STRATFORD - "I love you, Mama," four-year-old Dezzaray said to her mother, ignoring the fact that Mom is in the middle of a conversation. With a hug and smile, her mom assures her she loves her back.
It's not an unusual scene for families, perhaps, but this might be just a littler sweeter than most when you consider that the adoption of Dezzaray, 4, and her sister Yasmine, almost 6, was just finalized. On April 15, the chatty, smiley sisters officially became the Bergman girls whose new mom and dad are Shawn and Catherine Bergman of rural Stratford.
It's been a long journey to this happy destination. The girls first came to the Bergmans as foster children when they were just nine months and two-years-old. They stayed four months in that placement, then were returned to their birth family for a year before being placed in foster care with the Stratford couple again. And now, finally, Dezzaray and Yasmine won't be leaving again.
Dezzeray and Yasmine are all smiles with their new mom, Catherine Bergman. Bergman and her husband, Shawn, recently finalized the the adoption of the two girls.
It's been five years since the Bergmans lost their only child, son Brennan, then 13, in a pick-up accident. Even before that tragedy, though, the couple had discussed becoming foster parents. "Losing him jolted us into it," Catherine Bergman says now. "After that first year when we were in a fog, we looked around and decided foster care was something we wanted to do. We're not replacing Brennan, but we felt like we had more love to give."
After training and classes through the Department of Human Services, the couple became foster parents, licensed for children up to age 10. "Boys or girls, we don't care, we've had both," she said of the five placements of nine children total they have cared for. At one time it was three children under the age of two.
Yes, it can be rather daunting at times to care for young children when you're middle-aged, both Shawn, 46, and Catherine, 43, admit. Brennan would be graduated from high school by now. Both Stratford natives, the Bergmans were married in 1991.
But having a house with activity again is a more-than-fair tradeoff to a little weariness. "There was so much quiet in the house then," she saids of the time after Brennan died. Shawn Bergman, who works for Petersen Construction of Webster City, nods in agreement.
"And now we have lots of drama. I call them my drama queens," he said, smiling about his new daughters. For him, the adjustment to parenting little girls has been "not having enough time for myself." For Catherine Bergman, director of Hamilton County SEED, a challenge has been figuring out skin and hair care for the girls. And it's a change just parenting little girls, she admits, but clearly one she embraces.
"Having been a parent sure helps," she said of having this new family. "But a kid is a kid. We've taken classes and done some reading to know what to expect. And we know there will be some down time."
The girls attend school in Stratford, where Yasmine is in kindergarten while Dezzaray spends her days at the Early Learning Center. Yasmine likes riding the bus. They both like pink and purple, books, and living in the country. With both sets of grandparents in Stratford, plus aunts, uncles, and cousins, the girls get plenty of time with their extended family.
Now that they have been fostering children for several years, both Bergmans have a heart for children who need a home.
"There are 6,000 children in the foster care system in Iowa," Shawn Bergman said.
"We're foster parents because we love kids and want to do what's right for them. We want to give them a better future," said Catherine Bergman. "There's a huge need right now. We get at least one call a week. It just breaks your heart when you find out these children have no troubles but you still have to say no."
It's no surprise, then, when she admits that the couple is "not ruling out more children."
For now, though, they're just working on loving these girls.
"We have no high expectations; we just want to give them a normal life," is how she sees it.
Although Dezzaray and Yasmine have been in her life for several years already, Mother's Day will look a little different for Catherine Bergman this year now that their adoption is official.
"You go in thinking how much you can help these needy children," she said of past four years journey. "But some days I think we are the ones who have been helped. They've brought laughter back to the house."
Having someone to love is family. Having somewhere to go is home. Having both is a blessing.