Friday, November 21, 2014

Was Your Heart in it?

In response to The Prodigal Daughter Didn't Return, Ina wrote:

" was almost as if FosterEema and I had never been a couple, and Danielle was never our child."

This is really striking. Is it because your heart was never in it, the adoption I mean?

Was my heart in the adoption?  The answer to the question isn't so simple.

By the time we were ready to sign adoption papers, our family had been put through the wringer.  We had spent a year fighting with the Department of Social Services both in and out of court.  We'd spent huge amounts of my father's money fighting a protracted legal battle, and endless hours of our time taking parenting classes to prove that we were fit.

At the end of that year, it was pretty obvious to us, our attorney, and the judge that the county's reasoning for objecting to the adoption was based on purely on discrimination.  Our county has a reputation for treating same-sex couples poorly, and we were not the first to have been put through the wringer in this way.

By the time we were asked to sign adoption papers, I was physically and mentally exhausted.  By the time we sat down with our eighth social worker in two years, Danielle's behavior was starting to become violent.  She'd slapped and hit me.  I was having second thoughts.

It wasn't that I wanted to pitch Danielle out of the house.  I didn't want her removed.  I didn't want her to be placed somewhere else.  Still, I wasn't sure I wanted to adopt a child who was physically abusing me.  I worried her behavior was going to become substantially worse, and I wanted to make sure the proper resources were in place for her.  I thought it would be better if she remained in foster care, permanently placed with us.

Unfortunately, that wasn't an option.  The county had issued an ultimatum: adopt the kid or we'll move her elsewhere.  When we agreed, our social worker Nasty Number Seven was completely against it.  We weren't your average, run-of-the-mill, heterosexual couple.  When Danielle started to act out and we asked for help, Number Seven used it as an excuse to issue a removal order, which created the year-long fight.

I didn't want to fight the removal.  I figured it was a custody battle that we didn't have much chance of winning.  However, the decision wasn't mine alone to make.  FosterEema wanted to fight, and my parents wanted to fight.  Even my sister, who was historically very unsupportive of my relationship, agreed.  So, fight we did.  It was pure luck that we were able to find an experienced and skilled attorney at the right time, and that my father had the cash to pay for his services.

In the end, I fought for Danielle, not because I wanted to fight.  I fought for Danielle because I genuinely believed that she would be better off with us than the alternative.  She was a difficult kid with many issues.  When we were in court, one of the concerns raised wasn't about our fitness as parents -- there was question as to whether Danielle was adoptable.  The judge not only had to rule in our favor, but he also had to rule in hers as well.  The question was, if we weren't willing or able to adopt Danielle, would there be other families waiting to take her?

Our attorney told us that the question of her adoptability wasn't a slam-dunk, considering her myriad challenges.

The night before we were to sign our adoption papers, I expressed my misgivings to FosterEema.  She told me that if I failed to sign, our relationship was going to change.  I took that to mean that she would leave me, which I didn't want.  She desperately wanted to be a mother.  Honestly, I didn't want to be anyone's biological or adoptive parent, but I also wanted to keep my relationship with my partner.

I felt backed into a corner.  The next morning, when Number Eight came with her pile of papers, my hand hesitated.  Despite my profound misgivings and the knowledge I was making the wrong decision for me, I signed.  Why?  Because I knew it was the right decision for Danielle.  Also, my relationship with my partner was more important to me than arguing over the adoption of a child that I knew wouldn't stay past her 18th birthday.

Why did I know Danielle would leave?  She'd told us so, many times.  Both directly and indirectly, she let us know that while she did care about us on some level, her heart and her soul were always with her biological family.  She had a longing for them that transcended everything else.  I knew that whatever happened, she would be with us temporarily.

I made a decision that was the best I could make, given a list of less-than-optimal choices.  Danielle, I think, would have been happier if she had been allowed to remain in our home as a permanent foster child.  She wouldn't have had to struggle with divided loyalties.  We could have parented her, to the best of our abilities, knowing that she was always going to be someone else's child.

Older child adoptions don't magically erase years of abuse or bad parenting.  Kids grow up in crazy environments, loving their biological parents, because it is what children do.  They mature with a very warped sense of normal, because the feelings a child has for her mother are incredibly strong.  With rare exceptions, no matter how dreadful the home environment, children want to return to it.  While I think that everyone in our case cared about each other, it wasn't and could never be the same as Danielle's feelings for her biological family.  Would it have been different if she were our biological child?  Probably.  Would it have been different if she had been adopted at a much younger age?  Possibly.  It's hard to know.

It wasn't her fault.  It wasn't our fault.  It wasn't anyone's fault.  Danielle's heart was with her biological family.  As for me, while I absolutely wanted the best for her, it was hard to feel "in love" with her.  It was difficult because I knew she would never feel that way about me.  It was difficult because she was often physically and emotionally abusive.

Love is a complicated thing.  It is both feeling and action.  While I think I demonstrated my love for Danielle on a daily basis by fighting for her, by advocating for her, and by trying to teach and guide her, I don't think that I felt "the joy of being a parent" that many people describe.  Parenting Danielle was difficult and challenging far more often than it was easy or fun.  While I think she benefitted from the adoption, I know did not.  I suffered for it.  FosterEema suffered for it.  In the end, our marriage suffered for it.

I signed Danielle's adoption papers because I thought that it would be measurably better for her.  Bouncing around from foster home to foster home doesn't do any child good.  Her half-sister lived through that experience, and she was incredibly angry and unhappy because of it.  She was often furious at Danielle because she wanted to be adopted but never found a family.  "I would have killed for the opportunity Danielle is throwing away," she would say.

In many areas of life, there aren't clear-cut answers.  While there are some decisions that are easy to make, like taking job x over job y, there are other choices that aren't so painless.  Danielle's case wasn't black and white.

Would Danielle's adoption have been more successful if she'd been placed with a different family?  Perhaps.  The truth was, there wasn't a "perfect" family waiting in the wings for her.  The only options available to her, and to us, were imperfect.  We did the best we could.

During her last visit, Danielle said that she was grateful we had adopted her and that we had fought for her.  She said no one in her biological family had ever done that.  What we did meant something.

Did we make the right decision?  I think so, even though it cost us so much.  In the end, I think FosterEema and I paid a very heavy price for that choice.  While I think Danielle was better off for us fostering and adopting her, I think it was a very bad choice for us adults.

This morning, I went in to the clinic for my annual physical exam.  All of the staff that knows me commented on how much happier and healthier I seem.  I explained that it had been nearly 2 1/2 years since FosterEema asked me for a divorce, and almost 18 months since she and Danielle had moved out.  While I didn't ask for the divorce and I didn't want it, I am much happier for it.

It is a relief to live in a home where there aren't daily arguments and insults being hurled in my direction.  I feel like a huge burden has been lifted, knowing that I'm not at risk of being beaten, or having my property destroyed, by a child who lives with me.

So was my heart in it?  I don't think that the question can be answered with a simple yes or no.  In the end, I tried to do what I thought was the right thing.  It turned out not to be, in many ways.

When I was speaking to my nurse practitioner today, she commented that my ex and I had really been put through the wringer.  "This is a case of no good deed going unpunished, isn't it?" she asked.

In many ways, I think she was right, though I didn't adopt Danielle as my good deed for the day.  I adopted her because I thought it was the right thing.  It just turned out not to be.

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