADHD, and anxiety. PTSD and ADHD together create a whirlwind of craziness for those of you who aren’t familiar with these behaviors. Sophia
did not receive psychiatric help for a long time. I finally pushed and pushed in July and received an evaluation, and then finally in OCTOBER of 2019, she finally started medication. We have already noticed the changes for her. She is doing very well. If I have learned anything from watching their psychiatric journey, it’s always changing. Always pay attention and include the small details to the therapists because you never know what’s relevant.

Let’s talk foster system now.

We are still waiting to adopt our precious kiddos. It has been one technicality after another. Their mom relinquished her rights in July 2019. We have had an assortment of case workers and visitation. Our Georgia case worker comes each month for visitation, and she is a saint! She ensures that our kids know that they are safe and that her job is not to remove them (the unspoken fear every single time she is here), but just to make sure they are well taken care of because some kids are not. Our case workers still in Nevada on the other hand.. we haven’t had much luck with.

I understand that parents need to be given adequate time to get their act together. Being with the birth parent when it’s the safe and best option is ideal. However, our kids came from being homeless. Their mom was pending trial for three felonies. She was facing a minimum of one year regardless of the jury decision. She was out on bail for over a year and wasn’t following her case plan. WHY WERE WE STILL WAITING ON HER? What more was there to prove? Then she got arrested on new charges after not showing up to court, and we still had to wait… This was difficult! At what point is the parents feelings/rights more important than the life/rights of the child? I struggled so badly with this. Our kids are still paying for the wait.

Most recently, we waited on a death certificate for two months that was never even requested from the vital records office. I spoke with vital records myself, and I was informed that there were no requests for my uncles death certificate since 2017 and they have a three to five day turn around. So, that was fun! I left a message for our case worker and our case manager and neither have returned it.

I tried to obtain a local lawyer to help with the slow process and red tape. They are family, they’ve been here almost a year, mom has relinquished her rights, mom supports us adoption the kids, what is the hold up!?! Well, since we are an ICPC case, I found out that I cannot obtain a Georgia lawyer. We would have to retain a lawyer from the state of Nevada. Now I research and start over again. I received a call the next day that after three months, we have finally been transferred to the “adoption” unit in DCFS instead of the “foster” unit.

I hate all of the technicalities! We are always waiting, documenting, waiting, requesting, and waiting more. I am so ready to love my kids the way a mother should without reporting medication taken each day, any changes made, finding the doctor that covers Medicare and waiting FOREVER to get my kids seen, not having case workers come and disturb a “normal” household, not having case workers come to school to see you without parents, and not having children ask our kids why! They so desperately want a “normal” life and I cannot wait until we get there. We are hoping the adoption can wrap up by the end of the year, but are fully prepared for 2020.

The bottom line is we love our family. No matter how difficult this journey is and no matter how unfair the path has been for our children, they’re here now. They are safe now. We get to love them now! We get reminded so often that these children are so blessed to have us, and I wish people understood just how lucky we are to have them in our lives. A child is the biggest blessing.