Saturday, June 19, 2010

Christian's Birthmother/Judge Not

When I hear about a birthparent placing their child for adoption I immediately and almost automatically set them up on a pedestal. Are they perfect? Of course not, nobody is! But given the fact that they have been selfless enough to put their child’s well-being before their own wants– especially when it means breaking their heart for their child or having to endure harsh judgments from others- Well, that pretty much makes them a canonized saint in my eyes. For that reason, when I hear the term “birthparent” or birthmother” in reference to those who have voluntarily placed their children for adoption I can’t help but have overwhelming feelings of gratitude and respect for them.

However, when I hear the same exact words- “birthmother” or "birthparents” used to refer to parents whose children are in foster care, I have to admit that the first image that comes to my mind is certainly not one of selflessness, courage, and admiration. In fact, just hearing the word “birthparent” as it refers to parents who have children in foster care brings up some pretty unflattering implications.

In addition to struggling with patience and selflessness I’ve also found it all too easy at times to become overly judgmental of our foster children’s birthparents for the obvious reason that in nearly all cases children are in foster care as a direct result of the choices their parents have made, whether it be choosing drugs or a violent partner over their children’s safety, or neglecting, abusing, or abandoning their children. It becomes almost automatic for me to judge someone when they consciously put their children’s well-being in jeopardy. And yet, I know that it’s not my job to judge.

“Judge not that ye be not judged” –Jesus Christ

One exception of being too quick to judge the birthparents of my foster children is when mental illness is involved because nobody chooses to be mentally ill, just as nobody chooses to have a disease. But drug addiction and alcoholism are diseases, too- nobody wants to be enslaved by addiction, right? While it’s true that some people are born into a life where nature and/or nurture seem to work against them- for example, if they’ve inherited genes of being an alcoholic or drug addict or if they’ve been raised in a family where drinking and drug- use are the “norm”- the bottom line is that addiction is ultimately the result of CHOICE.

As for mental illness, I think most people have experienced some degree of depression or anxiety in their lives, but they are still able to function. The biggest problem is when mental illness involves suicidal and/or homicidal fantasies or attempts- especially when a child’s safety is involved. Which leads me to my next paragraph . . .

The whole reason Christian came into foster care in the first place was because of his mother’s mental illnesses (yes, illnesses plural). Although I haven’t gone into a lot of details about her because I want to respect her privacy, at the same time I feel like if I don’t write about her I am leaving out a very key player in Christian’s story which, by virtue of being his foster parent, has now become my story too.

It’s hard to explain how I feel about Christian’s birthmother because it’s just not black and white. Thinking about her brings up a wide range of emotions and responses inside of me ranging from condemnation and self-righteousness to pity and compassion. Although she wanted nothing to do with Christian or his birthfather when Christian was first placed with us, she changed her mind after a few months as a result of going back on her meds and getting some counseling. DCFS and her therapist both agreed that she was stable enough to see her son again and that it would be beneficial for her to start having supervised visits with him.

I distinctly remember the first time I met her at the DCFS Office and given her history I was quite honestly scared to meet her. I was also relieved that the visit was going to take place in a supervised setting. But after meeting her and looking into her eyes I felt at ease.

“Nice to meet you.“ I said as the caseworker escorted her into the DCFS lobby while she was holding Christian in her arms. I was surprised at how friendly I sounded towards this virtual stranger, but as I looked into her eyes I felt compassion towards her rather than judgment or fear. I chided myself for thinking I should be afraid of her – it was like being afraid of a mouse when in reality, a mouse is a harmless creature who is probably much more afraid of you than you are of them.

A week later at the end of the second supervised visit with her son, Christian’s mom had tears in her eyes and apologized for being “so emotional” but she explained that she had received the news that day which she didn’t expect to hear: that there was a chance she could get her son back.

It was my first time hearing this news as well, so I was as surprised as she was. I looked up at the caseworker who nodded in affirmation.

“Oh, I don’t blame you for crying” I suddenly felt the need to reassure her. “He’s a beautiful baby.” Christian’s mom then turned to me and mentioned with a nervous laugh, almost apologetically, that she would be going in next week to get her tubes tied. I just nodded my head with a half smile on my face but on the inside I wanted to laugh at how ironic life is: she was trying everything in her power not to bring another child into this world while I would love nothing more than to have another child to call my own.

The day when I saw Christian’s mother‘s eyes fill with tears because she was given a second chance to get her child back I felt something inside of me which is hard to put into words. I guess charity, or pure love, comes closest to describing it. I didn’t see her as someone to compete with or someone to judge, but rather someone who I could relate to: a woman who loves her child. The love we both share for the same child welds us together in a type of symbiotic relationship.  Christian’s mother has something I don’t have: the ability to bear children, but I have something she doesn’t have: emotional stability and the ability to raise a child in a safe environment. My needs to nurture and mother are met by caring for her son and her need for someone to watch her son when she is unable to do so is met.

God works in mysterious ways and I think he puts us into each other’s lives to help each other rather than judge each other.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them” –Mother Theresa


Karine said...

I too think birth mothers are amazing. I feel so much compassion towards those who are struggling in life with illness or even serious addictions. I know I am not perfect. I am thankful for families who do foster care. We all deserve second chances. Love your post!

LeMira said...

I had such a visual image of how the two of you meet in the middle to save the life of a child. I'm speechless struck by that image. . .

Maggie said...

It is so hard not to judge bio parents of kids in foster care.
Drug addictions are actually one of the easier ones for me to deal with though. Having worked as a caseworker in 'the system' and having had experience with the different cases, I've seen first hand just how difficult it is to get out of an addiction. I'm not sure I would have the strength.

Foster care is such a huge mess of emotions, isn't it?!?!

Mary said...

Maggie, I'm not sure I would have the strength to overcome drug addiction (or alcoholism) either! One thing that keeps me from becoming too judgmental towards any kind of addict is that we ALL have some kind of addiction, bad habit, or plenty of weaknesses- another topic I'd like to explore sometime in the future.

DMN said...

I totally hear you. I did NOT like my daughter's mom the first few times I met her! I never had much respect for her until she decided to do what was best for her daughter! It drove me nuts that she was "fighting" for her, but would constantly miss visits! Now we have so much love and respect for her we want our daughter's middle name to be after her birth mom! You never know what's going to happen. I'm not a very judgmental person, but I still need improvement!

Maura said...

I have a similar relationship with my foster daughter's mom. We have had a few visits filled with tears on both ends. She loves her daughter so much and is trying so hard to find a way to get her back. And I never thought that I would say this but I want her too. Not because I don't love every second I spend with our foster daughter but because I feel her pain. I can't imagine being without my child and the pain that she goes through everyday. It is still not clear if she will be able to do what she needs to to get her daughter back but I sure hope she does.

I can't wait to catch up on more of your blog!

Dottie said...

Well written my friend, things I needed to hear!