Saturday, July 18, 2009
Adopting a Drug Exposed Infant
After seven biological children, my husband and I thought our family was complete. We had three girls and four boys, and our two oldest daughters had given us nine grandchildren. Life was very full.
We had been foster parents off and on during our marriage, and had fostered over fifty children. Years went by, and my oldest daughter and her husband also became foster parents.
I enjoyed their foster children, and tried to treat them the same as my own grandchildren. Soon she began to foster a sibling group that I became attached too, and my husband and I took the training and got our foster/adoption license again, hoping to adopt them. At the end of this long, very involved story, the mother got the older children back, but relinquished her newborn. When he was eighteen months old, he became our son through adoption.
Since we had our license, we decided to foster again. One week after our son’s adoption was final; Angel-Leah came into our lives.
Angel-Leah had been born drug addicted, and was removed by the state from her mother at birth. She was placed with a relative for the first three months of her life, and then returned to her mother, where she stayed until she was two and a half years old, then removed again because of her mother’s continued drug use, and placed with us.
The birth parents were given a year to work a plan that the state laid out for them, but they could never seem to make any progress. Towards the end of that year, we learned the birth mother was pregnant again. At one of the last hearings, I heard her admit in court she was still using drugs. She would have been around four or five months pregnant at that time. Soon their parental rights were terminated and our family signed intent to adopt papers on Angel-Leah.
As we were working through her adoption, a baby brother was born to her birth mother and father. The child, named Thomas, showed withdrawal symptoms and was having a very hard time. I thought they would place the baby with us when he was taken into state custody, since he was a full sibling of our adopted daughter. However, much to my surprise, our family’s social worker decided against it. For one thing, our foster home was full according to state guidelines; we had the maximum number of children, biological, foster and adopted, that the state would allow us to have. Also, the worker said, although the parents rights to Angel-Leah had been terminated, her adoption was not final yet, and putting her brother into our home would make it look like the state was pushing for adoption rather than reunification in his case.
I was upset. I knew that most likely the parents were not going to make it. Their rights to Angel-Leah had only very recently been terminated, and if they could not stop their drug addiction for a child they had raised for two years, and loved with all their hearts, how would they be able to stop for a child removed from them at birth that they had not bonded with yet? It seemed so wrong to make the baby live and bond with another foster family, when I knew that after a year or so, if the parents couldn’t kick their drug habit and their rights were terminated, he would be offered to us since we had his sister.
I made several phone calls, but they all hit a dead end. Anyone I talked to supported the decision of the social worker.
I had prayed, and soon let go. I knew if God wanted us to have the baby, he would get him here in HIS timing, not mine. Tommy spent some time in the hospital as they tried to help him through his withdrawals. He then went to a foster home with a morphine prescription for the pain he was experiencing. He was a sick little boy.
Soon, I was told that Tommy had been moved into the home of a relative of the father while his birth parents tried to work their plan once again.
I didn’t hear anything else for a couple of months. Then one afternoon, I ran into the paternal grandmother at the grocery store. She gave me a run down on what was happening in Tommy’s life. He was sicker than they expected. The family wasn’t getting any sleep. This was very stressful for them, they didn’t know if they could continue on. I told her we had wanted to take Tommy in the beginning, but CPS wouldn’t place him with us. “That’s not right!” she exclaimed. “If we had known you would take him, we never would have.”
After that, I began to hear from them on a regular basis. When Tommy was four months old, his parents gave up the fight for him. They could not get off the drugs, and made the decision to relinquish their rights. They quit visiting him. CPS did not make a move towards termination yet, though. They decided to wait out the entire year, in case the birth parents changed their minds.
At this point, the family had a choice to make: would they keep Tommy and raise him, or relinquish him themselves to us, so he could grow up with his sister? I began to receive a lot of phone calls from them. The relatives that had him loved him, but already had one handicapped child, and were afraid, with the physical struggles Tommy was experiencing, he was going to be handicapped, too. In fact, in talking with me, they often asked me if I was ready to parent a special needs child. I assured them I was, while trying to encourage them that I knew they could do it, too.
Soon, a beloved two year old foster daughter we had raised for the past twenty months was scheduled to leave to go live with a relative in another state. That opened up a spot in our foster home. I called the birthfamily and told them I would take the next month off from fostering, and save this spot for Tommy, while they made their decision. After the month was over, if they had not decided, I would put myself back on the placement list for another foster child. I did this partly to encourage them to make up their minds before Tommy got any older.
I buckled my much loved foster daughter into her car seat on a very cold January morning, and watched as she was driven away from me. It was one of the hardest things I have done so far in my life.
I came home, and we left for a short trip. We thought that taking this trip would make the parting from my little foster daughter easier for me. That night, in a hotel room, I woke up, thinking I heard her crying. I prayed desperately to God, asking if I shouldn’t quit foster care, my heart was broken and I couldn’t stand the pain, did I really have to keep on doing this? In answer, in my half asleep state, I saw my arms open, and a baby being placed in them. I felt the warmth and weight of his heavy body. I knew God was telling me He and I were not quite done.
Five days later, we returned home from our trip, and the next day, I got an email from the case worker. The family had decided to place Tommy with us. The case worker explained to me that she could not promise this would end in adoption, as there was still time for the parents to come back and try to work a plan. I did understand that, but we both knew that was not likely to happen.
So, still reeling from the loss of my foster daughter, we began the transition for Tommy to move in. I remember the first time I saw him, standing in my doorway as the relative took him out of the car. My first thought was “My son.” He was cute, very fat, and looked just like his sister Angel-Leah, whose adoption was final, and who I love very much. One day less than his six month birthday, Tommy moved in with us.
I was ready to love him, but Tommy certainly had problems. In his less than six short months of life, we were his third home, and that’s not counting his time in the hospital. He had developed attachment problems. When I tried to hold him, he stiffened his arms and held me away from him. In fact, his whole body was stiff, another symptom of his drug withdrawal. He would not let me rock him. The only way I could hold him with any degree of comfort, because of his stiffness and pulling away, was to have his back against my chest. He didn't do much of anything, just sat, he seemed a bit unaware, and I feared he was brain damaged. Early Childhood Intervention came out, and helped me learn how to deal with attachment issues. They told me they felt like even though he was only six months old, he had all the signs of depression. They felt like given his young age, he would be able to overcome it.
My own mothering instinct came into play, too. I could put him in places where activity was going on. If I couldn’t hold him, I could pat him and rub his hair. If I couldn’t rock him to sleep, I could rub his back while he lay in his bed. I could feed him bites of food off my plate. Soon, he began to come around. He learned to trust me as the lady who had his meals and bottles on time. He learned I was the one who bathed him and kept him warm and dry. My face was over his crib when he cried during the night. I was always, always there. Little by little, he began to trust me. After a few weeks, he would grudgingly let me rock him if he was sleepy enough or hurt. Once, sick with a fever, he laid his head on my chest for a long time, and we rocked, and I sang to him. Soon, he said his first word, “Momma.”
We finalized Tommy’s adoption last January, just two days short of a year after he came to live with us. He will have his second birthday in a couple of weeks. He is a happy, healthy, well adjusted toddler, much like his big sister. He is smart as a whip, but then all mothers’ think their children are the smartest ones around, don’t they?
I do understand that these two children are at risk for several things as they grow older, one of them being an increased risk of becoming drug user themselves. I pray that we break that cycle. I am going to expect nurture over nature will help these children overcome these things. In the Bible, in Job 3:25, Job cries out “The thing I fear has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” Job was afraid his children would sin (Job 1:4-5). I don’t intend to raise my children with any fear, giving Satan a hook to hang anything on. I plan to expect great things from them. Maybe the great thing will be nothing more or less than that they will grow up to be good moral people who love the Lord with all their hearts, and for the mama who took a chance and adopted and loved and raised them, that will be enough!