Sunday, November 23, 2014

National Adoption Day 2014

We all put on super hero shirts and climbed in the car. Everyone was excited. We were on time. Do you want to know about my Jesus? That's my Jesus. We are never ALL dressed, ALL excited, and on time ALL in the same day. We were being held close by a loving God on National Adoption Day 2014

We got into the courthouse without hassle, and when the elevator door opened the Heavens opened and poured love all over my growing family. Everyone came out to be our witness: The sweet group home worker who knew him before I did. The police detective who took all the gruesome hospital pictures when they were still unsure if they were investigating an assault or a murder. The CPS investigator who labored hard over appropriate petitions and indications. The intake worker who coached me through getting him out of the hospital. The management worker who really required a lot more management from me than he ever needed from her, but she eventually got him freed. The attorney who represented his best interests- even when she honestly told me she didn't know if it would be enough to keep him safe. The foster care trainer who opened our home and taught us about making a rocking lifebook. Our attorney, who filed some papers and stroked our egos because we were weary by the time he came in on the case. The adoption worker who called the judge's secretary 98,000 times asking for a finalization date because she knew I was anxious about it. And our friends and family. The judge said we broke the record for attendance at an adoption. We had to, though. This one was special.

We went into the judge's chamber, and verified all our information. He told the judge that he was getting lobster after this as if to hurry her along. She made small talk throughout the 10 minute process, asking about our dogs and his sisters. He decided to share that he would not like any more babies, our cat scratched him "when I was a little kid", and Daddy almost broke my arm this morning (to which I followed up with "They were play wrestling"). It was fun and light hearted. I had been pretty nonchalant about this part. He has been ours for 3 years and 8 months. Adoption wasn't going to change anything. Let me tell you, though, when the judge asked him to sign his adoption papers it was anything but nonchalant. It changed everything. He's mine. No one can do anything about it. It's done. We have the same name. Yeah, I cried like crazy.  I made a weird joke about how we'd pay for college and he has to make sure the nursing home is nice to us when we get old. The judge made a weird joke about my green highlights being kryptonite. Old people... He was cool. He's way cooler than me.

After he was adopted, we posed for millions of pictures. The news was there and we were interviewed. They celebrated the 4 adoptions that happened in the county with some lengthy speeches and cake that he didn't want. He had been planning to eat crab legs after his adoption ever since Baby Girl's adoption last year was followed up by dinner out. Once the day came, though, he changed his request to lobster. Announcing that he was leaving for lobster was the only usable sound bite for the news reporter. The celebration and everyone talking to him and about him was overwhelming. He was done by then. We begged him to pose for one last picture, promising he didn't even have to smile.

We let him play on the tablet and be off in his own world for the drive home and lunch. He was pretty content with his lobster.

Our very first evening as a forever family, I sent him to respite for 4 hours. There is a program that we are involved in who offers planned daytime respite to their clients. They take the kids to a house that has been completely decked out with all things awesome. There's a lego room, a TV room, music room, ball pit, etc. He loves it. The slots fill up quickly every month, so we take whatever they offer us. Adoption day was a use it or lose it offer. I knew he'd have fun, so I agreed to it. I am so glad I did. He went and zoned out in front of the video games, then came back ready for bed. 

He asked for his Dad no less than four times during the day, which is not typical. I brushed the question off twice. Answered simply that I had not invited Dad once. Then looked him in eye and explained that his Dad will see him at the next visit, but adoption day would have made him sad, so I didn't invite him. He understood that in a way I wish he hadn't. It was clear that adoption day was causing some insecurity in his heart. Dad went through the photos I posted and 'liked' them all, which was kind. Relative Resource called after seeing us on the news and congratulated everyone. That took an enormous amount of perspective and strength. I'm proud of his family for putting him first and making the effort to become our family too.

It hasn't quite set in that this chapter has ended. 

Breathing feels easier today. 

We're adopted. 

It's done.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cookies and Gold Stars for Everyone

I was super impressed with your responses to What Makes a Family?  I thought about responding to each comment, but figured it was easiest to answer here. It would also give me an opportunity to show you my kids' Halloween costumes for no reason.

Robin visiting Batgirl at preschool in the morning

First, the post was really intended to address how we, as the "inner circle" of foster care and adoption, speak to those on the outside about our children's families. This is the trend that I'm seeing more often and find really dangerous. If a fellow fost/adopt parent said to me, "I got little Johnny all bathed and dressed cute for his visit with his Bio Mom, and she called 10 minutes after we were there to say she wasn't coming. At that point, why even call?!!", I know that frustration and I understand it just comes with the territory. I would not harshly judge the Mom or feel the need to come to the defense of the foster family. I could share her weariness and then we could move on. When you "vent" to your family or friends outside of the system, they will try to save you. It's what good friends and families do when someone causes their loved one discomfort. If you set the tone, by adding an (unnecessary to the story) title separating the biological parent from their full role, the other person will match that and start the shame/blame crap that is hurtful to your resolve to move forward in shared parenting and destructive to the child's security. Further, they will bother me because apparently it has now become appropriate to have these conversations on public websites where I can see it.

Batgirl loving Batman while Rib has lost her skirt

As far as what you do to clarify your situation with your child, I know with absolute certainty we all do the best we can. I have never transitioned from foster care to adoption with a toddler or preschooler, so I would never pretend to have any clue what that's like. Baby 4 understands and owns his whole story, so he does not get confused with just Mommy and Daddy for all of his parents. If I say "Daddy is taking you to the park", and there is question as to who I'm talking about I will specify "Daddy Brandon" or "Daddy John". He also only specifies when someone is confused. I totally agree with following the child's lead as they get older as to what terms they like. I have discouraged 4 from saying, "You're my BEST Mom." or "but she's my real Mom" by pointing out all the best things his Mom did that I couldn't or all the real things I do for him. I do that because I can see how that kind of thinking could make him feeling like he needs to pick a side or be loyal to one or the other parent. Even if he chooses this language or ideas throughout his life, I want him to know it doesn't have to be that way. He knows why he can't live with Mommy Susan, and does recall the trauma she caused him. I never try to sugar coat what happened to him or make his parents look like super heroes or victims. They did what they did and he needs to know. Which brings me to my next clarification...

Who you are is different from what you've done. I try so hard to drill this into Baby 4. He has some big behaviors and there have been entire weeks where every other time I open my mouth, it's to correct him or deliver a consequence. During those weeks, we all get a little antsy about how secure our family is. So about two and half years ago, I started saying "There is nothing you can do that would EVER make me stop loving you.". I say it when I'm especially mad- sometimes for him and sometimes for myself. Once we knew he was staying forever, I altered it a little, "I will always be your Mom. Nothing you do will EVER make me stop loving you.". I really mean it. There have been times where I have gone through all the terrible twists our lives could take, and I can honestly say there is nothing that would change his identity. He is my son. What kind of message do I send if I link his parents' behavior to their identity? They are his parents. Yes, they are not safe caregivers. Yes, they made poor choices. No, we don't like what they've done. We don't even have to like them at all (but it's nice if we do). Respect for their role should not involve changing the truth or ignoring the negative. Just like my loving Baby 4 does not mean the consequences don't get dished out like hotcakes on a Saturday morning.

I'm glad we had this chat. I needed to get this off my chest.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Makes a Family?

This post could just as easily be called: "What I want to post on social media, but don't as to avoid drama". There has been this terrible trend that I'm noticing around foster care circles and with friends and family of foster parents who are trying to be supportive. It makes me want to vomit, and cry, and punch someone's face all at once. It's memes and sentiments along the lines of, Going to court for baby's birthmom. Waste of time since we all know who his real Mom is. Then the naive friend comments, How can anyone think she is a "mom" at all when she can't even come to a doctor's appointment? Or we say something along the lines of, Why does he have any say at all? He hasn't seen her since birth?! Can you even have parental rights if you're just the sperm donor?

Here's the thing: Sharing DNA with someone does make a family. Period. Children who have been conceived using actual, legitimate sperm donors have petitioned the courts to find their Father. Genetics matter. I have first cousins that I met literally once when my Grandmother (who I never met) died. 20 years later- with a mutual non-interest in each other's lives- they are still my cousins. The woman who birthed my Father is still my Grandma. The mere fact that we carry the same bloodline makes us family. When a woman births a child, she is forever the "real", "true", "natural" Mother to that child. Forever. Her legal rights can change. Her access to the child can change. Her family tie to that child does not. She is their Mother. Same for Fathers. To pretend anything else is delusional.

But... But... But... I!!!! 

You what? 

You were there for the child since birth? Stayed up late with them when they were sick? Kissed all the boo boos? Changed all the diapers? taught all the nursery rhymes? Loved without condition? Worked day and night through debilitating exhaustion to help the child heal from the unspeakable things that happened to them? I know. I get it. 

Here's the second thing: Parenting a child does make a family. Period. I have sons who I have not seen in years. When you foster or adopt, you welcome a child into your family. You treat them with the same regard as biological family. You take all the responsibility for the child's well being. You become the "real", "true", "natural" Mother to that child. Forever. Your legal rights may never come. Your access to the child may change. Your family tie to that child does not. You are their Mother. Same for Fathers. The constant need to defend our role make us look delusional.

Biological Family and Adoptive family are not competitors. We co exist -with equal value- in our children. It is hurtful to try to one up each other, or worse, trying to boil down the other party to simply mechanics or mere signatures. 

If I value my child's status in my family (which I do), and I think that my parenting is real and natural (which I do)- I do not need to go around proving myself. Putting down Biological Parents by stripping them of their title and using their actions to discredit their role makes it seem like there is a question of who this child belongs to. Not only does it pose the question, but it suggests we think the answer could be that the children do not actually belong to us.

I didn't come up with this next concept on my own, but I'm not sure who I got it from otherwise there would be major credit given. The question should be posed: Who belongs to this child? The answer should always be all of us. By stepping up and working to keep everyone who belongs to your child connected to them, you are minimizing trauma and loss. You are giving your child the gift of family. You are never making them choose. And (quite selfishly on my part) you are generally more pleasant to be around.

So can we stop the pissing contest, people? Can we just be great parents to our kids without ripping apart their other parents? Can we stop trying to make them the bad guys and collecting accolades for being the heros?

I am committing to stop using BioDad or BirthMom when speaking of my children's parents. Because obviously if I'm talking about Baby 9's Mom, I'm not talking about myself. Respecting their role ultimately respects the child. That's more important to me than being deemed real or true or awesome. I share my child with another Mother. She's a Mom and I'm a Mom. My kids are lucky if they never have to say Goodbye to either of us.

I'm interested to hear what words you'd commit to stop using in respect for the parents who gave life to the children you love. Leave me a comment!!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Eat and Run

You know that feeling when you are eating birthday cake in the car after leaving the party early because your child's behavior turned inappropriate before bite 2? Me either...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I feel like I've been living in a bad TV drama the past couple of weeks: police reports, arrest warrants, homelessness, drugs, prostitution, calls from jail, repeated calls from strange numbers, intoxicated threats, locked doors, and a relative resource.

About three weeks ago, I started getting really frustrated and worried about how Baby 9's case was being handled. I completely lost my cool with the caseworker and made her cry. She never agreed to work harder for 9, but offered an, "I'm sorry I've disappointed you.". In court she had said the county had "no concerns" with moving forward towards reunification, but I knew there were several incidents that were cause for concern. I took my concerns up to the supervisor who said the information CPS had was not enough to take action but she would be willing to address the issues with the family. This led to a decrease in the amount of visits and increase in supervision on the case.

I was so angry with the agency. I could clearly see that the situation was getting more and more unsafe for Baby 9, but they did not. They were treating me like I just didn't want to let her go because of my own attachment. The truth is I don't want to let her go, but I would. I've done it before. This was different, something was wrong here.

Literally as I was on the phone with the supervisor, the whole case started to crumble.

Baby 9's Mom essentially imploded.

She can't come to the visits at the county building because she would be arrested upon arrival. I have told her not to come here because of the threats to remove Baby 9 from my home. She was calling every 2 hours, but now hasn't called since Sunday. I am locking my doors and windows for the first time ever. Baby 9 went from 4 visits per week and heading towards overnights to having 1 visit in the past month.

I'm angry. I'm angry at addiction. How dare addiction take up residence in my child's Mother and set itself above my baby?

You see, I've watched it. I've seen addiction step back and let Mom do what she wants to do. She wants to be normal. She wants to complain about raising a toddler, and have a husband that comes home every night at 5:30 ready for dinner. She wants to be in church every Sunday and make a big pot of sauce for dinner after. She wants to be a good Mom. Then right when it looks like she may just make it, addiction steps in and reminds her it is in control. It doesn't matter what she wants . It doesn't matter who she could be. It doesn't matter that even in her lowest place, she always loves Baby 9. What matters is that addiction is more important. Addiction is stronger than she is. Addiction needs her more than her child does. I've looked 9's Mom right in the eye and listened to her tell me very articulately that she does not want addiction. She is not choosing addiction over her child. Addiction chose her.

We can look at situations like these and claim rather self righteously that this is all choice. Parents choose not to be safe for their kids. Parents choose to use drugs and alcohol. They just don't love their kids enough. They don't want their kids enough. It just isn't that simple. There's not good people and bad people when it comes to addiction.

Addiction has never chosen me. I've gone out and had wine with my friends this past week. I took diet pills in high school. I've smoked cigarettes at parties. I've used left over vicodin from my wisdom teeth extraction to settle me down after a horrible day. Then I stopped, and continued on without craving those things again. I've never counted change to buy beer. I've never asked a stranger for a light.  I have never messed up so badly that I had to lie and cheat in fear of getting caught. This was not because I'm more in control than 9's Mom. It's not because I've never batted my eyes at addiction. It's because addiction didn't want me.

I want to yell until addiction doesn't want her either.

I want Baby 9 to have everything- including a healthy Mom.

I found myself praying for her Mom relentlessly this week. I took a drive down the streets where I thought she could be and I prayed the name of Jesus over my daughter's Mother. I prayed Jesus would take her from addiction and light her path to safety. I prayed that Baby 9 gets the chance to hug her Mom at Kindergarten graduation. I can't love anyone enough to save them. Baby 9's Mom is not stronger than addiction. Only Jesus can love her enough. Only Jesus can make addiction flee.

Then I got a call from the caseworker today. They are ready to start the steps of filing a termination. I'm so sad for Baby 9 and her family even though I know that this is the only way to give 9 permanency. She will not be in an environment that lets her grow and be secure if she returns home or stays in foster care. We will absolutely adopt her if that is needed. We would be so blessed to be hers forever.

But now there is a relative resource thinking about having a conversation about possibly stepping forward.

Stay tuned for the next episode.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Time Warped

Today was the most perfect, and probably unfortunate, example of how different I am after 5 years of fostering than the sheltered 22 year old fosterling I remember in a different life.

Upon learning that one of my [past or present] children's Mother was arrested for prostitution last night and is in jail. My first thoughts...

5 years ago:

How horrible!! Wouldn't she think about her children first?! I hope CPS has her and all the children tested for diseases. Certainly visits are off the table! Oh! Jail visits?! Can you imagine?!!


She got picked up for prostitution on October 1st? Who prostitutes on the 1st?! Food Stamps and cash assistance came in today... I mean, if it were the 29th, at least we could say she was broke. I wonder if I have any sports bras that would fit her so I don't have to buy new ones for the stuff I'll drop off tomorrow. What do I need?  2 towels, shampoo, sports bras, underwear, socks...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Last week in foster care

Monday- I find out the Baby 2 &3's brother was born, removed, and placed with another foster family. They are a lovely new family (first placement), who I trained in MAPP, who opened for strictly healthy newborns. They told me about the situation without knowing I had been waiting for or wanted this baby. I did not tell them anything. They were so excited about their baby.

I text 2&3's Dad to let him know the baby was not placed with us, but we are willing to have him if Mom wants to ask for us.

I also emailed our caseworker to tell her about the situation, but I purposely did not ask for the baby to be moved to us. I wanted to see what the county would say about it on their own.

Tuesday- Our caseworker emails me back.  No one knows why we weren't called, but they'll look into it.

2, 3, and new baby's Mom skipped court and her first visit with new baby.

Wednesday- Court for Baby 9. The county took a strong stand for reunification to happen this year. I was completely thrown off kilter by the haste in our new plan. There are still so many things that need to happen to keep the plan on track, but the tone that was set in court gave me the heads up to start preparing to say goodbye.

In the court lobby, I see the new baby's caseworker. She tells me that she has baby's case and knows about my connection to the family. She was shocked when I told her we were waiting for new baby's placement, but didn't get called. She said the county should "fix it" right away, but did not offer to help facilitate or advocate that at all.

Baby 2&3's Dad calls me while I'm in the lobby. He's thinking new baby is going to need to be adopted. It seems both parents are unwilling to cooperate with CPS. He asks me if we are still available, and says he is going to talk to the Mom about asking for the move.

I called another caseworker as I was leaving court to ask for a reality check. Should I drop this, or wait for baby to be moved to us? She felt like it was in the best interest of new baby to be placed with us so we can build bio-connections with 2&3. She was going to make sure everyone who matters was aware of what's going on. She called me back about an hour later to let me know they were going to have a big meeting about it. She said the matcher who placed the baby feels absolutely terrible about the mix up. It was series of unfortunate mishaps when new baby needed a home that caused all the confusion. But here's the thing- it doesn't seem like there was confusion when the foster family knew about my relation to new baby. Someone told them and it wasn't me or the bio family.

Later, I get an email from my caseworker saying the decision has been passed higher up from her supervisor to the administrator.

Thursday- I get call from Baby 2 &3's Dad. He was served with court papers for new baby because he is legally married to Mom, even though he is not new baby's Dad. He wanted some phone numbers so he could figure out what his role in all this will be. He reiterates that he would prefer the baby come to us, and Mom would like that too.

Friday- I call the county to tell them we will not be part of new baby being moved after today. He's been with the foster family for a week, and they are all bonded and cuddly. It's not in his best interest to move him now. My caseworker said the administrator had said no move anyway unless it was ordered by the judge. She said she was just about to email me when I called.

Even though I was on the fence about adding to our brood, I grieved for this baby that' not mine. I cried for the brother I could have given my boys. My boys that don't live with me either. So this new family- who I believe was never even told that any of this happened- will have a quick abandonment case followed by the adoption of  their really cute baby who is the carbon copy of Baby 3. Mom will have no contact with them or the baby- just like she did with 2&3. I know "fair" is not even a thing in foster care. There is no "fair" in any story where a child needs foster care. Putting the last 4 years into this family and loving them so hard it often left me  bruised, just to have these doe eyed fosterlings that I trained swoop in and get to fall in love with new baby seems like a special kind of injustice, though. I'd be lying if I said I was hurt or angry. I'll try not to think about it, and get less bitter over time. I did have to unfollow them on social media so their happy family pictures weren't all over my phone anymore.

On the flip side, I can't imagine living in the very small circle of foster families in our area knowing I took someone else's placement. They would have been crushed, and I would have felt horrible.

Just knowing it's all over and what happened, happened, gives a bit of relief from last week.

Monday, September 15, 2014

I wish I would have written this

This post could just as easily be titled "4 Things Parents of Kids with Early Childhood Trauma Wish You Wouldn't Say". I wish I would have written especially this portion:

"“All kids do that/struggle with that.” Well, yes and no. Many of the things my son struggles with are problematic for other kids at some point, sure. But it’s not the same. For us, the struggles are prolonged, and often more difficult. Sometimes it feels like you have to slide backwards a few inches before you can creep ahead a few more. Sometimes it feels like nothing is easy, ever. The up side? The victories take my breath away. Something as simple as the first time my toddler climbed on a swing and said, “Push me!” is enough to leave me in tears. That makes everything worthwhile."

"The victories take my breath away"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wanna Make God Laugh?

I love plans. Mmm... Like a warm blanket and a cup of tea; well thought out plans are good for my soul. My birthday was last week, and I'm discovering my love of plans has grown with age. We are finding ourselves in a place where we can afford to plan beyond right now and our kids are all pretty stable. Life is good.

So I planned to adopt Baby 4 in September. When Dad signed his surrender in May, the judge set a permanency plan hearing for September 30th.  She instructed the county to have the adoption done before that date. So our lawyer sent the court our petition to adopt, then the court sent the county a request for information. The county sent 4's birth certificate, his parents' surrenders, and their approval that 4 be adopted. That was accepted, now we wait for the court to ask for our updated homestudy- which has been completed. The caseworker will send our homestudy upon request, and once the judge accepts it, they will call out lawyer with a finalization date. It does not seem like we will be getting our date this month.

The next plan is to take Baby Girl to Boston for a 3rd opinion on her heart. BG was born with a heart condition called Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome. Essentially she only has the left side of her heart developed and working properly. We thought she would need a series of 3 surgeries to  survive her condition, but as time went on it was clear these surgeries would not be the solution for her. So we sought out the best heart surgeon to try something different. We had to wait forever to get a date to go out there, and when we did- they told us we were going to do the consult, and if we agreed on the plan, go ahead with surgery 3 days later. All in one trip was not in my plans. This surgery could keep us in Boston for 2 weeks or 3 months. It all depends on Baby Girl.

After Boston we were going to start BG in preschool at our local Deaf School. I was going to be taking sign language classes there as well. Baby 4 would start basketball. Baby 9 and I would have time for a swim class. Life was going to settle down for once. Maybe I'd get my house clean. Maybe I'd just watch tons of Law and Order reruns. I'd be fine with whatever.

In January BG and B4 would have their birthdays, and I would know what was going on in Baby 9's case. Then we would talk about what to do with our fostering. We don't want to be done, but I don't think we want to add to our legal family anymore, either. We were thinking getting into emergency foster care. We would be the home that takes the children after hours/weekends/holidays until a regular foster family can be found to take them in for the rest of their foster care stay. It would be for real helping without the long term commitment. Or maybe we would just stay open for respite placements. We had time to plan. I wasn't concerned.

After we didn't get an adoption date, and we don't know how long we'll be in Boston, and nothing is certain in 9's case... we get some news... Baby 2&3 are going to be big brothers. They were successfully reunited with their Dad who is doing well with them. He is not the Dad of this new baby, though. It looks like this baby is coming into care. This baby is going to be due right around the time I plan to be coming back from Boston. So I called the county and told them we'll be waiting if they need us. They said we'd be their first call. If my plans work out the way they usually do, we won't even be in the state when he's born. Who knows what will happen? That's the point, though, right?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Real Foster Care

Baby 9's case is real deal foster care. She has been in foster care for 16 months and no one has any idea what is going to happen in her case.

Kids in foster care have been removed from their families because of abuse or neglect. There are horrible stories of children being beaten, raped, given drugs, left alone for days with no food in the house. Those are not most cases, though. Most cases really deal with a family that is in crisis- whether it be from mental health diagnosis, substance abuse, domestic violence, etc- and the parent made a bad choice for their child. Sometimes that's it- just one bad choice. Sometimes it's that the parent does not have good judgement in general, and while they love their child, they find themselves facing crisis after crisis.

In every case we've had, I've had some sort of inkling what was going to happen. That never took away the fear or feeling of being completely out of control, but the inkling was always right. In hindsight- there was writing on the wall from the beginning of the case how it was going to play out. But those were not typical cases. It's not typical to have super involved and invested Dads working to get their kids back. It's not typical to have such a high profile severe abuse case where no contact is granted between Mother and child. While I feel like I have a lot of foster care experience, this is the first time I've had to just take care of the kid and wait for the case to sort itself out.

Taking care of the kid has been a cakewalk. Baby 9 is healthy: great eater / sleeper / pooper, no allergies, no ear infections, 60th percentile for height and weight. She's cute as all get out: with ringlets of golden brown hair, a perfect button nose, and chubby cheeks. And she's a child genius:She has all her body parts down, about 3 animal noises consistently, all the moves for "Ring around the rosie", "All the little fishies", "5 little Monkeys", "Itsy Bitsy Spider", and "Wheels on the bus". Recently she's added "Let it go" to her vocal repertoire which also includes, "Night Night Sweet Baby" and her rewrite of the alphabet, "E E E H H E". She's advanced on her physical milestones as well. She does stairs on her feet, jumps with both feet off the ground, kicks and throws a ball, climbs up on the kitchen table by using the chairs as step stools, pushes the kitchen chairs back to the table when we've removed them since she keeps getting up on the table. Ugh! I just love this kid!

Waiting for the case to sort itself out has been a whole other story. I am constantly frustrated with the tight rope we walk with a parent who is doing 'OK'. Literally every other week the visit schedule changes because Mom starts or quits a program. There have been 4 living situations and 5 different locations for the visits. She's mostly following the parenting a substance programs. There have been 2 or 3 instances that show poor judgement, but they are always followed up by getting it back together. Then- what we've been waiting for all year- no more halfway house!!! It looks like 9 can go home!! Foster Care success!! Except, Mom did not comply with the counties recommendation, and got a place in a program that does not allow children to reside with the clients. Not even overnight visits. So even though she is doing well, nothing changes. She knew this when moving.

I support reunification. It's not a line. I really do want to see children with their biological families. I really want Baby 9's Mom to do well. I want her to win. But the question that comes up in this scenario is for how long do we believe in that? for a year? 2? 5? At what point does moving a child back to their biological parent after living with one consistent caregiver become detrimental to the child? She was 7 days old when she was placed with us. She calls us Mama and Dada, and Baby Girl 'Sissy'. When Brandon goes to work, she yells for him at the window. She asks for Baby 4 when she walks by his room while he's at school. If all of a sudden we were all gone, what would that do to her? She knows and loves her Mom. She calls her Mommy. Would that be enough to cushion the blow of losing everything she has known her whole life?

Still, none of it matters because the court is going to decide whatever it decides. Either way we'll all be changed. Either way there will be tears, and scars, and loss. Either way, I'll never regret being the one to hold her when her Mom couldn't. Either way, I am so thankful that we get to love Baby 9. That's real foster care.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I could have, Instead

Baby 4 was legally freed for adoption in April after 1121 days in Foster Care. WOW! It has been quite the ride. His Dad surrendered with 6 visits per year. The surrender really gives us all the control. We decide when, where, and how long the visits are. We decide who can be there and who supervises. Dad is responsible for calling us with at least a 2 week notice to set up a visit. If he schedules and then misses 2 visits, the contract is void. At a conference between the attorneys before the surrender, it was mentioned that Dad was really nervous about contact once the weekly foster care visits ended and it would be nice to front load this year's visits so there wasn't an abrupt stop to contact. We agreed to have monthly visits at first to accomodate.

May, June, and July visits happened at our house on the first Saturday of the month. Having visits in the foster home is rare. In our county- never expected and rarely recommended. 4's caseworker was not in favor of doing them here. She said we should meet Dad out in the community- at the Zoo or Museum. We made the decision to have them at our house out of convenience. I have 2 toddlers who need medical care and have their own Bio visits. I do not want to be trying to schedule around them. I also don't want to be paying to go to all these places and have to feed everyone while we're there. Our house is also on the bus line, so I don't feel obligated to offer transportation. It really did work out, too. When Dad comes over, it's just business as usual for me. I do chores and hang out in the backyard with my kids. We even had a barbeque with a bunch of other foster families for one of the visits while 4 and Dad played basketball in the driveway before joining us for lunch. It's been good for 4 to viewing seeing his Dad as a natural occurrence rather than it meaning that we stop our usual routine, get dressed up, go out, see Dad, come home, act normal again. It think it's been good for Dad too. He gets to see what 4's routine is. Who is friends are. What he plays with.How we interact together. Dad has been great with gauging how long the visit should go on. He's been staying about 2 hours after a short, but loving 'goodbye' and setting up the next visit with me. He also calls the day before the visit to confirm.

I had a feeling this month's visit was not going to go as planned. Last month, Dad called the day before and asked if we could change the time of our visit from 12 to 3 because he was involved in a basketball league that plays on Saturdays in the Summer. That worked, and the visit happened at 3. I asked him before he left if the next visit needed to be moved down to 3pm as well, and he said he didn't think so, but he'd call me if that changed. Then I didn't hear from him the day before the visit like I had the past 3 months. I Facebook messaged him (the only way I can contact him directly) Saturday morning and asked if he was coming. I explained that we wanted to go to a local festival if possible, so we needed to know. I didn't hear from him by 11am, so we left and went to the festival. He called me at 3pm saying he just got out of basketball, wouldn't be able to meet us today. I could have said, "OK, we'll see you next month.", since he missed his scheduled visit. Honestly, I wasn't upset at this point. We got our day at the festival and even though he didn't call to cancel the visit, I knew he wasn't coming all along. Instead, I offered to pick him up for church the next day and  then we'd go out and do something fun for the visit. He said that would be great, see you at 9am.

Our van can not comfortably hold Brandon, myself, 3 car seats, Baby Girl's nurse, and Dad- so we decided Brandon and 4 would go pick up Dad in the truck while I drove the girls and the nurse to church in the van. I was sitting in church waiting for service to start when I got a call from Brandon. Dad had not come out or answered the door in the past 20 minutes. I could have said, "Well, screw that, leave already!". I mean, seriously, 20 minutes. Instead I called the number that he had called me from the day before. No one answered. Then they text me asking who I was and telling me Dad was not there. I sent a Facebook message that went unanswered. Brandon waited until 9:30 and left. Baby 4 was upset. He knew they were trying to pick up his Dad, but couldn't understand why he wasn't there or wasn't coming out.

After church, we went out to eat with some friends. I brought the girls home for a nap while Brandon and 4 went to see a 3D movie about animated aircraft. At 4pm, I got a call from Dad. He was sorry about this morning. he forgot he had something to do, so he wasn't there. He could come over now if that works. I hold him they were out, and next weekend Baby 4 is at sleep away camp. I could have said, "You missed 2 scheduled visits in a row. The surrender is void." Honestly, that didn't even cross my mind, but I could have said, "The rest of this month really doesn't look good, We'll see you the first Saturday in September at noon.". That would have been reasonable. We only are required to get in 3 more visits before April. Instead, I asked how the following week looked for him. Saturday or Sunday? After basketball? Ok, it's scheduled.

Then he continued. He helps out with a football league too, and Baby 4 is old enough to play this year. They have training every evening this week and games are on Saturdays. No idea how much it costs. No idea how long it goes or exact times. But, there should be a website. I could have said, "Are you kidding me? You are telling me that after a full day of daycamp, he's going to have a full evening of football? I'm supposed to dive him? Where are my other kids while I do that? When are we eating? Oh, and this starts tomorrow? Thanks for the heads up. That's never going to work.". I do not like the idea that he wants us to transport, pay for, and support a program where Dad can show off his son's talents (Baby 4 really has natural athletic talent) when Dad can't even make his visits. I'm unsure about a program that is letting an adult with such recent CPS history work with kids. Instead, I said that sounds like a big time commitment, but I would check out the website. When I couldn't get any information online, I sent Dad a Facebook message to let him know. Then we stopped by the football field the next day to see if Dad was there. He wasn't, and we left.

I told Dad that we would keep in contact. I told Baby 4 that adoption means having 2 Moms and 2 Dads. Keeping my word means more to me than being in control of the situation at all times. When foster and adoptive parents start to focus on having "control" or "a say", it leaves the child in a position of worthlessness. I can protect 4's emotions while trying to continue contact. The only time 4 knew any of this was going on was when Brandon was in front of the house. We do not tell him about visits until they are about to occur. 

Before anyone puts any kind of accolade in the comments, I have to tell you: None of this is me. I am the, 'I could have said'. I like to be right. I like to be appreciated. I want to see justice served to everyone who doesn't live up to my standards. I have also fallen so many times in my own life. I have disappointed my husband and children when my priorities are skewed and my plans are selfish. The God who created the universe has been faithful to deliver the 'Instead' . Even when I'm wrong. Even when I'm unappreciative. He extends grace that I don't deserve. I'm nothing close to perfect. Instead, God is. This story is not about control, or tallying parenting points. This story has always been about love. While 'I could have said' so many things, I'm satisfied to choose 'Instead'.

"For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. " Romans 3:23-24 (Msg)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I still dream of them

Yesterday was the twins' 1st birthday. It was one year ago that I got a call telling me our lives were going to change forever. I remember feeling cautious about them deep in my spirit- like I knew not to hold on too tight. I thought maybe they wouldn't come into foster care at all. Maybe a relative would step forward. I know now that the Lord was holding me already, from the moment I knew about them, He was comforting me and loving me because I was going to need it. In that comfort, I found a freedom to dream about these babies. I had dreams of my sons.

I dreamed of a full minivan buzzing around town dropping the kids off at their own activities (because, of course, we would encourage each to have individual interests- not just twin identities). I dreamed of complaining on social media about potty training 2 toddlers at once. I dreamed of bunk beds and double strollers. There was a lot of laughter in my dreams of them.

It was only a weekend that passed before I picked them up. When the call came that said, "Go", I was bursting at the seams. The carseats and the diaper bag and the teeny tiny snowsuits were full of dreams as I drove to the hospital.

 I held Baby 7 for 40 minutes in the nursery at the hospital. Baby 8 was doing his carseat test and Baby 7 was awake, so we rocked in the chair by their bassinets. I talked to him and snapped pictures on my cellphone. I told him all about my dreams for him. He was deeply loved and desperately wanted. Everyone was home waiting for him.

The next day they were gone. I lost my sons that day. My heart broke into a million little pieces like broken glass. Even now, if I move too fast or thoughtless, my insides pain with loss.

I have struggled this year with how to move forward without leaving them behind. Yesterday, their birthday hit me hard. I thought about them every minute- even while sleeping. I dreamed of them.

I dreamed of them older, maybe 4 or 5 years old. We were in Heaven. They were playing together as I watched, and the sun was shining on them. They were so happy and beautiful. I remember thinking in my dream that there was no other place where they would fit in as well. These perfect children in a perfect place.

Today I thought about Baby 8- who is not actually in Heaven. What is my dream of him? How do I move through life with my son out there in this pretty scary- not at all perfect- world? I dream of him knowing the Lord. I dream of Baby 8 being able to hear and recognize the voice of his Savior over every other sound. I dream of someone holding him close, even if that person can not be me.

The only Mothering I get to do for them is to have big dreams. It's not the role I expected, but it's the one I got. I forsee a lot of sitting on the couch, missing the dreams that are gone, this weekend. After that time that I've reserved for sorrow, I am going to rejoice in the dreams of our futures...

Baby 8's happy life... 

Our Heavenly reunion... 

Big dreams of Baby 9.... 

Without Baby 7's passing, we would never have known Baby 9

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Psalm 126:5

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

No one wins when a family dies

Today I went to court for Baby 4's Dad's surrender.

There was some hoopla getting into the court because apparently Brandon carries a credit card knife in his wallet and forgot take it out. Foster Care Fun Fact: You can't bring weapons into the courthouse. I made fun of him sufficiently as he was scolded by security and had to have it confiscated. He did get it back before we left.

By the time we got up to the family court lobby, everyone was already there. The caseworker gave me the intent to adopt papers that keep the county from putting Baby 4 on the state photolisting websites as available for adoption. She said to sign them after court and give them back. Our attorney explained that once the surrender occurred, he'd go to work getting everything we need filled out and filed with the court. He estimated adoption would occur around September.

Once Dad was done talking to his attorney, I went over to him and asked how he was. I told him I could only imagine how difficult today was for him. He said that he knew what needed to be done. He wished things were different, but he's not stable now. He asked me if I would let him call Baby 4. I reminded him that he has been calling us for 3 years now. He knows our number. He knows where we live. He's invited to dinner at our house for every holiday and birthday that comes up. He said, "That's all I want. I want to be able to see him and give him Christmas presents and new sneakers for his birthday.". Then we were called into the courtroom.

When we got into the court room, the judge was wrapping up the case before us, and so we all quietly shuffled into the back of the courtroom. It gave me a few minutes to think about what Dad said. He just wanted to get his kid sneakers. It was the saddest thing I've ever heard. But I totally get it. The anniversary of Baby 7's death is quickly approaching, and I'd do anything to just be able to smell him one more time- just for a second. When everything precious is ripped away from you, you'll settle for scraps. I felt that in Dad's words. He was losing everything today.

This was not a happy day. This was a horrible day. I wasn't about to "win". Nothing here was to be celebrated. A family was about to die. My son's family was about to die. My son doesn't deserve this. He doesn't deserve to be adopted. He deserves to be loved and kept by his Mother and Father who love him and keep him safe. Period. That's what my son deserves. Unfortunately, living with his parents and being safe were not compatible in his situation. Being adopted by us is not what he deserves, but it's what he needs.

We sat down with our lawyer and everyone else did the same. I opened my folder with the intent to adopt papers right on top, and wiped tears from my eyes. The judge took a roll call and said she has an application for surrender before her today. Does Dad wish to surrender his rights?

He said yes.

The judge pulled her chair down from her podium (That's not the correct word, but you get it, right?) and sat right across from Dad at the defense table. She spoke very kind, but firm, about the implications of this decision. She went through all the conditions that Dad was agreeing to- 6 visits/yr, open telephone communication, if no contact for 6 months then the agreement is void. Dad agreed to all that and signed that part. We signed it as well as the caseworker and the attorney for the child. Then the judge said she was going to start the surrender procedure. Dad is entitled to legal and emotional counseling regarding this decision. Dad indicated he was satisfied with his lawyer, but he wanted to talk to a counselor.

The judge said, "OK", shut the file and stopped the conversation.

No surrender.

The county has one month to get Dad counseling specifically for this surrender decision, and we'll come back in a month to hear what Dad will do.

Then we left.

Our lawyer said that it seemed like that was all Dad could handle today- just the conditions. We'll pick up where we left off next time. I'm not completely convinced Dad knew that saying yes to counseling meant the surrender wouldn't happen today. It sounded to me like he was saying he needed counseling after surrender- which is likely true as well.

Nothing changes between now and then. I've been explaining this all along to Baby 4 that everyone in his life wants him and loves him. We all go to court to tell the judge that we want him and the judge chooses where 4 should live forever. When talk of the surrender happened, I told 4 that we had all agreed that he should live here and visit Dad. We were all going to go into court together and ask the judge if that was OK. He expressed desire to be adopted, but made it clear that he still wants to see his Dad a lot. Today when we came back from court, I told him that Daddy got really sad at court because he loves 4 so much. The judge said we should wait and come back when everyone is sure this is the choice we want. Baby 4 didn't have any questions. He said he was happy we were waiting for his Dad. I made sure he knew he could ask us or his Dad anything about court or adoption. I told him we all know what's going on, so any of us could answer his questions. He said he would ask if he had questions.

At bedtime we read Kids Need To Be Safe for added assurance. We've read this book a million times before, and he loves it. Tomorrow we'll read Families Change to keep the communication open.

This is part of our story that I'm not in love with at all.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

When you are angry

When you are angry, Here's what you can do:

Rip apart these phone books from 2009 that we still have in the cedar chest
And you can rip the local advertiser that comes in the mail too
Scribble really hard ON PAPER
Hug me so tight my guts fall out
Build a block tower and the kick it down
Put your face in your pillow and scream as loud as you can
Take a bath
Spin in a circle while putting your arms in and out to make you go faster or slower

When you are sad, Here's what you can do:

Sit on my lap, and I'll hug you soft so your guts don't fall out
Ask me for hot tea
Rock in the rocking chair
Put the radio on and sing with the songs
Crawl up the stairs and slide down each one on your butt

When you are anxious, Here's what you can do:

Ask me for a straw to chew on
Make a sculpture with playdoh
Do a craft where you get glue on your hands and then pick it off when it's dry
Blow as hard as you can on the curtains to make them move
Take a bath

When you have feelings that you don't like to have. You can always come tell me. I have those feelings too. We'll figure it out together.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stream of Conciousness

I'm giving you 5 minutes inside my head. I set my stopwatch and I'll type what I'm thinking. When the timer goes off, I post. No editing- so the spelling/grammar nazis may want to skip this post. Ready, Go...

Theres is absolutely no way that anyone would keep reading anything I have to write if they knew how my life really is. I yell at my kids all. the. time. Seriously, is it an Italian thing? Probably. I'm going to go with that. Sorry kids, You need therapy because Mom is Italian. 

Being a foster Mom is a little like being in jail because someone always has an appointment or has someone coming over the house to look at their bed. Because that's going to tell you how well treated they are- looking at their bed. Stupid., The whole system is just stupid. No one has ever checked that they have enough clothes or if I change the baby's diapers often enough to prevent diaper rash. Ido because I'm not trashy, but they don't know that. No one knows if these kids are better off with me, but suddenly you are a foster parent and everyone is all, "you're amazing. You're such a good person! The babies are so lucky to have you!" REally? because I wanted a kid, and then got a kid and now love said kid I'm amazing? Pretty sure I'm just regular. My kids are pretty amazing and I'm super lucky because I could have never met BRandon and have to be navigating the dating scene in my 20's instead of snuggling with the adorable babies that I wanted and got. Yeah, they're really lucky. Go them. Oh! jail. so someone is always in your house and people get sick of you asking them to come to your house and get your kids off the transportation vehicle from visits at 3:30 while you go out and attempt to live your life. 

That's why I'm sitting here with the pedicure I got on DEcember 23rd. I remember it was the 23rd because I asked the lady at Walmart who did it why they were open do late and she sdia she was trying to get hours in since they were closed the next 2 days for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It's gross, really. I Was at Walmart on the 23rd because I still hadn't finished my grocery shopping for Christmas breakfast- which we ended up cancelling because everyone had the stomach flu. also gross. if I wasn't a foster Mom I'd have plenty of time to get pedicures but the rest of my life would be devoid of meaning. Foster care gives me a mission. I'm a champion for the orphan or something noble like that. Not because I'm amazing as I already mentioned, just because you can't be close the devastation in this world and not want to help change it. No one would be able to rock my baby to sleep and not want to help her. She is beautiful. I'm so scared fro her. I have no idea what is going to happen, but I know she calls me Mama,and if I was gone one day because a judge said I had to be, she would know. She would cry. I hate to think that I'm the one who might hurt her in the end. I want to support her going home to a Mom who really does love her but who has been largely absent for her whole first year but i can't imagine a world where that works out for the baby. I never imagined it working out for the last one either, but I guess it did. he seems secure with his Dad. He still wants to be cuddled when he's with me though. I remembers in his skin who I was to him but I don't think he really remembers. I remember and I'll carry that in me til I die. Ew I'm crying. I cry over everything. Brandon must think I'm crazy sitting at the table crying at my computer way past my bedtime. 

If I to just say one thing to anyone and that was it. I would tell them to live their adult lives like we all teach our toddlers to live their lives. If I followed every direction I give Cataleya in a day and applied it to my adult life, I'd be a much better person.

You have two, and she has none. Share.

Gentle. Be Gentle with others. Show me Gentle

You're cranky. Take a nap

Use your words

Your turn is done. What's next. 

Oh! I get insightful when I let myself babble after 11pm! Share, Gentle, Get enough sleep, talk it out, and move on when it's time. That's not about foster care, but it's good stuff.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Is he on something?

Yesterday I shared the story of getting one of my kids diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His teachers thought he had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but wise medical professionals were able to identify the more accurate diagnosis. In both the mental health and foster care arenas, there is a lot of controversy over psychotropic drugs being used to treat children. Most studies that I have read conclude that there are way too many kids in care getting medicated for conditions that may not necessarily warrant that extreme intervention. I agree that medication is an extreme intervention. Foster parents who want their kids on medicine for the ease of parenting or the higher board rate check are out there and are wrong. I was going to parent this child right. I was going to put in the time because love heals all wounds.

We tried therapy and TONS of reflective listening and positive reinforcement. We identified the child's need for information and ownership of his story.

"You are growling and throwing your toys against the wall. It looks like you are angry."

"You thought I said you could buy ice cream at school today, but I didn't say that, so you had no money. That was why you ran around the cafeteria when Mr. Miller called your class to their tables?"

"I see white on your nails!! You didn't bite them! Let's cut them outside and then you can play with your soccer ball. Great Job!!"

"The medicine that the Doctor gives you is picked out to make you better. If you took your sister's medicine, it would make you sick because it's not yours. When people take medicine that the Doctor didn't tell them too, it makes them unhealthy. Every kid needs a healthy parent to take care of them and keep them safe."

"Do you remember the first time you slept in your room here? What did your tummy feel like that day?"

I will say that the behaviors we saw in the way of tantrums and defiance did gradually get better. I had to constantly stop myself from comparing day to day or even week to week. Month to month, though- we were getting somewhere.

The questions started almost immediately from friends, family, teachers, caseworkers:

"Is he on something?"

"Has anyone mentioned medicine?"

"My [nephew, neighbor, whatever] started Ritalin and is an honor student now."

I was viscerally opposed to medicating a BABY with drugs that alter his mood and personality. I made it very clear that I would NOT give up on my child. I would work with him. I would hold him accountable. I would not medicate him.

Then someone who I don't even like all that much looked me in the eye and said, "At what point does you protecting him turn into keeping him from the last thing that could help him?" I don't speak to that person anymore, but they were right.

I started to ask questions to other parents who had children like mine. I found out that the people who started using medications for their kids had struggled with the same objections I had. They had neutral to positive feedback about using these meds. What I found REALLY helpful was a friend who shared their own journey with medication for themselves. They said that it helped without changing who they are. I knew that if that was true, I wanted it for my struggling child.

After a particularly unbearable 2 weeks for everyone in our house. I called the caseworker and said that we needed to start pursuing medication "to preserve the placement". Those are fighting words around here. I meant every single one of them at that moment. I joked with Brandon that the medicine we pursued didn't even have to be for the child. If I could get some horse tranquilizers, I wouldn't care about the daily calls home from school.

We met with the Doctor who prescribed an extended release stimulant medicine that is typically used for focus. We gave it in the morning with breakfast and it worked throughout the day. The school LOVED it. He was listening and focused. His papers were getting completed and he stayed in line in the hallway. At home, though- he never stopped talking from 3pm to 3am- not even to breathe. He wasn't sleeping at all. He was ripping his skin off his fingers. Pulling his baby teeth out that weren't even loose. Not eating. We were all going bonkers. He has allergy meds that we keep around for seasonal allergies and itching skin when he picks. They both have an anti-anxiety effect. We started giving that regularly to calm him down. When that did nothing, we started melatonin to help him sleep. He started complaining of stomach aches and headaches everyday to the school nurse. She started to check on him daily to ask how he was feeling, and he started responding, "sad.". We went into the Dr again. There we found out he had lost 3 lbs in just 2 weeks. That medication was discontinued.

We then took a different approach and placed him on an anti-anxiety med. In just 3 days, all the negative side effects had cleared up and we were seeing a much less angry kid. He stopped that constant talking, and there was much rejoicing. I loved what I was seeing at home. He was still himself, but he seemed more aware of his surroundings and less wrapped up in himself. It was nice. Until the notes from school started rolling in. He was not staying with the class, telling crazy stories to get out of work, trying to get the other children to play with him instead of doing what the teacher instructed. He was using baby talk to make the kids laugh, and trying to sneak toys into class at the bottom of his backpack or packed in his pockets. When he was caught he said he gets bored at school.

I asked him what he needed to get out of the cycle of bringing home negative reports everyday. He said, "You can just give me my pink pill. I promise I won't be sad and I will eat my lunch." Even this small child could tell the difference. He wanted to do better. He knew he needed help.

After a month of desperate pleas from the teachers, the Dr agreed to try a fast acting stimulant at school. In the morning when he gets to school, the nurse gives him the pill. It lasts about 4 hours and during that time he has great focus. By the time he gets home, it is out of his system and is ready to eat, sleep, play- all without the aggression that the anxiety caused before. He doesn't have perfect days like with the other med, but he has the chance to make good choices with a little assistance.

We were able to take down the allergy med to just as needed, and he no longer needed melatonin.

We continued with therapy, positive reinforcement, hold him accountable for poor choices. We understand that behavior choices are harder for him than other children, and we are teaching him that means he has to try harder. Right and wrong don't change because you have had a raw deal in life. I wish it was different for him, but it wasn't. Excusing poor choices doesn't help anyone.

I never thought I would be one of those foster parents who dope up their kid to make them behave. I always knew that I would do anything for my children, though. When those two ideals contradicted each other, it took me a while but I chose my child over my stereotypes of bad parenting. When I did, we both found peace.

That being said, medication is a big deal with bug side effects, as we saw. It should not be entered into lightly and should be monitored closely by a medical professional who knows the child and all about traumatized kids in care. Our kids are different and need to be treated specially for their condition. If I could do it all over, I would still have turned over every stone for years before trying medication. Even now that we have a good regimen that is working, all of the non- medication stuff is still as important as it was before.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Doctor, Doctor!

Quality medical care is important for all kids, but is even more so for kids in foster care. Our kids come to us with unknown histories- both personal and family. They may or may not have ever seen a Doctor or been immunized. Their Mother may or may not have had prenatal care. She may or may not have abused alcohol or other substances while pregnant. Then they have experienced abuse or neglect. The impact of that trauma impacts the kind of medical care they need once they are in your home.

My life is simplified by the medical system set up by my agency. There is one designated Foster Care Clinic that all foster families in the county must bring their kids to. They are trained and really familiar with this specific population; are comfortable writing letters for court, and getting us set up with WIC and Early Intervention Services. For Specialists, there is a Children's hospital in the City that is minutes from the clinic. We are referred there for cardiology, gastroenterology, neuro- really, all the "ology"s. Foster parents in our area know that these providers will accept the Medicaid and Managed Care HMO plans that our kids are on. I do not take for granted that this is a luxury foster parents in other areas do not have.

Other foster parents must find a Doctor to take their child, and take their child's insurance, very quickly after placement. They must explain the situation as they know it and have the child evaluated. I don't even know how consents work for that kind of stuff. With our foster care clinic, they have access to our child's county caseworker and can pretty easily get insurance and any history the parents have shared with the caseworker. I imagine the information would be passed through the foster parent. That seems like a lot of pressure.

Our visibly injured and fragile kids are of course going to need specialists, therapies, home nurses, etc to get them well and provide appropriate care. I am sure that getting those kinds of care plans in place, while overwhelming, is probably obvious and unquestioned with the Doctor you choose.

It's the kids with the invisible wounds that need the less obvious care plans. I had child who had classic Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Every checklist you can imagine indicates this diagnosis. The teachers say he can't stay in his chair- he's falling on the ground multiple times per day. He is impulsive- touching other children and speaking out instead of raising his hand at circle time. He always gets the first 2 answers correct on every paper and test before rushing the rest and making answers up. His play is loud and fast moving- always with cars crashing and lots of roaring and sound effects. I know that most Doctors and typical parents would take it for what everyone sees- ADHD.

Fortunately he doesn't have most Doctors or a typical parent. What I was able to tell them when they asked me the right questions is that he also bites the inside of his lip and his fingernails, picks his cuticles, and scratches behind his ear until it bleeds. This usually happens at bed time and keeping lights on or doors open makes no difference. He also can sit through dinner at home without falling out of his seat. Homework is a breeze where I rarely have to correct his answers, but may have to focus his attention. I have watched him spend 20 minutes solid doing a puzzle or making a million paper airplanes for everyone he knows. We have also seen sudden mood swings that end in angry violent tantrums. There is always an obvious reason that makes him mad, but no obvious event that snap out of it- which he also does quickly. With time, there have been less frequent episodes like this, but they seem to get more intense each time. A nurse practitioner with experience in treating abused kids knew to get him a full psychiatric evaluation which showed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD- not ADHD. Where another provider and another parent could have seen a hyper kid- we were actually dealing with a very anxious kid.

Any person, but especially a child, who is dealing with intense anxiety is not going to respond well to a carpet full of squirmy preschoolers or to a routine change brought on by new children in his house. The plan was not to go right for the behavior modification or hyperactivity meds, but to focus on stress management and identifying feelings. Giving words to what was happening in his head was of utmost importance. The idea was that once the anxiety that had become his baseline was brought down, he'd have an extra second to make a better behavior choice. We ended up with 2 different kids of therapists- both who work with trauma, but in different ways. One came to our home and the school and uses a lot of art and movement in her sessions. She had him color satisfied and dance angry. The other was an office based therapist who used toys at a table to start conversations about specific things that had happened in the child;'s past. Therapist 1 encouraged our participation with the child while Therapist 2 insisted he see the child and us separately.

Then we had a baby who was colicky. Spit up everything and miserable. I was genuinely concerned that this child would end up shaken if he went home because he was exhausting and nothing soothed him. The parents insisted he was allergic tot he formula. I agreed. He was cranky all the time because his tummy was upset. The nurse practitioner at the clinic was steadfast that we keeping his formula and feeding schedule the same. She was positive that this was normal for the reason why he was in care- even though the books all say that a child with his condition should be recovered by that time. She gave me some great tips about attachment and sensory soothing. I did end up wearing that baby strapped to my chest for 12 week. He slept in baby hammock that I borrowed from another foster Mom.  In less time than I thought- he turned into the happiest 4 month old ever. Same formula, same routine- no more hammock. If I was dealing with a Doctor who wasn't used to withdrawing babies, we could have been adding rice or using stinky soy formula when the kid only needed a moby wrap and some time.

When we had a baby who was born at 30 weeks at less than 4lbs, the Doctor wrote a letter to the judge explaining why it was not a good idea to make that baby do jail visits. I know other Doctors would have been hesitant to be so bold and put their name on something that could require them to be involved in a court case. That same Doctor for a different baby had already taken pictures of the child's large Mongolian birthmark that covered his bottom four months before his parents noticed it and accused us of bruising him. It was very fortunate for us in that moment that this Doctor is always thinking about court and the ramifications this child's medical care could have legally for the child themselves, and their bio and foster families.

As Foster parents, we need to be sure that the Doctors we choose for our children aren't just the closest pediatrician to our home that accepts Medicaid. We can't look at the Dr. like we would for our biological children. If my biological child was coming home with school reports like the child I mentioned earlier- it would be completely appropriate to move forward with an ADHD diagnosis. All of our kids come into care with some sort of special need- whether is is a need to have someone understand how trauma has changes the way their brain processes emotions and information, or a need to have  a feeding tube placed after a Failure to Thrive Diagnosis.  Finding the right Doctor is only the first step in our list of responsibilities, though. We also have to be informed parents. It is hard with foster care, because we don't get to consent for treatment. We don't get to deny a providers plan if CPS doesn't understand our objections. That doesn't mean we can't ask questions. It doesn't mean we don't seek second opinions, It doesn't mean we don't fight for sedation at the dentist appointment that makes your child dysregulate and act out aggressively. We have to be aware of the options and ask that no stone be left unturned.

Our kids who have experienced significant amounts of pain or who have not had the most caring adults responsible for them are not always going to be upfront with their symptoms. While it's important that we stay on top of our Doctors, we also have to stay on top of our kids. I had an incident with Baby 4 about a year ago. He was getting ready for a visit, so I sent him to the bathroom before we left. He yells, "Mom! My pee is red!". When I went in he was peeing straight blood- bright red and thick. I obviously freaked out and took him right to the Emergency Department. He had a urinary tract infection- not a terribly big deal- except his was really bad. The Doctor said he had to have had it for a while and it had to have been causing him pain. Whe  we asked him, he first insisted he never had any pain. He said he noticed his pee was brown, but he thought it was poop in the toilet that someone had forgotten to flush. Then it was red, but sometimes he sits to pee and poop at the same time, so it could have been his poop. He didn't think he had to tell me. He was 6 yrs old at the time- and completely independent in the bathroom. I never thought to ask about pain when using the bathroom or what color his urine was. A kid who hadn't experienced such a high level of pain would have been moved enough to say something. A kid who wasn't used to weird medical things going on in his body would have seen the urine change as something alarming. After asking again about any discomfort or pain, 4 said that he did feel like he had to go pee all the time and is did hurt to pee but he's brave. I check in now with him a couple times per week to go over any new feelings in his body- aches, pains, whatever. He's had to deal with a lot of medical interventions and pain on his own, and now I have to teach him to trust me to help him with these things.

I'm continuing this topic tomorrow with a post on psychotropic drugs prescribed to children in foster care.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Foster Care Did To My Sex Life

This blog is supposed to be a real representation of our fostering experience. So lets get real.

In the fertility treatment/ trying to conceive world- you have lots of sex. It's required. Going from that world to foster care was a huge change of pace. At first, there was the whole newborn in our room thing. Very normal parenting speed bump. No time, no sleep, no pressure- so we got a little lazy. 

Then we parented a child who had experienced sexual abuse. At first we didn't know what had happened, but there was sexual acting out in our home.  Some of the terms that used to be playful and exciting coming from my husband quickly became horrifying on the lips of a young child.

I spent a lot of time saying, "That's not how we touch others.", "Hug with your shoulders, not with your penis.", "Kids don't kiss grown ups with their tongues.". We read book after book about "Red Flag Touches" and "Green Flag Touches". We practiced saying no, and made lists of adults we should tell if anyone makes you uncomfortable. After a full day of that, I just didn't feel very sexy.

Once you have been humped by a baby- your world changes. I saw sex as deviant and criminal. My innocence had been lost with my child's. While I loved and wanted intimacy with my husband, I couldn't rally the strength to separate the foster Mom and young wife in me.

I spent so much time healing the disaster that sexual abuse left in someone I loved, that I lost sight of the real purpose and joy of sex between committed adults.

Foster Care killed my sex life for as long as I let it.

Even once I made the conscious effort to get it together, sex wasn't playful or adventurous anymore. I wanted more relationship building closeness and less "What new thing can we google?"

Honestly, years later, I still don't look at sex the same. I don't plan on talking to my kids the same way I thought I would about sex. I see pedophiles everywhere. I view gender roles in sex very differently. Empowering my kids to take charge of their bodies made me more aware of the control I want to have over my own.

No one told me to protect my sex life in foster care, until one day someone did. Incidentally, I was asked to share our story of parenting a child who had been sexually abused at a training. One of the other foster Moms shared her story as well and mentioned that intimacy with her husband was difficult to adjust to after one of her children had been sexually abused. It was like a lightning bolt went through my brain straight through my heart. I wasn't a freak. This is something that other foster parents are going through as well. It made a huge impact on me to be able to talk about it with another person instead of struggling behind the bedroom door.

I don't have any tips to get back that lovin' feeling- or I would absolutely share them with you. My only advice would be to be creative with finding intimacy with your partner if sex has been tainted by foster care. For us that, has meant that I ask for (am I seriously about to say foreplay on my blog? whew.. here we go) foreplay to slow way down and for the intercourse to be gentle with lots of talking. I still want to be close to my husband, and when the focus stays on that part- I'm OK.

My husband has been great at understanding why sex has changed in our marriage. He felt a lot of the repulsion at the "dirty talk" that used to be cute but now makes us dry heave. He still would be fine with a quicky (oh Lord, I just said quicky. I have to end this now) in the bathroom while the kids watch Doc McStuffins, and that isn't where I am right this moment.

Well, I'm embarrassed enough for one day. Please come back and read the next post. I promise I won't say foreplay.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why I Hate Adoption

I didn't know where or how to share this story since it's all about our agency domestic newborn adoption of Baby Girl, but it heavily influences my opinion of foster care. Then there's that whole, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." thing. But here I go anyway...

First, I guess I should clarify that I don't necessarily hate adoption as much as I hate the questionable ethics that surround newborn domestic adoption (and likely international adoption, but I don't have personal experience to draw from on that matter). I love the orphans finding Fathers kind of adoption. Kids who need families getting good ones. That's fantastic. There's this murky, muddy area between that and straight up human trafficking/baby selling, though, that makes me break out in hives and gives me a cold sweat.

For us it goes like this:

We got the info for Baby Girl's case when she was already 5 weeks old. Her Mom did not sign the relinquishment until the day before we went to pick her up at 9 weeks old. We knew Mom was very young and Baby Girl was very sick. We knew the plan had always been adoption even before baby was born with medical complications and the pre-birth matched family backed out.

I felt like this was a clear cut situation of a Mom making the choice to give her baby to a family that would provide the life she wanted for her child. I felt this specifically because of the number of times she could have changed her adoption plan. When the first family said they could not go further with the adoption, it was a great time to say, "I want to parent.". During the next 3 weeks where there was no family matched with the baby would have been a great time to say, "I want to parent.". Then when the relinquishment was in front of you- that was a good time to say, "I want to parent.". Since, to my knowledge, there was never any question of the biological family's intention to pursue adoption- I was sure that our adoption was going to be an ethical one.

We had no contact with Baby Girl's biological family at all. We were chosen by the adoption agency to be her family. We were told she was hurt by the other families she had picked that had backed out, so she just wanted the agency to find a family that was serious and met some vague expectations (married, religious). We made a profile that she never saw. I asked for contact, and we were told that she knew we'd be in the hospital for the 2 weeks we were in CA- she would come see us if she wanted. I believed what I was told. Why wouldn't I?

I didn't know enough back then to see the red flags:

The nurses told me how Mom cried for her baby at their goodbye visit while her Father (baby's Grandfather) yelled at her to stop and told her this was her mistake and she needed to fix it.

I found out from the original adoption attorney for the first prospective family that the first prospective adoptive Mother was actually the Dr who administered the pregnancy test to the minor biological Mom at a free clinic. When the Dr realized that the girl was pregnant, she handed the patient to another Dr and somehow became the prospective adoptive family that was prebirth matched to Baby girl without the use of an agency.

The original adoptive family sent a message to us through the attorney. They believed there was- best case scenario- questionable activities in the family involving the minor Biological Mother of my daughter- and worst case scenario- criminal abuse. They wanted to pass this info on because it could be pertinent to Baby Girl's medical condition.

The caseworker from the adoption agency that came to sign placement papers with us in the hospital was also aware of this information. I asked what was being done. Was CPS being contacted? The police? How do we know the Mother is safe right now? I was told that HIPPA prevented the information we had to go anywhere beyond the Dr's treating the baby. (Blatant disregard for human life? Eye on the prize of profitable adoption? We wouldn't want to lose this inventory baby)

The caseworker was honest, but in a very flippant way- like we wouldn't care how the biological family was treated. She was annoyed by the language barrier our case presented. She was reading off an English version of the relinquishment papers while Mom was presented with the same form in Spanish and signed that one. When it came to the part where Mom could have asked for a Post Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA, or open adoption), Mom was unsure if she wanted letters or pictures from us- so her parents had her check "No".

I still had it burned in my head, though, that this adoption had to be the result of an informed decision. We paid for Mom's attorney- who certainly informed her of her rights and the consequences of her choice. We paid an interpreter to be present when Mom met with the adoption agency. We paid the adoption agency who is legally required to make sure Mom is making this adoption plan of her own free will. I would never be part of an unethical adoption.

18 months later, I received a phone call from an unrecognized long distance number. It was my daughter's Mother.

She wanted to know how her baby was doing.

She wanted to know when her baby was coming home.

I was very gentle in my answer. Baby Girl is adopted now. She lives here now.

Mom was very calm and steadfast in her response. No. She is coming home after she gets well. Mom said she only signed the papers for "open adoption" because her baby needed an operation. She insists she was told that open adoption means that when she was older and the baby was healthy, she would get her baby back. Mom begged me to send her the papers she signed so she can prove to me she only signed for us to have Baby Girl temporarily.

I called the adoption agency, who just told me not to worry because legally Baby Girl is ours and nothing can change that. But that is not the point

I do believe this girl was mislead. Even though the adoption agency and lawyer read the papers that very clearly said adoption is forever, she believed her Father who said that she could come back later and fight for her baby back.

I believe that if she did not want to make an adoption plan, she should have been offered other options. Based on what I know of the situation- she should have been placed in foster care herself where she could have made a decision to parent or make an adoption plan away from her abuser. If she wanted a safe place for her baby temporarily while she was able to get everything in place to care for a medically fragile child, foster care should have been offered to her for Baby Girl. Forever in this girl's story, I'm the woman who stole her child. I can pray for a different outcome, but it's not unreasonable to think that Baby Girl may struggle with those thoughts as well.

I have had 3 other phone conversations since that initial call. I've sent text messages with pictures and videos. I did send the copies of the relinquishment she signed as well as our adoption certificate, and I suggested she bring them to her lawyer. Our conversations are interpreted by Mom's high school girlfriends during study hall and in the gym locker room. Mom has not told any of the adults around her that she has contacted me. She wants to have a visit, but that will be very difficult unless she includes her legal guardians. Mom seems lovely. I've delivered really crushing news and she is so so nice to me still. It's just hard to talk real life with a girl who age-wise is supposed to be living in a carefree, responsibility-free world.

At this point, it would do irreparable damage to just hand her baby back to her and say, "Sorry for the miscommunication!" Baby Girl is attached securely to us. Mom has no idea what it takes to care for her. She never understood what was going on medically with her baby. She thought one surgery would make her well. Baby Girl will always be compromised- even after the 3 open heart surgeries needed to correct her condition. There is nothing to be done now except try to be open and include Mom as much as safely possible to allow all of us to heal.

I know, you're thinking, "So.... what does your shady adoption have to do with foster care?"

Here's the deal. You know how over half of this blog is me complaining about how long the TPR and adoption process takes in foster care, and how many chances biological families get? That's what unethical adoption has to do with foster care. When I adopt Baby 4, no one will ever be able to question the ethics of the situation. No one will be able to say that he was stolen. No one will be able to say his parents were tricked. No one will be able to say that some time and support was all that was needed to keep Baby 4's family together. Foster care makes sure that no stone is unturned before permanently severing the legal tie between Mother and child.

There is no counting on an uncaring social worker in some back room to explain the levity of an adoption plan to a scared underage girl who doesn't even speak English. There is no agency who loses a lot of money if an adoption falls through. The parents are required to go to court dozens of times and are told what is happening by a CPS worker who is mandated to provide "due diligence", their attorney, and the judge themselves.

Services must be offered to the parents by the county: Substance abuse treatment, Supportive living, food and rent assistance, parenting classes, daycare assistance, transportation assistance, medical coverage for the child, GED classes, providing baby equipment, WIC, etc. If a child becomes available for adoption after being in foster care, it's because they really need a family- not because their parent was not supported.

Yes, I know there is a large chasm between children/parents in the foster care system who are coming from abusive/neglectful situations and the children/parents in the domestic adoption realm who are faced with this decision for other reasons- but hear me out. There are always going to be waiting lists of doe-eyed prospective adoptive parents waiting for those cute little babies from the agencies. Maybe they don't know or don't care about the ethical tightrope they'll be walking for the rest of their child's life. Maybe they could never give a child back. Maybe they only want an asian girl or a white boy. Maybe they only want babies. Maybe they don't want contact with birth families. Maybe they always dreamt of naming their child after their late Grandmother and so only want a baby they can name. Yes, those are all reasons I have heard in real life for people not adopting from foster care.

But you and I, dear reader: We know better.

We know there are kids in foster care who truly need families. We know raising any child who has been separated from their family will be as difficult as it is rewarding. We know we do not deserve another woman's child even if we find ourselves prepared and barren while she finds herself destitute and pregnant again. We know we do not need to stand in line with our life savings in our hand outstretched, wishing and praying that someone will find us a baby.

Sure, foster care is hard and awful. You might have to hand your baby over and never see them again. But an unethical adoption is even worse. It hurts the child just as much as abuse and neglect.

I never went searching for a newborn domestic adoption. Baby Girl fell in our lap. So I can't say I'll never pursue adoption again when I didn't in the first place. I can say, though, that if another adoption is ever on the horizon for our family I will be insisting on a few things. I will be insisting on pre-placement contact with the birth parents and I will be insisting on post adoption counseling being offered to Mom (that I would pay for) by a counselor who is not affiliated with the adoption agency. I did do some things right this time around. I fought to have an original copy of Baby Girl's original birth certificate and to have the full name of her biological Father- who was not on that birth certificate. I would insist on that again as well.

Barring another unforeseen adoption surprise, I will be pursuing foster care with a clear conscious and open eyes. I will fight for what's right- not just right for me- even though I admit that is hard for me at times. I will not be the one to tell a Mother that she has no rights to her child- forever. Not again.