Mother’s Day Part 1: Hospital Parking Lots

After our January episode detailed in my previous blog, Q went to a crisis stabilization program for a week. When she returned we had two weeks of stability. After that, it was a fight for our lives. This picks up where we are now. 

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We last saw Q on March 16th when she had an emergency referral to a statewide mental health stabilization program. In type that sounds like it was a streamlined referral but fighting for months to get someone to notice her was anything but streamlined. The way we finally got noticed involved injury to respite providers, Q hanging a cat, a police escort, and myself making a dramatic scene in the Emergency Room saying that I couldn’t do it anymore and asking if someone would like to evaluate my mental stability. A show indeed. We finally got DCF to agree to take her into their custody so that they could do some work. We could not go on any more. If I ever wondered what my breaking point looked like, I found it.

She was referred to a high-level facility 5 hours a way for their short term program for youth experiencing mental crisis and in need of stabilization. It is typically 11 days but because she was so unstable, she stayed for 6 weeks. Finally, someone noticed. The medical team there acknowledged we were in fact not crazy and they do not know how we lasted as long as we did. They diagnosed her with what seemed like everything possible.  PTSD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Fetal Drug Exposure, Psychosis. I’m sure there is one that I missed or one that they missed. It’s all a mess so I don’t know that one less or more would be noticed.

Two weeks ago she was discharged and sent to a residential facility because no one felt it was safe enough for her to be in a home environment. There was only one place in the state that would take her because of her young age. Being 5 doesn’t exactly fit into any of the residential models that are available in the state. So they are creating one for her. The place has been terrible so far and the Court is not pleased with the placement. We can only hope a better placement can be developed.

On Mother’s Day we drove for 2 hours to visit with Q in the first time in two months.  We stopped at Walmart to pick up a few pairs of clothes for her as we assumed she would have grown out of everything since we last saw her. Afterwards we discovered all of the bathrooms were out of order in Walmart and the ones in nearby stores. Awkward timing. But a two hour drive and a shopping trip left an emergent need for a bathroom visit before going into unknown territory.  We ended up rushing into a hospital and finding a bathroom. It smelled like bleach and I felt the secondary panic of hospital bathrooms subside.

I found myself on Mother’s Day removing tags, matching small child-sized socks, and folding the clothes nicely in a hospital parking lot and waiting for it to be time to drive to the residential facility.  I couldn’t help but notice that the weather was perfect for Mother’s Day and I hoped most people were not experiencing the kind of anxiety and heartache that I was. We passed restaurants that had signs out advertising for Mother’s Day brunch and specials. The parking lots were packed with cars and families were smiling and visiting on their way into gorge themselves on a feasts and conversation. I wondered what I would order. I wondered if I would ever have a Mother’s Day like that. I wondered if this visit would be my last. I wondered if I would ever buy clothes for her again. I wondered how long we could go on like this.

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Respite.

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Sunday, the day after Calling the Crisis Team, they called us for our planned check-in call. They had found a respite provider! Some clarifying questions around her being transgender (ugh) and the caller told me she needed to let them know this info and that the respite provider would call me to make a plan for pickup. We felt hopeful and packed a bag for her.

10 minutes later the crisis worker called back. After hearing the information I provided about her being trans they no longer wanted to take her. Fuck. The worker said she would keep trying. She knew we needed it and had planned on continuing to try.

About 30 minutes later she called back. Some magical person had said yes. So we waited for the crisis worker to arrive to collect her. Nothing can quite prepare you for what happens when a crisis worker comes to collect your child for respite. I’ve read blogs about how traumatized children respond, or rather don’t respond. Everything is true.

Worker arrived. Q was most concerned with the fact that she wasn’t able to continue watching TV. We handed her an overnight bag and then Q asked the worker how long of a drive it would be. That’s all she wanted to know.

Off she went. No resistance. No feelings. No emotion. Just got her boots on without any other questions and left.

We got one whole afternoon and night of feeling safe. We went out to eat.  We slept without our door locked. We woke up to an alarm instead of screaming or Q climbing on top of the stair landing or jumping from the windowsill.

For one morning I just drank coffee and watched the wood stove in silence.

She is back now. Things have been touch and go today but we are walking on eggshells. We got word that the referral to the crisis stabilization program for the most extreme circumstances has been accepted. They are full now so she is on a waiting list. Hopefully in the next few days she will go. For now, we wait, provide loads of food, and try to zone her out in front of the TV. Our house is like a psych ward from the movies or a prison…maybe both.

Calling the Crisis Team

crisis-prSaturday, the episode started at 8am. Violence, aggression, verbal attacks, anything and everything that she could say and do she did. She went from room to room destroying things and using them as weapons. She figured out how to take the bar that you hang clothes on in a closet. She threw that at us. She took her clothes off. She ripped things into a million pieces all over the floor.  Coloring pages and drawings of us as a family– once proudly displayed on the fridge, now remains of yet another manic and violent episode.

We contacted the crisis line. People always say do that. We did. The first person on the adult line told us to just “put her in a hold and she will tire out”. We had. She doesn’t tire out. We had done everything that we have been trained over and over to do. 5.5 hours is long enough to manage this episode. After I was a royal pain he finally got a child crisis worker to connect with me. She was wonderful and tried to find an emergency respite placement but of course, the weather was so horrific between the icy conditions, flooded roads, and few respite options — it just couldn’t happen.

In the meantime while the crisis worker was trying to find some help for us, Q threw her body into the walls. She punched, kicked, assaulted items and us. She growled and spit like a rabid dog. She made herself bleed, played with the blood, soiled herself. The crisis line said it was bad enough that they wanted us to call the police. That they could at least help get to the ER and the crisis team could take it from there.

I did. I shakenly called the police with the screaming in the background. They said no. They said it wasn’t their problem. That the crisis line can deal with it. I told them she was a danger to herself and others. That we couldn’t keep going like this. They said no.

They said no.

Bleeding, covered in her own urine, smashing item after item, coming after me with the metal pole, ripping things to shreds… the police said no.

The crisis line worker said she would come. So she dug herself out during a blizzard condition and slowly (1.5 hours later) made her way. She was appalled the police wouldn’t help. She called her supervisor. They knew we were maxed and multiple people worked on getting to us. And every day for the last few weeks has been some version of this. We told our support team earlier this week that we couldn’t keep going like this.

The crisis worker arrived. She was incredible. She arrived to a scene that words can’t describe fully. She was able to bring the crisis level down just a bit, assess Q, and then give us a moment to regulate ourselves. She apologized that there wasn’t a respite, she knew we needed it, she knew there wasn’t an option to help us. She promised that she would work on it and have someone call us the next morning. She knows we can’t keep her safe and that we are also not safe. Everyone knows.

With a big deep breath we sent her on her way, waited out the rest of the evening and prayed that the next morning we would get a call that they found respite.

The Dress.

We let her wear girl clothes at home for a long time before we did it publicly.  This was my compromise to her pleas and begging to be a girl. That lasted for over a year. A year! What message does that send about self acceptance? It sends a message of shame is what it does. Sometimes our best intentions as parents, are just not good enough. I can’t kick myself anymore for it but for a while I felt guilty and just truly sorry I let it go on for that long.

After we wrote the coming out letter, I took Q for a walk and finally told her that we let everyone know she is now a girl. That she doesn’t have to pretend to be a boy anymore. She smiled a huge smile and said, “really mommy, really!?”. I nodded, gulped, and stuttered when I said, “yes sweetie, really”.  She was content and happy. She paused and had one simple question.

 “Can we buy a dress?”

For my dress hating self, this was not going to be easy. I took a deep breath and started my journey of better acceptance of my kid.

The next day we went to the store. I had approximately 8.5 panic attacks on the way there. We walked in, Q holding my hand, and she looked up at me searching for approval of which “side” she should go on. The boys side or the girls side? I nodded nudged her along to the girls side. Soon we were swimming in pinks, purples, teals, and cheery yellows. I wanted to vomit, but glad that I did not.

She sifted through each and every dress to find the perfect one. She found it and then promptly found 10 others. After intense 4 year old negotiation, we settled on 3.

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My kid is transgender.

In April, we came out publicly that our kiddo is transgender. Little man, as referred to in this blog, is now known as she/her pronouns and I will give her a new reference on this blog as just Q. I didn’t feel compelled to write about it because my writing was drawn to the experience of fostering Bug. Over the next few weeks I will work on putting my experiences from the transitioning experience with Q into words. Of course at some point I’ll get the courage to write my final experience about saying good bye to Bug. I haven’t yet found that courage though.

This was our public coming out letter from April:


Dear friends and family, 

We are writing this letter in advocacy for our family. We have thought long and hard as to how to broach the subject, and we feel that it is best to be done in an honest and heartfelt letter. This is certainly nothing new, but just finally time to put it out in the open!

The moment Q was placed with us, he began to verbalize the conflict he had with the way he identified. As we were getting to know this precious child, everything was new to us obviously. We let things unfold as they needed to without putting pressure or much thought. After all we had plenty of things to learn and do as we worked on finalizing the adoption.

He came to us with painted nails. He was notorious for sneaking into nail polish at his previous foster homes. He would constantly talk about makeup. And that child has quite the affinity for ruffles, pink, and princesses. For those that know us well, this is most definitely not an influence from us. Despite my deep-seeded feminist dislike of princesses…they cannot be stopped. This is all Q.

Truth be told, even though we are also part of the LGBTQ “family”. We had hoped it wasn’t true. I’m embarrassed to say that I prayed it wasn’t. Despite our desires for this to be a phase, we cannot ignore this anymore. Q has verbally expressed consistently, that he wants to be a girl. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up he says a girl, a mom, etc. He always has. I used to whisper to him when he was barely awake in the night asking him if he was a boy or girl, and he always said “girl”. We brushed it off quite frequently, telling ourselves that he was just gender-nonconforming, and that it was only a slight possibility he was actually transgender. Not because we are against transgender folks but because we have deep concerns that this added layer on top of the already complex identity would be too much for Q to bare later in life. With time, energy, research, and consultation with professionals and LGBTQ advocates—we realize the errors of our ways. We know that this is Q’s journey. And as much as we know that being in the LGBTQ world has its challenges, and the journey can be bumpy—we value that our experience is our own. And so it must be this way for Q as well.

Lately things have shifted to be more urgent. Sadness has consumed Q as his desires to be a girl have been increasing. He steals things from girls at school, and recently froze up at the doctor’s office when a nurse referred to him as a boy. His body froze, he was enveloped with sadness, and he said he did not like that.

From here on, unless otherwise informed, please refer to Q as her/she/girl. We support our child and whatever her journey. Our main goal is for her to be safe, happy, know she is loved, and play!! If you have questions or concerns, you are welcome to ask us directly. Under no circumstance may you ask Q your questions or continue to refer to Q as a boy. We understand this takes time and mistakes will happen (we are certainly still learning) but intentionally calling Q by he/his/boy references will not be tolerated. Talk to Q about Paw Patrol, dancing, spaghetti, or milking the goats if you are at a loss.

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Hospital Part 2: Rainbows

I arrived to the NICU last Sunday for some special instructions on caring for and feeding Tiny Man. Due to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, he has a few symptoms that we are working on learning how to support him with. A calm and confident older nurse welcomed me which was a nice change of pace from a couple of days prior where the nursing staff treated us like baby-snatchers.

The Nurse sat me down in the recliner and promptly went to work of treating me like any other mama learning how to care for her child. She showed me lots of ways to do things and never once made me feel bad or weird. It was a fast paced tutorial but once it was over she said “now you snuggle” and wheeled away to do notes a few feet away.

After my lesson was over, a different nurse asked if he could play some acoustic music for us. I was thrown off by this but said “sure” feeling like this was an entirely different experience than just 2 days prior. As he played his guitar, I finally slowed my brain. I started breathing at Tiny Man’s pace. I smelled his head. My heart swelled.

As I was leaning back in the recliner looking at the birds and clouds, the Guitar Nurse started playing “Over the Rainbow”. I looked down and at that moment I saw Tiny Man’s eyes finally open. I burst into an immediate slobbery, uncontrollable cry. It was the first time I had let the emotion sink in. This was a BIG deal.

The all-knowing nurse wheeled over to me and squeezed my shoulder. She whispered into my ear “I don’t know where this journey will take you, but you are strong enough to do it.” Turns out she has fostered children and has adopted as well. Of course the Universe sent her my way, of course! She let me ugly cry, the Guitar Nurse let me ugly cry, and just kept playing “Over the Rainbow”. She left me with “Of course it’s hard. But we do it because they are worth it. And he is worth it. However this lands it is always worth it.”

It is such a great privilege to be part of this little one’s life and his journey.

 

Hospital Part 1: Meet n’ Greet Foster Son

One week ago today, I met my foster son. We met the social worker on the 3rd floor outside the gift shop and then wandered up into the NICU. It was a total shit show to put it lightly. The staff didn’t seem to get the memo about this placement or DCF involvement. They were confused and looked at us like we were baby-snatchers. Of course, as luck would have it, the bio mom was about 5 feet away from us visiting with Tiny Man. We were shuffled away quickly while everyone tried to coordinate this awkwardness.

So we sat and waited with our own anxiety, not sure what in the world conversation was happening or what would be next.

I asked how she was doing. It surprised the social worker. I suppose many foster parents might not care? I’m not sure, but I genuinely wanted to know how she was doing. I couldn’t imagine going back to her room, knowing soon she would be unable to be with her baby. For whatever choices and mistakes that have been made, there certainly is no way that would be easy.

When it was time, we went into the open room of NICU babies. Not having a clue what we were going to be facing. We were shuffled over to the only baby that did not have parents tending to him. I’m well aware that sometimes parents leave to go get something to eat or get a break but in this instance it felt like a visible reminder and slightly painful. I can tell you, there is probably nothing more fragile than picking up a baby that you have agreed to care for and love.

We cooed over his little tiny body. His loads of hair. And mountains of cuteness. I talked to him and told him we would take care of him the best that we could. I told him our house has another kid and three dogs. I told him we live on a farm and that it would be a lot quieter there than in the hospital. I couldn’t promise how it would turn out. I don’t know whether he will reunify with his bio mom or whether we will be his forever family.  But I do know that as long as he is with us, he will be cared for and loved.

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For swing time!