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.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Our loved one is a foster parent. How do we help?

I sat in on a foster care certification class a few weeks ago. It was a cool dynamic- mostly young couples who don't already have children- trying to become foster parents. They sat surrounded by their parents and siblings. They all asked thoughtful questions, and reeked from their pure sweet intentions going into this crazy new life.

One of the Dads of the fosterlings raised his hand, "My daughter and son-in-law are going to be foster parents. How do we help?"

Oh, Dad. You're a good man. I can tell just by your presence here tonight. Your daughter and son-in-law are going to need lots of help in the next steps of this process, so I'm glad you asked.

You can help by being supportive. That sounds simple and patronizing, but I assure you it isn't. I don't mean, "be supportive", like how you pat them on the back when they announced their intentions of parenting the hurt children of strangers for an undisclosed amount of time before having their hearts ripped out. No, no. That was the easy part. I mean be supportive like take the other children into a different room while your daughter braces herself against the stairwell as to not get pushed down it by a raging 6 year old (as my Dad recently did). I mean be supportive like boarding up the broken window when the 6 year old breaks it after realizing he's not strong enough to throw your daughter down the stairs (as my Dad recently did). I mean be supportive by not suggesting that your daughter quit when things get hard and scary. They will get hard and scary. You won't want your daughter in foster care once you realize what it actually is. Even though you'll quickly realize how much these kids need her. Foster care will make you really proud of your daughter, Dad. So support this endeavor - even when you don't agree.

The next thing you can do is bring food. Bring food when there is a new kid. Bring food when there is court. Bring food when there's a visit. All of these things are exhausting for body and soul. They're going to need to eat, and they're not going to want to cook. It helps if you act like every new kid is a brand new baby your daughter just birthed. Feed her and her family the same way. She's going to labor for her babies, and a casserole shows you noticed. My Mom comes over with snacks and my Dad brings dinner every time we bring a new baby home. In the first few days of a placement, what they feed me is all I consume.

Realize you don't have the full story. We're not allowed to tell you everything. Even if we didn't care about the rules, we don't want to rehash all the bad stuff happening to our kids. We don't want you to worry or think differently about our new little family. It would take a full 3 years for me to get you completely up to date on Baby 4's case. So when I say that I am afraid they'll send little Johnny home, don't tell me they'll never send a toddler to a Mother who lives at the homeless shelter and has a drug problem. I'm afraid for a reason.

Do whatever is required by the agency to allow you to babysit. Sometimes you only have to be older than 18, but sometimes you have to agree to a background check. Other times you may CPR or even these 10 weeks of foster classes in order to give your daughter a break from her constant care of these adorable kids. Whatever it takes, please do it. They are going to need a weekend away and they don't want to place their babies with strangers.

Supplement fun when you see they need it. Sure your daughter is thinking she's going to get the "easy" case of the safe haven baby who was abandoned. There will be no visits, no drug withdrawals, no acting out- because her perfect newborn will only know her as Mommy, and then they'll adopt and live happily ever after. Honestly, though, that's really really unlikely. Foster Care is a buzz kill sometimes. When you notice that fun has faded a bit, could you Google how to make a slip'n'slide and get that crankin' for her? He'll appreciate it because she's been really uptight.

Foster parents have tons of people giving them advice, so don't worry about doing any of that. How we do time out is not like how you "just made" us mind when we were that age. When she births a baby- advise away.

Introduce her kids as your Grandkids to your friends. It makes her feel validated. The kids love it too. They needed a Grandpa just as much as they needed a Mom. Teach them how to golf, and fish, and how to make fun of Grandma when her perm made her hair frizzy. Be the Grandpa.

I know you didn't sign up for this life, but you're here anyway. You are really important in this story.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Reasons, Feelings, Behaviors

"I could only take little kids because they are more manageable than the older ones. Those kids' behaviors are already set."- Random person with a fleeting thought to adopt from foster care who had the courtesy to share their carefully worded comment with me.

It just so happens, I know all about this section of the foster care certification class. Let me share with you what I know about behaviors in kids from foster care.

Children find themselves in foster care for several reasons:
Physical Abuse
Sexual Abuse
Parental Incarceration
Domestic Violence in the Home
Medical Maltreatment

By the time a child comes into foster care: 
Something bad has already happened 
Someone found out
And they told
Strangers decided the family must be separated

It is normal and expected that children are going to have feelings about that:

These kids come to our home with all of that. At bedtime, they will slip their hands into ours, look us in the eye, and say, "Ms. Teresa, I'm worried that My Mom doesn't love me any more since I told our neighbor that me and my sister had been home alone for 3 days. It's my fault we got taken away from her, and since my self esteem was already pretty low because we're poor, I'm questioning my overall worth.". Then us foster parents hug them, and tell them they are beautiful, and all is right again in the world.

No? That's not how it works? Of course not.

These kids come to our home with all of that. At bedtime, they slip their hands in their diaper and smear poop on the wall. Then they get in our face, scream that they hate us, and call us a "chicken head bitch". When you can calm their outward emotions, they have compulsions to stockpile food in their closet and wet the bed at night. When you can't help them maintain self control, they swipe an entire shelf of picture frames onto the ground in Target or punch themselves in the temples repetitively at school.

Behavior is the language of emotion.

Children who come into foster care have big behaviors because they have big feelings, and all for real reasons. Any child who has a reason for those feelings will show it in their behavior. Behaviors are not set because feelings are not set. They come and go- just like anybody's feelings.

Babies who come into foster care do so for a reason. Please believe me when I tell you they feel that reason. They feel being away from their Mother after birth even though they can't say it. Just like older kids- they behave it. Even when they get a little older and they don't remember- they still feel it.

With all kids, we need to address the feeling behind the behavior. Without identifying the feeling and providing safe and socially acceptable outlets for that emotion, the behaviors the child comes in with will remain.

A lot of frustration for both children, foster families, bio families, and educators occurs when modifying behavior becomes the primary goal. Our most well-intentioned kids can probably white knuckle it through a week or even a month if they are really motivated, but it will not last if we can not get to the root of the behavior. Remember they have very real reasons for those very real feelings.

Foster Parenting is not a matter of finding the right kid so you can avoid big behaviors. Foster Parenting is an immense honor where we have the opportunity to usher kids into a new identity complete with with new behaviors. We get to see kids transition from victim to survivor. When that happens, their feelings and behaviors follow.

It is not easy, and it won't happen fast. Like everything in fostering, though; it's worth it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

My friends made me write this

I went grocery shopping this morning and came home to this group message from some of my friends:

Teresa you really need to update your blog. I love to read it at work and it is clearly time to update!

I so agree.

So....come on Teresa.....38 days til Easter, so how about a blog a day. I would be thrilled!

Me too!

I just update! Come on Teresa!!

Peer pressure, Teresa.

we know you have a very calm, quiet home with no reason why you can't stop everything to blog!

38 posts in 38 days? Whew! Challenge accepted!!

Where is our Love Story taking us? I'm pretty sure it's taking us towards another adoption. I got a call today from the caseworker asking that both Brandon and I be physically present at court (not a usual requirement) next week because Baby 4's Dad has expressed to his attorney that he will be signing a surrender.


Dad is agreeing to voluntarily relinquish his parental rights and allow us to adopt Baby 4. In return, he is asking that we continue to support visits between him and his son 6 times/ year for the next 11 years. We have to agree to this as well as the county, and Baby 4's attorney. As long as Dad still wants to do this, I believe all parties agree on the conditions.

1,085 days in foster care.

We got to this point through several events. When 4 came into care, there was a plan made with each of his parents individually that laid out what needed to be done to safely reunite him with them. There was also a search through extended family for a suitable relative guardian- one potential relative resource was found. Throughout the first 457 days, the county worked diligently to get 4 out of foster care. After that point, a petition to terminate parental rights was filed in the courts. Right around day 600, Mom surrendered her rights. On the 700th day, the judge decided we needed to give the diligent efforts to reunify 4 with his biological family one more year. When the case was re-evaluated on day 969, the decision was made to move forward with termination of parental rights while asking the judge to dismiss the petition of the relative resource. Legally, the judge can not move the child to his family. When the judge does this, all legal ties are severed between 4 and his biological family- no one is required to allow any ongoing contact. I can not speak specifically to anyone's intentions, but I would be feeling like a surrender with legally enforceable visits is preferential to a TPR with no continued contact with my child. So on 1,090 we may just do that. After that, we will need to have a homestudy done and file a petition to adopt Baby 4. That could reasonably get done in 6-8 months. Adoption day could come as soon as Fall.