I wanted to post about this right after it happened, and I should have. But here it is a month later and I'm just now getting to it.
Just in case you know nothing about me except what you read in my blog I suppose I should mention that since my last post we have more kids....well one more kid to be exact. Another full sibling of Maggie and Darla, named Mira. We got her in April, 2012 as a brand new infant. She's now 8 months old and a joy to behold.
The foster adoption process has the required steps of a waiting period to see if the parents are going to make any effort to get the child back, and also a time to see if any other blood relatives want to lay claim on the child in question. In this case we're actually considered the closest blood relation aside from the parents because we have two full siblings that have both the same birth mother and birth father, so we waited for the time to lapse, and last month it finally did.
On a Tuesday in November we went to court for the termination of parental rights, what is referred to by social workers as a "2-6" hearing, where the permanency of the child is determined after parents rights are terminated. Our county social worker, Nora, had told us that the birth father had been recently incarcerated so was actually likely to show up by prison transport. This is not uncommon, for the 2-6 hearings for both Maggie and Darla, the parents arrived by prison transport, wearing full prison attire : orange jumpsuits, shackles on both hands and connected to both feet, requiring them to shuffle while they walked, the sound of clinking chains against the hard court room floor accompanying every muffled shuffle step in prison issued soft plain tennis shoes.
This adoption case had differed up until now from the other two because the birth parents were not incarcerated, and as such the social workers were unable to locate or contact them. The state is getting a lot more relaxed towards felons of their non-violent nature, so, despite recurring parole violations, their reservations at the local prison hotel had become less frequent.
We were nervous to hear that ONLY the birth father had been incarcerated and would be in attendance. Previously, at the 2-6 hearing for Darla, it was the birth mother who talked the birth father out of contesting the termination of rights, so that our adoption could move ahead sooner. The mere act of 'contesting' the termination of rights, drags the whole thing out longer, often another six months or longer, she had saved us that time in limbo, so that we could move forward with the adoption. But knowing that only the birth father would be present, we were almost certain he would contest the termination, as he had (or at least had come with the intention to) both times previously.
While sitting on hard benches in the hallway outside the courtroom, waiting our time with the judge, my mind wandered. I thought of the last time I'd seen the birth father (whom I'll refer to as JD, though that is not his real name). It was when baby Mira, this sweet innocent child involved in this case was first born. She was in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) because she had been premature and exposed to some drugs and an infection from the birth mother (KG, again, not the birth mother's real name).
As soon as we'd been told about Mira, and that she'd be getting placed with us we started going to see her at the NICU everyday, as we would if any of our other children were in the hospital, doing our best to spend every moment possible there with her. KG and JD had visited Mira once after I'd left the hospital. The took the stack of pictures I'd left for them, the nurse had said KG, birth mom, was happy to see them. It made me realize I was actually a little bit sad that I'd missed them when they came, I would love to talk to them, to hug KG and tell her what beautiful daughters she had given us, and to just get to know them a little bit, to have something to say to my children about her when they're old enough to ask. Myself or my husband visited the baby daily and one day when I arrived, the nurse asked me not to come in, as the birth parents were there. Shocking since they'd only seen her one other time in the 9 days she'd been there already, and we'd visited her every single day since we were told of her existence. I mentioned to the nurse that I'd appreciate if she could just mention to them that I was there, and that I'd love to have a chance to talk to them if they'd allow it. The nurse told me that was unlikely and shooed me away. I felt hurt to be sent away from a child I'd already grown attached to, but I left.
I was down in the parking lot getting in my car to leave when my cell phone rang. The nurses voice was filled with excitement, "I told them you were here and they immediately said they'd love to see you!!" Apparently this was simply unheard of around there. This is a hospital that gets a lot of drug babies who are removed from parental custody and the birth parents never want to even see the foster parents.
I rushed back up to the NICU and walked nervously into Mira's room. KG sat holding Mira, she looked clean and content holding this precious little baby. JD on the other hand, looked at me with contempt, as if his arch nemesis had entered the room and he sized me up before deciding what he would say to me. KG greeted me with a smile, after our meeting in the courtroom only a year before, we had a bond, and we both knew it. We shared a bond of motherhood, and even a sense of family, as a part of my family is also a part of hers. I teared up a little bit seeing her there, for the first time not in a court room, not in prison issued clothes and hand restraints. I saw her as a mother, holding her baby, holding my baby. It was a difficult silence after a brief introduction. We began small talk about the pictures I'd left for them, KG had already cut one to size to keep in her wallet. It wasn't an individual shot of Maggie or Darla, it was our family picture, all in white, in front of the Sacramento Temple, when Darla had been sealed to our family.
"This picture looks like a perfect family," she said, "Where did you take it?"
I told her a bit about our beliefs, that families can be together forever and that once adopted, taking the child to the temple to be sealed to us was the final step. She leaned closer to me, and with a big smile, defining her under bite she said with confidence, "I can't wait to see the one with this little baby all in white outside that temple wit your whole family." She leaned the baby towards me and asked me to hold her while she stepped out to use the restroom.
There I sat holding a tiny 4 and a half pound Mira, alone with birth father, JD. \
"Now that (KD)'s out of the room I wanna tell you, " he started abruptly, "we're gonna get this baby back." My heart sank a little bit, but at the same time a piece of me was excited for the thought that they could clean up their lives. He went on an on about this job and that training and things that sounded good, but until any of them were in place it was all up in the air. Every so often he'd say something like, "I know you aint bad or nothin, and you are the momma of those other two girls we had, but you aint her momma, (KD) is." For some reason he had his heart set on getting this baby back....for KD, he hated seeing how much it broke her heart to leave the hospital without the baby, and he was determined to get her this one. I had to admire the guy, if good intentions were cash he'd be rich. I found it easy to tell him how supportive I was of that plan. It was easy to say because it was the truth, I wanted only good things for them, I really did, so the idea that this might actually be the one they keep...I wanted to believe as much as JD did that it was possible. I explained to him that it was my joy to love and care for her while they did what was required of them, whatever that may be, but that I would hand her back with nothing but love if that was how it worked out. By the end of our short conversation he smiled at me, not longer did he see his enemy across from him, he saw his caring support team. It was a changing moment.
They weren't able to do what was required of them to even try to get baby Mira back, and now here we were, sitting outside the court room waiting for their rights to be terminated and be named and future adoptive parents....again.
They called our case and we went into the court room. Social workers sat at tables with lawyers, and the same judge who'd performed Darla's adoption sat at the front of the room. We stated our names and a knot formed in my stomach as I heard the clinking of chains coming from a side hallway. JD shuffled in and sat where he was told by the weapon clad bailiff. The judge pointed out that KG was unable to be located and wouldn't be in attendance, then proceeded with his monotone reading of why we were all there. "Termination of parental rights of KG and JD, birth parents of Mira. He turned to the attorney representing JD, "What is your client's statement?" This was it, the moment I'd feared, the moment I was sure he was going to say that his client wanted to contest....then the attorney stood up to speak.
"My client does NOT contest the termination, nor adoption of the child."
What? Did he really just say that?! Both my husband and I looked over to JD, as if to verify if that was really what he'd meant to be said on his behalf. His face beamed as the hugest smile imaginable on a grown man spread from ear to ear. His hands shackled to his feet meant he could barely lift them from his lap, but he reached up as high as he could to wave a big silly wave to accompany the smile. All of a sudden, in that moment, he looked like a little child, a child excited to see good friends. "Hi you guys!!" he said, even though he really wasn't supposed to be talking to us. "How you been?!!" he continued. I couldn't help but smile, he was so happy to see us. The judge continued on with his hum drum reading of required statements about the right to appeal, JD asked his lawyer to state that he didn't want to appeal. Another moment of relief for us. He grinned and waved again, then asked if we had any pictures.
How could I have forgotten to bring pictures??? I felt so awful that I hadn't brought pictures, the one gift I could give him, after this gift he'd given us, by agreeing to have his rights terminated. I remembered I had pictures on my phone from Halloween, and one in particular that was a great picture I thought he'd love. I pointed to my phone to tell him I had one there to show him. The judge was continuing to talk in the background and JD started poking his attorney, "Hey, HEY, she has pictures on her phone, can I see them??" The attorney told him to be quiet and wait until the judge was done. He sat impatiently, and when the judge finished and the bailiff came to walk him back to the prison transport the attorney asked the bailiff if I could show JD pictures on my phone.
JD smiled, "Thank you so much Vera, you too Adam." For some reason it meant so much to me that he called us by name, you call close family by name, and to me, and now to him, we are all family. We called him by name when we said goodbye as the bailiff led him shuffling and chains clinking down the hallway.
My heart felt full of joy as the realization that the time I'd had to talk to JD in the NICU had really helped him know that we're just loving parents, not the enemy. And I've said before that I'll never have anything negative to tell my little black beauties about their birth parents, but this goes beyond that, I have great and wonderful things to tell them about a mother and a father who loved them so much, they were willing to let them go.