"Sure Mom. Go fill my pail, I'm building a sand castle."
I do as she bids and return with a full pail only to discover that she is no longer there, she has skipped off, chasing darting minnows in the shallow waters that roll and recede with each new wave.
"Hey!" I call to her. "What about the castle?"
"Oh, not yet!" She lackadaisically waves back at me, shouting into the wind so I have to strain to hear her. I put the pail down and wait, dig a little bit by myself and give up. She's not coming back, she's having too much fun, exploring, imagining, investigating, learning and making a mess. I think to myself, some how she is turning out to be just like me, wonders never cease. I shake my head, giggling to myself as I remember my childhood summer days spent at the beach or lake. Invariably, I was content to be alone, having grand adventures in my mind and not giving a thought to anything else. For Wonder Girl, these moments must be her own respite from the demands of being emotionally more advanced than her two older siblings whose needs always squelch hers. I dare not bother her to come and be tethered to a boring mom that wants to dig in the sand. Eventually, I get up and seat myself under the umbrella and watch her instead.
Two days ago, exasperated with her siblings for the umpteenth time that day, Wonder Girl came into the kitchen and let out an exaggerated sigh, her nonverbal cue that she wants to tell me something that's on her mind. "Mom? I'm the kid sister, right? I'm the one that's the youngest and I have bigger siblings, right mom?" She flopped her arms down low, dejected, her shoulders slumping forward and her eyes imploring me to set her straight.
I had an idea where she was headed with this line of questioning so I answered her unspoken thought, "Yes, you're the youngest but... I wonder if sometimes you might feel like Sissy and Aspie Boy are actually younger than you?"
Her face lit up and her shoulders stood at attention. It almost looked as if the curls in her hair bobbed and curled tighter in agreement. "Yes! Sometimes ... " she hesitated, watching my expression for any clues that I might disagree with her. "Well, never mind. It's rude if I say it."
"Go ahead honey, say it, it's just us and I promise I won't tell or get mad."
She gathered herself and drew a deep breath. "Well, you know." One hand was on her hip and the other was out like she was holding an invisible platter. "They just ..." and she giggled. "They just act like littler kids sometimes, you know?" Chuckling again nervously, she eyed my face for any hint of my disapproval and held her breath.
"My sweet dear, you are absolutely right. It must be very frustrating to have big siblings that act like little kids. I'll bet you feel like YOU'RE the big sister sometimes."
"YEAH!" And she hugged me tight, asked to kiss me and added emphatically, "I love you mom!" Then she galloped off to more imagination adventures.
"I love you too baby. I love you too," I called after her and silently, you restore my faith in parenting, Wonder Girl
Hers is a tough life, not one I'd want for her. In all the therapies available for our kids with needs, there are precious few resources for the unchallenged siblings that grow up in our rage-filled, often violent, always strange and bizarre homes with challenged kids. That in and of itself, becomes a challenge. Will it make her stronger or worse for the wear? Will she end up in years of PTSD counseling, bitter and telling tales about the horrors she witnessed because of her older siblings or will she rise above it all, take the mantle upon herself and follow in my footsteps, becoming a stalwart advocate for the troubled souls of this world? Will she achieve all the wonderful things she's capable of or will she internally feel guilty that her siblings won't accomplish those things and as such, subconsciously stymie herself?
When I look in her beautiful hazel eyes and brush her luxurious brown curls, I wonder these things for Wonder Girl. I chastise myself for neglecting her for even a nanosecond in my efforts to support Aspie Boy and Sissy. She needs just as much as they do, if not more and she needs to know that no matter what, I will always be a safe sounding board for her as she processes the chaos around her every day. Referring to the psychology reports of the doctors' opinions of her brother's and sister's emotional status, at age 6, Wonder Girl is technically more mature than they are and she's their kid sister. The harsh reality of that truth is starting to dawn on her. So as she pranced about by herself on the beach while Aspie Boy and Sissy bobbed together in the water, it pierced my heart once more that Wonder Girl will always be set apart from them, that being alone may not be so much choice as it is inadvertent isolation.
I had an intuition that I would be parenting another child, just one of those feelings in my gut. Sissy and Aspie Boy were 3 and 2 respectively and I just couldn't shake that feeling that another child was going to enter our home. So when the kids' grandmother called to say BM was pregnant again, the word "YES!" escaped my mouth before she officially asked me if we'd consider adopting again. It was the week of my 29th birthday so the phone call felt like a present.
It's a strange thing to be emotionally pregnant but never physically. In your head and in your heart, you are preparing for another little being but the outside world never has any clue of it. There's no estrogen glow, no rounding belly, no waddle, no swollen feet, no voracious appetite or frequent urges to urinate. Just a hope and a prayer every single day that your child will be OK.
When BM conceived WG, our relationship with her was tentative. We had resumed some casual visitations and were in contact by phone and mail. She was living on the streets in Savannah so an unplanned pregnancy was inconvenient to say the least. Add to it the fact that BM still hadn't gotten her life in order and it was a recipe for disaster. But still I loved her, wanted the best for her and if keeping the baby was her road to stability, then I was for it. So my prayers about the pregnancy and potential adoption opportunity reflected the double-sided emotions I was plagued with.
Referencing the story in the Old Testament about King Solomon using his supernatural wisdom to deduce the true mother's identity of an infant, I considered the duplicity of my role in WG's pregnancy. In the story, two women were sleeping with their infants. When they awoke, one child was dead, presumably smothered while the mothers slept. The women fought over the surviving infant, both claiming it to be hers. Thus the King was called upon to settle the dispute. He said he would just split the child in two and give each mother a half. One woman thought that to be a novel idea, glad that no one should have an infant. But the real mother, rather than seeing her baby be destroyed, relented and begged the King to please just let the other woman have the baby. The King knew then, that the woman that would see the infant killed was not the mother, that only a true mother would part with her child if she knew it would save its life.
When I prayed for BM and about her pregnancy, I asked God to help me have the heart of the true mother in King Solomon's story.. I asked for strength to part with WG rather than have her destroyed by the anguish of two feuding women claiming to be WG's mom. I prayed many long, hard hours, often into the early morning. I wanted WG to be mine but I knew it would never happen if I wasn't first willing to part with her. I may not have had a burgeoning belly, but my heart and my prayer life couldn't possibly been more pregnant.
As the pregnancy wore on, we visited BM with the children. At that time BM was living with a good Samaritan woman that was taking in woe begotten people, most of them sufferers of severe mental health issues, addictions or both. It was not a safe environment for BM, let alone a baby. The Dad and I fretted and pined and prayed. We would return from those visits very anxious but certain that somehow, someway, God would intervene.
One day, late in the pregnancy, BM called and asked if I would help her deliver. She'd been alone for Sissy and Aspie Boy's deliveries in part because she labored so quickly that no one had time to get there. This time she was going to be induced because WG was so big. A planned date was easy to show up for and I knew it was my window of opportunity to bring WG home. During the entire pregnancy, we called lawyers, social services and other agencies to determine what to do but the law is clear, in part because it is written to support abortion. A pregnancy is a fetus until the infant breathes it's first breath. Which means, no legal course can be made on behalf of a child in danger until the child has air in its lungs and is deemed to be in danger by the hospital staff. If WG was going to avoid foster care, I HAD to be at the delivery. Even with this window of opportunity giving a hint that we might really become WG's parents, I prayed, "Lord, if BM is the 'true' mother of this infant, make it clear by preventing me from taking her home. Help me be willing to part with this baby if she is not mine to have."
10 days past the due date and a three hour road trip behind me, I met BM at the front doors of the hospital in Savannah. It was just the two of us and the delivery team in that room. I'd brought quiet, soothing music, we turned the lights low and we chatted while contractions came. I alerted the delivery nurse to BM's train wreck deliveries but she shrugged me off. "It's going to take hours, so get cozy" she told me.
"Not this gal," I said back. "She labors hard and fast. Mark my words, this baby will be here in less than 7 hours."
The nurse laughed at me. "First time participating in a birth?" She asked me.
"Yes. But I know what I'm talking about. BM does NOT want to miss her epidural this time and I'm here to make sure that doesn't happen."
"Oh, OK then," the nurse said a bit sassy. "I'll come back in an hour to check on you."
But I watched the contraction monitor like a hawk. BM started to get uncomfortable and I saw a few high spikes. I pushed the nurse-button on the bed. A few minutes later the nurse came in, a bit annoyed. "Check her" I demanded of the nurse.
Exasperated, the nurse did as I instructed and said to BM, "WOW! You're already at 3 cm!" Then she looked at me and said, "you weren't kidding!"
"Right. Our son was almost delivered in a delivery room shower, so no, I'm NOT kidding."
"your son...?" The nurse threw me a quizzical look.
BM nodded. "She adopted my two other children."
The nurse looked from me to BM and back to me and then said, "Can I talk to you in the hall a minute?"
I figured she was going to call me out for being a lurker/baby snatcher. You know, some perverse woman that hangs around women like BM to take their babies. Nope. As soon as the door closed behind me and we were in the hall, the nurse dived in. "Her chart says a lot of stuff. Her OB has been very concerned about her mental state. The rest of the staff here are really confused, can you clue us in? What's your role, tell us everything you can."
So I filled her in. On EVERYTHING. I was even honest about why I was there to help BM deliver, that I was indeed hoping to circumvent the child being placed in foster care by bringing her home to her siblings. "OK" said the nurse. "I know what we need to do." And it was game on.
The delivery was fast and hard. We managed to get BM the epidural but barely. Her water broke as they positioned her for it, dilating her from 6 to 8.5. I looked at the clock while the nurse and I held BM's shoulders steady, "This baby will be here before 1:30 a.m."
The nurse looked at the clock too. It was already 12:55. "No way. We've got at least another two hours."
"nope. 1:30 this baby will be crying in this delivery room."
"If you say so!" she laughed at me. And the delivery team and epidural team whisked away, flipping off the light and letting the epidural take affect. "We'll be back in an hour" said the nurse.
"See you in 10 minutes" I called back. And with that, a contraction spike of 10 showed up on the monitor. I mashed the nurse button.
"Yes?" she called over the intercom.
"She's ready to push."
"HOLD ON! Tell her not to!" shouted the nurse and she was in the room in two seconds, dragging the delivery doc, who had just shown up for the night shift, behind her.
It was tough on BM. WG was big, she got hung up, we thought there was going to be an emergency C-section but BM pulled through and at 1:21 am, we all met WG. I looked at the clock and said over BM's belly to the nurse, "Told ya so."
As per our discussion earlier, BM agreed to let me cut the cord. Holding the surgical scissors, I prayed a silent prayer, "Lord, as I cut this cord, this symbolizes severing WG from BM. It marks the end of this unique relationship between BM and I. Let this be the end."
BM was still in recovery when the nurse was calling the hospital social worker. By 9 am the next morning, I was in a small office explaining it all again. At 11 am, the Chatham County social services team was in BM's room, grilling both of us. We hit a snag.
BM in her limited understanding of the situation, was mentally stuck. She did not want WG to go to foster care, she wanted to take her home. Social services told her that taking WG home was NOT an option, under ANY circumstances. But I was told that I could not coerce her, that BM had to come to the decision on her own that I was a third option, that she could place WG with me. She wouldn't, couldn't, was NOT going there, period. All she kept saying is, "I want my baby. I don't want her in foster care." No amount of the staff telling her otherwise could derail the runaway train in her mind.
So I drove the three hour trip back to Augusta to get Sissy and Aspie Boy so they could visit BM and their new sister. The hospital and social services staff giving me some hope that they had two days to convince her, two days before her discharge.
I drove the road trip again, bringing the other two with me. BM was glad to see them and to show off WG. She still had not agreed to let me take WG, ignoring the fact that it meant WG would go to foster care. I drove to my mother in law's, two hours away, still without WG. Praying "I've got to be willing to let WG go or I won't be the 'true' mom."
At 9 am on day two, the social worker called me. "She won't agree to taking the baby. There's nothing we can do."
I said, "let me see what i can do." I called BM's mom and told her what was happening. "Convince her. BM thinks she's taking WG home with her. WG will go to foster care if she doesn't let me take her." All you need to know is Noni can be very convincing.
An hour later, social services called me back, "I don't know what you did, but she's agreed. How soon can you get here?" I was two hours away with Sissy and Aspie Boy in tow! I sent them back to Augusta with my mother in law and drove the two hour trip in 1.5 hours. I raced to BM's room and saw that she was in tears. My heart was breaking for her. Faced with it, I didn't know if I had it in me to take her baby from her a third time, but if I didn't, WG would be in foster care. So I steeled my nerves.
It was 12 noon and I had to go to probate court to get the paper work necessary, return to the hospital for BM to sign it, get it notarized and go back to probate court to get the judge to sign it and return a copy to the CPS building and the original to the hospital all before 5 pm when BM would be discharged. Oh, and it was G-8 summit so the entire downtown area of Savannah was on lock down, loaded rifle-carrying MPs on every block, 10 men strong and the courthouse was like Fort Knox, the closest parking spaces four blocks away. Oh yeah, and the judge was on vacation, point of fact, in EUROPE, not returning for three weeks.
I don't know how but I pulled it off, the clerk in probate court was very sympathetic and signed a temporary order until the judge returned. At 4:35 pm, not having showered in three days, not having eaten for 24 hours, having driven a total of 13 hours in 48, I returned to the hospital only to find that the hospital social worker was no were to be found. Dejected, teary-eyed and exhausted, I told the maternity ward nurses that I was going to the cafeteria in the event that the social worker showed up before the county social services did to take WG to foster care.
In a daze, I slogged off the elevator, ordered a coke and stared numbly at the TV screen that was announcing that Ronald Reagan had died. I looked at the clock on the wall, 5:10 pm and no phone call. Through my tears, I prayed out loud, "It's fine God, I told you straight up that if WG wasn't mine, that you should prevent me from taking her home. She's BM's baby, not mine. I give WG back to you." I picked up my things, threw my trash away and waited for the elevator to take me to the first floor where I would leave the building and drive the three hour trip back to Augusta without WG.
The elevator doors opened revealing the hospital social worker's happy face. "Oh my God, there you are! I've been looking all over for you!!! Where have you been? They're discharging BM and the county has called, releasing the baby to you!"
I think I dropped my purse. "you mean?" I stammered through tears, my throat locking up.
"YES! But we have to hurry!!!!" I got on the elevator and we rode to the third floor and ran to BM's room, meeting the discharge nurse in the doorway. I couldn't see much through my blurry eyes but I could hear BM's wailing. She was being discharged to the psych floor, she'd had a psychotic break in my absence.
An orderly took WG from BM's arms and said to the social worker while glancing at me, "Is this the woman?" The social worker affirmed that I was and the next thing I knew, I was being sat in a wheel chair, handed WG whom I hadn't held yet and being pushed out of the hospital room as BM wailed and a team rushed in to sedate her.
I told the person pushing us, "I can walk"
She grunted, "hospital policy, newborns are not carried out. Too much liability. You can get up when we get to the front door." It felt so isolating, just me and WG and some strange burly nurse brusquely ushering us out of the building.
I met WG's eyes for the first time as we approached the elevator. "Are you my WG?" I whispered to her. We were both pretty confused and I wasn't sure if I was extraordinarily happy or horribly sad. Still holding her gaze, we were wheeled into the elevator and I laughed as WG's eyes got really wide when she felt the weightlessness of the elevator as it descended.
The nurse saw her do it too and said, "That's a bright one, most babies don't pick up on things like that so soon."
At the front door of the building I was met by another nurse. "Go get your vehicle, I'll watch the baby." She instructed. I did as I was told. When I arrived at my van in the parking deck, a wave of grief hit me like a brick wall. This is not how it should be. For BM who doesn't have her baby, again. For me who gets to be a mom again but instead of excitement and fanfare meeting me at the hospital doors, there is no one here but me and WG to celebrate our going home.
When I drove the car to the front circle, the nurse saw my tears and said, "I'm so happy for you too honey. I love it when our adoptive families get to take their babies home." But I didn't say anything back. There was no point the reason I was crying.
I cried the entire 3 hour trip home. WG slept. At 11 pm, I walked into my house, stinking, starving, carrying an infant, MY infant and all I wanted to do was cry. It had been such a long, horrible, difficult ordeal for BM, WG and I. I was happy, I was grieving, I was inside out emotionally but I had to hold it in. We were up until 2 or 3 as my parents, the kids grandmother and great-grandmother arrived to meet WG. The fanfare we should have had at the hospital.
The next few weeks were a blur. WG had a broken collar bone from the delivery, Chatham county released the case to our county so the social workers were marching in and out of my house doing home studies and the like. It had been a chaotic pregnancy so WG was very needy, she had to be by me, next to me, near me, touching me. Aspie Boy was mad that she wasn't a brother. Sissy RADified everything times 10 and BM was released to assisted living but she refused to go, claiming she was going to get back on her feet so she could get WG back.
It took three and a half, long, grueling, heart-breaking, expensive years to finalize WG's adoption. It effectively terminated our relationship with BM. It required two teams of lawyers, gun-carrying cops, two states, two court proceedings, more home studies, more case workers, more of everything including my emotional reserves. There were days when we thought WG might not get to stay, days when the phone calls to the lawyer were more for our comfort than to get legal information, days when we cried, begged and pleaded with BM to waive her rights. In the middle of all it, BM was pregnant again and getting married, Aspie Boy was being diagnosed and Sissy was raging.
Through it all, WG has proved herself to be simply wonderful. The Dad and I had to relearn parenting because she was the first unchallenged child we had. On countless occasions, she has reminded us that our choice to parent was a good one. She laughs, she smiles, she tells jokes and drives us batty. She rolls her eyes at Aspie Boy and Sissy and then winks at me because we both know they're annoying as crap some days. She reminds me to "ignore them mom. Just ignore them" when they drive me crazy and she rubs my back when I cry. "I know mom. I know." She snuggles with me and begs to be held and snuggled. She is exactly what I thought raising a daughter would be like and I'm mystified, amazed and incredibly humbled that after everything, God saw fit to let me be her mommy.
On adoption day, December '07, the third date the lawyer had put on the calendar to close the case, it was so anti-climatic that we didn't make a big fuss over it. We left Aspie Boy and Sissy at school, we left work and showed up in the judges chambers. When the judge signed the papers, it was as if my prayer when I cut WG's cord had finally come to fruition. We have let her be the end but we won't let it bring her isolation. She restores our faith in parenting maybe enough to convince us to do it all again.
Happy 6th Birthday to Wonder Girl!