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 Petrecia Shales
I am selfish and I know it. When people saw our three little girls going in three different directions, they would marvel and say things like, “You are such good people. Those girls are so lucky.”
And I would feel so guilty because I knew it wasn’t true. We were the ones who were lucky. Lucky to love them. Lucky to be able to adopt Cheyenne and Savannah. Lucky to be able to watch them grow into the amazing young women they have become. Lucky.
But not lucky enough.
It has been over ten years now and still hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of Louise. I wonder how she is and I pray that she is safe. I imagine what might have been if she had been allowed to stay. I wonder how different her biological half-sisters might be without the grief of losing her.
I wonder who I would be and who my husband would be without that black hole that lives between us. This is what happens when you love a foster child and the system’s pendulum swings too far the other way.
We had four biological children before I became a C.A.S.A. I volunteered to advocate in court for children in foster care. I’m sure my husband thought our family was complete, but almost like a biological clock ticking, I experienced an undeniable pull to become a foster parent. My husband was not enthusiastic, but agreed to go to the classes.
He was fearful that he couldn’t love someone else’s child, and fearful that he would. I am half full and he is half empty. I ignored his concerns. I jumped in with both feet, headed for deep water.
Cheyenne came to us when she was just eleven months old (with beautiful blonde curls and more baggage than should be possible for her short life). She was terrified of loud noises, ate like she had been hungry forever, refused to wear shoes, and would stay silent in her crib long after she awoke in the morning, never letting us know she was ready to get up until we went in to check on her.
After her younger half-sister Savannah was born three months later, she joined us at two weeks of age, grey and weak, looking like a little bird. She had been removed from her mother, dirty and hungry, and would need therapy for several months to improve her low muscle tone. And finally, two years later, Louise arrived at our home at just twenty-four hours old, removed from Mom at the hospital.
On the day Louise was born, Mom was supposed to be in court where they were to revoke her parental rights on Cheyenne and Savannah. Instead of moving forward that day, the court allowed Mom to sign away her parental rights on the two older girls voluntarily a month later. She was advised that this would be the only way she could get Louise back.
For the next three years, the sisters grew up together in our care. We adopted Cheyenne and Savannah. We remained hopeful we would be able to adopt Louise too. Mom took two steps forward and one step back, and sometimes two steps back. We found that it didn’t seem to matter.
Even though a fourth baby of hers would die of SIDS, even though she would get a new boyfriend and get pregnant again, the courts’ determination to send Louise “home” was apparent. (We were later told by an anonymous case worker that DCFS had pushed to send Louise home to stave off questions about their decision to allow Mom to take that fourth child home).
Louise left us when she was just three years and two months old.
I am not one of those foster parents who smiles softly and pretends that I have some amazing ability to love a child and then let her go back to an uncertain future. We hired lawyers. In response, the agency removed any visitation/transition plan to support Louise and her sisters after Louise returned “home.”
We talked about the “best interest of the child” and in turn C.A.S.A. and the State’s Attorney refused to even speak with us in court. Our lawyers looked at us and whispered, “We have no friends here.”
We spent months riding an emotional rollercoaster from one court date to the next, going from hope one month to despair the next. We only stopped when we felt we were risking the rest of our family’s emotional well-being. We had to give up to save ourselves.
In the years since then, Mom has had more boyfriends and more children. All in all, Mom has birthed ten children with six different men. Off and on, she has allowed Cheyenne and Savannah to see Louise and their other half-brothers and sisters, but it is sporadic and it has been three years since the last time they were together.
There is so much more to tell, and I have tried to write this story many times in many ways. There were years that I spent doing everything I could to befriend Mom, to gain her trust. I gave her any and every opportunity to see her/our daughters, and even allowed them to spend the night at her home.
But Cheyenne and Savannah came back with stories of how Louise was mistreated and how they didn’t trust their Mom or her boyfriend. No more sleepovers, but still I tried to give the girls a bridge to each other and a chance for Mom to develop and maintain a relationship with her/our two daughters.
I don’t pretend to be able to walk in Mom’s shoes. Perhaps it was too painful for her and perhaps she just wanted to move on with her life. For one reason or another, she did not choose to be there for them in any way.
Some people will say that by getting into foster care we should have been prepared to let go. And I know this is true. As foster parents, we are told to love the child like our own, but to be prepared to lose them.
I don’t think anyone is ever really prepared to return a child to an erratic situation; to a mother who has already had children with four different men; to a mother who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and has never put anyone first but herself. Forever, I think, I will feel guilty. I will feel sad. I will feel bitter. But I also feel lucky. Just not lucky enough.
My name is Petrecia Shales. I am a mother of six (two adopted through foster care) and a teacher. Even as a child, I knew I wanted to adopt, and I am lucky to have married a wonderful man who was willing to slog with me through this messy life of ours.
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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
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