Relinquishment.

We relinquished our parental rights.

I’ve been trying to come up with something to say that conveys the deepest sorrow that I have ever felt. But I haven’t found it. Because nothing sorrow-like seems to convey the deepest relief I feel at the same time.

Here’s what I know. Q was violent and dangerous. Q has complex needs brought on by early childhood trauma and neglect along with severe mental health challenges. Q has 8 different diagnoses and the care needs that are required will be lifelong. We do not have the capability to meet those needs now or ever in the future.

That could be a form paragraph as a response to why we relinquished. I guess I could stop there. Of course that would be total bullshit and you and I both know it. It’s deep and messy and doesn’t make a bit of sense. But that’s how hard things often are, right? They are messy and often don’t make sense.

I slept in fear every single night. Because she didn’t sleep, she wanted to hurt us, and sometimes did. One particular night she terrorized us in the middle of the night by smashing a towel hook onto our bedroom door for hours. Now, as I struggle with my own PTSD and all the mess that comes with that, I still hear that in my sleep now. I wake in a panic- sweaty and fragile. Smash. Smash. Smash.

Some might say that her behavior was a cry for help. I would agree. Some would say that she was trying to get our attention and needed something from us. I would agree. We tried. We tried every single day. Her needs are far greater than what we can provide.

She would take anything and make it a weapon. The glass of a picture frame she broke. The rod for her clothes in the closet. The knives. Wood from breaking her door. Her nails digging into my own skin and clawing until blood came out. She was willing to do anything that the voices in her head would tell her. No matter how much it hurt her or others.

She knew we had a duty and a commitment to keep her safe. So she would do anything in her power not to be safe. It would take us hours to get anywhere because she would smash her head against the seat and the window so hard we would have to pull over to restrain and redirect the behavior. Of course, this never made anything better. At home she would run and smash her head into the wall or a door on purpose. She aimed for pain and blood from herself or from us. It wasn’t quite clear which was favored.

We know we are not yet as strong as we would like to be to be able to stand up against relentless judgement that will be coming from some people (we know not all). I shared this concern with my boss and she told me what she thought of judgement. She feels that judgement is just something that people do as a reflection and concern for themselves. If people can keep you and your decisions at an arms length, they can be sure that they themselves would not ever find themselves in a similar situation. That if only they could determine that they would choose something different, they can be sure that they would also never experience that kind of pain. I think my boss is right.

So with that, I risk telling you, we relinquished our parental rights. You may believe that you would choose something different. You might be right, you might also be wrong. No one knows truly what they would do given a painful situation. I hope you never have to find out what you would choose. What I know is that this choice, while painful and a horrific loss, is right for us. Not pleasant, but it is the right thing to do.

We believe that the care and treatment of Q can be focused on her, her mental health, and her symptoms now, instead of an unrealistic goal focusing on her relationship with us.

We believe that we had a damaged relationship as a family because of the violence and therefore would not be able to heal enough to ever be able to provide what she needs for an entire lifetime.

We believe that safety in relationships should come first.

We believe that we did our best.

 Rainbow

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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.

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.

Tflag

One Year.

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Today marks one year with us.

As the snow began to thaw I saw you experience your new home with dirt, grass, and sticks. As spring came I saw you get dirty for the first time and I realized that you were scared of getting into trouble. Summer came and I witnessed the joy of you splashing in the water and running through a sprinkler. As the leaves turned the bright fall colors, we finalized your adoption. Winter came and we experienced Christmas and all the holiday hoopla (which I’m so glad is almost an entire year away!).

  • You call me mommy.
  • You will eat everything. Literally.
  • You are scared of the dark but otherwise you go to sleep right away.
  • You are violent if you feel you get too much love and attention.
  • You are often concerned that there won’t be enough food for you.
  • Your smile is beautiful and exudes joy.
  • Your cries include the following: (1) fake cry, (2) scared, (3) mad cry, (4) lonely, (5) manic after being triggered, (6) pain, (7) sad (sort of…I’m not entirely sure you’ve figured how to display this one).
  • You can dance from the soul. 

Becoming your mommy has been a joy, a privilege, and the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. You are my first child, and there will never be a feeling like it. I have realized my role involves case management, medical advocacy, educator, history keeper, race advocacy, adoption and trauma advocacy– and more to be determined I’m sure!

Now that I have my feet underneath me a little with this parent thing I’m planning on some goals and improvements going into this second year being your mommy.

  • Work on improving my own self-regulation.
  • Attend parent meetings with the drumming therapist.
  • With the help of your therapy team, work on creating opportunities for you to have your needs met that you did not have as a baby.
  • Have lots of adventures.
  • Create opportunities for fun and joy.
  • Dance.

December: the month of violence.

December was horrific. In fact, it’s taken me  the entire month of January to process it enough that I could even begin to put into a blog post. How can I describe to you a level of constant violence that seems near impossible to imagine in a small being?

The truth is, some of this is not shocking. Christmas is notoriously challenging for kids with early childhood trauma. Like clockwork, the moment post-Thanksgiving up until beginning of January he was not the child we know. He looked different, he acted different, he sounded different. He was mean, cruel, disconnected, and uninterested.

The previous December was when he was forced by the State to go to a “good-bye” visit with his birth mother in prison. Like clockwork, as soon as Christmas music started playing on the radio, little man started talking about his birth mother and seeing her in prison. It shouldn’t be a surprise that December was so horrific between the holidays (and all the anxiety that goes with never previously having permanence) and the physical body remembering this experience with his birth mother in prison.

The night before Christmas he was scared. He was scared we were not going to have enough food on Christmas. He was scared of the presents. He was scared of what would be in them or if he would have any at all. We already squashed the Santa thing because there was fear and confusion around this concept so much we just decided not to do that.

On Christmas, we had some nice moments. It was exciting to experience being a parent on Christmas, it was lovely to see him be excited about those moments, despite how tiny those moments were. That was all before 10am.

After 10am, he became manic and out of control. He tried to push me down the stairs (and almost violently succeeded). Eventually for safety we had to restrain him in a safe hold. He said he wanted me to bleed because I give him hugs and love. He then wailed. It was a blood-curdling sorrow. He cried a sound I have not heard from him in the almost year that we have had him. The heart-wrenching words:

“I not deserve a family or presents or love.”

As my wife held him, I cooed over him by wiping his face with a cool wash cloth and kept saying over and over, “you are safe.  you are loved.” until he eventually slowed and regulated himself again.  He then decided that he did not deserve my love and refused to speak to me or engage with me the rest of the day.

The entire following week he had off from school. Each day if I was with him at all he would immediately get violent. I am typically the person that does bedtime and for an entire week he did not want me to put him to bed. He refused to rock. He refused to do activities. He played alone and would not engage with us beyond our mandatory meals and care taking (if that).

Things are better. At some point in early January, our son reappeared. The challenging, quirky, pain in the butt that we love came back to us. Most nights I can rock him without problem, and I have been minimally hit. Those hits that I can think of this month were actually more of that toddler tantrum type and nothing like December brought. He has come back to engaging with us, eating with us, and having more good days than bad now. We have reached out to more support and we are going to be starting a child therapy that involves drumming. We are setting ourselves up with more supports.

It was easily the most horrific month of my life that my memory can recall. It’s nice to be on the other side of it, but I think putting it in text sets it in the past. I am finally releasing the weight of what has felt like a dirty secret.

Forward. With love.

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