We sat at the conference table while everyone introduced themselves: Homefinder, Adoption Supervisor, Adoption Administrator, Adoption senior worker, Adoption case worker, Homefinding Administrator, Homefinding supervisor, Me. I never feel small. As a matter of fact, I often feel too big: larger than life, louder than appropriate, always needing to tone it down. Right then, I felt like I had to sit up tall, enunciate, and throw my voice to make sure it got across the room.
They started, "Tell us what got us here.".
Uh, well, I guess it starts in August with the first CPS report and the injuries to the child in our home. We don't know what happened to that child. It shook me because we protect kids. We've given the past seven years of our lives to this. He clearly got hurt, but no one knows how, and then CPS said it was my husband's fault. I didn't handle that well. It put pressure on our marriage. We dealt with the stress very differently. I wanted to talk and connect with other people and get out of my head. He wanted to internalize and shut down; not worry until there was something to worry about. I started going out frequently. The affairs, you know about. You have to understand that we have surrounded ourselves with conservative Christian people who all speak CPS fluently. This was a conscious choice on our part, but it hasn't served us well here. When my behavior started to change, the people around us responded very strongly. I don't think that a different group of friends would have had any concerns for our children. My husband is here with me. We have sought counsel. We are committed to our family and our children. We have proven ourselves over 7 seven years and 15 children. I've struggled for 4 months. I'm asking for time to recover from the rug being pulled out from under us.
Their responses are mottled in my memory:
I have seen other families go through false allegations and indications, and I can tell you your behavior is not typical. We usually see these situations strengthen the family. They come together and support each other.
We cannot recommend adoption at this time when we question the stability of your marriage.
I have to imagine that if he is supporting you, he is either lying about being upset or he's completely indifferent to you. Neither is a good thing.
Are you going to continue any relationships outside of your marriage? No.
What about the drinking? There is no drinking problem. All of those reports have come back unfounded.
Are you staying home? Yes.
We need to see you take responsibility for your actions. I don't know how to show a caseworker that I'm taking responsibility for the cracks in my marriage when my kids are not involved in that.
Your faith-based counselor is not comfortable communicating with us. You have to start secular couples' therapy. We need to hear from that therapist that you are stable and ready to adopt.
I have to address the pink elephant in the room. Get it together, guys.
You look really nice. I was worried that you would come in looking haggard.
...if you want to move forward with fostering.... I'd rather set myself on fire.
Essentially, you have become the clients. You have to prove to us that you are making progress.
Sometimes we see, mostly with birthparents, that they say they want their children, but when the time comes their actions tell us they aren't really sure. Could it be that adopting a third child in the same amount of years is too much? Absolutely not. The pending threat that a governing agency can come in a take my daughter who I love more than life based on the opinion of a person behind a desk formed by the allegations of former friends who now hate me is too much.
You can't have any police contact. We've never had any police contact.
"We're here. We are not going anywhere. We'll do everything you ask us to. Baby 9 is our top priority."
I cried throughout the meeting because I was so frustrated. They all clearly have opinions about me. I don't need them to like me or understand our situation. I really need them to leave their opinions out of their official decisions. I don't think that's happening, though. They are not sticking to the questions they ask everyone who is adopting. No one else gets asked about who they sleep with. They can't tell me what typically happens in families when crisis comes. I know the families she's talking about. I've talked to them after their meltdowns. I've heard the stories. They just don't have their friends running to the CPS hotline every time they're mad. Ironically, that night is the first night in a while I want to stay out and be away from my family. It's too hard to keep a happy face today.
It hits me hard right then. This is how our kid's parents are treated. A seemingly insurmountable number of people gather with bits and pieces of your story and want you to prove yourself. They say, "Go.", and you know it doesn't matter what you do. All that matters is how they interpret it- which you obviously have no control over. It's hard not to get caught up in insignificant details. I wanted so badly to go back to the drinking and police comments, "Why is that even being mentioned? That's not part of our story.". I know that fight would be futile and more important is doing what I can with the issues that do apply. The system is built to put the most stress possible on a family that is already in crisis. That way, we know they can handle staying together. I wonder, though, if supporting the family and removing some of the stress would allow them to better display their strengths. If we didn't cause more stress, would we see faster recoveries? I think a lot of the relapses we see in our parents are reactions from dealing with the system- not from the natural stresses of life. They would probably be fine with just life. I'd probably be fine with just life.
From this side of the table, I don't feel like we're protecting children or helping families. This side of the table feels like war.