Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Worth fighting for.

I have been reminded recently there are things that are worth fighting for, and things that are not. My children are worth fighting for. And this is the story of my particular fight. Please keep in mind, this is all ten years old to me. I'm going to try to tell it they way it happened for ME; but, while I remember these feelings, I no longer suffer through them in the same way. So, if you read this and think to comment rudely about my sons' birth mother. Know this: I am fierce. And she is my friend.

Something that not everyone who knows our family is aware of: ours is a blended family. My son was adopted, at the age of 2, by me. He is my husbands' biological son from a former relationship.

When he was just past his second birthday, his biological mother chose to move overseas. I was already dating my husband, and was just "daddy's girlfriend".

When C (my son's biological mother) left, my whole world became chaotic, unmanageable, messy, financially unstable and full of noise. And I'll tell you, the first four months were a type of systemic shock I wouldn't wish on anyone. It was the worst four months of my life. I wouldn't go back and change it for anything.

Suddenly, without warning I was parenting. It was something I'd always wanted, yet not something I had put a great deal of thought towards.  And this child was angry and scared. "You're not my mommy. Where's my mommy?" I didn't have an answer. And there were days when I didn't know if trying to build a relationship with this screaming, demon- child was worth it.

But here was a little boy- still in diapers- who was in a haze of: confusion; terror; and hurt. I felt that I didn't have a choice- he was a great kid and I liked him tremendously (mostly when he wasn't screaming, biting, hitting or whining), and I didn't enjoy seeing him hurting and scared. I just kept trying to be a source of comfort to him.

My husband (back then he was just my boyfriend) was working long hours, late in the evenings and sleeping late most days. Since I was there anyways, it became my job to wake with a toddler, feed, dress, interact, teach, play and console.

Within four months, this small person was my whole day. Waking, sleeping, planning, clothing, feeding, disciplining and then one beautiful day, no longer consoling. He began calling me mommy.  The strongest feeling in the world- I was beyond thrilled. I loved him already. I already thought of him as MY child. My husband and I were planning on becoming married and that first "mommy" cemented all those feelings and my heart.

That left C in an awkward and strange position. She was so far removed from his life- not calling or trying to communicate with him at all as it was 'too expensive'. When she decided to move home again more than a year and a half had passed, and he'd been calling me mommy almost that entire time.

My son didn't know who she was. And hearing from her made him feel physically sick, vomiting and crying- he was still just a confused 4 year old.

But he wasn't the only person in our house who felt sick every day. So did I. My nights were a torment of terrifying dreams. What if something happened to my husband (then still just a boyfriend)? "They" (Government, grandparents, C) could take my son away. I'd been his mom for so long, but legally, didn't have any rights when it came to him.

I was constantly frightened something bad would happen. I worried incessantly. I was in a rage all the time against the injustice of it. In my mind, it would come down to kidnapping my own child if something happened to my husband.

Finally, my husband understood how this hurt me, preyed on my mind, every single minute of the day. We went to a lawyer.

The lawyer told us there were two things we could do. We could wait another four or five months, and I would be able to apply for a 'de facto' adoption- which meant that since I'd been his everyday caregiver for 2 solid years, he was legally mine. But this would also mean a court battle if C chose to fight. The lawyer told us that there was a less than 0 % chance the courts would give her custody, since she'd already abandoned him once, but I was still scared. Then he explained the second thing we could do- an open adoption. Which would be better for everyone involved if C agreed.

So, we had a meeting with her, her husband, my husband (married now) and I.

She may not have wanted to sign the adoption papers- but my husband and I made it clear that if we had to, we would fight in court for custody. We would do everything in our power to have her declared unfit. There was no chance in Hell that I was ever giving him back to her- she was still virtually a stranger to him, and he didn't like her very much at that point in time.

We also explained to her (and her husband- who didn't want kids of his own, let alone somebody else's) that they would still be able to see him one day every week; but that if they fought in court and lost, visitation would be entirely at our discretion.

The only question she and her husband had was about the child support payments they owed us (they were outstanding at the time). Not visitation, not familial rights. Just whether or not they'd still have to pay child support. I think that was the hardest part of the whole process for me personally to deal with. I'd have risked everything in the world just to keep him with me.

*It took me a very long time to get over my frustration, my anger and my disappointment in C's reactions and behaviour. Partly because I was told by one of her best friends the reason C hadn't been paying her child support (outstanding over $1500.00 at the time of the adoption) was because she was "busy" paying more than $5000.00 CDN to a weight loss clinic. It made me so sad, and so angry when I heard that. There were times back then when we didn't have money for basics- but she had money to pay someone else to help her lose weight; not to mention getting her hair done every month and all the clothes/ shoe shopping she did. It was very nearly a mortal (emotional) blow that she put her appearance ahead of her responsibilities- ahead of our son. Thankfully, the rage and frustration are gone; yet still the guilt remains to remind me- "What if I spend this money now; then don't have enough to buy X for the kids, when they need it most?"  I need to get over that, and learn to not feel guilty about needing something for myself, and I am working on it. Back on track.*

 When it finally came time to sign the adoption papers, OUR lawyer told HER lawyer who told C that if she wanted to be a part of his life, she would have to make a permanent commitment. She couldn't keep coming and going from his life- he needed her to be stable, and to remain part of his life. She couldn't leave Canada again for more than 30 days consecutively. That was our only stipulation. She agreed to it.

By all accounts, we had a WAY more open adoption agreement than most families do. We offered 1 day/ week, with every other weekend being an overnight visit. We offered pickup for afterschool visits when wanted, family gathering visits as requested, summer vacation time, holiday times. In short, we offered co-parenting; with us as the decision making family.

All she had to do was ask, we would accommodate. She only ever asked once for an extra visit- which was to take him to her work. But, my father had come to visit (he lives over 2000 kms away, and we rarely get to see him); we had to say "Not this time." She never asked again. She told her family that we wouldn't allow it. She told her family we wouldn't let her come get him before 3pm on weekends (we told her and her husband repeatedly that he was up by 7, they could come anytime after that). Or, on days when they had him over night, they told family that he had to be home by 3, in reality, all we asked was that they tell us what time he'd be home.

In short, she convinced her family that we were keeping them apart. And because her family didn't know she'd relinquished parental rights to me, they thought we were just being "mean and spiteful". They didn't know that we called her every day, asking when she'd come by, that we invited them for dinner. That we tried. Hard.

It was hard, always being portrayed to her family as the horrible one. The mean one. The evil 'step mother' keeping her apart from her child. Her family spent five years: condemning me; hating me; calling me names; telling everyone they knew that my husband was abusive and that C had 'run for her life' from him (which was later apologized for- but damage done). For five years, they made our lives HELL.

And because we were trying to maintain a decent relationship with C, who hadn't told them about the adoption, we didn't defend ourselves. It hurt though to be made into a monster. The family frequently told Bugs how horrible it was for him to have to live with us. That hurt worse, because it hurt him. He came home from visits crying almost every time. He wanted to be with us, to be where he felt safe- but other people- people he loved and trusted too- told him he shouldn't feel that way, told him he should want to stay with C. He handled it the only way he could. He cried a lot.

Because C and her husband regularly partied, having a child over for a visit every weekend made that hard to do. So they cancelled visits more regularly than they actually had them. There was always an excuse. Sometimes it was "I can't miss this party- I/ he need to network" or "I can't miss this concert- it's my favourite band" and once "His mom is visiting, and doesn't want Bugs over until I'm there to take care of him". And it all hurt so bad. I was the one left explaining to a child why his visit wasn't going to happen, and I'd take him to do something else fun instead. And he cried even more. 

When C's husband decided he didn't like Canada; missed his 'mommy and daddy' too much; he decided to move back to Scotland. C told her family I said she should go too. I didn't.

I asked her if she would end up hating Bugs if she had to give up her husband in order to stay in Canada. She said yes, if she gave up her husband, she would one day hate and resent our son. That was, and still is, untenable to me; so I said she should do what would make her happiest, and what would keep her from blaming a child for her own choices.

So, less than 2 years after signing the papers where she agreed to stay in Canada permanently, C moved back to Scotland again- and this time a 6 year old was left upset, feeling worthless (how many times can you walk away from a child before they think it's their fault?), angry and unloved (by her). We could at that time have legally closed the adoption: to her; to her family; to her friends. Except that it would have broken my son into a million pieces. It was hard enough for him to lose her a second time; to have lost her family as well? That might very well have killed his spirit completely.

My son had a very difficult couple of years after C left that time. Fighting, back talking, misbehaviour. More notably, an obsession with food which resulted in almost 30 lbs gained in just one year- despite his father and I trying to help him make good food choices, and encouraging exercise. All in all, it was a traumatic experience for my boy, and he wasn't yet 7 years old. He had problems with separation anxiety- every single time I left for work, he would cry and beg me to come home again. It was heartrending.

It is also in the past now. We work everyday to show him we love him; that we value him; that we will never leave him behind. It is probably going to take the rest of his life to prove to him that we love him and that he IS desperately wanted. He has been scarred irreparably- and where there is a scar there is also a reminder to take care in the future. 

In the intervening years from then to now, there have been fights.  MANY fights. There have been many a flurry of angry emails from us to her, from us to her mother, from her to her mother, from her mother to us, from her to us. And every time we fight; we also keep in mind what is best for Bugs. Regardless of how we might feel in that moment, it will be resolved, and we will still have that relationship to contend with. So, we have to work to achieve and maintain a happy relationship.  Each of us has only one thing we want- happiness.

We want peace and happiness for our family, C wants that for herself, and C's mother just wants to be a good advocate for her daughter and her own family.

Throughout all of this we have remained firm. He is OUR son. Ultimately, decisions about him, or his interests lie with us. But he is also a part of their family. And they are a part of our family. We are a family. Disfunctional? Yes. Extended? Stretched to the limits might be a better description. 

It has been a hard, hard road to travel. It's been painful. Full of tears, anger, recriminations, and guilt. More than anything else though, it has been joy.

Joy for me- I have my children, and nobody can take them from me.

Joy for my extended family who love all of my children very much.

Joy for my husband, who knows how much I love him, and our children.

Joy for C, who has been able to move on with her life, have a visit once a year for a few weeks, party as she pleases the rest of the time, and still be an 'auntie' to the other kids.

Joy for C's family who still see their grandson every other weekend, but now also consider our other children their grandkids as well.

 Joy for our son, who had the most painful experience any child can have- twice- but who still has an open heart, full of love, hope and knowledge that his father and I, his mother, will fight for him no matter what.

One day, I hope my son can understand the many reasons behind each decision that was made. The reasons we pushed so hard for C to sign the papers; and the reasons she chose to leave, both the first time and the second time.

I hope I have made clear to each of my children that they are worth fighting for. Worth risking everything for.

I would do anything for my family- except give up.

1 comment:

  1. Jane RedpathNovember 22, 2011

    Sarah, a true love story.


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