Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Together WE Are Motherhood

Over seven years ago my husband and I met our daughter’s birthmother for the first time, in the hospital, just three days after she gave birth to our daughter.  This brave, strong woman was in the process of relinquishing her parental rights to her baby and I am so relieved that she had at least two days in the hospital to spend with her newborn baby girl- holding her and welcoming her into the world; in essence having the chance to say “hello” before saying goodbye. 

I was amazed at the sense of calm our daughter’s birthmother displayed on that bittersweet occasion (because my husband and I were overcome with plenty of emotion and tears).  The caseworker who worked with our daughter’s birthmother reported to us that she had shed most of her tears over the previous couple of days in anticipation of relinquishment.

Among other important matters the day of our initial face-to-face meeting with our daughter’s birthmother, we discussed openness in adoption and considered what might feel most comfortable to everyone involved since none of us had any previous experiences to draw upon.

I think nowadays most adoptive parents who adopt privately probably have a chance to speak with expectant parents, get to know them, and get a feel for how each other feel about such complex issues as contact and openness well before the baby is born, but in our case our daughter was born premature, so her birthmother didn’t have a lot of time to get to know the couple she chose to adopt her baby and even consider such important matters with us until after our daughter was already born.

Over the last couple of weeks my husband and I have seen tears on another mother’s face as we’ve had the same type of discussion regarding how much contact to have if we are to adopt her children, with the issue of “What kind of contact would be best for the children?” at the forefront of the discussion.  Our current situation, however, is completely different than our first adoption because unlike our first adoption, this time the mother is our foster children’s biological mother and she has not voluntarily chosen to place her children with us. 

Our foster children have been in our home for almost 18 months now and after being given more than one extension to complete everything required of her to get her children back into her care, their mother now faces the difficult option of either relinquishing her parental rights so that we can adopt her children (because guardianship or adoption by relatives is out of the question this far into the case) OR she can go through a formal legal trial where, most likely, her parental rights will be terminated anyway based on evidence and testimony that she is unfit to be a mother to her two children who are in our care.

I’ve never been to a TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) Hearing before but I hear that they are pretty awful to witness.   After all, as parents- and mothers in particular- don’t we all have a tendency to be too hard on ourselves when it comes to what we’re doing “wrong” in parenting rather than focusing on all of the good we do for the children in our care?  Imagine being told BY A JUDGE IN A COURT OF LAW that you can no longer legally parent your children because you’ve already endangered them and "messed up" too many times before.  That has to cut deeply.

The other factor that makes this pending adoption vastly different than our first adoption is the fact that our foster children will have already had a relationship with their mother if/when they are adopted.  Their mother is the woman who gave them life and brought them into the world (something which I have never personally been able to do for a child) and because of that she will always be known by the sacred title of “mother” to them.    

However, as their foster mother I am also a mother to Jack and Jill- I have been for all of Jill’s life and more than half of Jack’s short life so far.  They call me “mama” but they also refer to their mom as “mama”.  Although she’s their biological mother and will always have that crucial role in their life their relationship with her is more like with that of an aunt or a close family friend.  At their supervised visits each week she is delighted to see them and tell them how much they’ve grown.  She hugs and kisses them and plays with them and will spoil them with too much candy and junk food (What little kid wouldn’t be excited for such a visit?!)  But I’m the mom who makes sure they’ve brushed their teeth or eaten their vegetables.  I’m the mom who cleans up their throw-up when they’re sick or who reads them stories and sings them lullabies before bedtime and kisses their owies better.   The fact that that she can’t tuck them into bed at night or even have a visit with them without caseworkers taking notes on any “inappropriate parenting behaviors” must be very painful for her.

She is the mom who gave her children life but I am the mom who parents them.  It has not always been easy to share these little children with each other- jealousies and possessiveness are bound to come up when not kept under check- but the one thing that unites us is our love for Jack and Jill.  To quote Desha Wood one more time, “He is mine in a way that he will never be hers, yet he is hers in a way that he will never be mine, and so together, WE are motherhood.”

Regardless of the differences in our first adoption and our pending forthcoming adoption do you know what both biological mothers of our daughter and our foster children have in common?  It’s pretty simple, really: They both love their children.

I was sure to tell Jack and Jill’s mother that if we did adopt her children we will always make sure Jack and Jill know how much she loves them.  It was important for me to stress this to her because I think she equates relinquishment and adoption with abandoning her children and “giving up” rather than with selfless love and putting the needs of her children above her own wants.  Unfortunately, loving a child is not the same as being able to parent a child or keep them safe; hence the need for placing children in foster care in the first place.

Jack and Jill’s mother gave me a hug and had tears in her eyes the day we brought up the possibility of her keeping in contact with her children if we adopted them.  It’s not the first time she’s expressed such gratitude to me before.  Although she didn’t say one way or the other whether she has decided to relinquish her parental rights or if she wants to pursue fighting the state’s recommendations to terminate her parental rights at a forthcoming trial, we will learn what happens next week at the scheduled Pre-Trial.

Jack and Jill's Baby Brother

About two months ago I learned from Jack and Jill’s caseworker that their mother was pregnant- seven months pregnant, to be exact- with a baby boy.  It wasn’t so much the fact that she was pregnant which surprised me but the fact that she was so far along in her pregnancy without admitting anything.  Evidently she was afraid of DCFS finding out about her pregnancy because she didn’t want another child taken away.

The reason the caseworker shared the news of Jack and Jill’s mother’s pregnancy with me is the possibility of the new baby potentially being placed with our family after he was born, [if needs be] in order to follow the policy of keeping siblings in foster care together.  However, as I mentioned in this post, a relative of their mom’s came forward a few months ago and decided she wanted not only the new baby placed into her care if he came into custody, but Jack and Jill as well. 

Fortunately, the children’s GAL and DCFS both felt it was not in the children’s best interest to be removed from their foster home where they’ve been safe and loved for over a year now and be sent to live with strangers (even if the strangers are in fact related to the children by blood) especially given the fact that the relatives failed to come forward within 120 days of the children first coming into state custody.

I must admit that over the past couple of months upon hearing that Jack and Jill’s mother was pregnant and knowing that our family would be given preference over placement of her baby if he needed to come into care since his siblings are in our home, I was filled with mixed emotions. Although there was some excitement about the prospect of having a new baby in our home, the more practical side of me felt deeply conflicted and I would come up with reasons to justify our decision to turn away this particular baby boy from our home [Haven’t we already gone through enough drama with Jack and Jill’s case alone?  Two children under three will be a lot of work!   Can’t someone else take a turn fostering?]  

But the greatest concern my husband and I shared is the fact alone that if Jack and Jill’s baby brother were to enter our care as a new foster placement his case would be A TOTALLY NEW AND SEPARATE CASE from his siblings [which means we have to start the whole Reunification Process over again including weekly visits with his mom, team and family meetings, caseworkers following up and visiting our home, upcoming court hearings, etc. not to mention numerous doctor’s appointments and evaluations that come with a newborn in state custody].  It seemed a bit overwhelming and emotionally exhausting.
However, despite all of my justifications and excuses, the words to the chorus of a Christmas song (since Christmastime was approaching) about an innkeeper in Bethlehem who regretted turning away Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus kept literally echoing in my mind:  Let Him in.  Let Him in.”

“And whether it be in your world today
Or a crowded Bethlehem Inn,
Find a Way, Make Him room, Let Him In.”

I know some people must think we’re crazy to have even considered taking Jack and Jill’s newborn baby brother when Jack and Jill are still pretty much babies themselves- but how can I claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to do it “unto one of the least of these (Matthew 25:40) only when it’s convenient or according to my own plans and timetable?  It would be hypocritical of me.  I’m a sheep- not a goat.  Love and discipleship require sacrifice.

Incidentally, we recently (as in a few months ago- as if Christmastime isn’t busy enough already!) had our home inspected to renew our foster care license for another year.   This time we were able to be licensed to provide foster care for three children instead of just two due to the fact that the licensing rule was changed this past year to allow more than one foster child to stay in a room of at least 100 square feet- versus 120 square feet previously- which makes it possible in the first place for us to qualify by the state’s standards.

Some might think, “What’s the harm in splitting up siblings if one is a baby whom the other siblings haven’t even met yet or would never even know existed?”  I can see the point- because I admit I’ve thought that way before.  Especially after learning, over nine years ago- just as we were finishing up the lengthy process of becoming licensed to do foster care- that a baby boy who was a relative to me by marriage (but not by blood) would most likely be placed in our home at the request of his grandparents as a foster adoptive placement.  We figured it was meant to be-especially considering the fact that I had felt prompted to do foster care without really knowing what the end result would be and we remained childless after over five years of marriage.  Unfortunately, we were misinformed by more than one worker involved in the case and instead of being placed with us the baby boy was placed in the care of his half brother’s foster adoptive family so that the siblings could be together.  It was the right thing to happen but very disappointing for us at the time.

I initially thought of it as a coincidence, but it probably wasn’t- that just days before hearing the news about Jack and Jill’s mother being pregnant with another baby I got caught up with another foster family’s blog in which seasoned foster mother Maggie once again put things so well.  Keep in mind that at the time she wrote this post, Maggie and her husband had a house full of five girls all close in age- three biological and two soon-to-be-adopted foster children who have been a part of their family for more than a couple of years now.  This is what Maggie wrote about keeping siblings together upon learning that her foster daughters sibling could possibly be placed with them:

“I know, I know – they won’t know about each other.  I’ve heard that so many times, and really it makes my stomach turn inside out.  So if you hadn’t ever known about your sibling, it would be ok that you had never met them?  That you had never shared a bedroom?  Sung happy birthday to each other every year?  Explored the backyard creek?  Waved out the car window when you drop the oldest off at college?  Fought in the back of the car on long road trips?  Confessed to each other your first crush?
They’d never know what they were missing, right?
Except someday they would.  Someday they would know they have a sister out there who was in foster care.  A sister we had the opportunity to adopt.  A sister that instead they’ll never know.

Study after study, story after story shows the importance of biological siblings being together.
Of course I realize how difficulty it would be.  We’ve done this before.  I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had a few nights where I couldn’t fall asleep because I can’t stop thinking about…how would this work?

I’m just writing out my thought processes.  I completely understand why people would think we were crazy for saying yes. 

I guess I’m just trying to give a glimpse into the magnitude of the situation.  It is so much harder than yes or no.”

Jack and Jill’s new baby brother is less than a month old and he remains in their mother’s care (for now).   Jack and Jill have not yet met him- perhaps because their mom already has her hands full at their biweekly visits with an active 2 year old and 1 year old running around- let alone adding a newborn into the equation. 

The possibility of having our foster children’s baby brother placed with us really led made my husband and I to do some earnest soul-searching of what is easiest versus what is the right thing to do and what we want versus what God wants us to do.  Do we keep fostering if we get to adopt Jack and Jill?  Should we continue to pursue a private adoption?  Should we be content with three children even though we have room for more?   Those are the kinds of questions that have been going through my head lately.

Jack and Jill's mother is on the verge of losing two children so I hope that she can keep her newest baby safe and in her care for as long s possible.  I worry about her not only caring for a new baby as a single parent but because of other major obstacles she faces as well.  And I worry about her new baby.

This new baby may give her the motivation she needs to stay on track and start afresh- or perhaps he will lessen the blow of possibly losing her other children.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Our Children Are Lent to Us

I've come across some inter-related thoughts which accurately sum up a lot of the feelings I have as a parent- and as a foster parent in particular.   

"We never know just how long we will be able to keep them for."  Amen!

Friday, January 23, 2015

I HATE the term "Natural Parent"!

I once attended a Book Club where somehow, during the course of the night, we got onto the topic of "natural" births versus drug-assisted births.  I don't even remember if that particular topic related to the book we were discussing at the time or even what book we were discussing in the first place, but I do clearly remember the heated debate which followed and ended up dividing a roomful of neighbors and friends as a result of judgments and assumptions- both expressed and not expressed- based on everyone's differing experiences.   It wasn't a pretty situation.  In fact, the divisive atmosphere was a bit like this brilliant ad.

As if the contention in the room weren't enough to deal with that night at book club, there I was- the only infertile woman in the room (that I'm aware of)- sitting awkwardly in silence- not just because I felt such arguing seemed unnecessary- but because I couldn't offer up a valid opinion of my own on the subject even if I wanted to because I have ABSOLUTELY NO EXPERIENCE in such matters.  I kind of wanted to disappear from the room or somehow make myself invisible that night but I think I ended up laughing uncomfortably and just hoping the evening wouldn't end up in a fist-fight or a full-out brawl.

You see, some of us don't have a choice in the first place of whether to give birth naturally or with the assistance of an epidural or whether to deliver vaginally or by C-section because some of us never conceive or give birth at all.  Does that fact make me any less of a woman or less of a mother?  I don't think so and I'm pretty secure in my belief, but every once in a while I'll read something or hear someone say something which pricks a sensitive spot in my heart.

Earlier this week I was scrolling through an online forum of birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptees and I came across something that really rubbed me the wrong way.  No- that's not entirely truthful.  To say it rubbed me the wrong way is minimizing how it made me feel.  It's much more accurate to say that I felt like I had been slapped in the face after I read it.  And it's not so much the term that was used but the intent and attitude which accompanied its use that left me feeling so invalidated.  What on earth could cause you to become so upset? you're wondering.  I'll tell you: a birthmother used the term "natural mother" to describe her relationship to the child she placed for adoption and with that child's adoptive mother. 

Now I am well aware that there are differing opinions about what terms to use when describing certain aspects of adoption- and not everybody knows what is considered less offensive or most appropriate- which is why discussing and sharing positive adoption language and terms is so important.  However, even when one uses the generally preferred and agreed upon terms, say "Birthmother" for example- someone is bound to be offended.  I think the most important thing to keep in mind when talking about adoption (or anything for that matter) is "How might this term make another person feel- even if I don't intentionally mean for them to feel that way?  What are the underlying implications of the words I'm using?"

For example, before I became an adoptive mother I'm sure I probably used the term "put up for adoption" rather than "placed for adoption" to describe when a mother chooses to place rather than parent a child or to describe orphans who become available to be adopted by others.  Although "put up for adoption" is much better than "gave away" or "given up" (I'm cringing just writing that phase out!)  think of the implications a term like "give up" reflect for both a birthmother and an adoptee- or even an adoptive parent.

For a birthmother the phrase "give up" implies that she didn't put much thought or care into such a crucial decision- the child is just something to be discarded or that placing a child for adoption is as simple as giving away something that is not needed or wanted.  NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH!

For someone who's been adopted, to hear the term "gave up" implies that they weren't wanted or loved in the first place- that they were "given away" or abandoned.  What a terrible thing to hear or believe!  I would hate for my daughter to overhear someone erroneously say that she was "given up" for adoption.  It is a huge insult to both her and her brave birthmother who gave her life and made us a family.

As for using the term "give up for adoption" in front of adoptive parents, other than my feelings I expressed in the previous paragraph, part of me wants to laugh because it makes it sound like the adoption process is no big deal- like there's no waiting or background checks or approval and no legal process involved- and of, course it's totally free- kids are just given away like free puppies or kittens.  Do you see what I mean?

So back to what I read which left me feeling so insulted: As an adoptive mother, when I read the term "natural mother" I automatically thought  "Hmmm- if she's a natural mother because she gave birth to her child, then as an adoptive mother I guess that makes me the opposite of natural- unnatural.  And unnatural equates with fake, phony- not real.  So I'm not a real mother because my children don't come from my womb?"  Can you see why the term "natural mother" might strike a sensitive chord in mothers who didn't bear their children?

It wasn't just adoptive parents who took issue with the term "natural parent" but those who had been adopted as well.  One such woman responded:

 I just have to put this out there... I hate the term "natural mom". It makes it sound like adoption is unnatural or that my dear mom, whom I love so much, is somehow unnatural in her role. I may have been adopted, but there is nothing unnatural about my mom or our relationship. Can we please stick to biological or birth mom? Thanks and sorry for the rant.

In her defense, the birthmother who started the online thread shared that her child's{adoptive} mom is just fine with her using the term "natural mother" and they have a great relationship with each other.   If it works for them, great.  As for my situation and the relationship I have with my daughter's birthmother, I would never want to risk saying or doing anything which diminishes the sacred role she plays in our lives.

Fortunately, I've witnessed something very beautiful in the adoption community and that is when members of the adoption triad become fiercely protective of one another.  So when I read the term "natural mother" in the online forum and I felt my anger rising I was very relieved and touched to find that the very first reply was from a birthmother who graciously expressed:

I promise I am NOT saying this to be rude or discredit anything you have said, because it is wonderful. But I know the term "natural mom" is kind of... invalidating. I am a birth mom, and I feel like calling myself "natural" mom would imply there is something unnatural about my son's mom. Is there a different term you could use? I think it is important, while we are in the subject of healing and being kind to birthmothers, to also be kind and loving toward adoptive mothers.

I happen to know the birthmother who replied with such sensitivity and I personally thanked her for her response.  Unfortunately, she took a lot of slack for expressing her view and had a lot of criticism thrust upon her, quite ironically, by others who have been through the same incredibly tough and sensitive situation she has gone through of placing a child for adoption.   (Even after she started her statement out with "I'm NOT saying this to be rude or discredit anything . . ." and after she repeatedly apologized to any who took issue from her words).

Needless to say, the thread on the online forum started to grow and just got uglier and uglier.  Much like my book club experience I described at the beginning of my post, there were many judgments, assumptions, and even some misunderstandings among the group's members which resulted in divisions and alienation rather than fostering an atmosphere of unity and support for each other and a safe exchange of ideas and perspectives without fear of sharing.

Although I was tempted to make a comment in the online forum I bit my tongue and decided to save it for now- in my own blog post.  So here's how I feel about the issue in one sentence:  I HATE the term "Natural Parent"!  There- I said it.  I got it off my chest.

Tell us how you really feel, Mary, Don't Hold Back. ;)

I guess what I'm trying to say is we're all imperfect, but let's all try to be a little more aware of what we say and consider how it might affect others.

"But it's someone's fault if they get offended."  some might rationalize.  That may be so, but it still doesn't make it right to say it.  Especially if the consensus is that a particular term is hurtful or offensive.

I will close with one of my all-time favorite adoption-related quotes from a wise birthmother, Desha Wood, who has beautifully expressed that what makes adoption so miraculous and unique and ultimately possible in the first place:

Birth parents need adoptive parents.  Adoptive parents need birth parents.  Adoptees need birth parents and adoptive parents.  We're all in this together.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fundraiser For Foster Family to Modify Van For Wheelchair-Bound Son

This morning in my Facebook news feed I came across a fundraiser for a foster family who needs to make modifications to their 15-passenger van in order to accommodate the needs of their 4 year old wheelchair-bound foster (soon to be adopted!) son.  I happen to know that installing a wheelchair lift and tie-downs to a vehicle can be very costly since a family in my neighborhood needed to raise funds to modify their family van as well for one of their medically fragile wheelchair-bound sons as he grew bigger.  [When their son was a baby and toddler it was feasible to get him in and out of the van in his wheelchair, but children GROW and wheelchairs are not light to lift- not to mention it is not easy to make room for the extra medical equipment a medically fragile child must have.] 
Click HERE to read about how a fellow foster mom, Duck Mommy, started this campaign to help her "foster parent mentor."  Or click on the link below to go directly the to the Fundraising Campaign.

I was very impressed with the family who will benefit from this fundraiser, as described in their campaign page.  I underlined the part that impressed me most- What great examples to the rest of us!
 "Kim & Bill White have been foster or group home parents since 1992. In that time, they have provided a safe, loving, and generous home to literally hundreds of foster children and troubled teens. They have picked up newborns from the hospital, helped teens prepare to age out of the system, and everything in between. Most foster families have some restrictions on the children they are willing to accept, but not the Whites. They have parented a teen mom, children of all ages with significant behavioural problems, and medically-needy infants- including one sweet baby who came to them terminally ill and died in their loving arms."

You can't help but want to help this family somehow after reading that, right?  Especially in view of the fact that this foster mother so willingly serves others but is not the type to ask for help.
If you are not in a position to donate please help by spreading the word! 

Best of luck, White Family!