Editor's Note: This is part of a special series, For the Love of Family, which focuses on how as addiction to opioids and other drugs separates parents from children, foster families with unique qualifications (including a military family and empty nesters) have made room in their homes — and hearts.
You could say that Shelly and Tami Sepulveda have been blessed with big hearts and able hands. Over the course of their 10-year marriage, the couple, both RNs, have fostered more than a dozen children, almost always the sickest ones and kids from families ravaged by drug addiction.
Tami, 51, is something of a baby whisperer, adept at magically soothing a newborn screaming through the aftereffects of his mother's cocaine addiction. Shelly, 42, has handled so many babies with feeding tubes that she has no problem keeping the area around a tube infection-free.
For the Sepulvedas, fostering feels like a calling, an extension of what drew them to nursing in the first place. "I love taking the babies everyone says have no hope and showing everyone these children's potential," says Tami.
By 2013, the couple had adopted three of the children they had fostered: Shaelin, 9, who'd been born exposed to opioids; Abby, 9, drug-exposed and diagnosed with an autoimmune disease; and Tyler, 8. They also have a biological son, Samuel, 12.
As they filled their children's lives with cello lessons and chapter books, ballet classes and Xbox tournaments, and watched happily as signs of their kids' rocky starts faded, their family felt complete.
Then, in March 2014, they heard about Noah. At her job in the neonatal intensive care unit at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Shelly got an email that a drug- exposed 4-month-old boy, born 14 weeks premature, was waiting for a foster care placement.
"He was ready to go home, but he had no home to go to," Shelly says. The Sepulvedas had thought they were done with fostering, but how could they say no? One week later, in moved Noah, a six-pound baby with big eyes and a mess of dark curls. "We literally brought our work home with us," Shelly laughs.
Tami and Shelly make a point of staying in touch with as many members of the kids' biological families as possible. They have with Noah's mother, Tyler's father, and Abby's siblings.
While Tami and Shelly run to a lot of medical appointments and therapists troop through every day to work with Noah, now 4, they don't consider their children harder to raise than anyone else's. "We feel lucky to have these great kids," says Tami.
The fine-tuned daily routine at the Sepulveda home begins with a serve-yourself breakfast bar in the morning and ends with homework each night. Since Tami and Shelly bought a 2,500-square-foot house in suburban Massachusetts, there have usually been several kids bouncing on the trampoline while others pump little legs on the swing set.
Last year the family organized a vacation to Florida; this summer will bring camping and fishing. With their minivan officially full, they focus on creating great childhoods for their kids. Says Tami, "This is what we were put on Earth to do."
To find a foster care agency near you, go to childwelfare.gov.
This story originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Landcruisers.