In 2010, Tyler Palmer signed up with the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. He didn’t have much time to adjust to his new life after enlisting because just 20 days after finishing basic training, he was sent on his first tour to Afghanistan. Though he was lucky to come home safe and sound, the stress of war had taken a toll on his emotional and mental well-being.
Fortunately for him, love was about to knock on his door. Tyler met Mandy in 2013, right before he was sent on his second deployment to the Middle East. Mandy had health issues of her own, making them kindred souls.
Yet they didn’t let that get in the way of their search for happiness. He was deployed for nine months, and one month after he got home, he proposed, and they got married a few weeks later. Mandy said it was then that Tyler decided to quit the Army and begin a new life with his wife, one that they both agreed would include starting a family of their own.
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“We both knew we wanted our own family so greatly but didn’t know what God had planned for us,” Mandy said, but given her health issues, trying to conceive became an exercise in frustration and disappointment.
“We tried for years to get pregnant but soon came to realize that it wasn’t going to happen nor would it be safe for my body to sustain the miracle of pregnancy due to my illness,” Mandy said. They were heartbroken but didn’t intend to give up. The couple started looking at their options and concluded adoption was the way to go, but first, they had to prove they could take care of a child for the long term, given their health battles. This would not be easy.
It was right about that time Mandy and Tyler noticed that their local authority was calling out for foster parents. Day after day, they kept hearing the commercials asking for people to take the training and become licensed foster parents. Given the great need they always have for qualified families, the young couple took it as a sign of God’s plan. They signed up for the program right away, not knowing how hard it would be to get approved as suitable parents.
It took months of rigorous training and paperwork to become licensed as foster-to-adopt parents. “The same week that we were licensed, we also received our first phone call to pick up our baby boy, Hunter,” Mandy said. At the time, Hunter was a little over a week old and in need of a loving home. Of course, Mandy and Tyler were overjoyed to take the infant in, but it remained to be seen if they’d be able to keep him for good. Talk about a whirlwind of emotions!
“We quickly ran to Target and purchased the necessities – car seat, clothes, baby blankets, diapers, food, etc. – we needed to bring our baby home. We arrived at Children’s Services, and there was Hunter, all bundled up in a receiving blanket, and he was being held by our caseworker. He was eight days old and absolutely perfect. We fell in love with him instantly.”
But the system wasn’t going to make it easy for them. There is a certain amount of risk involved in fostering, in that the child could eventually go to another family, which would be devastating for everyone involved. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened a few months down the line. They faced the prospect of losing Hunter to another adoptive family. But as we know, Mandy and Tyler are willing to fight for what they love, and this situation was no exception.
They embarked on a lengthy battle to officially adopt Hunter. “Over the next 16 months, we went through the crazy roller coaster ride of fostering,” Mandy said. “Our prayers were finally being answered. Our adoption worker worked so hard to get paperwork finalized so that Christmas of 2017 would be our best yet.”
Their court date was set for December 18, 2017, the day they’d get to finalize Hunter’s adoption. They were bursting with anticipation. For both Mandy and Tyler, this was more than just becoming parents in the traditional sense.
This little boy, although only 17 months old at the time, had given them even more reason to continue to fight the good fight. So you can only imagine how emotional it was that day in court. The family put on their best clothes and headed to the courthouse to make it official. Even though they already felt like a family, having the paperwork and legal grounds to stand on was what they had all been waiting for.
“It was very emotional, in a good way. We had all of our family and friends there,” Mandy said. “At the end of the court process, the judge announced Hunter’s new legal name, and that’s when Hunter himself chimed in. And they read the adoption decree, and that’s when Hunter looked at my husband and he said, ‘Dad,’ and clapped,” Mandy said. “He just started clapping, and everybody just started crying. It was so emotional. It’s definitely rewarding. It’s nice to look in his eyes now and not have to worry that he’s ever going to have to leave us again.”
If that judge ever had any doubt as to whether or not this was a family fit to take that little boy home, I think that answered all of his questions. Hunter is more than just a little boy to them; he is a miracle in so many ways. “We’ve learned that there’s a rainbow at the end of every storm, and we’re so thankful we kept the fight,” Mandy said. “He is our world and our reason to keep fighting these battles. My husband said that there is no medication to help his PTSD quite like having his son take our last name,” she added.
That on adoption day, it was almost like a ton of bricks just came off their chest, knowing that he’s never leaving them. He’ll always be safe and loved with us. So that, in itself, is rewarding,” she said. “Our hearts are forever changed because we now know a true and genuine love. We know that he will forever be safe with us and, most importantly, will always know what love is. We have learned that family isn’t about DNA; it’s about love.”
And they have shared their story in order to shed a light on other children in need of a family. Mandy and Tyler have become fierce advocates of adoption and fostering. “Being a foster parent isn’t easy by any means, but it’s so worth it when you see the joy in the children’s eyes when they actually feel safety, validation, comfort, and love,” Mandy wrote on Facebook in commemoration of Foster Care Awareness Month. “These children are worth not giving up on; they are innocent and deserve all of us to help put their broken pieces back together.”