The Privilege of Being Mommy

I used to take the concept of motherhood for granted. Like it was something that was owed to me. Like the moment I decided I wanted to be a mommy my husband and I would just pull the trigger and bam! – new title – “Mommy” I would be.

It didn’t work out like that. I now know that for many, it does not work out like that.

After three miscarriages I was faced with the harsh reality that motherhood was not something I would be able to control. And after three times the loss you would think that Adam and I would have turned next to a family planning method that was a little more… I don’t know… predictable.

Instead, God had us sign up to be foster parents.

It seems his timing was right. We were not even through the entire certification process and a child was placed with us. In no time at all we had a foster daughter in our home.

I had not had the chance to be mommy to our lost babies.

Was I mommy now?

I had been yearning for the moniker of mother, but the despair of miscarriage had taught me that motherhood was not something I was entitled to.

I was about to meet another mother who, for different reasons, was learning the same hard lesson.

………….

Have I told you about the first time I met Little A’s bio mom?

………….

Little A was placed in our home on a Saturday night. The caseworkers left and we didn’t speak with anyone from the department until Monday morning. On a side note, that was weird. They dropped the child off and then trusted us enough to wait 36 hours before checking back in! But I digress.

Monday morning rolled around and the case worker called. She asked how it was going. She said we needed to get A to a visit with her mother. That day. Like within the next two hours. This was a fast intro into the world of needing to be flexible and, just like with the miscarriages, having no control.

Visit with mom? No problem. In between trying to research and set up daycare for the very next day we would bring A down to the DHS office for a visit.

I presented myself and the little girl to a locked door. The buzzer clicked. I met the case worker in the hallway.

“Should I come into the room?” I asked. “Like, should I meet A’s mom? Or should I stay out of it and let you do the hand off?”

“It’s up to you,” the case worker replied.

That is not what I wanted to hear. There were actually some things I did not want control over. We had to make so many new parenting decisions I just wanted one more to be made for us.

“Well, does she want to meet me?” I inquired. I was curious about her, but scared. What would I say? How would she act? Would she be combative? Crazy? Drugged out? Hateful? What sort of villain was she?

“It might put her at ease to see who A is living with,” the case worker suggested. “Having A taken away has been traumatic for her.”

I reasoned with myself that despite my own fears, maybe if A’s mom saw that I was a fairly normal looking human being she would feel more comfortable. Not to mention, I was more than a little curious about her.

The case worker led me to the closet-sized grey box of an office space “play-room” where A’s mother was waiting. My heartbeat quickened. This was going to be so awkward! The baby was clinging to my neck like I was a life raft. I took a deep breath before I rounded the corner.

A slight adolescent girl was sitting on the edge of her seat. Wearing black jeans and a hoodie with a messy topknot, she looked like your average teenager waiting outside of the principal’s office. She was not combative. Not crazy. Not drugged out. Not hateful. She was just there waiting for people with more power than her to tell her what was next. I could see my own anxiety reflected in her eyes. This was uncharted territory for us both.

I couldn’t help but notice the baby did not reach for her. Did not even acknowledge she knew her, save for the tightened grip on my neck and hair. I held this mother’s baby close and sat down in the windowless room.

I said hello. I introduced myself. I told her what a gorgeous daughter she had. I think I told her she was pretty too. (Because THAT is important at a meeting like this.)

There is no script for this sort of thing. At least not that I know of. If there had been I would have forgotten it anyway. My thoughts were spinning a hundred miles an hour but nothing productive was coming out of them.

I asked the mother if she had any questions for me. She couldn’t think of any. I asked her what her daughter liked to eat and a few other questions I had been pondering since Saturday night.

The mother’s responses were measured. I detected only the slightest quiver in her voice. She seemed resilient beyond her years.

The baby squirmed in my lap and snuggled in closer to me. The room got quiet. Was this mother yearning to hold her child? Was she mad that I was? Was she embarrassed that there was no connection? It didn’t seem like it, but what did I know?

We looked down at the floor. More silence.

The case worker jumped in. She was new to this too but seemed to know what to do. “Kara, A’s mother is concerned about what the foster home is like. She said she is picturing a place where adults are just trying to make money and take in as many children as possible. Almost like a puppy mill.”

“Oh God no. She’s our first and only foster child.” I looked at her intently, trying to reassure her. “Not to mention,” I thought but didn’t say, “foster care would be a pretty non-lucrative way to make money.”

After a few more minutes of nobody really knowing what to do the time came for me to leave. The birth mother would get one hour to spend supervised time with her daughter. I peeled A from me. She screamed, cried and pleaded with her arms like I was handing her over to a doctor for a round of injections. I pulled the Band-Aid off quick, turned my back, and walked out the door.

I beelined it to my car. I kept my head down. Oh how I cried.

Is the maternal instinct so strong that after 36 hours with this child I couldn’t bear to hand her over? Couldn’t stomach her tears?

Was I mommy now?

She had clung to me.

Children have instincts. They know what they need and they know who is giving it to them. Just four days after having A in our care she looked up at me with her Hershey Kiss eyes and she called me momma. So many questions. That felt good, but should I “allow” it to happen? Was that “ok?”

Was I mommy now?

I sought counsel from the caseworkers.

“What should I do? What should she call us?”

They too seemed unsure about the whole thing. Here was yet another unwanted opportunity to exercise our decision making power. We didn’t know what would be best for her in the long run. Somebody, please, tell us what to do!

Adam and I reasoned…

This child was just learning to speak. She didn’t have many words. Teaching her our names felt too formal. She was one-and-a-half for God’s sake. The child needed a mother. And a father. Didn’t she?

I had just been to a talk given by Susie Krabacher, a former playboy playmate and the owner of an orphanage in Haiti. She said she didn’t want the children in the orphanage calling her mother because she didn’t want them to grow up thinking that a mother was someone who came into and out of a child’s life.

She had a good point. We didn’t want that for Little A either. But, we also didn’t want Little A to grow up without knowing the joy of having parents.

A few days later when I picked A up from daycare, older kids in her class called out, “A’s mommy is here.”

Was I supposed to sit them down and explain the whole morbid situation to them?

“Well, technically kids, even though Adam and I drop her off and pick her up, pack her lunches and give her hugs, you don’t have it quite right. It would be more appropriate if you referred to me as….”

Ha. Yeah right.

So while I still wasn’t sure if I was a mommy I decided to just run with it.

And run we did, for the life of a foster child is busy. For the next few weeks Adam or I drove Little A to and from visits with her parents. On a few occasions we stayed with the bio mom or dad through the entire thing.

I was surprised that it was never that uncomfortable with her parents. There were moments, for sure. Like the first time A called me “momma” in front of her momma. I cringed, held my breath, and didn’t know what to do.

The crisis was avoided before it began. The case-aid came to the rescue. She addressed the birth mother with something like, “since Kara and Adam are playing such a vital role in A’s life right now, and A is just learning to talk, it is appropriate that she sees them as a mommy and daddy.”

The mother nodded like she understood. “I don’t mind,” she said.

I believed her.

I wish I could say I was as mature as this young girl.

Three visits a week continued and we got into the routine of the visits happening during the workday. The case-aide would pick A up and drop her off during daycare hours. Weeks passed without Adam or I seeing A’s birth parents.

I could not help but wonder, “what did Little A call her mother?”

A few times I tried to pry. I asked our daughter how her day was. One time I asked her what she had done that day with her mommy. She looked at me confused. “My mommy!” she exclaimed, pointing to me. I attempted to suppress a satisfied grin.

On another occasion I asked A how her play time with her mother was, but this time I called her mother by name. She responded with something completely off topic, like toddlers do.

And then…

After eleven months of calling ME mommy and one week before her biological parents’ trial I asked, “What did you do today?”

“Um,” she said, “I went to the pool with my mommy!”

The smug smile I had worn in conversations past was nowhere to be found. Indeed, she had gone to the pool that day with her biological mother.

Was I still mommy now?

Little A’s statement was bitter-sweet. Two days after the mommy comment and five days before the case went to trial A’s biological mother relinquished her rights.

I was finally going to be a mommy!

Except that I already was.

And I had been for a long time.

And now, despite the relinquishment, A’s bio mommy was too.

Here is what I’ve learned through the foster to adopt process: custody is something that the court can order. The privilege of being “mommy” is not. Our small daughter knows that better than anyone.

I am beyond words excited to be the “on paper” mommy of Little A. I am also hopeful for the future of our relationship with Little A’s bio mom. We are proud of her for the progress she has made and grateful that our daughter has a courageous woman to look up to. God is good.

Whether you are a “normal” mother, a foster-mother, a step-mother, an in-law, an adopted mother, a bio mother, a yet-to-be mother, or whatever else I am missing, motherhood is not something any of us are entitled to.

I pray that not one of us takes for granted what a privilege it is to be called “mommy.”

Xo,

Kara

p.s. The pictures on this post of our family almost did not happen. They were taken just weeks after Little A came into our life and there was so much that was uncertain. I had so many doubts. Were we allowed family photos with this little girl who may not be with us very long? I watched on Facebook as friends posted snapshots of themselves with their adorable babies and children. Was I allowed this same joy?

Was I a fraud? Or, was  I mommy?

Now that we are where we are I am so glad I let my sister convince me to do this shoot!

Advertisements

A Foster Child Is Home

melissayoungphotography.com

melissayoungphotography.com

I just love happy endings!

I have been wanting to update everyone on the court proceedings I discussed in my last post, but it has been a week and I am still speechless. Hospitalized, “potentially due to a ‘hormonal surge'” (don’t worry, I’m fine), and speechless…

So without any extra verbiage and with an awestruck faith, it is with tremendous joy and thankfulness that we share…

Little A will be adopted into the Gilbert family within the next few months!! 

Thank you for reading my stories. There are more to come.

Thank you for your prayers for Little A. I am more convinced than ever of their effectiveness and of God’s power.

When I can articulate more clearly I will share in greater depth.

For now, just so so joyful…

xo,

KG

melissayoungphotography.com

melissayoungphotography.com

(A big thank you to my sis for the stunning photos of Little A!)

Foster Care Judgment Day

Foster to Adopt

melissayoungphotography.com

Have you thought much about your own Judgment Day?

I hadn’t. That is until our more recent visits to the courtroom.

Last Tuesday was a pretrial hearing for Little A’s case. We sat in the gallery of the courtroom several pews behind A’s mother. She sat at the defendant’s table all alone. Her shoulders were shrugged into herself and she looked even smaller than she is in the black and grey hooded sweatshirt she wore. The judge’s bench loomed in front of her. On the other side of the courtroom at the prosecution’s table sat a gaggle of well and colorfully dressed blonde-headed ladies – lawyers and caseworkers – all representing the best interests of Little A. It was impossible not to notice just how lonesome A’s mother was, juxtaposed to the pack of older, educated women at the competing desk. My heart was in turmoil, oscillating between demands of justice for Little A and gut-wrenching empathy for the solitary young mother before me. Her lawyer had called in over the phone – distant representation without a face or physical presence to offer guidance and support.

This was an important day in the courtroom. It was a day to determine if the case would proceed to trial on September 2.

Let me give you a little foster care process background so that you know what brought us to this point…

Biological parents have a set amount of time to work on and complete their treatment plans. In A’s case, due to her young age, the “set amount of time” is one year. If representatives for the child can agree that enough progress has been made on the treatment plan prior to the one-year mark, visitation with bio parents is ramped up and a schedule for reunification of the child with bio parent(s) is put in place. On the other hand, if representatives for the child do not agree that reunification of the child with the bio parents is in the best interest of the child, yet the biological parents still seek to regain custody, the case is brought to trial.

Bringing a child’s case to trial is not ideal. I am told it is an emotional situation for everyone involved and is to be avoided if at all possible. A’s parents and their state appointed lawyers will face off against A’s team of lawyers, caseworkers, and volunteer advocates. A day and a half of testimony will be presented. Witnesses will be called to the stand. Experts will be asked to weigh in. A’s bio parents as well as Adam and I will likely have to take the stand (um – freaking out!). Supporters for either side will fill, or not fill, the seats in the gallery.

If A’s lawyer’s “win” this case, the rights of the biological parents will be immediately terminated. A would essentially become an orphan for a temporary period of time until her adoption day. If the bio parents “win” this case, A will remain in foster care for a newly specified amount of time while the parents continue work on their treatment plans. (“Win” is an inaccurate word to use in situations like this.) From what I understand the case would then go back to trial in some months for reevaluation.

It has been suggested that the experience of a trial will be devastating for A’s parents, win or lose. They will be faced with tough questions on the stand and hard to swallow presentations to the judge of them as people and as parents.

Did I mention that I am also freaking out about taking the stand? Speaking in front of people is hard enough for me. Speaking in front of people, about another person, who is also in the room, whom I hope to have a relationship with in the future, is going to be infinitely more terrifying. Oh man, I don’t even want to think about it. And I’m trying not to – too much – as I’m still praying for one of the other options to come to fruition.

The other options are voluntary relinquishment (best case scenario), or that the parents won’t show up on trial day and the case will default to termination.

Voluntary relinquishment was one of the major points of the pretrial hearing last Tuesday. The judge wanted to hear from the parents that they still intended to go to trial. They could, after all, throw their hands in the air and surrender custody of their daughter. Voluntary relinquishment is the preferred route because trial would be avoided, state imposed termination would be avoided, and more time in flux and in temporary foster care for Little A would be avoided. The parents would also avoid having a termination on their permanent record forever, which carries with it several implications including red flags if they have future children and the inability to ever work anywhere or anyplace involving children. Relinquishment, on the other hand, carries with it no legal ramifications.

It is a choice for A’s parents that I do not envy. It’s a battle for them of head versus heart, desire versus ability, pride versus honesty, and the fight for love versus the strength to surrender in light of it. It is a lot to process and A’s parents are young and largely unsupported. We can hardly imagine being in their shoes. Yet participating in this case has personified the faith we have in the nerve-wracking fact that we too will be sitting at the defendant’s table in front of The Judge some day. I had never visualized this occasion before. Seeing A’s mother there brought the whole thing to life and got me thinking about some important questions…

Will I have an advocate at my trial to represent me, or will I have to speak on my own behalf? Will it be a somber or joyous day? Who will I call to the stand? What will my witnesses say? Who will the witnesses for the prosecution be? Is there testimony I will be ashamed of? And most importantly, how can I make restitution for my choices now?

I have not and do not always love God or others well or enough, but I believe God’s “treatment plan,” in theory, is simple. The Bible says the greatest commandment is to love God and the second greatest is like it, to love people. Everything else [in the “treatment plan”] hangs on this. This case has reminded me to relinquish my rights on a daily basis and to continue to chip away at the treatment plan. I’d like to avoid the trial all together. How about you?

We should have some answers regarding Little A on September 3. I will keep you posted!

As always, thanks for reading and would love to hear from you.

Xo,

Kara

How Foster Parenting Fosters Faith

melissayoungphotography.com

melissayoungphotography.com

One of the first nights we had Little A I was singing her songs as she was falling asleep. Without much thought I started to whisper the words to Jesus Loves Me. It’s a song I’ve sang a thousand times, but the words had never hit me quite like they did that night. This 18-month-old little darling had just been pulled from all things familiar and placed into the arms of strangers. She had absolutely no control over what was happening to her. She was weak.

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I sang familiar words, new circumstances giving this seemingly simple song new meaning…

“Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.”

In that moment, singing those words, I was surprised by the conviction with which I believed in that last part. I didn’t yet know how my faith would be put to the test.

It is 8.5 months later and we are in the thick of this foster care process. Expectations regarding A’s future change weekly. We are left to question, interpret, and put our spin on the information given to us by “The Team”.  If we felt good about A’s prospects and her future outside our home this whole thing might be less emotional. But the circumstances are what they are and the ups and downs are taxing.

“Do you guard your heart with her?” some friends have asked.

“Guard your heart,” other well-wishers have suggested.

I know that all these friends mean well, but guarding our hearts is the last thing we want to do.  I don’t think God guards his heart in case his people walk away from Him. I don’t think the world needs guarded love like that.

The foster care journey with Little A has been faith testing in the best and worst of ways. Trusting Jesus is something we must surrender to daily. It is not easy. Now, each night, as we tuck Ana into bed we sing “He is strong” as more of a prayer than anything else. As a nightly ritual, when we are done with the song, A looks up at us, puts her hands together in baby sign language, and pleads in her little toddler voice, “More Jesus please.” We couldn’t agree more. We really have no other choice.

Do you struggle with trust like I do? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

With a grateful heart,

KG.

Foster Care Introduction – The Basics Part 1

Foster Child

melissayoungphotography.com

Visitation. Treatment Plans. The Team. Vacations. Here we go.

Visitation.

I am not exactly sure how visitation time with bio parents is determined. Little A gets an hour with mom and an hour with dad 3 times each week. In the beginning we were doing the driving to and from visits. Now that A is accustomed to the caseworkers, and because visits were moved to the middle of the workday, A is picked up and dropped off by caseworkers while at daycare. Unless something big happens at visits this is a part of her day that we often hear nothing about.

Sometimes there are behavior differences from one evening to the next. We don’t know whether to attribute these differences to visits or not.

As a concerned foster parent I want to know what A ate for lunch that day. I want to know if she calls her bio mom “momma.” I want to know if she caught some Z’s on the 30-minute car ride each way. But these are things that I just have to let go. It’s a bit of a challenge to not be in control.

Sometimes, when I’m able to stop focusing on us and how we feel, I think about A’s mom… She doesn’t know what A had for breakfast or dinner, how A slept at night, or what she’s been doing for fun. I wonder if there are behavior differences during visits and if mom considers attributing these to how we are raising her daughter? Sometimes I wish A’s mom had a blog I could peek in on. I wonder how she feels about all of this… to what level does she care?

Treatment Plans.

Bio parents don’t always show up for visits and this plays a part in how the case is presented to the judge. Also of importance is how parents are progressing on their treatment plan. The treatment plan is something that the team involved in the case comes up with for the bio parents. It is a checklist of things that parents need to do in order to regain custody of their child. Plans vary based on the individual and the reasons for the removal in the first place, but some examples of “to-dos” might be therapy, counseling, classes, drug tests, stable employment or housing, staying out of trouble with the law, etc. Bio parents review the treatment plan and sign off on it. Theoretically, they should then get to work on completing its contents. After a certain period of time, I think usually 60 or 90 days, the judge reviews the progress and decides next steps. In our case initial progress was presented in March and a follow-up date was scheduled for May. May was delayed and the hearing was rescheduled for June. Adam and I are anxious to get a sense of where our case stands when we attend court next week.

The Team.

There are quite a few people involved in cases like this. There is a lawyer appointed to represent each bio parent. There is a lawyer for the child. There is a caseworker for the child. There is a volunteer court advocate for the child. There is a caseworker for us. And, as this progresses, we can hire a lawyer to represent us if we choose. Both caseworkers, the child’s lawyer and the child’s volunteer advocate are all supposed to visit the child in the foster home on a fairly regular basis to ensure all is in the best interest of the child. These visits are in addition to other specialists who may be in and out of the home, such as therapists, parenting coaches, etc..

loveandacardboardbox.com

Vacations.

Oh, sweet, sweet vacations. They are not as easy to take as they once were. In order to leave the state with a foster child, foster parents need bio parent approval and/or judge’s orders. Leaving the country is not allowed. Any visitation time that is missed during vacation is made up for surrounding the trip. Despite the hoops, vacation time has been extra special for our family. Not knowing what A’s future might look like, being able to take her to the ocean, on an airplane ride, and to Disney World have been trips we have not taken for granted.

We are praying that God’s will be done in little A’s life, selfishly hoping that means many more trips with all of us together.

Thanks for reading and as always, love to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions!

Xo,

KG.

Parenting on the Foster Care Coaster

 

Little A loves baby dolls. She likes to put clothes on them, pretend to feed them, make cry noises and pat their backs and rock them. Particularly troubling to her is when another child is playing with a baby doll she wants to play with. She is communicating better now, but just a few short months ago she would point and fuss and whine, “mine.”

As her parents it is our job to teach her what is and is not socially acceptable behavior. Yet if ever my heart has been able to relate to hers, it is in these moments. Sometimes I want to act the same way.  I just wish little A was mine… Waaaa.

Have I mentioned that we are foster parenting with the hope of adopting? That wasn’t the original goal, per say. When you go through the process to get certified you can check all sorts of different boxes indicating what type of court case and / or child you would like to foster.

Within 12 hours of having A we knew we wanted to adopt her if that were to become an option. I’m not sure if it will be like that with every child we foster. I do suspect that wanting to adopt her has made foster care all the more emotional for us (or perhaps just me as Adam tends to have a great perspective and a level head).

At this point in the game the emotional roller coaster has become routine. About every two weeks we get an update from a lawyer or caseworker that either leaves me feeling elated or wanting to crawl into a hole. The emotions were intense at first. Now that we are a little more accustomed to how all of this works I understand that today’s update on the case may look nothing like tomorrows. Sometimes updates are based on how visitation with bio parents is going. Sometimes we get information regarding how A’s parents are doing on their treatment plans. Sometimes we hear about A’s extended family members and the interest and/or appropriateness of them adopting her.

I wish I could be more specific on details. Perhaps when this is all said and done I will be able to go back and fill in some gaps. Suffice it to say there are some days when I feel strongly that A will be ours forever. There are other days when I feel hopeless and have to remind myself that God is in control and knows what’s best. Little A is not “mine.” She is His.

All of this custody stuff will unfold over the next 4 months or so. We go back to court on June 20th (next Friday!).

How is parenting your own children a roller coaster? Or is it? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Xo,

KG.

Foster Parenting: How Long Will You Live With Us?

Foster Child Little A

melissayoungphotography.com

I may have been a little overly ambitious with this whole blog thing. In theory I love the idea. In reality, how in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks do working moms survive? I’m lucky if I get a shower every day, let alone some personal time for writing and reflection. Truth be told, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.  I’m also feeling like parenting is still the most rewarding thing in the whole world. You probably feel that way too? In that way foster parents and bio parents are the same. Yet I’ve been thinking more about how foster parenting is different…

I have some friends who have recently or will recently send their first born off to college. It is not an easy time. The kid spreads their wings and the parents can only hope and pray that the foundation they have poured over 18ish years is solid. Mom and dad watch in anticipation to see which nuggets of wisdom will stick. 18 years, typically, to feed into the lives of children before sending them on their merry way.

We very likely will not have 18 years with A. Unless we get to adopt her we won’t even have 18 months.* That means that every day we do have with her REALLY counts. Like a parent sending their teen off to college, we hope that the impact we are having is profound and that the effects are long lasting.

As A grows up she probably won’t remember us. She won’t remember the nights we woke up 12 times to comfort her back to sleep or the 17 different sleeping arrangements it took to finally find one she was happy with. She probably won’t remember splashing in the pool or sledding down small and then bigger hills. She won’t remember what she learned from our snowboarding lessons or the grandma’s and grandpa’s she visited with who were absolutely in love with her. She may not remember the little songs we sang, the prayers we prayed, jumping on Papa Adam, burping with Aunt Mel or being smooshed between a kiss sandwich. She likely won’t remember that she had a dog named Roxy who she loved to feed and walk and torment.

But all that begs a question: If a person doesn’t remember the nice and the good things, does it make those things not worth doing? (This awesome guy, Stu Graff, has a great post about the topic. You should check it out.)

While A won’t remember specifics, I am confident that all this love and all these experiences are making a difference for her. The footing of a home isn’t the most glamorous part, but it is the part on which all else depends.

In my first post I made the statement that foster care is something you need not be scared of. I am seriously not sure why I said that? Did anyone out there think to call my bluff? I guess I am still processing. I guess I was hoping more people would want to do it (and you should). But I would be lying if I didn’t say I would like to retract that statement. We are absolutely in love with this child and we may be about to “send her off to college.” Truth be told, we are scared shitless…

The bottom line is though, whether it is 12 months or 18 years, every day counts.

I believe it counts whether they remember it or not.

Do you?

As always, would love to hear your thoughts.
xo,

Kara

*There are time limits with regards to how long a child can remain in foster care without a permanency plan. Due to A’s age, she is only allowed to be in the system 1 year. At 1 year a permanent solution needs to be in place. That means A could be with us until October. In future posts I hope to outline how all that is determined…

“I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily

I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make” – Jason Mraz