Sugar Biscuit’s birth mom, Starla*, has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m not really sure why, as we have slipped into a pattern of days that leaves our new son’s origins an afterthought, something that flutters across the back of my mind every so often. I no longer think of Sugar Biscuit as anything but my own child. He fit into our family like the final piece of a complicated puzzle that took weeks to assemble, with a sense of relief and accomplishment. Now, we are able to sit back and see the whole picture, complete, and with everything in its rightful place.
Still, I’ve been reflecting on the fact that, two weeks before the trial that would completely terminate her parental rights, we offered Starla a shot at shared custody. CASA, the baby’s volunteer law guardian, was beginning to waver on terminating her rights, based on the fact that while she hadn’t completed her service plan, she did have housing and a job (even though that job didn’t pay her bills and we never could figure out what she was doing for money). In addition, our CASA worker was completely without boundaries and good judgment at this point in the case, allowing her sympathy for Starla to overwhelm her professionalism. With those facts in front of us, we knew that there was a greater possibility Sugar Biscuit might be returned to his birth mother. Also knowing that parental termination trials are brutal, emotionally as well as financially draining, we offered a deal: Joint custody, with us having conservatorship and being able to make all decisions regarding his education, healthcare, and living arrangements. Starla would be allowed once a month all-day Saturday visits, supervised at a foster home, for which we would split the cost. The flip side of this was that she would still retain parental rights and would always be able to come back and sue us for more visitation, assuming she could raise the money to hire a lawyer. It was, according to all parties and not just our biased selves, a very fair deal.
The offer was made. Terrified, we tried to let it go and put it in the hands of God. Starla refused. She stated she wanted all or nothing. She was determined to go to trial as she planned, at some point in the future, to tell Sugar Biscuit that she had fought for him. Hearing this, CASA, along with Sugar Biscuit’s official law guardian, officially filed a recommendation to terminate her parental rights.
So, we wrote a big fat check out of our retirement, and headed to the courthouse. It was a devastating week. It was the worst thing that my husband and I have ever lived through. We sat through six days of testimony and legal wrangling, keeping a tenuous hold on our emotions. I know there are other foster adoptive parents out there who judge what we did, intervening in the case and fighting for Sugar Biscuit. To that I say, you don’t know what I know, and I hope you never have to hear of such things with your own ears, watch them live and in color. To have to listen to the acts Starla committed, even while 9 months pregnant, how sick our boy was the first two months of his life, the bottomless pit of sorrow that was Starla’s childhood, the mud being slung at us, dirtying everything we’d try to do for our boy.
However, during that trial, an important thing happened. It was there we heard everything that we needed to know to make our decision regarding what type of relationship Sugar Biscuit could have with his first mom. As awful as it was, we were given the gift of the Big Picture, more piece of the puzzle. It was trial by fire. We were cleansed by this fire, able to walk across the coals with new eyes, clear vision. As sad as it is, we now know she just isn’t safe for him to be around. Someday, a long time from now, she might be. Honestly, I doubt it. Something in her is so broken, so fractured at the very root of her core, that although it pains me to say it, she will probably never be truly okay. At any rate, I certainly can’t fix her, but I did I try my damnedest for the better part of a year. All I can do now is hope for the best and try to move forward with grace.
I know I’ve spent a lot of time processing what happened in the many long days it took us from placement of our son to finalizing his adoption. I wonder what the process has been like for her. I wonder if she thinks of us as often as we think of her, if she hates me. Has her pain lessened? Is she still in recovery, on her way to wellness? Has all of this, the court battle and the worst pain a mother can endure, having her child taken, being found unfit, finally given her the impetus for real change? Or has she begun to backslide, give up, go back to her old familiar ways?
When I think of Starla, I hope that she is well. I offer a quick prayer, asking for peace for her, for joy. Perhaps she has forgiven my trespasses, as I have forgiven hers. I never in a million years thought it would end this way. Never dreamed I’d have to close and lock the door on her, turn my back. I truly thought together we could watch him grow, united in our dreams for his future. But I’ve accepted what is my new reality. It is one in which I honor the people who gave life to my son, and I sorrow for their many, many losses, but keep them tucked away in a corner of my mind, no longer at the forefront of my thoughts. It is one in which I know better, and try to do better. It is one in which my boy, my beautiful, precious boy, grows strong and brave and whole. For after all, he is our missing piece.
*Not her real name
About the Author: Sarah Green is a wife and biological mother of three, adoptive mom to one, and a foster mom currently on hiatus. She is currently working on a book about the realities of foster care. As an advocate for foster youth, Sarah devotes her spare time to educating others about the system. Read more about her daily life at tumblewieds.tumblr.com.
Also by Sarah Green for Brain, Child:
To read more Brain, Child essays on adoption, purchase our adoption-themed bundle.