Tuesday, July 4, 2017

From Foster to Adopted: A Pain I Don't Know

From Foster to Adopted Series

1. The Year to Today
2. A Pain I Don't Know
3.On the Eve of Forever
4. The Memory of Trauma
5. Finalization

On the final court date, I was able to attend. I arrived at the court house extremely nervous. I entered the humble seating area outside of the court rooms and I saw BioMom, L, and Bio-maternal grandma immediately. They looked worn. Scared and worn. I knew, in my heart, at that moment, as much as I knew previously in my head, that today was not about my family but about theirs. Something was about to be broken that never should be.

A part of me was expecting more drama on this day since the whole case has always been so unpredictable. But, we had all reached the end of the show. There was nothing left for L to fight against. There was no other path but for her to lose the rights to her son.

L left the court house before hearing from the judge. Grandma, S, stayed. The judge ruled. Done.

I will never forget my conversation with S after court. She asked me in such horrific honesty, 'How did we get here?' I could see in her eyes such confusion. How did her family get here? To the point that a judge legally severs the mother-child bond. She commented that just a few years prior everything seemed to be moving forward for her daughter. Now, there is a tear in their family that will never quite heal.

Staring at this dedicated mother who was grieving the motherhood of her daughter, I discovered a pain I don't know. A pain I hope to never know. And a pain I will strive to honour for the rest of my life.

The facts of Dare Bear's adoption are that he needed a safe home; that his family was not able to provide that for him; that we are able to; that after a year and a half together Dare Bear is attached to us and we are to him.

But adoption is not just addition; one child needing a safe home + a safe home = adoptive family. Adoption starts as subtraction. One family - one child = biological family.

This is what I witnessed on this court day. One family losing one child. And it broke my heart.

Throughout this process, I am continually reminded that there is no resurrection without the cross; there is no hope without pain. My hope is, as always, in the resurrected Christ, who rises, not despite his wounds but because of them. We are all one adopted family of God. And this global adoptive family started from loss as well. "Oh happy fault, that gained for us so great a redeemer."* When the loss inherent in adoption seems too great, I will remember that our God is Greater!

*For more in depth reading on this glorious mercy of our God, read some St. Thomas.

Friday, April 7, 2017

From Foster to Adopted: Part 1, The Year To Today

From Foster to Adopted Series
1. The Year to Today
2. A Pain I Don't Know
3.On the Eve of Forever
4. The Memory of Trauma
5. Finalization

We signed the adoption paperwork last month. A year ago, almost to the day, Dare Bear left us and officially returned to his biological mom, L. The dramatic journey that joins us all together as a forever family has an anti-climatic arrival. One signature and we all move from foster family to simply family.

How did we get here?
How did we survive the 'final' goodbye to the permanent hello?
How do we start to heal from this journey?
Where do we go from here?

These are too many questions to answer in one blog post so over the next little while I will be share bits of our journey with you, starting with a summary of the year.

This time last year, Dare Bear had rejoined his biological mom, L, and Skywalker had just joined us. We missed him every day but we thought everything was as it should be.

Then it wasn't. He came back to us. I will never forget the look of relief that came over his face when the worker removed him from the car seat and handed him back to me. We may never know everything he went through when we were apart. I hope and believe there were good times during the 2 months he was gone. I know there were hard times.

We fell quickly back into our old routines, except now there was a new baby to take care of too. I honestly don't remember much of last summer. Between raising two high need children under two and the stress of not knowing if/when Dare Bear would be leaving us again, I was beyond crisis. I am just now starting to realize how difficult a time that was, as the light starts lifting the darkness.

The truth of last year is that we either said goodbye or were told to prepare for goodbye 4-5 times. As much as we were the regular caregivers in his life, we were the last choice for permanency. What made the goodbyes even harder is that they almost always started out with one of our workers tell us that he would be staying with us. Our hearts were filled with hope only to be mocked.

I have said before and I will say it again because it is an extremely important point: it has to be hard to permanently take children from their parents and biological families. Unfortunately, this means that children pay the price when the road to permanency is long.

Despite the long, painful journey, Dare Bear was baptized and his joining of our family forever was celebrated on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19th.

Adoption is messy and depends on deep loss. It is emotionally complex as my joy as Dare Bear's mother is dependent on another, just as true, mother's hurt. One of the reasons I didn't blog much last year was because the emotions were too raw. How do I capture in the moment my deep sadness at some of L's choices, my deeper tenderness towards her and my hurt and anger because of how some of these choices hurt our son?

As the dark fog of last year lifts, I can begin to see how far we have travelled. Stay tuned for the whole trip...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

15 in 4: Foster Parenting Challenges and How Not to Help.

15 appointments in 4 days. This is not the first time that the appointments for my foster babies added up to double digits for less than a week's time.  I don't think it will be the last. It is crazy; border line insane. And every day an appointment gets changed or rescheduled to the next day or cancelled and its slot filled with something else. But we do it. This week we are doing it while Dare Bear got hit with a nasty virus. We had to add in a trip to the doctor, making three trips to the doctor in three days. Next week I'll have two more trips.

Parenting two under two is hard. Parenting two foster babies under two is basically a great way to develop an ulcer. Between the day-to-day challenges, the worry for both their situations, the paperwork and the meetings (oh, the meetings, visits, appointments!!), there are many days that I don't eat until nap time. Then I don't eat again until bed time. Not healthy, but we are in survival mode. Because this too shall pass. Much too quickly it will pass and, unlike other, more permanent parents, all we will have are memories. Sweet memories of sweet babies with crooked smiles and sticky fingers.

Foster parenting is challenging. It is a challenge that needs to be accepted more often. Children are worth it, but they don't make it easy.

So how can you help? Well, today, I am going to be venting on how you can NOT help, how you can add to the challenges of foster parents. Because this is what we are dealing with right now.

Today's post is made possible by the culture of death.

How Not to Help a Foster Parent

1. Share Your Opinions about Foster Care
So many people THINK they know what foster care is.
Comments like, "I couldn't do that, I would love the children too much!" (Really? What does that say to me? Do you think that I don't love them? Do you think they aren't worthy of the pain that comes from love?) or, "Children's Aid just steals children from poor people" or, my least favourite, "Parents that have their children taken away should be sterilized." (Really, which child shouldn't exist? Which of my children's siblings shouldn't exist? And are you going to be the one to decide which person you are going to treat like an animal?) are common occurrence in our life. Please keep your uneducated opinions to yourself. They are not original and they are not helpful. We also really don't need to hear about your cousin's neighbor's best friend who was a foster parent and the child *insert crazy violent action here.*

2. Share Your Opinions about Parenting
Foster children have experienced trauma, pain and loss. They need consciously chosen and connecting parenting techniques. Tantrums mean they are sharing their feelings. Crying means they are expressing a need. What they don't need and what foster parents also don't need, is quick 'advice' without context or relationship. Yes, my child swears, screams and tantrums. We are working on breaking the bad habits without breaking him. Move along.

3. Judge How We're Coping
I had heard from other parents that they can run into conflict between their work and their families. I suppose a certain amount of this is understandable. But the idea that work has to come first and, if it doesn't, you have to justify yourself to your employer, is becoming a huge issue in our lives. I have heard that I (as the caregiver primarily at home) need to "let G-Man sleep more" or "handle appointments and sickness all myself." Now, I do the majority of the night watch and take care of most of the appointments, but I can't do it all. And G-Man, as a good and (becoming) holy man, doesn't want me to. Family needs are not "just my responsibility." And the community's children in need are not only for a select few to take care of. But my wonderful husband gets threatened to have a letter written to HR because he is using his holidays for children's doctor's appointments and he has his daily calendar reviewed since April because the manager was convinced that he owed the company 'time.' (He didn't!) He gets micro-managed because he is loving and caring for children. I get judged, as the mother and wife, for not doing 'enough.'

4. Assuming
Assuming they are healthy, assuming since we 'asked' for this we are fine, assuming we do it for the money (ha!), assuming my children's parents are horrible (THEY AREN'T!), assuming foster care only happens to other families, assuming foster parenting is just like permanent parenting, assuming we'll get to adopt them, assuming that is our intention, assuming we 'must be saints,' assuming we don't grieve for long when they leave, assuming their trauma doesn't become our trauma, assuming we have all the answers, assuming every family you see is biological and permanent.

5. Discriminate Against Us
Recently, we have been looking for a new apartment and we kept running into issues when the landlord would find out that we have two under two and even bigger issues when we found out they were foster children. Basically, we were denied the rental because of our family. I also know of foster parents who have had a hard time getting apartment or car insurance because they are foster parents. G-Man right now is facing issues at work because he is a foster parent. Please respect that we are a family. These are my children. I will fight for their good until my dying breath, regardless of how long they are in my home. They are not disposable or exchangeable. Never make me feel like I have to choose between you and my children. You will lose. Every time. Support my family and welcome my children.  My children don't need to deal with your issues. You are the adult. You deal with your issues.

So, I guess to end on a positive note:

How TO Help a Foster Parent
1. Pray. Pray. Pray. Please. The devil attacks the family. Please pray for protection for foster families and for all families that are involved! Pray for healing.
2. Become an approved babysitter for a foster family you know. It isn't typically hard but there are a few steps. Foster families can really get stuck when they need child care help and there is no one to call.
3. Become a volunteer driver! We have had to use one since having two children and our driver, M, such a wonderful help to us! Volunteer drivers drive children to their visits with their biological families. Since I can't be everywhere, M is an invaluable resource.
4. Get involved in a community organization. Find ways to step out of your safe bubble. Figure out what people or behaviours you are most likely to judge and start breaking down the walls.
5. Smile at children and believe that all parents are doing the best they can!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Desperate and Powerless

I have so much to say.

But I can't hear my own voice over the sound of the hearts that are breaking.

I can say that we are preparing to say goodbye to him again. For the third time. And I don't know how to do that. And we have been in a holding pattern for a month now, waiting to start the goodbye process, waiting to know that it is for sure this time, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And Dare Bear holds onto me so tightly now. I can see in his face that he is starting to believe this is forever. He is starting to relax, breath, heal. He is powerless to stop strangers from deciding his life, uprooting it yet again. As are we.

No one should ever have to experience the loss that he will have experienced by the time he turns two!

And connection should come before kin.*

Prayers are most desperately needed.

*Footnote: Ideally, children would have connection with their biological extended families (kin) and be able to safely stay with them if they can't stay with their parents. BUT, if the decision is between those who a child has a deep emotional and stable connection to and those who he happens to be related to, connection has to win, for the sake of the child, especially the child who have already experienced serious trauma! This is not how the law is written. And so children end up hurt again. And again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Difference Two Months can Make: Part 2 The Return

I had just sent out pictures of Skywalker to family and posted a celebratory post on Facebook, highlighting that he has been with us for one whole month. Then the phone rings. At 4:18pm the phone rings.

The previous Friday and Saturday nights I couldn't sleep. I was tossing and turning, worrying about Dare Bear. I didn't really have any reason to worry except that his mom hadn't responded to a couple of my texts from days previous. But I was worrying and missing him to the point that my heart physically hurt. On Sunday, I sent an email to our worker just asking her to let us know that everything was ok with him and his mom. And I wanted reassurance that if something did happen, he would come back to us. I didn't hear from her on Monday or Tuesday though. I found out later that she was off Monday and then didn't have a chance to call us on Tuesday but she had looked into the case and everything seemed fine.

So by Wednesday I still hadn't heard from our worker but I was calming down. I had been able to sleep. Skywalker had slept well. Then I got a phone call. The voice on the phone said that she was the back-up to the back-up worker. Everyone at the agency was very busy today but that she understood that I had expressed concern about Dare Bear. I thought that she was just following up since I had emailed and our worker was busy. Nope. She told me that Dare Bear was back in care and was wondering if we would accept him back. Yes, Yes! My heart was pounding and was breaking. Enter more worrying. What happened? Is he ok? Is mom ok? I wouldn't get complete answers for a while. I still don't have complete answers.

Dare Bear returned to us at 7pm on Wednesday, May 4th. He was very happy to see us. I met the workers outside in front of our house and when Dare Bear was placed in my arms he started pointing to the front door and leaning, as if to force me inside. We went inside and he immediately started playing with the toys and eating a snack.

He slept well that night. As I tell him every night, he was safe and he was loved.

We didn't know how long he would be with us, what his situation had been for the 2 months he wasn't with us or how his mom was doing. But he was safe and he was loved.

One step at a time.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Difference Two Months Can Make: Part 1, The Loss and A New Hope

Dare Bear went home on March 9th. Court was the 17th. Everything went according to plan and he was officially gone from our home. There was relief and disbelief. Relief that he was home with his mom. Disbelief that he wasn't with us anymore. His whole case had been a back and forth, a big question mark. Is he going or staying? My heart was raw. I missed him desperately.

And I missed parenting. Parenting is FUN.

We met with our worker the following Monday to discuss how we would like to move forward. Initially the plan was to have a month to grieve before accepting a new placement. He was suppose to go home mid February, so by late March we were planning on being open to another placement. Except he didn't go home in February. He was with us and I didn't want to wait another month. I was ready to move forward. So, we decided to wait just until the end of March.

March 31st I receive an email. Usually it would have been a phone call, but I was out of town. There is a newborn needing a home. He was born Easter weekend.  It would most likely be a foster placement not a 'resource' placement (placement that could lead to adoption). He was a tiny one, born a bit early. There was the potential for health complications. Like any information I receive in the initial contact, about half turned out to be wrong or misleading. I rushed home and G-Man and I discussed it for a day and a half. Then we agreed. We agreed before even talking to any one at Family and Children Services directly. We never thought we would do that but this baby needed a home and we had one to give.

On April 4th, our little Skywalker joined us. We had to learn all about newborns, preemies really. Luckily, in the beginning, he slept quite a bit so it gave us time to get our bearings. About 2 weeks in, we were in love and slowly finding our new normal. Of course, just as soon as we found this 'new normal,' Skywalker would start changing on us.

The beginning of a new placement is challenging. There are many appointments, constantly changing information, new workers to meet, new doctors to work with, new parents to get comfortable with, new visit schedules and routines AND, most importantly, a new little person to get to know and take care off.

By May 4th, we were celebrating Skywalker being with us for one whole month. This felt like a big deal. We survived a month of parenting a newborn. He was growing and smiling (!). We survived all the beginning challenges. We'd developed a good relationship with his parents. His situation was becoming less foggy. And we were in love with a sweet, mischievous little baby boy. We were settling in. Skywalker, we were told, will probably be with us for around a year.

Two months ago we were saying our final goodbyes to our Dare Bear. Now we were holding our new little baby, feeling hope grow again in the middle of our grief.

I was completely unaware that by that evening, the ground under our feet would fall away.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How to Survive Transitioning Your Child Home

So Dare Bear is home. It is not official. Court is Thursday. BUT he is home now. We said goodbye last Wednesday afternoon (for the second time).

As we try to survive this (and we take comfort in the fact that we know we will) there are a few things that we are doing to help us get through. I thought I would share them. I know that we are not the only ones to go through this and perhaps this can help others.

We are in the thick of it right now. And as much as it doesn't feel like it, there is Hope.

Here are some of the ways we've been surviving and healing.

1) Physical Comfort
*It is very important to remember that you are not spirit trapped in your body. You are your body. You are your spirit. You are created a beautifully complex unity of the two so find comfort for your whole self*
     a) Massage
             At the beginning of last week I booked an hour long massage and boy-oh-boy was it worth it! It allowed me to relax and to relieve some of the physical stress I was carrying around.

     b) Comfort Food: Warm soups, hot fancy coffee, fresh bread
            G-Man and I have been enjoying a bit of comfort food lately. The physical warmth of comfort food can really spreading into the heart.

     c) Exercise
           Before when Dare Bear went home the first time, I signed up for a small Pilates gym. They have great low-impact classes and I felt very welcome. I had to pause this membership when Dare Bear came back but I am excited to start back into it this week.

    d) Feel-Good Beauty activities: New nail polish, hair cut, new lip colour
          Sometimes it is difficult to stay motivated and not just crawl back into bed. So finding ways to feel good about myself has been helpful. I also gave my husband a hair cut and that seemed to help him restart.

2) Emotional Comfort
    a) Counselor
          Just prior to Dare Bear heading home the first time (in February), I started seeing a counselor. She has been a great outlet for frustrations, fears, and my mourning. I did a search for someone who had experience with the foster system, with the Catholic faith and with infertility. She got two out of the three so I started seeing her. My Family and Children Services agency pays for $500 worth of counselling during transition. This has been a great blessing. Don't try to do this alone. This is traumatizing and it can also stir up any previous trauma that you have experienced.

   b) A Good Cry
         Try not to be afraid to cry. A lot and HARD. Last night I was up until 2:30am just crying, missing him so much. St. Thomas Aquinas talked about how to helps sorrow for it to be released. So release it. Yes, it hurts. It hurts more to face it and then to stuff it down. BUT it heals better and quicker to face the sorrow.

   c) A Good Laugh
         Find ways to laugh. Watch funny shows, read jokes, do something comical. Laughing, like a good cry, releases pent up emotion.

  d) Prayer/Ranting
        Be honest with God. Rant. Be upset. Be angry. Be hopeful. Say nothing and just be with him. Find ways to spend extra time with God. He is the source of healing. He is suffering with you. You can't scandalize Him.

3) Relationship Comfort
   a) Date Night(s)
         We have the time now. Yes, life is still busy but it is easier to plan some special time together. This is extremely important. You both are grieving and it can be extremely easy to grieve alone, in your little bubble with ice cream and Netflix (or if you are my husband, pizza and computer games). But find some time to just be together, doing something special that you like to do. Throughout the process of fostering and transitioning Dare Bear home, it has been easy and almost a necessity to put our relationship on the back burner. But we need to recharge and reconnect NOW not only for the health and happiness of our marriage but in preparation for our next child who is placed with us. The whole process of fostering is draining but it is the beginning and the end that take the most from you and your relationship, I've found. And the end of Dare Bear's time with us means that another beginning is coming.

   b) Frequent Check-In's
          We try every day to check in with one another on this topic. How are we doing? What are we thinking today? What do we see in the future? Some days this may be a long conversations. Other days it is just a quick, "I'm doing ok. Its hard but today I'm getting through." I find, since my dear husband isn't a talkative folk, this allows him time to form his thoughts and express himself throughout the process. This is not a one-and-done grieving journey. Frequent check-ins allow us to be attune to where we each are throughout the journey.

    c) Physical Closeness
          You may have heard of the 5 love languages. The concept is that each person has a dominate way they express and receive love. My husband's is physical touch. Physical closeness has a wonderful way of connecting the body and spirit together. Finding extra ways to be close to one another helps us connect through our grief. For example, I, typically, do work on my laptop in the bedroom and G-Man would be in the living room on our desktop. Normally, not a problem. We each get the space we need to do what we need to get done. BUT, this means that if something online triggers grief in me, we are in two separate rooms and he may not notice it. So, for the time being, I've started doing my work in the living room with him. This may seem really simple but it allows us to be available to one another. Taking 30 seconds and hugging it out is another important example. Just hug. Be still close to one another. Take a few deep breaths. Pause and notice what you are feel and what your spouse is feeling. Another thing we did, though not completely intentional, is make our bedroom quite cold so I HAVE to snuggle with him during the night to stay warm. I am usually too warm at night but I know that G-Man enjoys a good snuggle and he usually will say so in his sleep. It is adorable and lets me know that even when he is unconscious, he loves me.

    d) Situation Review Conversation
          Make time to review what you've just gone through and what you are hoping for in the next placement. What went well and what do you not want to go through again if you had the choice. Your worker may ask for a kind-of status update from you both. Has this placement changed your willingness in any areas for another placement. Hypothetical example, maybe you had a low willingness for an infant with fetal alcohol syndrome but it came out after your little one was placed with you that they were experiencing this. Now, after having direct exposer to this issue, you feel more confident and your willingness to take on a child with FAS has greatly increased. This could also work in the opposite direction. For G-Man and I, we discovered ourselves as parents for the first time and feel more empowered to take on complicated or challenging parenting situations.

4) Looking Forward
* A huge help for me is looking forward, imagining who our next child may be and preparing for them. I know that my love for Dare Bear  gives me confidence that I can love another child as well. My grief over his loss does not mean I can't love again.*

     a) Cleaning and Organizing Home
          Throughout the craziness that is transitioning Dare Bear home, our home wasn't a priority. SO, there is a lot to clean. This also gives the feeling of a fresh start and, I find, as I clean the cobwebs out of my home (so to speak, lol) I clean the cobwebs out of my heart too. And I find little things that remind me of Dare Bear, I reminisce and then move on.

    b) Reorganizing and Redecorating Baby Room
          I decided a while ago to change the nursery a little bit after Dare Bear left. This gave my creative side a release, gave me an excuse to go pinterest crazy (not that you need an excuse) and was a way of physically marking in our home that times are changing. I didn't change too much. The furniture is the same (who has the money to completely redecorate?!). I even kept the colour palette the same. I just increased the amount of one colour and decreased the amount of another. I changed the artwork. I actually didn't even change the theme of the artwork though; it is still Winnie the Pooh. I just made a large collage of sorts instead of individual pictures. I also made a mobile with different coloured ribbons and I hung it over the changing table. I also reorganized the items in the nursery; taking out the smaller infant clothes I will probably need for the next child and packing away anything that is designed for an older child.

     c) Cleaning Baby Items: Car Seat, Highchair, Playpen, Crib
           Boy oh Boy! Our little boy was a messy one. Everything needed a good deep clean. Car seats are basically heaven for crumbs. Like cleaning the home and redecorating the nursery, this has been healing. Transitioning Dare Bear home was traumatizing for us too and this is a way to wash clean our environment after that experience.

I hope that reading this (very long) list of ways that we are dealing with the transition and saying goodbye to our loved little boy was helpful. All of these things don't take away the pain. For the most part, they simple allow space in our life for the pain to break through and then, hopefully, healing to enter.