Failed adoption: Hope, heartbreak and lying caseworkers

Failed adoption: Hope, heartbreak and lying caseworkers

“Can one of you call me when you have a minute?”

That’s never a good text message to get from a caseworker and I pulled over immediately to respond. I was circling the parking lot at the McHenry County Courthouse complex in an attempt to find the vague WIC building. I set out that morning to sign our newest foster arrival, a newborn fresh from the NICU, up for formula coupons.

The caseworker didn’t answer but  my wife called me in tears a few minutes later.

“They’re taking the baby.”

The baby has arrived just a week ago, joining our two newest placements – her sisters – in our home. She was awe-inspiring, tiny, terrifying and perfect. All was right in my soul when I held little wiggly body, and gazed into her wide-eyes, or rested her head against my heartbeat to soothe her at 3 a.m., or listened in delight to the newest coos and squeaks that came out of her mouth. I fully embraced the sleep deprivation, formula stains and constant vigilance. I have been dreaming of babies for years, even before advanced fertility treatments failed and made me realize I may never be able to do this on my own.

About three weeks earlier I got a call from a caseworker who worked with a fellow foster mama friend of mine. She wanted to know if we were willing to take five and two year old sisters, with a newborn baby in the hospital on the way.

I stood in the bedroom with my wife listening to her describe the situation in awe, in shock. Parental rights were already being terminated. They would need to be adopted. There were other parents in the picture – the girls’ brothers foster parents – but they weren’t convinced they could take on the girls as well. Six kids is a lot and they had a small house. They would need waivers from DCFS. They ultimately wanted what was best for the kids and this could be a forever situation for us if we wanted to adopt. We might be a pre-adoptive home. We lived in the same town as the other family, mere blocks apart. The couple is another LGBTQ couple. We had been fostering about the same amount of time. It was as if it was too good to be true, but perhaps meant to be.

We said yes, ecstatic at a potential chance to adopt. Adoption isn’t the goal of fostering and many foster parent groups will slay you if you say you want a forever family, but I will admit I badly want to adopt. My heart aches every day that I don’t know whether my children will stay with me, and that I don’t have a choice in the matter or another path to motherhood without all the pain of the inevitable goodbye, My existence as a mother is in the hands of lawyers, caseworkers, biological parents and in this case – other foster parents.

Our agency gave us the run-around when it came to approving placement of the baby, because of an imagined paperwork error that was corrected the same day baby came home. In hindsight the lack of communication should have been a red flag. The caseworker told us Thursday that baby was set to be released Monday. We didn’t hear a thing until I called that Monday and our licensing worker hadn’t even spoken to the caseworker. We allegedly needed a waiver but that apparently wasn’t the case. This is too convoluted to get into, and I will just say it worked out in the end that day. Spoiler, the other family was having a paperwork issue too. Where the baby went that day relied on paperwork being filled out properly, unbeknownst to us. We were told the girls were to stay together until adoption, whoever adopted them and that the baby was to be with us until then.

Caseworker called me to inform — “[Licensing worker] made a mistake…you can take her. I am bringing her in a few hours.”

I jumped up and down, screamed as quietly as I could in the break room of my work. I called my wife, and said the words I had dreamt of saying since I started unsuccessful infertility treatments four years ago. “We’re having a baby…”

I was buzzing, unable to concentrate throughout the rest of the workday. I didn’t know the caseworker was texting the other couple the same things she was texting me. “She is 7 pounds today” “Did you want to talk to the nurse?”

I didn’t know she went to their house before she dropped the baby off at ours – “Sorry, made a wrong turn, running late!” – to drop off baby book hospital memorabilia and meet the dads she knew would be the future adoptive parents before coming to our home and pretending everything was as we were told.

My friends and family bought into our joy and overwhelmed us with gifts and hand-me-downs. We fully enjoyed our week as new moms, and let the hope and love swell. Baby was perfect. So tiny, so cute, so awe-inspiring. My heart ached when I looked at her, even at 1 a.m. when she was screaming. I had dreamed of this for so long and relished every moment. “Could this really be it? Could we really be so lucky?”

(Spoiler, no.)

The girls were obsessed with the new baby. They helped pick out outfits, held and cleaned bottles, asked to hold her, and incessantly talked about how cute she was (she was)

“Can one of you call me when you have a minute?”

We had all the baby thing piled up on the dining room table when we told the girls that the baby was moving out. Everyone (except the two year old) started to sob.

The caseworker was about 30 minutes way. I took the baby in my arms and sat on the couch with the girls as we all looked at her, held her, touched her little arms and cried as we witnessed her last moments with us.

“I not want her to take the baby!!” Her 5 yo sister said, trying to rub away tears from her eyes. “I’m SAD. I miss the baby!”

And there is little else to say but “Me too babe. I don’t want the baby to go either. But it’s not our choice.”

Caseworker came and took the baby as the girls sobbed and clung to me. I held it together, more angry and numb than anything at the way the situation had played out.

The caseworker claimed she didn’t know the other family was trying to get the baby, that the situation was out of her hands. It was only when we started a dialogue with them that we learned we had been lied to from the start.

They had always intended to adopt all three girls, they were just waiting on their house remodel to be complete. The two older girls will be leaving in a few months, most likely.

To dangle a potential adoption and use a newborn as a pawn is outright unethical and I am shocked that we were put in that situation. I feel dumb that I fell for it. I feel the familiar narrative running through my brain – nothing good will happen to you, why would it? Why would you get a shot at happiness?  I feel an unsettling sense of hopelessness – my baby, my chance, will never come. I still have these other two girls in my home that I must nurture and love with full knowledge that they are being adopted by someone else, that someone else is living my dream.

This loss feels much less like when my other two reunified and much more like when I had my first miscarriage. To be so full of hope, awe and joyfulness only to have your spirit crushed isn’t something I had wanted to feel again. Which is why I quit IVF. Yet here we are.

And in the meantime my oldest daughter’s mom has disappeared off the face of the earth two years into the system, so god knows where her case is headed. I have to stick out this shit show for her.

I’m not going to stop…I think my kids are out there. Maybe, I am not so sure, when I feel low in these grieving times, But I choose to believe that we are doing the right thing by continuing on into the unknown (The UNKNOOOOWN Into the UNKNOOOOWN.. #Girlmom #frozen2)

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