To recap, C left us at the end of September and here we were, on our own. October went great. By this time we were in a routine. We fielded a couple of illnesses and Lydia had a bout of RSV as the result of ingesting so much smoke the first five months of her life coupled with a diagnosis of asthma. But, The Bug was THRIVING! She looked so much healthier. Her color was back. She was gaining weight and she was getting caught up on her immunizations.
I was now the primary, female caregiver. What did that make me? Non of this was planned, though out or discussed prior to this, so what now? Seth was the only male caregiver she had ever known. What did that make him? We went back to our PATH training that we still had fresh in our minds. For now, there was no one else in her life, at least no biological family members. We were now, MOMMY and DADDY whether we liked it or not.
Well, I guess you can guess that we liked it A LOT! Not because we intended on ever adopting a foster child, but because we were still just human beings that had LONGED and PRAYED for a baby for sooo long. And it didn't help that The Bug was the cutest and best baby we had ever laid our eyes on.
BUT...She was our foster baby. We desperately kept trying to remind ourselves of that. This was temporary and we believed that families belonged together. C would be found, we would care for The Bug in the mean time. C would get the help she needs and they would be together again. This is exactly why we became foster parents. We had our own baby, waiting for us in China. This was God's plan for us. We knew that in our hearts, or did we?
The holidays came and went. C sent Lydia (The Bug) a 1st Christmas card, but it of course had no return address. C was still somewhere on the run and would be for many, many more months to come. We also got a hat and scarf from C's mom (Lydia's bio GM) that she had knit from her jail cell. Of course we have saved it for The Bug to have when she is older. Baby J went back home to his foster family and winter was upon us and so was the January court date that we had been dreading! Violet was petitioning the court for custody and we were just SICK about it.
How could this be happening? Was this some kind of sick joke that God was playing on us? At the time it sure felt like it. We were SURE when we decided to foster that we would get naughty tweens and disruptive kids NOT A BABY and NOT under THESE circumstances. Oh, what had we gotten ourselves into? After years of infertility heartache we were just to fragile to survive losing The Bug. We told ourselves NOT to fall in love with her but it just didn't work.
One thing was for sure though. We didn't become foster parents to sit back and let the system fail children and families. I was angry at myself for not speaking up when C's *GAL told the courts that SHE failed herself. Ugh...Well, I wouldn't let that happen again. I was born to advocate for those who couldn't do it for themselves and The Bug was NOT going back into that life without a damn good fight. If it took absolutely everything I had, I would FIGHT for the best interest of that baby girl.
So Seth and I got to work. We knew Lydia's GAL was not doing anything on her behalf so we did it for her. We made up a 4 page document of stories and facts that we knew about the life that C and The Bug lived in and it was NO PLACE for children. Things would have to change and change DRAMATICALLY before I would ever support The Bug returning to that environment.
So the afternoon before we were to go to court, I called her attonery and explained all the evidence we had to support Lydia NOT returning to this home. She seemed pleased. I asked her if I could fax it to her so that she could look at it and would have it for court in the morning. She told me to simply bring it with me to court. She didn't have a fax machine. HUH? You are an attorney with hundred's of kids in foster care on your case load and you don't have a fax machine? REALLY? Ok, whatever. I went on to ask her with her experience in cases like this what she anticiapated the outcome to be. All the sudden she seemed angry and snappy. She told me that Lydia would almost certainly return to Violet's house and in so many words I just needed to get over it. The she hung up on me. Yes, she actually just hung up the phone. I just sat there for the longest time in shock, my jaw dropped...What the hell just happened??
Whether we liked it or not, January 22, 2007 was upon us. It was the day of her hearing. I will never, ever forget that day. I drank wine the night before just to calm down and help me sleep, especially after that strange phone call with Lydia's GAL. I knew I would never fall asleep otherwise and I knew that I would have to testify. I was scared to death on many, many levels. That morning was so hard. We knew that could very possibly be the very last morning that Lydia slept in her room, that we would awake to coos and laughter. Tears were steadily flowing. Prayers have never been so abundant in our household. I was shaking. Seth would try to calm me but I was a mess.
The drop off at daycare was torture I would never wish that on anyone. You see, on paper The Bug was our foster baby, but God was already working in our hearts. As much as we would try to deny it, this little girl felt like OUR BABY and in a matter of a few hours, OUR BABY may be taken away from us. I am not sure that I will ever feel this kind of fear again in my life, Lord Jesus, I pray not!
Seth and I both took her into daycare that morning. I can't begin to explain the feeling, knowing we may not be picking her up. We must have kissed her a million times and told her how much we loved her. We were both SOBBING!! I remember my words to her that morning. I told her I was going to be BRAVE and I wanted her to be brave too and no matter what the outcome would be, she was forever engraved in my heart and she would ALWAYS be mommy and daddy's first born baby.
I could barely walk out. Through a cracked voice and teary eyes Seth looked at me and said "sweetie, we have to go." I took a deep breath and tried to be brave as I promised my girl I would be, but inside I was scared to death. As we walked out of the daycare the director and and several teachers stopped to give us hugs. I hugged them and lost it. I asked them to tell her all day how much we loved her and if we didn't come to pick her up, I asked them to tell her that we tried our absolute hardest and reminded them to tell her to be brave! Lydia was only 9 months old, but in the heart of my hearts, I knew she was hearing me. And if God forbid she was to return to that life I so badly wanted my words "BE BRAVE" to resonate in her head.
And we were off to court...
Court... Oh my that's a whole other post. Court was something that was becoming home away from home to us, except court was an EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE and UNCERTAIN home. We live in the suburbs and court was in the juvenile justice building in downtown Nashville so it was easily a 20-30 minute drive depending upon traffic. The rides there were always horrible for Seth and I. The, what if's, the unknown, the confusion...It can literally drive you CRAZY!
DEEP BREATH, DEEP BREATH, DEEP BREATH... I just kept telling myself. As awful as the ride there was, the parking and walking across the busy street was even worse. I wish I could better describe it in words. I will try.
Ok, first, we NEVER knew who was going to show up in court. So we were always scanning the parking lot like hunters who needed to eat, inspecting every car and beat up truck trying to see if we recognized them. We knew several of the cars that The Bug's family drove and it was a guessing game. Sometimes they showed, sometimes they didn't. After that phone call the day before court we would soon learn that we would never know which *GAL was going to show up, the lucid one or the crazy one (who was the same person BTW). Court was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare and not just because we were having a hearing, but because it was a guessing game. Lydia's DSC worker who was also C's worker was HOT and COLD and COLD and HOT. I mean to tell you that we could walk into court at times and she would embrace us and act like we were old friends and share information with us and the very next day she would act like she didn't know us and would shoot us dirty looks from across the court way halls...BIZARRE to say the least. Well, on this day she decided that she would not tell us a thing before we walked into the courtroom and was stand offish. Not anything near what it would later become, but cold nonetheless. It was a crap shoot when we went to court - An emotional roller coaster - the ups and downs and hopes and prayers. Some Kind Of Ride ~ That's what it was!
OK, so here we were at court on January 22, 2007.
People in attendance:
-Katie and Seth (Foster Parents)
-Mary (Our *SW'r from our agency) - My God Send Mary. I will have a complete post coming very soon on her soon.
-Violet, ALEX, (L's *BF) Huh? Really?, Violet's sister and BIL ~ And if looks could kill, Katie and Seth would be dead for sure! They all glared at us as if we were the enemy.
-*GAL, DCS attorney, Violet's attorney and referee O'Neil.
When her name was finally called my whole self cringed. I HATED hearing her name called in that place, even from the very beginning. I am not sure why. As a SW'r I had been there numerous times for other families and even other foster children but it just felt like Lydia's name didn't belong there. I just had this overwhelming feeling to scream out...Leave MY child's name out of this building. We don't belong here! As we filed into the court room I grabbed Seth's hand and didn't let go. My grip was tight and so was my chest as the proceedings began.
Almost immediately Referee O'Neil asked for a show of hands as to how would be testifying in this hearing. The Bug's GAL looked at me and nodded her head and I quickly raised my hand and with that, Violet was called to the stand and I was asked to leave to court room until I was called back in. WHAT?? LEAVE THE COURTROOM? FOR REAL? I MEAN SERIOUSLY? No way in hell I was leaving that courtroom I thought in my head as I was walking out the door.
The next hour was literally the LONGEST hour of my life. I paced, I chewed my nails and popped my knuckles. My stomach was literally rolling. My knees were shaking and I had NO IDEA what was going on behind those closed doors.
My head hurt and was spinning with thoughts. What if I couldn't be heard? What if they just decided all of this without me and Seth comes out crying? OMG, what would her life be like? Who would take care of her? Who would give her breathing treatments and sing silly songs so she would sit still? Who would read her books? Would she get enough to eat? Would they continue to water down her bottles? How would all the smoke effect her asthma? NO, she can't go, they won't take her to the doctor. She won't get caught up on her immunizations! Oh, I need to sit down. I think I am going to pass out. Don't cry, Don't cry...Keep it together, BE BRAVE for The Bug!
FINALLY the door opened and the bailiff waved me in. I looked in his eye for some kind of clue but got nothing. I immediately looked at Seth and he gave me a half smile and a slight wink, as if to say, "Be Brave for The Bug." I can do this, I thought. I sat down and was sworn in. My voice was shaking. Lydia's GAL went first. She asked me to state my name and my relationship to Lydia and all of that stuff. She asked me what I did for a living and I proudly stated, "I am a Masters Level Licensed Children's Social Worker" as if that would have anything to do with what was best interest for Lydia, NO, BUT, perhaps if she asked my opinion on where The Bug should be for the time being it would bear some weight??
She went on to ask several more questions about our time with C and so on. To be honest it is all kind of a blur. I think my body just took over in some kind of protection mode. I was sitting right in front of Violet and her attorney. Every time I answered a question I could see her huff and puff and roll her eyes. I saw her hand something to her attorney. It was my handwriting on that paper. I quickly realized it was the letter that I wrote to Karen (Lydi's GM) in prison. I saw him scan it as my body continued to answer the questions being asked of me. Then he just put it down. I remember thinking, what was she going to try to prove with THAT? That I am a NICE person??
The GAL wrapped up her questioning and the Referee turned to Violet's lawyer to cross witness. "I have no questions, your honor." With that, I got up and returned to my seat next to Seth. I grabbed his hand again and he gave me a loving pat on the leg. I was still shaking. R. O'Neil was shuffling papers and reading what looked to be a juvenile file, a VERY THICK juvenile file. I knew it couldn't be Lydia's, maybe C's but she hasn't really been in trouble until now. As he started speaking I knew it was Chip's.
Chip was C's teenage cousin who was previously living with Violet, who was also removed from her custody by the state. We knew this and we included it in our "book" of facts we gave to the GAL that morning (she by the way had no idea, Ugh). He read what felt like was an hour. It was probably more like 15 minutes. He finally asked if anyone had any other witnesses and both sides rested. It was time.
My heart was pumping out of my chest. My palms were sweaty but my feet were cold. What was he about to say? What would be the fate of our Bug?
Well, I wish I could remember. I know he told Violet that she seemed like a nice lady, and I also believe that. She told her that she needed to take some parenting classes which her attorney argued. He started talking about all these different drugs and situations that had occurred. I was confused because I knew nothing about them. Seth squeezed my hand. He knew the whole story, as he was in the courtroom the entire time.
At last, I do remember these specific words..."I cannot send an asthmatic baby back to a household with smoking adults and drug sales. Violet, I recommend you STOP smoking and attend these classes if you want to make a plan for Lydia to return to your home. For now, she needs to remain in the care of DCS and her foster parents." WHAT? WHAT? can you repeat that? I can go pick up my baby girl??? REALLY??? And that is EXACTLY what we did!
These pictures were taken the afternoon BEFORE the Big Day in Jan. 2007