Friday, July 17, 2009

Temporary Motherhood: a foster mother's perspective

My husband, Bill and I have been foster parents to more than fifty children over our 36 year marriage, and have adopted three children from the state foster care system in the last three years, adding to our biological children for a total of ten children. Most of those fifty foster children lived with us while we were foster parents for the state of Oklahoma a little more than twenty years ago. During those years, foster parents could not adopt except under special circumstances, and adoptive parents could not foster. Foster parents were also not allowed to meet the parents of their foster children. Many times I was quickly ushered through a back door to keep it from happening.
Then, after moving back home to Texas, we fostered two newborn babies whose mothers were in prison, meeting one of them through a prison chaplain, and another one through my oldest daughter. I was able to write letters and send pictures to both of those mothers.

Life went on as my own family increased. I gave birth to my seventh child when I was 42 years old. I was content and happy.
About the time I turned fifty, however, my oldest daughter and her husband became a group foster home, and I met a family of children that sparked my interest, and soon my husband and I began the process to become licensed. The state had come to realize it was in the best interest of children to allow foster homes to adopt, so we went for a dual foster/adopt license.
It took a long time to finally become licensed again, right at ten months to be exact. And during this time, we became involved in an emotionally draining time of a social worker trying to keep us from the child we were hoping to adopt. He became our son through a miracle, I believe, but that’s another story.

When we were finally licensed, our social worker at first would not allow us to take a foster child, because we were pursuing the adoption of our son. But after a time, she believed she had found a new home for him, and one day, while I was in the car, I got a call on my cell phone. There was a newborn baby girl who had been removed because of her mother’s drug use. Was I interested in giving her a home for a while?
Of course we were. My eight year old daughter, Mary Susannah and I were excited at the thought of having a baby in the house.
The social worker had mistakenly given placement the wrong phone number, though, so they hadn’t been able to get hold of us, and by the time they got through to us, the investigator had had to take the baby to a shelter in Dallas because there wasn’t another home to put her in. She said rather than drive all the way back out there, she was going to wait until the ‘just cause’ hearing in two days, to make sure the child was not going to be returned home.
Disappointed, but still excited, Mary Susannah and I went shopping. We had so much fun buying baby girl clothes, diapers, bottles, and all the things that went along with new babies. I carefully kept the receipts, just in case the baby didn’t come to our house.
Two days later the placement office called me. The judge had ruled the baby would stay in foster care. She made arrangements with me to have the baby brought to our house. Finishing up, she asked me “Can you take two children?” I hated to say no, but I was saving our other spot for the baby we were hoping to adopt. If I took another child that would ruin any chance we had of having him finally placed with us.
In a couple of hours, a social worker arrived at our house with a newborn baby girl, who I will call Kitten.
Kitten was beautiful. Half Hispanic, half Caucasian, she was a dark haired, dark eyed beauty. Although I had asked Mary Susannah to wait until the investigator left to ask to hold her, the wait was too long for her as I signed paperwork and listened to instruction. I finally placed Kitten in her arms, and she was smitten. Once the worker left, Mary Susannah and I spent the rest of the day admiring this pretty child. We had a lot of fun dressing her up and combing her hair. Mary Susannah enjoyed feeding her, although of course I was the one who got up in the night.

After Kitten was with us a few days, visits with her mother began. I dressed her up and took her to the Child Protective Services office. I walked into a waiting room full of people, and I had no idea which ones were Kitten’s family. She was bundled up, so no one could see her face. I told the receptionist that I was there for Kitten’s visit, and she pointed out two women sitting on the front row. Kitten’s mother heard her child’s name, and she eagerly jumped up. She took in my appearance: I am a conservative Christian, and wear long modest dresses and a head covering. She exclaimed, “You are her foster mother? YOU are her foster mother?” I smiled at her and nodded, and she said, “Oh! I’m so glad! Now I’m not afraid anymore!”
The grandmother was also there, and she said she thought she had met me before. She realized that in her line of work, she had come out to my house a little over a year before. These two things combined to begin a good relationship between Kitten’s mother and grandmother and I.

Kitten was so very beautiful. One time my daughter was asked to speak at a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) training session. I went with her to help her explain the foster parent’s end of foster care, and took Kitten. She slept for most of it, but in a bit she woke for a few minutes. I unwrapped her to place her on my shoulders, and a huge sigh of “AWWWW…” went up all over the room. She was so tiny, so dark, and so pretty!

Time went on, and our family enjoyed taking care of Kitten. Her mother had quite an anger problem though, and I was often caught between listening to CPS’s view of things and the mother’s view. I listened to both and reserved judgment. I knew my job was to care for the baby, mentor the mother in any way I could, and work with CPS towards getting this family reunited.
Because the mother and grandmother were working very hard, I didn’t have a lot of imaginings that I would end up raising this baby. I knew that the grandmother was the back up plan in case the mother couldn’t complete the things CPS had laid out for her in order to get her baby back. Only once did I entertain the thought that I might keep her:

When Kitten was about five months old, the mother told me she had had a positive hepatitis C test. She asked me to have Kitten tested, too, to see if she had passed this scary disease on to her. So at our next doctor visit, I told the physician’s assistant we needed to have this done. She sent me to the lab to have blood work drawn.
I think out of the seven months I had Kitten, this was the only time I was really angry with her mother. The test was horrible. Kitten had such small little arms, and they had to draw five vials of blood from her veins. I was seated in a chair and Kitten’s arm was strapped down. My job was to try and hold the rest of her still as they performed this painful procedure. Kitten screamed and screamed as this seemed to go on and on and on. I was so upset Kitten had to go through all this. The two female lab technicians were being very cold to me, and I could not understand why, until it suddenly occurred to me that they thought that “I” was her mother. They thought, as I sat there in my conservative dress and head covering, that I was a drug user and responsible for all this. I said to them, as they tried not to speak to me “I didn’t do this to her. I’m her foster mother, not her mother!!” They looked up at me, shocked, and one of them went over and took a quick look at her paperwork. The atmosphere cleared, and they were suddenly very friendly and talkative. In later months, as I took in another foster child who used this same doctor’s office, they never failed to remember me when they saw me, and stop me to talk.
A couple of weeks went by, and my father had to have heart surgery. I left Kitten with another foster mother as I spent the day in the hospital with my family. My father came though well, a great relief to us, and I went home very, very drained but pleased. I had barely arrived home before I got the call, Kittens test was positive. The nurse said that sometimes these tests can come back with a false positive because the baby still has the mother’s antibodies in their system. Kitten would have to be tested again in a year.
The other foster mother had taken Kitten to her visit with her mother that day. Knowing the visit was going on at that time, I called the CPS office and gave them the report so that her social worker could go in to them and break the news to her mother.
This was the only time I wondered if I would get to keep Kitten. I thought of a chronically sick baby, and wondered if the family would have her returned if she were sick. This thought was fleeting though. I knew I could not allow my mind to run in that direction.

Kitten’s family continued to make good progress. Her lawyers soon had gotten a lot of visitation time for Kitten, including long weekends at her grandmother’s house.

A few weeks into Kitten’s stay with us, we went to court for the termination of parental rights for the little boy we had been hoping to adopt. In a very, very surprising turn of events, the judge ruled that our family would be allowed to be his adoptive family. He was soon made our adoption placement, and when he was eighteen months old, and Kitten was seven months old, we went to court to finalize his adoption.
The night before, I took Kitten to the department store and bought her a beautiful purple dress and little headband to wear to the adoption. The next morning, our large family and many of our grandchildren arrived at the courthouse, and Luke Allan was made our official son. I don’t know that there have been many times in my life that I have felt such immense relief and happiness. At picture taking time, I decided against having Kitten in the pictures, because I wanted to be able to send the pictures to some of my internet groups. We were not allowed to post pictures of a foster child’s face, so I asked if someone would hold her for me. Two ladies, I’m not sure if they were lawyers, but they were some kind of court workers, both jumped up and nearly bumped into each other, eager to hold the beautiful baby.
When the adoption proceedings were over, the judge pointed us towards a door to exit from. She said there was a chest in there full of stuffed animals, and each child was welcome to take one. We took several pictures in that room, and Kitten was in some of them, one I especially remember of her sitting on a table with her stuffed animal. I did not realize it would be the last picture we took of her.
We came home and had a huge party to celebrate the adoption we had agonized and worked so long over. The morning had worn Kitten out, and she slept through the whole thing. When most of the guests, except for my daughter who had been Luke’s foster mother, had gone home, I got a phone call. It was Kitten’s social worker. “Something happened that upset me.” He began. I waited, wondering if I had done something wrong. I knew they had a hearing that morning, but I did not expect this news: Kitten’s attorneys had fought hard, and the judge ruled that Kitten must be returned to her mother by five o’clock that afternoon. It was now four o’clock. “I have to come get her right now.” He said, “I’m sorry you don’t have more time to say goodbye.”
I was so shocked. I handed Kitten to my heartbroken daughter to hold while I tried to pack all her things. I knew that if I missed something I could drop it off later, but I hoped to get most of it. I worked feverishly, trying not to think. My daughter rocked Kitten as I looked on, wishing I could be the one rocking her. I was not going to have time to tell her goodbye.
The worker was soon at our door. He was in a hurry. We packed the car with boxes, and then I buckled Kitten in her car seat and kissed her goodbye. My daughter and I waved until the car was out of sight.

That night I held my daughter as she cried for Kitten. I told her, “We have to look at it this way. Today we got Luke forever and always, and today Kitten’s mother got her back forever and always, too.”
My little girl was comforted with that thought, and so was I. We knew Kitten would not stay with us forever, we just didn’t know her leaving would be so abrupt.

And I wish that the forever part had worked out for Kitten, but seven months later, when she was fourteen months old, I got another call from CPS. Did I have an opening? the investigator wanted to know. “I’m going to have to go pick Kitten up again.”
My heart broke for her. Our home was full, but I told her please, we would take Kitten if they would let us. The investigator said she would see what she could do to have her placed with us. But our worker said no. Our home was full, according to state guidelines, and of the children in our home, we had three children ages three and under, and she did not feel like she could safely place another very young child in a home that was already at the state’s limit. One of my foster children had a visit that afternoon, and while I was at the CPS office, I asked to see Kitten. She was still waiting there because the over burdened foster care system had not been able to find a home to take her yet. At fourteen months, she was much bigger than the seven month old I had last seen. She didn’t remember me, but I sure remembered her. She was just as beautiful as she had always been. I would have given a lot to have been able to take her home with me right then.

Kitten didn’t stay in the system long this time. A relative in another state soon took her in. I assume that’s where she still is.

We have adopted two more children from the state since Luke’s adoption was final and Kitten went home. We also fostered another little girl who went back to family too. Our home is now as full as the state will allow until some of our other children get older. The state has closed our home for the time being. Who will take our place and care for the Kitten’s of the world? Will you?

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