Parenting Doesn't End With Adoption, In Fact, It Is Just Begining

Monday, September 26, 2011

Happy Birthday, Hannah! Mommy Loves You!

  Today is my eldest daughter Hannah's birthday, and so far today has been rather difficult. Being a birth mother is a hard job, you think about your child every day. Are they OK, how was school today, did she brush her teeth, eat her lunch, what if she was picked on and really needs a hug, did her forever mom give her one? When your child lives with you, these are the little things you take for granted, but as a birth mom, these are the little things you agonize over. And then there's the birthday, the hardest day of the year. The day you brought that beautiful child into this world, the day that more than any other day, you want to hug her, kiss her, and shower her with love. More often then not, birth mother's don't get the opportunity to do so.

  Hannah was my first child, a baby that I had wanted my entire life. I couldn't wait to be a mother, and I couldn't have asked for a better child. She was a lovey baby, I breastfed and I secretly loved that only I could feed her. It was a special bond we had and I didn't want to share her. That was a good thing, because she didn't want anyone else either. We spent her first 21 months glued to each other. She slept in my bed, she played in my arms, she even had to go in the backpack when the house work or dinner needed to be done, because I of course, could never put her down. She was the unconditional love I had been longing for my whole life, and I couldn't imagine my world without her.

I cherished every little milestone, her first smile, her first giggle, first words, to first steps, she was amazing to me, and I thanked God everyday for giving her to me. She was a gift I could never repay. She was there with me through all my ups and downs, even the death of her sister Moriah, that I know hurt her almost as much as it hurt me. Unfortunately, after all we had been through, my trauma history caught up with me, and I began using substances to hide my suffering. I lost her and my other children, and now Hannah lives with her forever family. Her family isn't as open as Ashley's is with me, but I pray someday, I will be able to call her on her birthday and tell her I love her.

 I regret every mistake I've made when it comes to my children, I'm sure every birth mother does. But today, today my hurts and regrets cut deeper than they usually do. I can't explain the pain of not holding my baby today. Even though that baby is 12 years old, they never grow old in our eyes, they are always our babies, right? My hope is someday, she can read this and know how sorry I am for not being there when she needed me the most, for not making the changes I've made sooner, that if I could turn back the clock, I would give my life to ease her pain. I hope today, Hannah knows, she is in my every thought and prayer, and my wish for her is that today is the happiest birthday she's ever had.

Happy Birthday Hannah! Mommy Loves You!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Sissy, I need you!" Giving Birth After Termination of Parental Rights

  I was given an awesome opportunity Saturday to spend the day with Ashley, AT MY HOUSE! That might not seem like a big deal to some people, but for me, it's huge. When Rebecca asked if Ashley could come over, I was in complete shock. Not because I was really surprised that they (Ashley's parents) would let her, but rather because I haven't been alone with my child in 5 years. Honestly, I was scared. Five years is a long time, you forget or don't know, the little things that every mother knows about her child, like what she likes to eat and drink, her favorite t.v. shows, those kind of things. I was worried maybe it was too soon, and what if she didn't want to stay, or worse, not want to come back. I started to panic, but then I stopped and realized, this is my daughter, it's not too soon, it's been too long! Not only that, but it wasn't just about me, my son Tyler, who lives with me, desperately needed some time with his sister.

  When I first found out I was pregnant with Tyler, I was horrified. My oldest two children were up for adoption, and my youngest two were in the guardianship of their paternal grandmother, I had been deemed an un-fit mother by the Department of Children and Families. To top it off, I was actively using substances, I was an addict. How could I be having another child! I went through every emotion possible, I cried, I got angry, anxious and scared, what was I going to do? I remember laying in bed that night, wide awake, sleep wasn't something I had time to think about. I thought about my children, and how wonderful I felt when I had them, they were my world, my reason to live. A reason I had lost and was slowly killing myself because of it. I was tired of dying, I wanted to live again, and I decided this baby was worth fighting for. I wasn't willing to lose another child, ever again.

  After a long, sleepless, night, I got out of bed that morning and walk two miles to the nearest methadone clinic. Methadone was something I never wanted to be on, but that day I swallowed my pride and walked through those doors. I filled out the paperwork and met with a counselor, it was the first time in my life I had admitted I was an addict. It was so hard after denying it for years. When she asked me "why are you here?", I said, "I want to be clean, and stay clean, for me and my baby". Two long weeks later, I saw the clinic doctor and I started treatment, and I'm proud to say, I've been clean ever since.

  Recovery wasn't easy, in the beginning I felt lost, I didn't know who I was anymore. I had been numbing the pain of my past for so long, I forgot what it was like to feel. Honestly, I didn't like it. Of course I was aware of what I had done to my life and my family, but I felt like I was reliving it all over again. I had night terrors about my children, I could hear them calling me to save them, but I could never get close enough to grab their hands. It was torture, day in and day out, but every morning, noon and night, I reminded myself, "I'm doing this for my baby".

  I started engaging in counseling and joined a program called FRESH Start. They worked with pregnant woman and mothers in recovery. I was assigned a Family Support Specialist and in addition to counseling, I met with her once a week. She was also a mother in recovery, it was great to have the support of another woman who knew how I felt. She encourage me to keep fighting, and work through the pain, she said it got easier with time, and by staying on track, not only was I saving myself and my baby, but I would eventually earn my way back into the lives of my other children. All this was great, but I had one obstacle left to deal with, The Department of Children and Families.

  Because I was on methadone, it's a federal law that the hospital has to file a 51a, so I knew DCF was going to get involved. I sought counseling from my therapist and my FSS about what I should do. They assured me I was doing the right thing, and everything would be ok. Honestly, I didn't believe them. After losing my children before I knew this could turn out bad. I was scared to death, but what was I to do, not deliver the baby! That obviously wasn't an option, and finally on the morning of July 23rd, my water broke.

  I delivered Tyler after 11pm that night. I cried tears of joy as I held that beautiful boy in my arms. He was perfect in every way. I was so happy! I remember, once everyone had gone and we were alone, holding him tightly to my chest as I sobbed and sobbed over the lose of my previous children. How could I have lost them, what have I done! Then I cried even more at the thought of losing him too. All those things that had kept me up the night I found out I was pregnant, had come back with a vengeance. I was so scared and alone, I couldn't tell anyone how I was feeling, because they all just said "it will be ok". But I knew, it wasn't ok.

  Tyler had to stay in the hospital for observation, because of the methadone. Most babies have to be medicated, but Tyler got lucky. His withdrawals were minimal and medication wasn't necessary. He was doing great and after 12 days they were ready to send us home. I was so excited and I decided to run to the store for some last minute supplies. When I got back, I got hit with a brick.

  The hospital I gave birth at does meconium testing for all babies born on addictive substances. Although methadone is a legal, prescribed medication, Tyler had to be tested. So far all of Tyler and my drug screens had been negative, and I had no idea how this test worked. There are two test done on the meconium, a "Qualitative" and a "Quantitative". The qualitative test tells you what to screen for and the quantitative tells you exactly, to the smallest amount possible, what substances the baby has been exposed to during the entire pregnancy.

  Well, when I had returned from shopping, the nurses told me I had to speak to the hospital Social Worker, and DCF was on their way. I started freaking out! What did they mean DCF was on their way? I thought we were going home! The hospital SW informed me that my baby's meconium screen was positive for opiates, cocaine and PCP. I was shocked! I knew I had used cocaine and opiates prior to finding out I was pregnant, so that wasn't a huge surprise, but PCP, I didn't even know what that was. I returned to my room, extremely upset, and my nurse told me, they didn't tell me about the results, because they knew I would be upset. She explained how the test worked and that the first one was often a false positive, so "don't worry". Right, don't worry!

  DCF showed up around 3:30, I told him all the great things I'd been doing, and about all the support I had surrounding my recovery. I was honest and admitted substance use prior to having any knowledge of my pregnancy. What a mistake that was. The DCF investigator told me he wasn't too concerned, but would have to call his supervisor to see if I could keep Tyler. When he returned, I knew I was in trouble. He entered my room with the hospital SW, the nurse supervisor, and my nurse. He said he would be taking custody of Tyler due to my "History" and to hand him over to the nurse. I started screaming, and crying, this couldn't be real. The nurse, gently walked over and said "give him to me honey, cry it out, and come down to the nursery to see him". DCF had taken custody, but against medical advice, Tyler's pediatrician, did not agree with their decision and because I was nursing, and Tyler's treatment for withdrawal, they were forced to still let me see him, I just couldn't be alone with him.

  Once Tyler had been taken out of the room, I lost it. I was wailing uncontrollably, I couldn't breathe, my head was spinning and my heart felt as though it had shattered into a million pieces. I will never forget, the hospital Social Worker telling me to stop crying and this was my fault, that I had made bad choices and hurt my baby. She kept telling my mother (who happened to be there, thank God) to make me stop. I couldn't stop, my world had crashed on my head, I felt helpless and I couldn't stop my tears. They informed me I had to be in court in the morning, and I have to say I was shocked at what happened. The hospital staff was amazing, they were supposed to make me leave the hospital, but instead they let me stay. In the morning I was told that Tyler's pediatrician would be going to court with me. She had the results of the cocaine test, it was negative. She had been working with me and Tyler for the last two weeks, and she was confident that I was a good mother, and willing to stand up in court and say that to the judge.

  When we got to court, my lawyer from my previous case was there to represent me. She said DCF was seeking custody of Tyler and they weren't willing to make any deals with me. We filed a motion to allow the doctor to speak in court and the judge approved. She explained how the test worked, and that I was Tyler's treatment for withdrawal. She said how impressed she was, and that most mom's on methadone, don't work as hard for their babies as I had. The judge turned to me, asked what happened, and what I was doing for treatment and support. He thanked me for my bravery and honesty, then turned to DCF. He told them he was appalled, by their actions, and it was obvious that I would be positive for opiates, seeing as I was on methadone. He said they should have investigated further, before wasting the courts time. He awarded custody back to me, but said I had to stay in the hospital until Monday, when the rest of the tests came back. He also demanded DCF apologize to me and he said he was extremely sorry to me for the Departments actions. I think I almost fainted.

  I returned to the hospital, to an anxious staff, they all cheered when I told them the news! I couldn't believe I had won! Unfortunately, the entire ordeal left an impact on both myself and Tyler. After only spending a night away from me, he had dropped a significant amount of weight, not only that but my milk supply was destroyed. I'm one of those people that lose their milk, due to stress. I could still nurse, but the nutritional value of my milk had decreased, and Tyler had to be supplemented with formula.I was so upset, but going home with him was more important than being upset about putting him on the bottle.

  On Monday, when both my tests came back negative, I went home with my baby, and a written apology from the hospital SW, stating I had the support of the entire hospital staff. That day was one of the happiest days of my life. Of course, until Ashley met Tyler.

     When I found out 8 months later that Ashley wanted to meet her brother, I was overjoyed. Ashley is the only one out of her siblings that knows of her brother Tyler, and honestly, she's doing the best with her forever family and mine. I was nervous the day of their first meeting, but not those two! To see the two of them together you would never know they didn't know each other. It's was amazing. Since then, because of her parent's openness with us, Ashley and Tyler see each other often.

  So, of course I was excited for Tyler when Ashley got to come over our house. He anxiously waited in the front yard for her arrival. He told everyone he could "I waitin for Ashwee". When she arrived, he ran to the car to greet her, they both were excited. It was so moving to see them together, at home for the first time! He had to show her everything, and she followed him, interested in every little detail he was willing to share with her. They played in the yard and she pushed him in the swing. Hide and seek was next, Ashley was good at hiding from him and he ran around yelling "Sissy, where are you?". When he couldn't find her he sat in the driveway and cried "I can't find my Ashwee" as tears ran down his face. Being the good sister she is, Ashley left her hiding place to comfort her brother, it was so sweet.

  The bond that they share is incredible. I thought maybe there would be a distance between them, because they don't live together, but you can tell by looking at them, that they are siblings. It's actually quite amazing. My grandmother watched as they played, and all she could say was "just look at the two of them", it's like you can almost see the love radiating between them.

  As the day wore on, and everyone else had left, Ashley, Tyler and I got some alone time. We went for a walk and Ashley pushed her brother in the stroller. She asked questions about what she was like when she was his age, and wanted to know if they were alike. After our walk we went for ice cream, and then home so Ashley could get picked up. I was talking to Ashley's dad, and her and Tyler continued to play. She helped him blow up balloons and chase them in the wind. Tyler got stuck and I heard him say "Sissy, I need you!", those were the sweetest words my ears have ever heard.

I'm so grateful for the relationship my two children have. They adore each other, and I look forward to the life they will have together. I feel so blessed to be able to share it with Ashley's forever family.  I see a huge difference in Tyler since she's been a part of his life, and he spends most of his day talking about her. He likes Rebecca too, and I recently explained that Rebecca was Ashley's mama too. In the car this morning he went on and on saying "Ashley has two mommies, Mama", and I say, " You're right honey"' and he says, "Ashley lucky Mama", and I said, "You are too".........

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adoption Through Foster Care; Am I Still a Good Mother? I Think So!

  Had you asked me ten years ago, when my daughter Ashley was born, how I felt about adoption through foster care, I would have told you I felt bad for those poor kids. As I held that precious new life, I would have said "how could anyone lose their child forever" and "that only happens in dysfunctional families". How naive I was then. Never did I think I'd be one of "those" families, but I am. Today, after much self reflection, therapy, and recovery, I can say, I'm still a good mother, despite my children's adoption.

  I think when the average person thinks of a "good mother", they picture someone who does everything for their children, the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, soccer games and dance class. A woman who puts her kids first, and would never give them up or allow someone else to raise them. When I think of a "good mother" I too think of these things, but I also see a woman who can admit she makes mistakes, and understands sometimes the best thing you can do for your child is step aside. I've seen this quality in myself, as well as in Ashley's adoptive mother, and I'm proud to say we both have it.

  When I began this journey, I thought my daughter was lost to me forever. While Ashley was in foster care and prior to the finalization of her adoption, visits were painful. Although I was seeing my child, she really wasn't there. Whether it was from over-medication in the beginning and fear of betrayal later, our meetings were formal, lacking in conversation, physical contact and often felt scripted. I couldn't stand seeing her like that, it broke my heart. The beautiful child, with a curiosity and zest for life, that I had brought into this world was gone. Lost to a system that had, in many ways, broken her.

  Then there was Rebecca and her husband. My daughter's saviors. I left our first meeting with a peace I hadn't felt in years. They were accepting Ashley for who she was and they weren't giving up, like many before them had. My mother often joked, "it takes someone special to love Ashley", and there they were. Those special people had found her, and better yet, they didn't hate me. The fear that whoever adopted Ashley would see me as a monster, had loomed in me for quite some time. I imagined they would keep her from me, with fear I might try to take her or damage her in some way. But not Ashley's parents, they were different.

  It was obvious they had educated themselves in attachment, and shared my view, that in order to build a new bond, you have to nurture the first one. Not only that, but because Rebecca was an adoptee herself, she really understood the importance of maintaining Ashley's relationship with me, her birth mother. I have to say, it wasn't easy! I will never forget the first time I received a picture from Ashley, on the envelope "Mom" had been crossed out and the words "bio mom" were written in it's place. I cried for hours, but it was through those tears that I accepted my new role in Ashley's life, as her first mom. After that I realized if I didn't move into the position of "birth mom", Ashley would never fully integrate into her new family. It was here that I believe I regained my title as a "good mother". I had truly stepped aside and let her go. It is in stepping aside that real love can begin. It was the most selfless act I could do for my child. Little did I know it would come with such a great reward.

  Ultimately, by letting her go, I got her back. Rebecca and I became, what I consider to be, close friends, and I see her for who she is, Ashley's mom. My visits with Ashley went from awful to amazing! I began to see my beautiful child re-emerge from the ashes of the fire I had started years ago. The tension that was ever present at previous visits was replaced with joy and love. My child and I had rekindled the bond that can only be shared between a mother and daughter, and I owe it all to Rebecca. She has given us a gift that I could never repay, but intend to spend my life trying.

  So ask me today how I feel about adoption through foster care, and I will tell you I owe my life to it. Every child, no matter where they started, deserves a forever family. Unconditional love can come from all places, and Ashley has found that she has more than most. Through trauma and suffering, has come peace and joy. My outlook on adoption and love has forever changed and I have Rebecca, her family, and adoption to thank, and for that I am eternally grateful.