Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Stephanie Jessie
Adoption is about legacy. As an African-American, kinship caregiving has always been part of our culture. It was often informal, without the involvement of caseworkers, and courts.
Kinship caregiving has been our attempt to prevent our families from being torn apart in the shadow of slavery and the oppression of racism. Today, slavery is disguised as mass incarceration and the criminalization of substance abuse and mental illness.
I believe that my husband and I made a decision that anyone would in our same position. It certainly wasn’t convenient. My husband and I are in our forties. At the time adoption became a question for us, we had one daughter who was twelve years old; my days of changing diapers had long passed!
I had returned to school and had just begun working as a nurse. When I heard about the newborn twins’ impending arrival, I was initially excited. Children are a blessing, right? They were not the first for their birthparents; the twins had an older brother being cared for by family members.
As the conversation progressed, I learned that the birth mother had not received proper prenatal care. She did have a sonogram, which showed that at least one of the twins might be in some distress. At that point, the conversation shifted.
Where would the twins end up once they were born? Are the birthparents able to care for them? One baby - maybe, but two children with medical issues? I knew the reality - the birthparents would probably not be given the opportunity. Since they already had one child that was no longer in their care, the odds were against them. The conversation shifted again.
Who might be able and willing to step in? I am not sure exactly what I said; but I know that I expressed my opinion that twins needed to stay together, and that we would be willing to help.
Kadrian and Kaycen were born at twenty-eight weeks. When I saw the announcement, I knew that it was way too soon. Twenty-eight weeks for a single baby, but twins? The pictures are etched in my brain. Oxygen masks, IV tubing inserted into skin so transparent.
To this day, the thought of them hooked up to every machine imaginable and fighting for their lives takes my breath away. I knew that I was looking at God’s handiwork, his grace and mercy. God’s hand was and continues to cover them. I cried and prayed for them. I cried and prayed for their parents. I never stopped praying for them.
Regardless of my relationship with the twins -- that of cousins, or that of a mother and child -- we have always been family. My husband and I are from a long line of fighters, and we have always been taught that you fight for and alongside family.
Our decision to “care for” Kadrian and Kaycen was an easy one for all of us. Informal kinship caregiving has been part of both our families’ history. Like with foster care, the goal is to do what is best for the child and the birthparents.
Ideally, family “stands in the gap,” giving the birthparents the opportunity to prepare themselves for parenthood. For some time, Andre and I were hopeful that the birthparents would transform themselves into “appropriate” parents – per the definition of Child Protective Services.
I have spent enough time in family court to know it is not easy. Birthparents must complete an entire program; including completion of classes, negative drug tests. In addition, they must prove that they are capable of caring for the child(ren).
Whatever circumstances contributed to them to losing custody of their children are probably still at work. What has changed for them? If they have a strong social support system, they may be able to beat the odds. But what about the time that they spend away from their children, the damaged relationships?
What if they are struggling with addiction, mental illness, or are incarcerated? Who are their advocates? As we progressed from Kinship Caregivers to Licensed Foster Parents to Adoptive Parents, I realize that the system is not designed to provide sufficient support to either the birthparents or the kinship caregivers.
We found the process to becoming Adoptive Parents disruptive, financially straining, and isolating. God and our faith in His ability carried us over the finish line. This was His work, not that of everyday people. Whatever ideas we had about the system supporting those trying to care for the most vulnerable were dismissed on Day One.
Day One was the day that we met Kadrian and Kaycen. It is one that I will never forget. My husband and I, along with our cousins that are adoptive parents to the twins’ older brother, met with the CPS caseworker, the hospital social worker, and the attending physician for the boys.
We heard the story of their birth and what had transpired since for the first time. I took notes. My notes included: colostomy, hydrocephalus, brain damage, feeding tubes, oxygen, inability to walk, talk, care for themselves and requiring 24-hour nursing care.
The caseworker would periodically say to the physician, “well Stephanie is a nurse, so she understands the risks…” That meeting was held in October 2012; I had only graduated nursing school in May 2012! To this day, I have not ever discussed the full scope of that meeting with anyone.
Then I saw Kadrian and Kaycen. They both lay in incubators in separate rooms because they required different levels of care. We were not even allowed to touch them.
I imagined they would appear helpless and weak, but it was nothing like that. They looked amazing! In that moment, I realized that Kadrian and Kaycen did not need us. Like their parents, they were survivors. They had been holding their own, and anyone would be blessed to share a home with these two. The love and connection I already felt intensified.
When I think back to that day, I smile. If they could see my boys now! Kadrian and Kaycen have never met a stranger. If you meet them, you will never forget them. If you spend any time with them; no one plays harder, talks more, or eats more than my boys.
They have their residual issues from the double whammy of being born early and of being twins; but it as if they are still trying to make up for the time they spent in NICU!
Well, I guess the hospital staff will never know. Our NICU reunion invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.
Unfortunately, I do not need two hands to count the people that supported us from day one. Maybe it was a lack of understanding or maybe they knew what we were facing and didn’t want that for our family. Unfortunately, it was as if Kadrian and Kaycen were born into the custody of Child Protective Services.
By the time my husband and I were allowed a seat at the table, Kadrian and Kaycen had been adopted by the NICU nurses and the hospital social worker. We were not welcome. They greeted us with suspicion and outright hostility. They didn’t even want to let me in the door!
Years later, I have tears in my eyes thinking about the way we were treated by the employees of that hospital. At the time, I worked full time at night as a nurse. Since I had been with my employer for less than six months, FMLA did not apply. Andre worked full time during the day. Jordan had a full schedule herself.
I would leave work, drive an hour, and try to spend some quality time with both boys. I would then drive another hour to get back home, and get a few hours’ sleep so that I might pick up Jordan from school and make it back the following night.
There were complaints that we didn’t spend enough time at the hospital. There was the ongoing concern that we would not be able to properly bond with the twins.
When it was time for me to take Kaycen home, they required me to stay overnight with him to ensure that I was capable of taking care of him. Once we took Kaycen home, it was even worse. If they thought that I wasn’t spending enough time at the hospital, just imagine what happened to my time with a new baby at home?
I was so blessed that at around the time Kaycen came home, my Aunt had just started an in-home daycare and she was only about fifteen minutes away. That was something to put a portion of my mind at ease.
A few months later, Kadrian was medically cleared to come home. The babies were finally reunited for the first time since birth. It was absolutely amazing while stressful at the same time. We were stretched quite thin.
Our priority was getting the boys settled and keeping them healthy; which meant multiple visits to the pediatrician and other specialists. As they were developmentally delayed, this list includes various therapists. I could be found in a hospital waiting room at least twice a week. Then we had to pencil in CPS caseworker visits, lawyer visits, court dates, and agency caseworker visits. On top of that, we were supposed to be working on becoming licensed foster parents!
I learned so much from spending time in waiting rooms with foster parents. First and foremost, I realized that this involvement in the system was a full-time job. Specialists, occupational, speech, and physical therapists.
My poor babies seemed to stay sick and catch things that I had never encountered – Scabies? Molloscum? I can now laugh at the time a caseworker did a surprise home visit during a stomach bug. She was trying to complete her paperwork, I was washing one in the sink, while the other walked into the living room and threw up on the floor in front of her. That was the last time we saw her!
And the paperwork! There is documentation for each doctor’s visit, documentation of behaviors, documentation for each teaspoon of Tylenol. I also realize that anyone who says that foster parents are “in it for the money” haven’t met any. A foster parent is a parent. It is a twenty-four-hour job. I don’t know anyone willing to work for $1.80 per hour these days.
It took us 3 years and 6 months from signing placement paperwork till consummation of adoption. I often felt like we couldn’t do it. Few people had any understanding of our struggle. Even our biggest supporters had doubts that we would make it. I doubt that all the paperwork was in order.
The system wanted us out as badly as we wanted to be out. We took pictures and threw ourselves a huge party. All five of us deserved it. The process was hell, but I love my children more than I love myself.
I would do it again. We haven’t had the “adoption” talk, but it will happen soon. I want the boys to have a relationship with their birthparents; and I love their birthparents dearly. Without the birthparents, there is no Kadrian and Kaycen.
I am proud to say that Kadrian and Kaycen have two other brothers and a sister. They are each in a different home, but they are with family. They have a relationship and call each other brother and sister without a second thought. They spend birthdays, holidays and long weekends together laughing and playing.
Kinship care works. Kinship care matters; and unfortunately, kinship caregivers don’t receive the financial or emotional support they deserve or require.
Stephanie Reddick-Jessie is a wife, mother of three, and psychiatric nurse. She and her family reside in Dallas, Texas.
* * * *
Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie's blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
To continue receiving posts from Portrait of an Adoption, simply type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button.