It was a bleak moment for Angela Bethea when she realized she couldn't have a child. But the child arrived nonetheless — born to a distant relative and left behind in the hospital.
"We opened the door of our hearts as God saw fit, and in came Brea," said Bethea, holding the 23-month-old girl in her lap, husband Jerome Bethea beside her. "She has been a tremendous blessing."
The city's Department of Social Services invited foster families such as the Betheas to a brunch Sunday, thanking them on Mother's Day for the care they give to city children birthed by others.
Many who arrived at the event have forged permanent ties. The Betheas hope to adopt Brea in time for her second birthday.
Statewide, parents adopted a record 770 children during the last fiscal year. Half were city kids. That's helped to reduce the number in foster care, a result that delights Molly McGrath, director of the social services agency.
"We think the best place for kids is in permanent families," she said.
Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who co-hosted the brunch at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel, told the parents Sunday that what they have done "is no small act."
"Nothing means more to a child than having a place to call home," she said.
Northwest Baltimore resident Gladys Fisher, 57, had five biological children of her own when she took in two siblings because their mother was living in a shelter. Then she fostered more kids. Many more. So many in the past 19 years that she's lost count.
She's adopted four — the oldest is 23 — and is in the process of adopting three more, ages 5, 7 and 8.
"They already know they're Fishers," her husband, Keith Fisher, said of the three boys.
Together, they filled a table Sunday. It's just what Gladys Fisher wanted — a big family.
"I've always loved kids," she said.
The feeling is mutual. Rasean, 8, looked at his foster parents — soon-to-be adoptive parents — across the table and confided quietly, "I love them so much."
Keith Fisher understands on a personal level the difference stability makes in a child's life. He didn't have it until he was 11, when his great-grandmother took him and his twin brother into her home. He said it gives him joy to do the same for other children.
Many of those who have lived with the Fishers eventually went back to their biological families, and the couple doesn't know what happened after that. The Fishers think about them often, these children who passed through their lives. They hope they helped.
"We tried," Keith Fisher said.
McGrath, the social services director, stopped by their table. "Are you all being extra good to your mom today?" she asked the kids.
"They're pretty good every day," said Gladys Fisher, smiling.
Like the Fishers, Crystal Floyd of Pasadena wanted a big family. Now she has it — eight kids ages 15 to 20. One she gave birth to; one is her foster child; two are in her legal guardianship; and four are either adopted or in the process of being adopted.
Michael, 16, her biological son, is happy with the arrangement: "You know that everybody got your back."
"It's a lot of people to have fun with," agreed Howard, also 16.
Just more than half the children in the city foster system are 13 and older. When Floyd got involved seven years ago, she said, she opened her home to older kids because she knew the help was needed.
The experience has broadened her sense of what being a mother is.
"You extend yourself," she said. "And it's a good thing."
At the Betheas' table, little Brea — resplendent in a flowery dress and ruffled socks — chattered, scribbled a drawing and sang "This Little Light of Mine" with the woman who has cared for her since she was 10 days old.
Angela Bethea was happiness personified.
"Now I can officially enjoy the wish, 'Happy Mother's Day,'" said the Woodlawn resident.