A Human Canvas-in the darkness of childhood abuse and neglect-Volume 3-"Are You My Mother?"
A Social Worker's Journal
Having heard the phrase that "real life is sometimes stranger than fiction", I'm here to share a story that offers truth to that statement. Sadly enough.
Imagine for a moment how much your family means to you. Your immediate family-mom, dad, siblings, and then your extended family-cousins you grew up with, your favorite uncle who always took you fishing, and your warm-hearted, cookie-baking, blue-haired grandma. All of them. Put a smile on your face? Nice memories?
Well, now imagine your life, growing up, thinking they never existed. Then finding out that they did, but never knew where you were, for your whole life! Confused? Well, I'm not finished. Now, imagine that you were going to be adopted by a foster parent who took you in when your own birth father had recently gone to prison for drug trafficking?
More confused? Now, imagine being twelve years old, and finding out your whole life had been a big lie. Add that your own father was the one who lied to you.
Eddie didn't have to imagine. This is his story. He came into care when he was twelve years old. His birth father and stepmother had custody of him, but his life with them had not always been as it should have been. Eddie had been left alone most of the time when he was very young. His childhood had been one of being on the run. He had never really understood it, but always believed his father when he told him that his job kept him moving to different states. It was the life he had always had, so he just came to accept it. No questions asked. Actually, Eddie wasn't much of a talker. Conversations usually centered around the latest music or fashion wear, until one day he made a comment I didn't expect. He just looked at me and blurted out that his dad was a "druggie", had been arrested, and had been put in jail. He also told me that his birth mother had died when he was a baby. He said that he didn't remember her at all, but that she had gotten very sick and died when he was eight months old. At least that's what his dad had told him.
Eddie's father had a history of arrests, but this time would put him away for years to come. Without any other family resources, Eddie was put into care. His stepmother didn't have any legal rights to him, nor did she want any. So, the local county department of social services became his legal guardian. It seemed pretty clear cut.
In time, Eddie adjusted well to his foster family. His foster mother was single, worked hard, and provided for her now four children. She had already adopted two girls and was in the process of adopting Eddie and another younger boy. Eddie had his good days, and his bad, like any child. He struggled with his self-image and identity, worried about his father in prison, but never really thought too much about the mother who he had been told, died. Then, a call came to me on my agency phone. I was speaking with a woman. A woman who was claiming to be Eddie's maternal grandmother. She sounded nervous, yet happy. Unsure, yet excited. I asked her her name, and she responded telling me that her husband, herself, and their daughter had been searching for Eddie for twelve years. She further explained that they had always come up empty handed, until now.
I quickly tried to process what she was telling me. Did she say daughter? I had to know, so I asked. She responded that her daughter was Eddie's birth mother. I couldn't believe it. I listened while their life story unfolded.
Eddie's birth mother had had an unfortunate life that included a couple of nervous breakdowns. Her heart wasn't healthy, and she suffered from a seizure disorder. After she had given birth to Eddie, she had fallen ill and was hospitalized. While she was in the hospital, Eddie's father took him without warning and moved to another state. By the time Eddie's grandparents and mother had tracked him, his father had moved him, yet again.
This chase ensued fruitlessly, for years, until now. When Eddie's father was sent to prison, Eddie's family had discovered Eddie listed in the "system". They now knew, after all these years, where Eddie was. So they made the call. Yes, I answered her, it appeared that we had their Eddie. He was doing well in care, and was soon to be adopted. But this could change everything. It should. Right? I mean he would meet his mother, grandparents, and other family members (we received a family reunion picture to show Eddie that he had close to 100 other family members!), and life could be lived the way it was meant to be-happily ever after. Well, it should have been that easy, but then again, it never is.
My agency and the custodial county met to discuss a plan of visitation and possible return. Eddie's mother and grandparetns would be flown in from their home state to be reunited with their long lost son and grandchild. Dates and times were set, hotel plans were made, and a scheduled agenda had been decided on. Now, Eddie had to be told. He needed to be told that the mother who had given birth to him, religiously paid child support for the past twelve years, and who had searched for him his whole life, was alive. Not well, but alive, and she wanted to see her son.
Eddie learned all of this in a therapy session. He seemed to accept the reality with minimal shock and wanted as badly, to meet his family. The one he never knew he had.
So, the plan went off without a hitch. The plane landed and the family's long awaited reacquaintance was finally happening. Things went pretty much according to plan. We could all see the family resemblance in their faces, and it was joyous to watch the reunion occur. Things were a little uncomfortable at first, as if somone had resurrected from the dead.
They came with open hearts, open minds, open arms, and lots of family pictures. Eddie saw his baby pictures for the very first time. The last picture his mother had was when he was eight months old, the last time she had seen him. We all cried. The visit continued throughout four days until they had to return home, and Eddie had to return to care, for now. Plans were made for phone calls, letters, and future visits. Hugs were exchanged and promises were made to stay in touch. Eddie's mother and grandparents vowed to get him home with them. We supported it. But, monday morning arrived, and a county call alerted us that it wouldn't be that easy after all. A TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) was going to be filed on Eddie's mother for child abandonment, and free him to be adopted by the foster parent, as previously planned.
What? Did someone miss something? Like, Eddie's family? They really couldn't file a TPR, could they? What happened to "they lived happily ever after"? Hasn't this family suffered enough? Doesn't Eddie deserve to be with them? Since his mother searched for him and paid child support for all those years, didn't that count for something? Diligence? (The county where she lived kept an account to validate the monies received by her, but Eddie had never received the support, because his whereabouts were unknown).
Our answer-the TPR would be filed, and Eddie's mother would counter file a petition for custody of her son. While this was going on, Eddie waited. He kept waiting for the family he never knew he had. Now, he may have to wait another six years, to turn eighteen, to make his own decision.There was nothing fair or humane about Eddie's story.
The process continued on, and after a year's time, Eddie's birth mother ended up having her parental rights terminated. Eddie was adopted, and even though there were promises made to keep Eddie in his birth family's lives, and them in his, Eddie lost his happy ending. It had been right there, in arms reach. The arm's reach of his birth mother. So close, yet so far away.
Eddie's story-a "system" disgrace.
Eddie, forgive us for failing you.
My precious child,
life's been so wild.
You had no choice,
a silent voice.
A broken heart,
a soul that's crushed.
No grown-up's face,
you'll ever trust.
The hurt was harsh,
the love not real.
My precious child,
use time to heal.
Trust your life to someone new,
for light of life, no more dark blue.
There always is another day,
to start again-your heart-outlay.
Kim Diaz 2012