The Birth Family Letters

mailAs I think I’ve shared, Daffy has not seen her birth Mom since July and her birth brother, Donald, since December 2012. We have allowed letters to be exchanged during that time, but of course we open them and read them before giving them to Daffy to be sure nothing questionable is being said. We were instructed to do this by Daffy’s most recent therapist and we agreed it was a good idea. This also allows us a heads up that behaviors may occur as a result of being triggered. The most recent letter arrived last weekend. First, the envelope return address stated “XXXX Family” rather than the usual “Mommy XXXX” that is usually used as the name in the return address. When I read it, I immediately felt pangs for Daffy. I know she will view it as just one more reminder that Donald is back with their Birth Mom and she isn’t.

I opened the envelope to find 4 letters enclosed… one from Donald, one from Birth Mom, one from Birth Mom’s new husband and one from Birth Mom’s older biological daughter (who was taken by the state many years before Daffy was born). Apparently she is 18 now and is living back with her Birth Mom.

I don’t even know where to begin to describe the issues in these letters, so let’s just take them one by one:

1. Birth Mom: Birth Mom wrote once again reminding Daffy that she still has her Christmas gifts and will give them to her when she gets to see her. (It was previously discussed by the post adoption unit working with Birth Mom’s family that she would give the gifts to staff to pass on to Daffy, but apparently Birth Mom decided that she would rather have a carrot to dangle in front of Daffy. Sigh. ) She then told Daffy all the things she had received for Valentine’s Day. She went on to say that she bought Donald a 7″ Tablet and a goodie bag for Valentine’s Day and she got coloring books and a goodie bag for her step-daughter. She then pointed out that she got a goodie bag for Daffy and it was with her Christmas things. REALLY???? I do not expect- or even WANT- Birth Mom to buy a tablet for Daffy, but to describe each gift in such detail clearly indicating to Daffy she doesn’t mean as much to her is just plain wrong. At the end, she closed with a PS telling Daffy that her oldest daughter is now living with her and asks if its okay that she wrote a letter. Ummmm, hello? Clearly it’s too late to be asking since you included the letter. She did not provide any further details, but it’s sure looking like a bizarre family reunion over there, one that Daffy is not a part of.

2. Donald: As surprising as it is, Donald’s letter was actually the least offensive of the 4 letters this time. He told her he heard a Hannah Montana song that made him think of her. He called her “sis” a lot (same as last letter when he wrote “I’ve been a bad boy, sis.“) and he drew her a picture of a tree with her name on it.

3. Birth Mom’s New Husband: I’ve never thought of this guy as a bad guy. He has custody of his young elementary school-aged daughter. (Side note: Daffy’s Birth Mom HATES his little girl and has no problem sharing that with anyone who will listen. She resents the fact that she could be allowed to raise this stepchild but not her own biological children, 4 in total, because the court terminated her rights). Anyway, the new husband seems to be fond of Daffy, despite only have met her once or twice in 2008 before Birth Mom’s rights were terminated. So, he wrote a fairly generic letter and then requested Daffy draw him the China Doll they talked about. He them went on to remind Daffy to include the butcher knife in the pictures. WAIT, WHAT? I had to read that part a few times over. Why on God’s green earth would this man ask Daffy to draw a picture of a China Doll with a butcher knife???? I’ve tried to see what I can found out about the Chinas Doll in the Great & Powerful Oz movie but so far not too much luck especially as it relates to a butcher knife. Regardless, I dont think Daffy needs ANY encouragement to draw ANYTHING featuring ANY knives after the incident at school in 2012 and the photos she drew of death last year.

4. Birth Mom’s Older Biological Daughter: Ok, so let me start by saying, when we first learned back in 2011 that Donald and Daffy had 2 older biological sisters that had been removed and ultimately adopted into a neighboring state, we spoke to the kids about them. Neither child had any clue what we were talking about. The workers from the agency we were with were made aware and also spoke to Daffy about the and Daffy still denied having any sisters. On the first visit Daffy had with Birth Mom in 11/2012, Birth Mom brought a photo of these “sisters” and Daffy did not recognize them and said she did not know who they were. Fast forward to receiving these letters. I was shocked to see this letter included. The letter didn’t say a lot other than the fact this 18 year old has now moved back with Birth Mom and is hoping to finish high school. She gave Daffy her phone number and said to call anytime. She said she misses Daffy.

As if the birth family stuff wasn’t already wreaking  havoc in Daffy’s life with the Birth Mom she wants to see, Donald whom she doesn’t want to see, her Birth Mom’s new husband and his daughter of whom she hardly knows, she now has a Birth Sister that she doesn’t remember who wants to be a part of her life. WTF. I really wish Birth Mom would work with me for her to see Daffy without adding this barrage of other people into the mix. Daffy can not handle it right now. She is struggling with daily life. Things like this could easily put her over the edge.

So, my gut said maybe these were letters we should save in a special place until Daffy is older and can deal with everything. Mickey disagreed. He feels like Daffy needs to see the reality (and insanity!) of what is going on at Birth Mom’s house. I relented and he gave her the letters tonight, coincidentally the second night of his two days off.  I’m sure I’ll get to enjoy a spike in behaviors the next few days and into the weekend. Lucky me.

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This Open Adoption Thing

@houseofwillies commented the following on my last post:

So I’m fairly new to the blog and have been following your Twitter as well. So I am wondering how the relationship between you and birth parents came about? Is it normal for an adoption through foster care to have those relationships after the adoption happens? Obvioulsy Daffy knows who her Bmom is…but is this common for adoptions through foster care? I’m sorry if I am prying or asking things you cannot answer. Just trying to prepare myself for what may happen as we are hoping to adopt a 9 yr old girl currently in foster care. I have to admit after reading your blog I’m scared to death and excited at the same time!

Rather than just comment back directly, it makes more sense for me to answer here because I have had other similar questions as well.

When we decided to pursue adoption through foster care, we were definitely open to having a relationship with birth parents. Upon being matched with Donald and Daffy we did not believe that would be a possibility. At the time we met the kids, it had been more than 3 years since their parents rights were relinquished (birth dad) and terminated (birth mom). The children had not had any contact with either of their parents in more than 2 years (birth mom visits continued during the appeal process that she later lost).

Donald, in particular, had a real desire to stay connected to his birth mom, saying that he was going to go find her as soon as he turned 18. As an adoptee myself, I understood (and supported) this desire. Daffy was more concerned about what had happened to her mom since she had last seen her and got permission to write her birth mom a letter. (If you are looking for more details I have tried to list all posts that specifically pertain to the open adoption concept under the Open Adoption tag on my blog. The posts start with the newest at the top so it’s better to scroll to the bottom and start there.) At that time, Daffy also asked the team for a visit with her birth mom. One thing led to another and suddenly we were on a path to “open adoption”.

Daffy’s adoption is not “legally” open, in that we have no legal obligation to have any contact with her birth mom. We choose to allow it because we feel it’s what is best for Daffy. On that same vein, if her birth mom is not appropriate or it in any way harms Daffy to continue visits, we will stop them. We always have Daffy’s best interest in the forefront of every decision.

When we first looked at this open adoption concept, Mickey and I decided that 2 visits per year would be appropriate- one in the summer near Daffy’s birthday and one near the holidays. While I do think 2 visits per year are appropriate and fair, I would definitely NOT wait until after the holidays again. I feel this caused great stress for Daffy the entire holiday season. Next year, I will have the visit at the beginning of December if possible to “get it out of the way”.

The other complicating factor in this situation is Daffy’s birth brother, Donald. Initially, Daffy & Donald were each going to have their own separate and ongoing relationship with their birth mom (IDEAL!) but now that the team is looking at putting Donald back with his birth mom, the “poo” is hitting the fan. First of all, we always planned that Daffy would see Donald monthly in whatever placement he went to. If Donald returns to his birth mom, this now means monthly visits for Daffy with her birth mom because of Donald. Additionally, the simple fact that Donald may be returning to birth mom (and Daffy isn’t) is creating an enormous amount of stress for Daffy and has definitely put a wedge in the already strained relationship that Donald and Daffy have. Daffy knows in her head that her adoption was the best thing for her and she loves us very much, but there is a part of her wishes none of this had ever happened and that she, too, could be living with her birth mom. Things are never that simple, though. She knows it would be unsafe for her to live with Donald so this could never be a reality. These are all things she is working on with her therapist and with us.

From what I have seen, it is NOT common for foster children to continue a relationship after adoption if the parent’s rights were terminated BEFORE the match. I think its more common for there to be some level of contact if the adoptive family was a foster family for the child/children DURING the entire process. I have heard that sometimes parents will relinquish rights rather than have them terminated if an open adoption agreement can be hashed out.

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong to open adoption. There are very valid reasons for some adoptions to be closed and also great benefits for some to be open. It really needs to be handled on a case by case basis, but if the child’s best interest is always put first, the right conclusion WILL be found.

And finally, @houseofwillies, PLEASE do not let my experience scare you! I started this blog with the intent to document what I hoped would be a magical path to adoption. Granted we have had our ups and downs (and some of those downs were waaaaay down, lol), but we DID get our happily ever after and every bit of this journey was worth it to get where we are today! I am following you on Twitter and look forward to watching your journey unfold, too! 🙂

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Christmas Visit

christmas visitDaffy was supposed to have a visit with her birth mom to celebrate the holidays last week, but due to heavy snow, it was cancelled twice and Jan 2nd became the day. Daffy was disappointed that their Christmas visit was going to take place after New Year’s, but living 2.5 hours away from her birth mom and working around other commitments made planning difficult.

Daffy had an appointment with her therapist that same day which couldn’t have been better timed. We both attended the session and her therapist asked Daffy lots of questions about how she was feeling about her brother Donald and her birth mom. Daffy had been OBSESSING over her birth mom ever since she saw her with Donald at Donalds birthday party in Mid December. Daffy seemed very reserved at the appointment but did say she is very fearful that her brother is going to hurt her birth mom and her new husband. She said she wanted to talk to the state and I told her I would set up a meeting if she would like or she could write a letter. I asked what she would say and she said basically that the state is crazy for trying to put him back there and that he needs to be in a family with no pets and no kids… like we have discussed for almost a year!

So, anyway, Mickey, Goofy and I attended the holiday visit along with Daffy later in the day. We arrived right on time and Daffy sat nervously waiting, wondering if her birth mom would show up. Birth Mom & I had just emailed that morning so I couldn’t think of any reason she wouldn’t come, but the clock ticked on. Finally, a half hour later, her birth mom showed up, no excuse and no apology.

As planned, she arrived with her new husband and his young daughter. The first thing out of Daffy’s Birth Mom’s mouth was “So, I had to have another talk with Donald about SANTA!” I was stunned that she was saying this not only in front of Daffy but also in front of her own young step child. Its her belief that kids should know the truth… that there are good people in the world who will help out poor families but there is no Santa. WTF. I won’t even go off on my Santa rant right now.

Next, they got to exchanging gifts. Daffy seemed happy with the gifts her birth Mom got her, although awkward since we were in the middle of a food court and she was opening a whole box of gifts alone. Once the gifts were exchanged, I took a picture of them together and then made the mistake of sitting down. Daffy’s birth mom all but ignored her as she started to fill me in on all sorts of things going on with Donald and that transition and brought up NUMEROUS uncomfortable things. At one point, she said that the state never had any reason to take the kids and that they knew that and are currently making right by Donald but are “too late” for Daffy. I was BEYOND annoyed for several reasons. First of all, the state DID have reason to terminate her rights. When the birth mom appealed it, a higher court UPHELD it. Second, Daffy is safe, happy and loved. Her adoption isn’t and was never up for negotiation and any hint that it was sends the wrong message to Daffy. Daffy did not have a choice. The state made it very clear to Daffy’s birth mom when we met in August that there was NOTHING she could do to stop the adoption. At one point, I asked when Bmom met her new husband and she yelled over “Hey Daffy! When did the state take you away from me?? Was it 2006?” ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW???? Daffy was TWO YEARS OLD. You expect her to remember the dates and to remind YOU? OMG. I could have gotten up and walked away at that point, but sadly I stayed for more. She mentioned being admitted to a psych hospital a few months after her last visit with the kids. I was praying Daffy wasn’t internalizing that as her fault. I was stunned at the things she was saying right in front of her step daughter and Daffy, especially because she has always been so appropriate in the past. Its like this came out of nowhere.

We drove home in silence, but I couldn’t ignore what had happened. I asked Daffy if she believed that she had only been taken because another foster family had pushed for it and she said while that was true in her opnion, she knew it had happened because her mom couldn’t keep her safe. I know that was just one of many clarifying conversations we will have over the years.

I stewed the entire night about it and decided to email the team the next day. If these are the messages she is giving to Daffy, what the hell is she saying to Donald? Is she negating his entire history by telling him there was no reason that he was removed??? The CW seemed disturbed and said she would discuss it with Birth Mom at their next visit.

I haven’t learned any additional information about the “Mama hit me” incident, but hope they are doing what they can to get to the bottom of that!

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Meeting Daffy & Donald’s Birth Mom

Ahhhhhh, well this post is now 5 days over due. I could kick myself for waiting so long to blog, but you all know there is never enough time in the life of a busy biological/foster/adoptive Mom!

Last week we met Daffy & Donald’s birth Mom. I had been really excited about meeting her, but the day we were to meet, she sent an email saying she didn’t “support” waiting until after Daffy’s adoption to see her. Ummmmm, well, okay then…. clearly we should go against everything that Daffy’s therapist is recommending to let you see her ahead of the adoption? On what grounds? Oh yeah….. the fact you had your rights terminated because you were abusive and neglectful to your children. Grrrrrrrrr… I know I shouldn’t be so bitchy, but her email really put me into a bad mood that day. Maybe it’s wrong to feel like I was the “good guy” for supporting her having a relationship with the kids, but I had been feeling like I was a saint for my going above and beyond my own limits to support this and her email made me feel used.

So, fast forward to the actual visit…. we arrived right on time and saw that the Birth Mom and the Adoption Specialist were already waiting outside the diner where we had agreed to meet.  My stomach was in knots. We parked and Mickey and I walked over and were introduced. Birth Mom stuck out her hand quickly so there was no weird indecisiveness about whether or not we should hug. (I have to admit, though, there was a little part of me that hoped that we would both be so overcome with emotion that we would embrace. I am such a dreamer….)

Shortly after we arrived, the clinician and the case worker both arrived. It was too difficult to get a table so the 6 of us decided to order take out and eat outside at a picnic table. In retrospect, I wish I had done more planning with the team about a list of topics to discuss. Things felt very strained as the birth mom and I tried to avoid eye contact yet both act jovial as I updated her as to how her own biological child has been doing for the past 6 months. I can’t express the level of weird that this reached.

Anyway, probably the biggest thing to come out of the visit was the birth mom stating that she needed to see Daffy before the adoption to find out if she “really wanted to be adopted.”  She said that she could not stop fighting for her until she knew that adoption is what Daffy wanted. She went on to say that she had met with a lawyer about fighting to stop the adoption and fighting to get Daffy back. We all sat in stunned silence as we listened to her talk. My thoughts were racing a mile a minute. I knew that if I was in her shoes, I would want to know the same thing. I wouldn’t want my kids to think that I ever gave up on them for even a minute. That said, I also felt it was a really “ballsy” move on her part to try to get us to agree to let her see Daffy before the adoption (which Daffy’s therapist has advised against on multiple occasions). I felt that it would be asking A LOT too much of Daffy to ask her to sit in front of both of her families and ask her to choose, especially when there is no “choice” to be made. Daffy is nine. She doesn’t get to decide what is in her best interest. The state makes those choices (at least until we adopt her in October.)

Somehow we managed to get through that part of the conversation without it coming to blows and finished our visit about an hour and a half after it started. As we were parting ways, I asked if it would be okay for me to get a picture taken with the birth mom. I have scrapbooking in my blood, and this was a HUGE moment, I couldn’t let it pass by without a photo. I later learned that the birth mom was “really touched” that I asked to have my picture taken with her. That was probably the moment I realized how little she knows me.

How would I feel if my children were taken from me? How would I feel when, 4 years after TPR, being asked to come back onto the team to help one child while the other was in the process of being adopted? Would I trust that the state who had mishandled the case so badly to have finally chosen a family that could love my daughter like I had? Could ANYONE love my child like I had? I have a ton of empathy for this woman, this woman who birthed my child, this woman who has never for a single moment stopped loving my child. I honestly can’t say that I would ever stop fighting either.

As we left the visit, I received a text message from the caseworker asking me to call her. That was weird in and of itself, because caseworkers here dont give out their cell phone numbers. Anyway, I called her back and she was mortified at what the birth mom had said about considering trying to stop the adoption and reassured me numerous times that this was not possible.  She shared that the plan is set and the plan is final… we WILL be adopting Daffy. I told her that we hadn’t been all that stressed about it, figuring the time line was too close for things to change anyway, but thanked her for her support. (I feel like this caseworker is the person that has almost single handedly saved Daffy from her fate of displaced adoptive homes and her brother’s ongoing abuse. Her text /call is just one of a million reasons I have to thank her….)

Fast forward to today. I received the first email from the birth mom since we met last week. I can’t put into words how intense these email communications are for me. She is so raw, so honest. She apologized for coming off hard and seeming threatening to the adoption. She shared that she had talked with friends, family and even another foster parent and that she had come to realize that asking Daffy to make a choice is something she should never have to do. She went on to say that all she wanted to know is that Daffy is “happy ,safe,  loved  and well taken care of” and that she knows she has those things with Mickey and me. What more could we possibly ask of this woman?

I am impressed time and time again with her. I don’t mean to minimize her role in having the kids taken away in the first place- she made some very bad choices- but in the past few months, she has gone above and beyond the expectations of what the team has had for her. She has made herself available for every requested meeting and visit (all while dealing with her own issues with a new husband and stepdaughter at home- something I will not be sharing on this blog). She has acted appropriately and said all the right things to both kids, despite her own feelings of loss and turmoil. And most of all, she has done this without being in therapy herself. I honestly feel like she is the super hero of birth moms! She has put the needs of the kids above herself and there is nothing I respect more.

I wrote her back today thanking her for her honesty and reassuring her of my plan for her to  have continued contact with Daffy. There was a little part of me that wondered if I should mention “if appropriate”, but I left that part out. If she has been this incredible this early on in the process, I believe I can only expect good things from her to come! 🙂

On a side note, she also wrote to Daffy again this morning. I forwarded her email to Daffy and then  required Daffy to check her email. Daffy logged in, read one of the 2 birth mom emails that was waiting, checked and replied to several other emails, read the second email from her birth mom and then signed out. I asked if she was planning to reply and she stated that she wasn’t in a “typing mood”….. UGH. I KNOW that her birth mom must be assuming that I am saying something negative about her (or at at the very least, not encouraging her to reply), but that is completely not true. I considered MAKING her reply, but a her therapist’s voice in the back of my head reminded me I need to let her do this at her own pace and in her own way, even though I might look like the bad guy stuck in the middle. *sigh*

Foster Adoption Becomes Open Adoption?

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Daffy received a photograph from her Fairy Godmother of herself and her Birth Mother. Daffy had been mentioning since shortly after she moved here that she wanted to write her Birth Mother a letter but had never gotten around to it. The photograph prompted her to sit down almost immediately to write to her.

The letter was perfect in every way. One of the things she asked, not surprisingly, was to visit with her Birth Mother. Since the letter is being mailed by the state to protect our privacy anyway, our social worker and case worker both had a chance to review it. Knowing that the parent’s rights were terminated years ago and the final visit occurred more than 3 years ago, I didnt think they would entertain the thought of Daffy having a visit with her Birth Mom.

Last week as we reviewed the records at the state office, we found cards for Donald and Daffy never delivered by previous caseworkers (likely at the request of the last group home because they wanted the children to “move on”) as well as 2 scrapbooks (one for each child) created by the Birth Mom. Discussion began between us about what is best for each child as well as their right to have these things. As the conversation progressed, we discussed setting up a meeting between the Birth Mom, social worker & caseworker and then eventually with us & Daffy.

This morning we met with our social worker to review the agenda for our upcoming team meeting. Again, we discussed the photographs and Daffy’s desire to see her Birth Mother. Our sw was giving us advise about boundaries, etc, when suddenly I realized that we were no longer talking about a single visit, but rather some ongoing communication/relationship with Daffy and Donald’s Birth Mother. Open Adoption in some sense. This is something I had never really considered. Donald & Daffy are children in foster care with terminated parental rights (including orders of protection against their Birth Father). I didnt think the state would even CONSIDER that they should have any type of relationship with her, let alone something ongoing. And yet there we sat, mulling over twice yearly visits, letters, phone calls and emails.

So tonight, I sit with my mind trying to determine how I feel about this. As an adoptee myself, I wished many times for the chance to meet my Biological Mother as a child. Now that I am an adult, though, I am glad that the adoption was closed and that I did not meet her until I was 24. I was far more mature and ready to deal with the the flood of emotions that came along with that reunion (a loooong story for another post). Is this in Daffy’s best interest? Is this in our family’s best interest? What if her Birth Mother doesn’t like us? What if she doesn’t respect our boundaries?

I have so many different thoughts right now and am glad I have some time to sort them out. I am also glad this isnt a decision that I will need to make alone. I am grateful for the many people on our team with such incredible experience and insight. I pray that the best decision is made at the end of the day.