our day in court

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I haven’t written a huge amount about our case with Sweet M, mostly because there hasn’t been much to say. From the moment we picked her tiny little self up at the hospital until today, we’ve had maybe five parental visits, a gazillion medical appointments, and virtually nothing else. There’ve been a few case reviews at court, none of which we attended since they don’t tend to be worth the time. There weren’t any team meetings. No CASA worker or GAL until the past month. No other services. There just hasn’t been a need.

Not all of her story is mine to share just yet (and some of it never will be mine to tell), but what I can share is about our past month. The month where we finally got an arraignment date and subsequent trial date for the state to obtain permanent custody.

large_137091735I am still ambivalent about that positive spin our county tries to put on the ugly truth of what actually occurs at those trials. The ugliness of being called into a courtroom where witness after witness takes the stand and reviews in vivid detail all of the failings of the birth parents. Every mistake they made. Every abusive and neglectful thing they did. Every moral failing. Personal details about sex lives and drug use and relationships and finances. Their whole lives get recorded on those official court documents. After all the sordid details are repeated for all to hear, after the judge asks even further questions, then the state rests their case. They call it asking for ‘permanent custody’, but what it really is is the stripping away of any parental rights from the birth parents. They have no legal claim any longer to the children they conceived, birthed, loved, and cared for. Lots of areas use different terminology – ‘termination of parental rights’ is one common one, and I think I prefer that term by far.

It is not positive. It is ugly. I’ve been in two different permanent custody trials, and they both mark two of the worst days of my life. It is the very worst thing to hear these children’s parents drug through the mud. Maybe it’s necessary. Maybe it’s even deserved. But it is also extremely painful. While most of the cases we’ve been a part of have been messy, I have always had the utmost respect for how our county treats the children’s families. They go out of their way to provide dignity and respect to people who often don’t deserve it and who definitely do not receive it in any other area of their lives. Unfortunately, this end-of-case trial is not where dignity and respect are not of importance. The facts take precedence, and the truth usually doesn’t lend itself towards dignity.

We sat in the courtroom this past month for only about 20 minutes. That’s all the time it took in this particular case for the judge to rule. Usually, our judge will hear a case and then issue a written decision after review a few weeks later. Not for Sweet M. He listened to the caseworker’s testimony. He listened to my testimony. He listened to the recommendations from the GAL (who has never met this baby, by the way) and from the agency, and then he granted the state’s motion for permanent custody right there from the bench after 20 minutes. 20 minutes for him to make our Sweet M a legal orphan. Those kids that you read about in foster care? The 140,000 that are waiting for permanent families? Our Sweet M joined their midst this past month, and my heart was broken.

This is not the end of her story just yet. She is not family-less in reality: she is loved and adored by everyone who lives in this house. It’s just that foster care has some rules, so within the next few weeks, we’ll be applying to adopt her. Hopefully they’ll choose us. Then we’ll receive an adoption worker, and after all the paperwork is done, a finalization date. Hopefully.

In the meantime, we mourn the loss of her mother. Of her father. Of her siblings. Of her birth identity. We care for the orphan in our midst and count each and every joy along the way. The grace of each moment with this sweet baby is worth every bit of pain. If she is to be ours someday, we will answer for how we spent these days. We will answer for how we treated her story and her family. Conducting ourselves with integrity is one of the most important gifts we can give her. So while we must speak the truth, we must also grieve the loss. She’ll grieve too someday, and I want her to know then, even as I have always, that she is not alone. We weep with her. We mourn with her. We love with her. It’s what parents do. Even the temporary kind.

 

 

photo credit: vaXzine via photopin cc
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