The Sher household is always buzzing with activity. And it’s not just because of the Shers’ own biological and adopted children (ranging in age from 4 to 32) and the two grandchildren for whom Linda Sher helps care. It’s also, in large part, due to the 59 children she has fostered in the past 18 years as a volunteer through Lutheran Family and Children’s Services.
“It’s always crazy here,” Sher says. “I had five kids here on our last snow day, and one of them had a friend over. All I do is hope my husband doesn’t come home until somebody’s left!” When Sher began fostering infants, her husband, Tom, thought it would be a passing whim, she recalls. “About two years into this, it was a beautiful sunny day in summer when my husband said to me, This isn’t a whim, is it? In the first years, I had babies back-to-back—one would leave in the morning and I got another one in the afternoon. That’s how many children there were.”
What keeps Sher coming back for more is her absolute love of newborns. “I love, love, love babies. It’s unconditional,” she says. “They don’t talk back, they don’t argue with you. They’re so innocent and sweet that you can’t help but fall in love with them.” Her favorite part is simply holding them, she adds. “I could just sit there all day and hold them—I can’t, but I could.”
An avid picture-taker, Sher takes at least one or two photos each day of the infants in her care. The photos make their way into photo albums—one for the adoptive parents, one for the birth mother if she wants it, and one for herself. For each child, Sher chooses her favorite photo, which makes its way to one of the frames adorning the nursery wall, each of which contains 16 pictures.
Sher also has kept in touch with many of the children she fostered and their families. For some, it’s just a holiday card every year, but others, she sees almost daily. And she has many memories built up through the years. For example, she’d had her first foster child for about seven weeks when he was cleared to go home with his adoptive family. “The family had been waiting a really long time; and back then, we could not tell the adopted families they had been picked until the child was legally free, so they didn’t know about him. They left on vacation the day before they were supposed to get him, and I ended up having him an extra week,” she says. “I cried when my first baby left and when the 59th baby left. It’s as if you’re giving up your own child, because they’re with you 24 hours a day, through the good and bad. It’s sad when they leave; you mourn them.”
Sher recalls the particularly difficult parting with one child she fostered several years ago, whom they called Jazzy. “She had this personality that to this day we can’t describe. People were drawn to her, literally. She was adorable and there was just something about her. She’s got to be 15 to 16 years old now, and people still ask me about her. She did my oldest daughter in; she became so attached to her, and when Jazzy left, she said, I could never let myself get attached like that again—at least not until she had her own children.”
But the parting is somewhat of a sweet sorrow, because the babies who leave are going on to live the rest of their lives, either with an adopted family or to a member of their birth family, Sher says. When the birth family decides to take the baby back themselves, she notes, Lutheran Family and Children’s Services provides them with all the support they need—from baby supplies to help finding housing or getting a job. “They don’t just say goodbye. They’re really great.”
Sher has taken in fewer infants since adopting 4-year-old Desi, whom she had fostered since birth. “It’s about every five or six months that I take a baby now,” she says. “It just gets to be too much, and I don’t have that much room in my car! But I don’t know if I see stopping entirely. I enjoy it so much and I just love doing it.”