An interview with Ann Shepardson by Jill Pearson
I recently invited Ann Shepardson over for some soup and conversation on my screened porch on a lovely October day. Ann arrived fresh from volunteering with miniature therapy horses, and I soon found that she is a huge animal lover and enthusiastic cat and dog mom, along with being a private music instructor of flute, piano, and other instruments.
Ann and her husband of 26 years, Brent, are newish to Calvary, having moved here from Arizona last March. They met in college in Sheboygan and lived in Wisconsin for many years before deciding to move to Phoenix to escape the cold weather and get a fresh start. They moved to Rochester when Brent was hired as a pediatric nurse manager at Mayo.
I had visited with Ann a few times and became intrigued by a story she shared about a difficult fostering situation and a longed-for adoption that fell through. Ann graciously agreed to be interviewed about the experience.
God sometimes calls us to do radical things that upend our lives with no promises of happy endings. Ann and Brent had tried to conceive a baby for many years but had unexplained infertility. By their mid-forties, they began to consider adopting older children, possibly siblings. They were living in Phoenix where domestic adoptions of older children begin with fostering. They attended foster parenting classes and took some time to consider the commitment.
“One day we both decided YES,” Ann shared, noting that their church had several families who were also fostering. Shortly thereafter, two Hispanic sisters, ages 10 and 6, moved in with them. The next 15 months would be the most challenging of their lives.
The girls’ mother was an abusive and abused addict, who had 6 children with 4 different men. The girls had immense trauma along with learning and behavioral challenges. Ann said one of the hardest things she had to do was read their “Red File,” full of every record of abuse the children had endured. The 10-year-old was used to functioning as the mother to her younger siblings and was skilled at manipulation, a survival skill learned from her mother. The 6-year-old functioned emotionally at a toddler level and was extremely disruptive at school, even getting suspended for threatening other children two weeks into the school year. Neither could be left unsupervised at home.
When COVID hit and the girls had to transition to online school, the pressure mounted. Ann was with them 24/7. “We knew it would be hard, but we were not prepared for the amount of baggage they brought with them. We thought we were ready, but you’re never ready.”
The Shepardsons thought that the mother had legally relinquished her rights, but instead she hired a lawyer who found grounds for appeal. “One piece of paper with a missing signature caused the adoption not to happen,” Ann explained.
Once the appeal was approved, the girls began having regular contact with their mother, which caused their behaviors to worsen and impeded any chance of bonding with Ann and Brent. Ann had to transition from parent to mentor, preparing the girls for living in a tiny apartment with their mom and 4 siblings. In September of 2020, the girls returned permanently to their mother. Listening to Ann, I could tell that this outcome was both a relief and a heartbreak.
As Ann finished her story, I asked two questions…
What helped you survive this experience? Ann immediately said, “Therapy! Girls’ therapy. Couple’s therapy. Family therapy. Therapy four nights a week.” Therapy helped her and Brent improve their communication skills and helped Ann understand some of her own childhood trauma. She also mentioned that they had a “Wrap Team” of people who “wrapped around” foster families with care and support.
How do you feel about this experience in hindsight? Ann’s matter-of-fact response: “We did what we were supposed to do.” It was difficult for Ann and Brent to see other foster families have successful adoptions and pregnancies, but this devoted couple is trying to live with gratitude and a healthy perspective as they make a fresh start back in the Midwest. Please take the opportunity to meet and welcome them to Calvary!