The adoption of an older child can be a hard thing, especially when they were not abused, but the victim of parents who abuse themselves with drugs. This will usually cause the parents not to be able to create a safe environment for the child, and eventually, Child Protective Services may have to step in and remove the child to keep him or her safe.
This was the case when two and a half year old Angel-Leah came to live with us. The only true physical abuse that happened to her was that her birth mother took drugs during her pregnancy, causing Angel-Leah to be born addicted. She was removed at birth and placed with a relative for three or so months, then returned to her birth mother. Although from the little I truly know of the next two years in her life, it was not stable, it was still filled with much love, as her extended birth family are very close, love each other and spent much time together.
After her birth mother’s drug addiction caused her to put Angel-Leah in a very unsafe situation, and the police had to rescue her, Child Protective Services stepped in once again. Again, she was placed with a relative for a short time, but soon was placed into foster care – my foster home. In the middle of the night, two year, seven month old Angel-Leah walked into my door and straight into my heart.
We had finalized the adoption of our eighteen month old son Luke only eight days before Angel-Leah came to live with us. Luke had never lived a day with his birth mother, having being removed at birth, too. Between Luke and I, there was no “first mommy”, I was the only one he had ever known. But Angel-Leah continued to see her birth mother for another year before parental rights were terminated; making her three and a half years old before the final last visit was made, ending their mother/daughter relationship.
In the eight months between that final visit, and the day we were finally able to finalize her adoption, I agonized over what to do. I knew her birth family loved her, and Angel-Leah was grieving over losing them. I wanted her to grow up mentally healthy, but there was no one in my own immediate family that I could go to for advice over whether to have an open adoption or not. Added to that, just six short weeks after we finalized her adoption, we were asked to take her five month old, full sibling birth brother, knowing he would probably end up as an adoption placement, too. I studied, researched and joined some adoption online lists to glean wisdom. In the end, I opened their adoptions to their extended family, in that we see the grandparents, aunts, cousins and others, and we write letters and send pictures and exchange presents with her birth mother. So far, this has worked out well. The birth family has accepted Luke as part of the package, and includes him in anything they do for the other two children.
One thing I quickly learned is that the birth mother/child bond is not easily broken or forgotten. Even before I adopted Angel-Leah, I knew that I would always be the second mommy in her little mind. That birth mom is still between us, and it seems like in Angel-Leah's mind she is always gong to be first. But we still have a good relationship, because first or not, a little girl still needs a real true, acting mother, and I'm it. It's been difficult for me at times not to just blurt out the hard truth in ugly terms, but I keep biting my tongue and giving her the truth in small bites as I think she can take it, because to blurt it out would damage her, and that's not what mothers are supposed to do. She's hurt my feelings many times and made my older birth children mad when she tells me I'm not her real mother, or she wants to draw pictures or make books of her and her birth mother, but I'm the adult, and I remember what she's gone through, and I work through it with me and her, and then work it through again with my other children.
I have held on, and just parented her like I parented my other children through the ups and downs and the sibling squabbles. It’s different, and yet somehow the same. We are making it. There have been hard times, but it's been real worth it. It's been good for me and good for my birth children. We have grown through this experience, and we are blessed. Angel-Leah is thriving, and I feel a sense of accomplishment raising her that is different – not better or not worse, just different – than the sense of accomplishment I have had in raising my birth children. I’m not the first mommy, maybe I’m not the most loved mommy, at least that’s why she thinks in her little mind, and yet I’m the mommy who has the joy of raising her, of seeing her learn and thrive and grow, the mommy who gets the little kisses and hugs and who fixes the skinned knees and bee stings.
This is a doable thing. I want to encourage anyone who is considering adopting an older child, that although it’s going to be a different relationship than one you might have with an infant, it’s still a rewarding, worthwhile thing to do, and you will be blessed beyond measure if you can look beyond a typical mothering role to allow the child to have a sense of hanging onto that first mother. The fact that the child has another mommy she loves is not truly a threat, if you can see beyond and around it. It’s just the truth of an older child’s life, and that child is still one of God’s creations, and worthy of your healing love.