The story began in March of 2011. A case manager called asking if I’d be interested in fostering “a 3yr old girl with a severe brain injury. She’s likely very delayed.” I said yes.
A few days later, the brightest and most articulate child I’d ever encountered arrived on my doorstep. I wasn’t expecting a fair skinned child with blond hair and blue eyes. The last name had conjured another image in my mind as I hastily prepared. Turns out the brain injury was linked to a fall as an infant. The hospital reports had been slow in coming. And the injury was possibly exaggerated in order to qualify the child for specialized care.
The social worker explained Raine had a younger sister who had remained at the previous foster home. A family doctor recommended the separation since Raine was thought to be aggressive towards her sister.
Before leaving my caseworker said, “I’m praying Raine’s sister moves here and you get to adopt both of them.”
I laughed. It seemed utterly impossible. Even when Athena, Raine’s sister, moved to my home three months later I didn’t expect the girls to stay. There were other plans moving forward. Everyone else in my world seemed pretty certain, but I wasn’t.
Then, suddenly, adoption was on the table. I told the social worker I was interested. Still, I wasn’t sure this was where our lives would head. The social worker was thrilled and determined to make our family a reality.
The case moved over to an adoption worker who wasn’t thrilled with me. She decided Raine and Athena would fare better in another adoptive home – specifically a two parent home.
My heart broke when I received the news. Upon the advice of a friend, I decided to appeal that decision. Filling out the paperwork, I remained unsure if God would open this door or keep it closed. But I felt compelled to do everything in my power to keep Raine and Athena. If they left, it would be with the knowledge that I fought to keep them. I wanted to imprint on their spirits the fact that I wanted them – something contrary to the message they’d received up to that point.
Three years ago I sat before a panel of three women. Facing off against the director of the adoption department and the lawyer for Children’s Aid, I had to prove I was the best mother for Raine and Athena.
I was intimidated and lacked the resolve of the witnesses who testified on my behalf. I’m certainly not the best mom in the world. My case wasn’t built on that, it rested on the fact that I’d been successfully parenting Raine & Athena for over a year. As far as I could see, that mattered. Another foster family had found the task too difficult and asked for the girls to be removed from their home. I knew the challenges involved in caring for them. Without any illusion, I was willing to sign up forever.
The lawyer for Children’s Aid highlighted my apparently obvious disadvantage in being a single parent without a steady job. My income at that point was entirely from fostering. Even with the newly instituted government subsidy for adopting sibling groups from foster care, my income would remain meager. I listened to all the reasons why Raine and Athena would be better off without me. I remembered the adoption worker’s statement when she informed me that she’d chosen someone else to adopt the girls. “You think the kids care, but they’ll forget you in a week. Once they’re somewhere else with new toys and things, they won’t even remember you.” I hadn’t won Raine and Athena’s affection with things but by steadily proving myself to be safe and trustworthy. I’d created an atmosphere of peace for them by being clear and consistent. Everyday, without knowing what it would hold, I’d been building for the future. I wanted them to be secure and satisfied – not with things – but with heartfelt connections.
In my closing argument I presented not my perfection but my certainty that I want to parent these children. You’d be shocked to know how many adopted children are returned to foster care when families find their challenges more than they can manage. I understand how and why that happens. But I was sure it wouldn’t happen in our case if I were given the chance to adopt Raine and Athena. That sort of commitment has nothing to do with income.
I also appealed to the importance of stability. Athena, not quite 3yrs old, had lived with 4 different families. Gaining her trust had taken a great deal of time and care. The specialists involved with her had seen her with the previous foster parents. They were amazed watching the terrified little girl gradually grow deeply attached to me. The team begged to testify as to the importance of that connection and the possible harm in breaking it.
After three days the hearing concluded. I waited nervously for the response. It came one day when Raine and Athena were at daycare. I was home alone – my older foster children being away at camp. For about 10 minutes I stared at the envelope delivered by courier. I was afraid to open it. The ruling of the review panel was final.
Bracing myself for the decision, I pulled out the official document. My eyes couldn’t read beyond the initial statement that it was in Raine and Athena’s best interest to be adopted by me. I sat down at the dinning room table and wept. The fight had taken all of my strength. I was relieved that none of us would face the heartbreak I’d foreseen.
We would be a family. I would be an official mom, no longer just a placeholder or temporary care giver. Without pregnancy or the difficulty of labour, I became a mother. Never having gone through that natural process, I make no comparisons. This was our unusual journey. Three years into the adoption, I don’t regret the decision. It’s not always been wonderful. But it has remained unusual. When they’re grown, I trust, it’s a story that will make my daughters proud. I’m not a perfect mom, but I really wanted to be theirs. And I still want to.
So absolutely beautiful, Bobbie! Long term commitment to a child is what enables her to blossom into the person she is meant to be. The adoption panel did the right thing in choosing the mom who fully knew (as much as anyone can) what parenting these girls would take and had the heart and courage to say yes.