Foster Mom #1 - The Artist
When Tiny moved in I did not know what to make of him and what had happened to his body. He did not respond to loud sounds or touch. He was very small for his age. Stiff, unalert, distant. Bloated. Other.
We were told lots of things. Some factual. Some rumor, maybe? We had the basics: formula, emergency & medical info & diapers. I remember stopping at a drugstore for pacifiers & wipes on my way home thinking, "just in case." And that's it. That was everything.
Those first few days we held him against our skin around the clock. We sang to him and looked into his eyes while feeding and swaddling him. We whispered to him. Kissed his skin. Massaged his muscles. We nursed his body in every healing way imaginable until, over time, his wounds got better. His eyes cleared and brightened. And he started to make way from his baby shell.
I had known newborns but not taken full responsibility for one. And I had never known such fragility & emptiness in one. His size & disposition caused me to both sweat & swoon. As the days became weeks, more information surfaced about his situation. And his many siblings. It was easy to feel enraged at the woman caring for him, his mother. Easy to feel so many horrifying things. The weight of which, at the time, was neither helpful or mine to carry, as we were busy caring for her child and shortly thereafter, anticipating the arrival another one.
Over the course of almost one year, we have been busy loving and raising two of her four babies. We have been committed to their growth & development in every way imaginable & we have advocated for such along the way. Which included pushing for a plan during visits with their mom when the boys would get distressed for lengthy periods of time. All of our ideas were rejected. Despite the damage being caused during these blocks of time, we were told this is just the way it has to be. In order for the state to make a case about mom being unfit to parent, the children will suffer. Damage will be done. Which is to say, the children have no rights. They will suffer in addition to the suffering they've already known & the trauma & damage will continue to compile. Until, perhaps, one judge decides mom is unfit to parent. That the judge's ruling is to terminate her parental rights and free the children up for adoption.
This did not take place last week.
A lot of things happened, but not this. Nor should it have. Terminating a parent's right to raise their children should be a task not taken lightly ever.
And so for my part, here is my perception on what did happen.
Everyone trickled in. The judge. Clerks. Lawyers for the state, lawyers for the children, Mom's lawyer. Social workers to testify. Random others whom I'm unclear about. Mom. Mom's Mom. And us.
The judge was late and had other cases to finish up on. There was a lot of sitting around in the hallways. The lawyers were buzzing around. In & out. Same with social workers. Divorce court, child support court, house court, juvenile court & a mixed bag of 'other court' also taking place. So when the power went out, there were hundreds of people standing about everywhere.
It was early. There was a pressing feel of anxiety, oppression & sadness. Such a strange day. Not long after arriving, Mom's Mom left. Which meant that mom was on her own. In this enormous building. Surrounded by people. Yet wholly alone.
We had each other. And we were mostly there to observe & be informed. We had that right as the boys' foster and preadoptive parents. I didn't want to go. Until I did. It felt mildly inappropriate and I just couldn't picture us potentially shooting the shit with mom, a woman we certainly are anticipating losing rights to all four of her babies. That's just not how we do. Not during visits. Not if we unexpectedly bumped into each other on the street. It just wasn't the nature of our relationship to be casual & carefree.
An unease in my tummy had built up critical mass over the preceding weeks and I felt something inside me drawn to their mom. If she was to lose her rights, I wanted to be clear with her that we valued her. That we cared about her. That we loved her children. No martyrdom. Just real talk. I wanted to sit with her in her sadness before any of the proceedings got underway. I suppose this was my real reason for going. My selfish reason.
I reached out to friends before the trial & while ruminating over how to manage my big feelings. Mostly, the conflict between all the feelings of contempt I had for a woman who continues to cause so much pain to her own four children, and my soulful wish to sit with her in her sadness on the beginning day of the trial that might terminate her parental rights.
My friends offered sound reflection and advice. This sentiment sat with me most.
"I would focus on the mom. Her suffering birthed you a gift. And the best thing you can do for those boys is to connect with the woman who gave them life, share in her suffering, so that one day when they want to know about her you can access the difficulty and pain that both of you went through to bring them through this life."
And so that is what we did. On & off throughout the entire day. And that is likely what we'll do in a couple months, when court resumes again. Just in time for Christmas.
-Fostermom (the artist)
Foster Mom #2 - The Therapist
Today marks seven full days from our last attempt at organizing our thoughts and preparing our hearts. The short end of it all is that we are sitting here, this Sunday, in a very similar place as last Sunday. We had court, many things did not happen, we had about two full days of waiting until the trial was called off due to scheduling conflicts and now we are looking at December court dates. The week of Christmas is our new end of trial date, which is simply amazing.
I was driving home from running errands with my whole family, my whole world actually, and I said out loud to The Artist, "It's not even like we're on hold, it's like we're being held in suspension." Like a liquid with a higher viscosity holds things of a lesser gravity in suspension. Suspended animation. Suspended disbelief. There is not the relief of a hold or canceled event, we are simply continuing for another month before we continue for more months or have some answers. This week was also Tiny's very first birthday. I'm sure that there is some cosmic message I should be intuiting but am not able to from having our lives put back in suspension while celebrating Tiny's first full trip around the sun.
My most prominent thoughts of this week are are as follows: There were several days of court scheduled this week and The Artist and I went to the first day of trial prepared to sit around in hallways and on benches all day to see what was transpiring. I knew Mom would be there, we see her every month at visits and are not strangers to one another. In the beginning of the day, as the entire team gathered on their respective benches and sides of the courthouse, we could see Mom across the building from us with her Mother. One of the things I wish I could say strongly enough to really drive this home is that Tiny looks almost exactly like his mother, like, he looks up at me sometimes and I swear to God I'm looking at Mom. So The Artist and I look across the courthouse and see her, and she looks so sad. So lost. I don't know how long we sat there together, 20 minutes? 45 minutes? The Artist asked if it would be weird if she went over to greet Mom.
Are there ever moments you feel so grateful you fell in love with who you did? Like deep in your soul grateful and in awe of who they are? There are many ways we are a lovely complement as a couple (and many ways our differences almost drive us nutty) and this brief moment in the courthouse just helped me again feel it. I'm in awe of who she is. Her heart. Her way of living authentic and direct. So I said no, I don't think it's weird at all. I think that's lovely. And if I'm being very honest, I don't know I would have had the bravery to go over first on this day where we are really lined up against one another for the first time in a very high stakes moment.
I didn't stare at them, but I did glance over every now and then. I did notice The Artist talking to Mom, and then she leaned in and was just openly sobbing on The Artist's shoulder. And all The Artist said was this, "We care about you." It's not possible to fall in love with two beautiful kids and not feel some reverence for the person who brought them into this world. The pain, disappointment and anger are easier to have in the mix. The parts of this I'm more surprised by are the ways in which I know we will always have a part of our heart occupied by their Mom. The one who was holding onto The Artist as she wept. All they needed to say to one another was already said. It doesn't change anything between us, really, other than perhaps cause us to simply be more human to one another.
I want to tell you there is no winning in adoption. That pain and loss and love and heartbreak all sit side by side and then move through you one at a time. I want to tell you that when The Artist came back over to sit with me she almost couldn't speak she was so choked with tears. I want to tell you I was in court for the afternoon alone due to our schedules and I sat with Mom off and on throughout the afternoon. I held her once as she was crying and telling me how incredibly painful it is that her kids prefer me. That they won't go to her during visits. That Tiny cries whenever she holds him. That someone who isn't their Mom, gets to be their Mom. I sat with my arm around her and just held that space. It's all true. And the pain of it's all true as well. She feels just like our boys. Thick shoulders. Muscular. Compact. It surprised me, and for a second I lost my center of gravity. She feels like them because she is them. If I am able to raise these beautiful boys I'll know where they got their strong backs from. And while I sat with Mom it wasn't that I ever forgot what she did, or how the kids in her life suffered for her choices. But I held her. I brought her snacks after she said she did not eat today. And I told her how brave she was to even come to court, that so many parents can't face the reports and the past and skip out. This week was about humbling myself to the pain that is all around this life of foster care. Mine, theirs, hers. There's the place we can join in all together, parts of this just hurt.
The other thoughts I am ruminating over come with the passage of time and Tiny's big birthday. I have know him for almost his entire life. Preparing for court, talking with folks all day helped me remember the details of when he came, how he came and the very beginning even clearer. He was so teeny tiny when we met him, crunched up and underweight. He never cried, or slept or fussed for milk. He would stare into space and was unresponsive to light and sound even. He had a tiny head of hair and little chicken arms all locked and curled into his chest. He slept in our arms for the first six months of his life and then got massively downgraded to co-sleeping in the bed with us then his side-car co-cleeper next to the bed. I've been in touch with almost every waking moment of his life for 11 months. I work outside the home for 24 hours a week now and am home with him every other hour. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I was so sentimental and close to tears on his actual birthday- the cliche reasons (where does the time go?! He is so big! Our baby is all grown up! SOB) and likely also because we came so close to the edge this week. Closer than we have before to losing what we have, and knowing that there is not a better place for him right now than with us. I asked Mom as many details about his birth as I could and there was not much I learned that I would want to narrate annually for him as he grows. Beloved babies who are eagerly anticipated and widely loved and have a family and home ready for them have birth stories that are told and retold. Some babies have facts that are a little harder and more complicated to tell and retell. Tiny is more ours than anyone else in the world's as we've been the only caregivers he's ever known. And I sat with his Mom, the one who brought him into the world, the one who he shares his beautiful eyes and nose and mouth with, and we both sat in the depth of our pain together. Maybe because there isn't anyone else in the world who would likely feel the pain of impending loss the same way we can. I'm not sure. But here we are. Sunday. Our baby Tiny is now a whole 12 months, and his birthday weekend was amazing. Terrific, loving, full. And I'm bringing as much of that as I can into our next few months of suspension. Foster care is: feeling the pain, and feeling all the ways it ties you tight to the other side.
Fostermom (the therapist)