In case you're as in the dark as I was to the entire process of foster-adoption, let me give you a crash course. A child who is not yet legally free, but who is approaching the end of the federally-mandated limitation of time in foster care limbo, is placed in a home that has been accepted as a "pre-adopt" situation. The reasoning here is that something along the lines of 95% of people who have failed to comply with court-ordered services (such as substance abuse counseling, mental health evaluations, etc.) or follow through in the court-approved visitation of said children within the generous length of time set forth by the law fail to ever come into compliance. Want that in English? No problem: people who are not absolutely set on fire by threat of losing their kids rarely manage to get their acts together. The children of these people--the ones who fail to show for visits, who refuse psychological evaluations, who fail drug tests again and again or can't seem to make it to the parenting class they were ordered to take--these kids are singled out to be placed in homes open to adoption before their parents rights are terminated, in the hopes of not losing precious months and even years to the slow grind of the wheels of process.
The catch here is that these children still, legally, belong to the parents to whom they were born. And those parents still have rights. Chief among these rights for those who haven't already blown it is the ability to visit with their kids on a weekly basis.
Going into foster-adoption, this is the part that made me get a lump in my throat. I can't imagine that you're shocked. What will probably be shocking is why I was afraid. I'm going to confess it: I was afraid that I would meet and like the child's biological parents. You know, really like them. Want to maintain some dreamy contact where my family and I somehow serve as this conduit to Christ for these wayward folks, and manage to help them begin picking up the pieces of the mess they've created. And then, of course, we'd have to give them their child back because well, there was no more issue in regards to their ability to parent.
Yeah, I actually thought that. Call me a romantic.
Actually, call me a fool.
The fact is, Oliver's records make for some pretty heart-wrenching reading. By the time I had spent half an hour scrolling over the horrors to which some people feel justified in inflicting on their infants, I was actually nauseous. And trust me, Oliver's case is no where near the worst I've heard from other families who have adopted from foster care. The point is--it would take an absolute act of God to compel me to befriend Oliver's bio parents beyond the level of common courtesy. And it's only Christ in me in the first place that stops me from spitting every time I say their names.
But back to Oliver's visits with his bio parents ...
Last Tuesday, I drove an hour or so to take our little guy to his first visit with Bio Dad. Got him there just a touch early in the hopes of a social worker whisking him away into a back room before he could see me crying as I walked away. Imagine my shock and horror as I walked into the office, baby on my hip, diaper bag on my shoulder and saw a taller, older version of Oliver sitting in the only occupied seat in the tiny waiting room.
You guessed it. Oliver's biological father and I ... in the same 12x12 area.
Because I can come off as a pretty cold fish when I put my mind to it, I managed to act like he was completely non-existent as I made my way to the glass-enclosed sign-in area.
"Hello," I greeted the elderly lady at the desk through the little vent. "I'm here with Oliver X."
"WHAT?!" she yelled through the same little vent.
"Ol-i-ver!" I yelled back, pointing at the baby boy. "Visitation!"
"OH! SIGN IN PLEASE!"
She shoved a clipboard at me through the sliding tray door. I noted with increasing revulsion the name in the last space. Identity confirmed: Bio Dad. As if I needed confirmation. Seriously--the guy is an absolute picture of Oliver. Only with really tacky bleached hair.
Being the cautious/paranoid type that I tend to be in such instances, I wrote only my first name on the line. When I returned the clipboard, the elderly woman nodded at the man in the waiting area.
"I THINK THAT'S WHO YOU'RE WAITING FOR!" she bellowed helpfully.
"Uh-huh. Thanks," was my rueful reply.
At this point, I had absolutely no polite choice but to select a seat relatively close to the man and try, try, try to make come sort of conversation. The first thing that came to mind was completely inappropriate ("Well, you made it! Lovely of you to show! What's different about today that you actually grace us with your presence?") so I went with plan B and commented on the fact that he must be very happy to be seeing his son after more than a month.
"Yeah." His voice was flat and toneless, not unlike my heartbeat.
How warm and engaging, I thought sarcastically. What a softie.
We continued on like this for a few more minutes before I managed to excuse myself (and Oliver) for a trip to the bathroom. It was there that I hit my knees--literally.
"God, I have no idea why You have me here right now, but I do not like it! I'm not going to whine, and I'm not going to beg for it to be over, but You know that this is the most uncomfortable I've ever been in my entire life. So I really need You! Help! 911! What on earth do you want me to say to this man? How can I even look him in the eye? Give me words, Jesus. Give me words!"
Again, I'm just being honest about the tone of things here. This isn't a word for word translation of what I brought before the Lord, but it's pretty darn close. It wasn't a pure prayer, and it wasn't an especially eloquent one, but it was real. Probably one of the most real prayers I've ever prayed.
It worked, of course. I walked back in that waiting room with a shaking heart and fear that turned my knees to water ... but I did walk back in. That's proof enough of Divine Intervention right there, if you ask me. But the real answer to my prayer was this: on Bio Dad's right hand, in the webbing between his thumb and forefinger, are Oliver's initials. I saw it, and I knew that this was God showing me a piece of this man. A piece I could grasp onto as being more than a rundown of evidence of neglect gleaned from a court document. A tiny glimpse of him as a person. More than that, really; a vision of him as a father. Not a great one, but somewhere inside, still ... a father.
With this digesting in my mind, I managed to direct a fairly innocuous conversation around the finer points of Oliver's life for the next few minutes. Got his birth weight (5 lbs., 14 oz.), saw a few pictures of a tiny, wasted version of Oliver that were saved in his father's cell phone.
And then the social worker came. I handed Oliver over, spoke a blessing over him right there (hey, the state knows I'm a Christian and if they don't like me blessing kids, they ought not give me any!) and fled. Ran to my truck, shook so hard I couldn't get the keys in the ignition, and sobbed.
An hour later, Oliver was back in my arms. Face puffy from tears, breath jerky from the exertion of it all. I buckled him into his car seat and listened to him wail the entire way home for the first time in five weeks.
He was a pill the next day. Out of sorts, clingy and often inconsolable. We geared up for Bio Mom's visit the following day with nothing short of loathing.
Sure enough, it was another bitter pill--this time, though, I didn't find myself face to face with the parent. Honestly, I think this was a direct answer to my prayers; Oliver's bio mom was the greater perpetrator of his neglect, and is also noted as being hostile and aggressive. Not meeting her was a massive blessing.
But not for Oliver, of course. When I picked him up, he was high on caffeine from the can of soda she had given him for lunch (allowed by the person overseeing the visit in the DSHS office) and glassy-eyed. He refused to nap that afternoon (you're shocked, I know) and spent the entire next day vacillating from fits of anger to shrieks of terror.
And Saturday, our baby boy returned. Woke up bright eyed, happy, and full of joy. Sure, he was a bit less inclined to stray very far from my side than he had been a week before, but still, he was himself. The Oliver we've come to know and love.
Of course, it all goes back around this week. Wednesday and Thursday are visit days, I've been informed. For the next two months, I've cleared them on my calendar to accommodate the wishes of the court.
But I'm going to admit that I'm praying it all ends sooner rather than later. While I hate these visits (I'm the mother, after all, who doesn't even leave her babies in the church nursery, let alone with folks who have abused them) I can't help but feel that they sincerely damage Oliver. Seeing his biological parents clearly caused him to revert to survival mode. The progress of the last month was completely erased until he quite literally rebooted his entire system.
What is this doing to his heart? I don't know. But I know that it's breaking mine--and I asked for this. Oliver didn't. He's an innocent bystander ... in his own life.