Angels with Broken Wings (A Chronicle on the process of adoption in the U.S.)
Have you been adopted, or spent time in the foster care system? What were the successes? the challenges? How did you solve the challenges? What helped you heal if the system put a crimp in your wings…. Tell us your story…
Here is my story…
I remember the first time I saw her… she was eating pizza at a Pizza Hut with our social worker and we were sitting a couple tables away listening to their conversations. The social worker knew we were listening and kept the conversation light and impersonal. She guided our future “daughter” in telling about her day at school, and asking how things were with the foster family she was currently staying with.
Added @ 10 PM on July 10, 2011…
The biggest blow was yet to come for her, as she had finally bonded with her current foster family, and both she and they wanted it to be more permanent. You see, there was a sister there her own age, a loving mom and dad, and a brother she could tease. However, the powers that be, in the form of the American military, the foster program, and her mother’s own challenges made that dream impossible. The foster family being military was being relocated to another state, and even though they wished with all their hearts that she could go with them, her birth mother would not sign papers to release her to be able to go across state lines. Even though the social workers were working to get the state custody because mom had dropped the ball too often leaving her, but the wheels of state moved too slowly for the foster family’s required leave date. So that’s how we entered the picture. But our story started years earlier……
We had had challenges years before this with conceiving a child. It’s very hard to describe the deep feelings of despair that come along with infertility. Since I had dreamt since I was a child of being a mother, and since I had “mothered” my siblings frequently, I of course assumed that I would get pregnant very easily. And the first infertility tests showed that I had endometriosis, but not severe yet, so we should be able to get pregnant. (Of course if I had known then what I know now -30 years later- about the gender issues of my ex-spouse, maybe my choices would have been different!) We jumped through all the hoops that were recommended… the taking temperatures to find the highest ovulation time, timing intercourse to take advantage of those times, the keeping certain postures to hold the sperm in place longer, the changing (his) underwear so his sperm count had the best chance of surviving, we tried all the tricks writtten in the books at the time. We were too early for invitro … although the scientists were working on it.
At first, every month that passed was just a disappointment. But when months turned into years, each month then became like a funeral. A funeral for the baby I hoped to conceive that month, but every time my menses showed up that hope died yet again. And the tears flowed on a regular basis. And the constant wondering of how come it’s so easy for everyone else? The feelings of inadequacy… I couldn’t even perform a basic function of life…. produce a life. Wasn’t it supposed to make all the feminine hassles worthwhile? Would I never hold my baby in my arms? The empty feelings of my arms grew heavier as each month passed.
We finally started talking about adoption. We put our name on several lists, did the paperwork for each, and went through the classes that were offered. The whole time we kept hoping that we’d become pregnant and wouldn’t need to go through the process. After all, we were told that it would be years before a baby was available because the waiting lines were so long. If we had megabucks we may have been able to get a lawyer, or afford an overseas adoption, but on our meager salaries we couldn’t afford those avenues. We knew two other couples who were able to get babies from Catholic Charities, but since my spouse was not Catholic, and we hadn’t settled on a church as yet, Catholic Charities put us further down on their list. Eventually we got the to point that we had been trying so long that we realized that if we had gotten pregnant our child would have been 5 or 6 years old, so we convinced ourselves that we could take a special needs child. Any child over 5 was considered special needs because they were harder to place. Little did we know that also meant that most children by that age came with extensive challenges due to the ordeal life had already put them through. And even though we went through additional classes to try to understand those challenges there was no way we could truly understand what those kids would need.
We eventually adopted our son from Episcopal Social Services. We put our name on our local county list as well and did the paperwork for them, but were told the waiting list was years long. At ESS the process to finally bring him home was intensive. He was not only a special needs child but also had real special education needs with severe learning disabilities. We had combed through catalogs of children that needed homes, and wrote away for a couple of them, but usually someone else had gotten there first, or something went wrong with their foster/adoption process and they were not available at the time we were searching.
When I saw his blond hair and blue eyes and that his birthdate matched my spouse’s grandfather’s and my mother’s birthday, I knew he was meant for us! Little did I know that the system had already put its mark on him. He had been pulled from his birth mom when he was two years old due to being hospitalized for malnutrition several times in those two years. Unfortuately, during those first two years of life is when the brain develops the most, so that malnutition caused his severe learning disabilities. In foster care, he too was bounced from foster placement to foster placement mainly because they couldn’t deal with his disabilities. When we finally adopted him at the age of 5, his communication skills were that of a 2 year old. We would be driving down the street with him, and he’d be pointing to things and labeling them in one word syllables…. and getting some of them wrong. It took us two years to get through to him that a Xmas tree was NOT a “monkey tree” as he called it.
But back to the adoption itself. When we finally convinced the social worker that we truly wanted to adopt him, he was at St. Vincent’s, an orphanage about an hour away from us. He had been placed there when his last foster placement fell through, and the courts and social workers were adamant that he had to be there for 6 months. Their reasoning was that he had gotten too “attached” to each of his foster homes, and when the time came for him to be removed, it went hard on him. So they wanted him to stay at the orphanage for at least 6 months so he could “unattach”…. So our schedule for six months consisted of visiting him first at the orphanage for an hour or two for a couple of weeks, then moving up to an afternoon outing for a couple of weeks. Eventually we could take him to our house for the day, but had to bring him back at night, then several months of having him for the weekend and taking him back again. Every trip taking him back was gut-wrenching for all three of us. After all, how do you tell a 5 year old that you love him but aren’t keeping him and are giving him back to that impersonal place (the staff there was really nice though!) The hardest part was not knowing when the social workers would decide that he was ready to be adopted. They were looking for some behavior or signs in him, but never shared that with us. Eventually we were able to bring him home for good, though. And that’s when our challenges really began…..
This blog is going to be my place to reminisce over the process of adoption that I experienced. With its joys and sorrows, its challenges and successes, the process has been a mixed blessing in my life.