We first heard about K, on a warm Thursday night in May. It was less than a week after our home was officially opened to care for foster children. A caseworker called, “There's an 18-month-old Hispanic boy who needs a home. His mother is homeless. He has a clubfoot and bangs his head. We're trying to find him now." That's all we knew and we said yes. He (K) came to us the next day when the agency found him after going to several different locations. One look into his big honey brown eyes and my heart melted.
My husband, Joe, and I had always wanted to grow our family through adoption but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. The first day was a lot of just trying to figure out what to do, Joe and I for sure thought the agency would change their minds and call another family to take him as they watched us struggle to put him into the car seat! That evening K cried for the first time when it was time for bed. In tears, he grabbed his shoes, ran to the door and cried for over an hour, calling out for his Mommy over and over. I finally did what any grown-up would do–I called my mom sobbing. My mom prayed for us and after I hung up, I took a deep breath and realized it was quiet. K had grabbed his bottle and a pillow and snuggled up right beside me and had fallen asleep. I lay down beside him that night wondering, What his life was like? What his mom was like? And what in the world I had gotten myself into?
The next several months I didn't sleep, I was in survival mode with this toddler, who felt more like a newborn everyday. K would wake up at night in complete panic if he did not see me, hear me, or touch me. It took all my energy to put him back to sleep and usually by that point it was 5:30 am and he was up for the day. Naps were a joke and mealtime was just about giving him all the sugary junk he wanted because otherwise he wouldn't eat. He would throw himself on the floor and bang his head if we said "No." He raged this way for hours and on several occasions I was hit and or head-butted. K loved Joe from the minute he met him, he was over the moon to have a father who would run with him, play cars, and wrestle. As for me–the one who stayed up all night and was the brunt of his anger–I became resentful of this loving father-son relationship. K didn't know what it was like to have a father so it was new and exciting, but he already had a mom, and as unhealthy as their relationship was, she was the most important person in his life. Every morning when we sat down for breakfast, I would look at him in complete exhaustion, knowing he didn't choose me to be his mama. We continued on this way for over four months, which felt like an eternity. It didn’t feel like it would ever change, when one night, as I was lying on a mattress in his room waiting for him to fall asleep, I heard a small raspy voice say, "night-night mama, love you." My heart softened, the resentfulness started to fade, and I knew I could keep going.
I went to every visit that he had with his birth family and missed him so terribly as I waited for him to come out. After visits I never knew I was either going to get a sugared-up anxious mess or a clingy zoned-out child. I had no idea how to react to his birth mother and I felt like I didn't have enough time with her to form my own opinion on who she was or what her intentions were with her son. I just had the caseworker’s stories of K's birth parents and it was hard to not be swayed to think negatively of them. They were both so young and were never given the tools to break the their familial cycles. Poverty and abuse were not something I was born into so I didn’t know the struggle and I thought it wasn't fair for me to judge the things they did.
Court was a completely different experience. At K's 5-month review hearing, I sat with his birth mother for 2 ½ hours and I knew then that it was not safe for K to return to her even though I so badly wanted to root for her and see her pull herself out of this mess. I knew it wasn't going to happen in the timeframe it needed to and K shouldn't have to be caught in limbo for years while she figured it out. At that point I felt like I had been hit by a semi-truck and it took me awhile to figure out how I was going to help and support K on this uphill battle. And it was an uphill battle. The several months that followed that hearing were full of trauma, lies, and severed bonds. At the one-year mark, the agency filed to terminate parental rights. Hopeful we were nearing the end of the emotional roller coaster, we were taken back when we found out K's paternal aunt had come forward to be his kinship resource. I couldn't breathe the entire time the caseworker told us about her and explained what we needed to do moving forward. All I could think about was that sweet little boy who pointed to me at the park and proudly told his new friends, "that's my mama."
Three months went by and we never received any updates on this woman who seemingly came out of nowhere. What were her intentions? Was she having a home study done? We assumed that it was just a mistake and the aunt must have decided to not move forward in pursuing kinship. When we showed up for the initial termination hearing we were told that K's parents were appealing the termination of their parental rights so we would have a final termination hearing at the end of the month. The final termination hearing came and K's birth parents rights were terminated. Neither parent showed up and I felt so conflicted. I knew it was best but I wanted to see K's birth mother just one last time. I wanted to hear her tell me that she wanted me to take care of her baby and that she knew he was safe and happy with us. After all we went through I wanted some sort of confirmation that she knew he was okay and I didn't get that. I will probably never get that because she didn't want this–she didn’t choose this. She never wanted me parenting her child, I saw it in her face the moment she heard K call me Mama and run to me after a visit. As much as it hurts to not have that closure from her I know she is in a lot more pain not being able to care for her child, her baby. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be told that you are unfit and that the child you carried and birthed and tried to care for is better off in someone else’s care. In heated moments when all our wounds from her are open, I rationalize my feelings by saying, she didn't fight for him so she doesn't deserve to have him, but that's not fair to say either. I recently saw her with her boyfriend hanging out by a parking garage while K and I were walking home from the park. I picked K up and pulled his hood over his head and tried to hide our faces as we walked by. She looked happy and I felt a sense of relief knowing that she could be okay and hoped that someday maybe we could have a relationship.
The day after parental rights were terminated we found out that the aunt that had come forward had in fact had a home study done and the agency was going to have a meeting with the advisory board to decide whether or not K would be moved. This news was delivered so nonchalantly that I didn't believe it was true. We had been a family of three for 15 months. At the very moment when we were freed from the emotional instability that came from the situation with the birth parents, I was being told that this child, the child I have poured my whole heart and soul into, could be leaving us.
We waited with bated breath and tried our best to be positive. The day of the meeting I was a mess, I checked my phone every few minutes and cleaned floors I had just cleaned. We finally got the call and our caseworker told us, "He's staying with you...for now." I was elated and then my mind began to focus on the "for now" part. The aunt had 15 days from the day she received the denial letter to appeal. So once again we waited and prayed and begged God to not take this sweet boy away from us. Weeks went by and she did not appeal, I felt like I could finally breathe again and had hope that everything was going to be all right. We were given an adoption date for three months later, November 17th.
A week before the big adoption day we received a call from our adoption caseworker. My heart sank when I heard her voice–she didn’t sound like her normal happy self. I remember it vividly because it felt like everything was in slow motion. K was in the next room peacefully napping, over the noise emitted from his sound machine she told me that the aunt had hired a lawyer and wanted to be his kinship resource and that she had a week to file to intervene in our adoption. Everything after that was just a muted blur–a mixture of disbelief and anger. The caseworker told us to still plan on attending our adoption hearing at 3 pm on the 17th because the aunt had until then to file her petition and our caseworker didn't think she would. So once again we waited to see what the aunt would do. She filed the day before we were supposed to legally make our family official.
On November 17th at 3pm we still went to court and had a meeting with the Judge to discuss when we would have a "best interest" hearing so he could make a decision. The Judge was only doing adoption cases that day–balloons and happy families were everywhere–and I just wanted go home scoop up my 3-year-old and pretend none of this was happening. But it was happening and the next several weeks were a whirlwind of lawyer meetings, court hearings, panic attacks, sleepless nights, and begging God to make this all go away. Three weeks ago, on March 8th, almost two-and-half-months after our final hearing, we received the judge’s ruling. He ruled in our favor and we rejoiced! He granted our petition to adopt and we were given an adoption date of April 13th as long as the aunt does not appeal during the 30-day appeal period. So now our eyes are fixed on April 13th with hopeful anticipation.
These last two years have been a roller coaster and as the light at the end of the tunnel starts to get brighter, I am reminded that it's not just about where we end up but about the journey it takes to get there. Each day as I make K’s bed, I remember the many nights walking back and forth with him rubbing his back and trying to avoid the creaks in the floorboards. I give him dinner and remember the days he would push it back at me. When I hear him laugh, I remember crying out to God for the sadness of his past and pleading that it would not swallow him whole. These days of waiting seem long, filled with so much sweetness but also a tint of darkness. This passing of time is almost too much. And I want it all back, the dreams and hopes for my family that were threatened, the celebrations that have been marred by the weight of all of this, and I can't help but think of his birth mother. He was taken from her, for valid reasons and for his safety, but I imagine she has felt similar feelings. Wanting it all back and wishing things could be different. And I cry for her loss and selfishly thank the Lord for sparing me of that pain.
So again we wait, knowing God will show up for us over and over and over again. Even on the darkest of days, He keeps pursuing and teaching and showing us that He loves us. And so we pray... on earth as it is in Heaven.
Melissa's travels have taken her all over the world. She and her husband, Joe, have been on an epic adventure since the day they got married along the Nile River in Uganda over 9 years ago. Now living in Lancaster, they are finding joy in raising their son, K. Melissa has a huge heart for Child Advocacy, especially for children in foster care. In her spare time she loves to garden, write, and watch crime shows over bowls of cereal.