Amber Herring is a 27-year-old single mom of two girls—both adopted through the foster care system. She is also a new graduate, the proud holder of a Master of Social Work degree.
Herring has had an interesting journey, to say the least.
Growing up, she saw her grandparents serve as a foster parents (a 43-year commitment, caring for more than 310 children).
During her senior year of high school, Herring lost one of her classmates in a car accident, two months before graduation. It was a tragedy that affected her at the deepest level, and she was later diagnosed with depression. "I felt lost and as if nobody understood me," said Herring.
In college, Herring had the opportunity to try out different fields of study but, "It never felt right until I hit the social work field," she said.
Herring had always told herself that she would not be a social worker but, perhaps, the combination of her grandmother's vocation as a foster parent—and her own experience with loss and depression—fueled her own passion for caring for others.
While still in her undergraduate studies, Herring came in contact with a baby through her grandparent's foster home. Truth be told, Herring fell for this baby—hard. As she helped her grandparents care for little Jaylin, it became clear that Jaylin would never return to her biological mother and that it was time for the state to identify an adoptive parent. Never in her wildest imagination did Herring think it could be she.
But on Feb. 17, 2011, Herring and Jaylin became an official family with the State of Iowa's blessing.
Herring completed her bachelor of social work degree, Herring secured a job with the Clear Creek Amana School District in a special education classroom. It made sense to pursue her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, so she enrolled at St. Ambrose.
Licensed as a foster and adoptive home originally because of Jaylin, the Herring household eventually welcomed four-month-old baby Daylea into the family.
"I was called about a baby who had a liver disease, biliary atresia, and who was on several medications," said Herring. "They needed a home close to University of Iowa Hospital because she was pretty sick."
After agreeing to care for her, Herring had only a few hours to prepare before meeting social workers, nurses and doctors at the hospital. She would learn how to take over the medical care of the tiny infant.
The baby had a NG feeding tube that went through her nose to her stomach. She was jaundice. Her weight was low and she had a hard time gaining weight. Herring also learned that Daylea would need a liver transplant in order to survive and was not expected to make it to her first birthday, possibly even despite a transplant.
"I remember having the conversation with the Department of Human Services (DHS) worker about the possibility of Daylea dying while in my care," said Herring.
Life became "one day at a time," said Herring. "My heart broke every single day for her, and I did everything in my power to make sure she didn't die. I spent so much time contacting the nurse, keeping in contact with the DHS worker, and many hours of not sleeping, because of fear." As time passed, Herring became more comfortable with Daylea's feeding and medication schedules, visits to the GI (gastroenterology) team, blood draws, ultrasounds and endoscopies.
According to Herring, MSW faculty were flexible and supportive as Herring handled hospitalizations and medical care for her foster daughter. "This helped me to continue on my journey to reach the end," said Herring.
Despite dire predictions, Daylea became healthier and slowly gained weight. One day a call came from the transplant coordinator, stating that the team believed Daylea was well enough to be activated on the transplant list. "I started sleeping with the phone right next to my head, on full volume, bags packed and ready," said Herring. The GI doctor praised Herring, "You have defied all odds and proven us wrong."
The child who wasn't expected to make it to her first birthday, turned 1 on Aug. 9, 2012. "I woke up thinking, 'She is alive!!'" said Herring. "All of the stress, fear, anxiety and negative emotions were gone that day."
On Oct. 7, 2013, Daylea became an official member of the Herring family, joining big sis Jaylin and feline family members Pumpkin and Coco.
Daylea continues to wait for her new liver.
"I have seen what a miracle looks like," reflected Herring. "It is still an incredible feeling to know that I was chosen to be the mother to both of these girls, and that my daughter Daylea is still alive."
As a new MSW grad, Herring wants to be the person to make a difference in the lives of others.
"I feel that the experiences I have been through have strengthened my ability to be a social worker because I have seen and faced struggle, defeat, grief, sadness and guilt, as well as hope, happiness, joy and change. Because of my experiences, I have a strong desire to reach out to others and be a support for them. I strive to help others understand that there are so many things to be thankful for in life, and that finding the positive in each situation can only make life a better thing."