This is the first of five posts over the next ten days as part of Momalom’s Five for Ten. We are all writing about the same topics in an honest effort to get to know one another better and make more connections. Our first topic is Courage. If you are already a regular Mommy Words visitor, I hope you enjoy these posts. If you are here as a part of the Five for Ten, welcome! I can’t wait to get to know you.
This is the hardest post I have ever written. It is taking great courage to write it and to post for people to read who may not know me and may have difficulty understanding the situation. My courage is nothing compared to my sister’s, who gave me permission to share this story and had the courage to live it.
A year ago I said goodbye to my 4 year old niece and nephew at the airport. My heart broke into a million little pieces as they left, with my baby sister Katie, their birth mother, to meet their forever family. It almost killed me. I can’t even imagine the courage it took for Katie to bring her babies to to their new parents. I don’t know how she said goodbye. I just know that she dug deep and sacrificed her own desires to give her kids a stable and secure forever home. A home she could not give them herself.
The twins were born at 32 weeks gestation when Katie was 23 years old. They were unplanned miracle babies. The tiny babies spent a month in the NICU after they were born by emergency c-section. Katie almost died after the surgery and spent a week in the ICU while doctors attempted to figure out why her lungs had collapsed and whether or not her heart was strong enough to be released. My mom was in the delivery room and was the first to hold the babies. I arrived at the hospital after a 6 hour drive to find alarms going off in Katie’s room and watch as doctor’s rushed to save her life. Katie developed pneumonia and could not visit the twins, so for the first few days my mom and I wore the NICU bracelets and embraced the babies as often as the nurses would let us. They were her first grandchildren. They were beautiful. When Katie’s pneumonia was gone, I wheeled her to hold her infant children the first time. I thought my heart would explode.
Katie was determined to keep her twins, but from the very beginning it was much easier said than done. As a single mom of twins with no college degree and no job after being on bed rest for most of her short pregnancy, her options seemed limited. She moved in with my husband and me to begin getting her life back together. We went to social services to make sure the twins had medicaid and WIC for their super expensive special formula. Katie saw how single moms with no money lived while we waited for hours to be given a meeting time. I remember her telling me she needed to figure out how she could give them everything they deserved and get out of the social services system. Over the years we spent many hours and days at Social Services. Each moment there was heart breaking. I remember wondering how she would be able to make a life for herself while taking care of 2 high maintenance preemies.
I was right to be worried. While I know it was possible, it never happened. The stress of being a single mother was more than Katie bargained for. She began to have serious panic attacks and lived with severe anxiety most of the time. Her blood pressure was constantly elevated. She sometimes struggled for breath. I struggle for words to express how excruciating it was to watch her little family, to watch her struggle to provide and to be a good mother, to watch her wonder if she had made the right choice.
Over the years Katie and her twins lived with us off and on as rent payments were often impossible to make and jobs impossible to keep. She was always trying to find something that worked with her small children. She started her own cleaning company but became frustrated with all the last minute cancellations and inability to budget the actual money that would come in. I paid for her to get her nurses assistant certification but from the beginning she had trouble finding a daycare that could take the twins in time for her to check in at the hospital by 6:45 a.m. I was at a loss. I didn’t have any brilliant ideas.
The only jobs she ever found that made enough were jobs at bars, working into the middle of the night. Moms should not have to work these jobs. For Katie, working at bars brought her back to her life before kids and she had trouble making the right decisions for her family. She began to befriend the late night crowd and started to feel like her only connections to society were the bar crawlers she met. She didn’t have mommy friends. She barely had any friends with day jobs. In truth, she had very few real friends at all. She started to drift away. The late night parties and lifestyle of her single life came back with a vengeance as she reconnected with the only crowd she had been comfortable with before the birth of the twins.
We, her family, could see that we were losing her, and that she needed to make a major change in her life to be a great mom to her kids. The whole family was together for Christmas in 2008 and the situation was the worst it had ever been. Katie had no job and we were paying for her to live in a home near us. The kids spent as many nights here as they did in her home and we watched as her mental health deteriorated and real depression took hold of her life. She did not seem like my baby sister anymore. She was a mother in need of serious help.
With the family gathered, we confronted her in my living room the morning after Christmas about her lifestyle and the choices she was making. As a family and with all the love in our hearts, we expressed our real belief that at almost 4 years old, her kids would soon be very aware that their mother was not providing them with the safe and secure life they deserved. I want to be very clear on this. She always loved them with all of her heart, but that love was not enough to defeat the demons in her life. With a mixture of terrible anger and tears of sorrow, Katie screamed. She said she knew we hated her and ran out the front door.
In the time she was gone, we discussed the future. We knew both that Katie needed help and that her kids needed a family. At that point, I thought that Ross and I could be that family. The twins had been with us since they were born. Our house was their house. Our kids were like siblings. They played together, slept together, ate together. The twins welcomed Sophia and Miles when each was born. In my own heart, I felt like they were my children too. I took them everywhere with us. They had the same childhood as my own children when we were together. We went to zoos. We took music classes. They were 2 happy little people. In this time of extreme pain, I thought we could be the solution.
When Katie came back, I think she thought we could be the solution too. She could go somewhere to get herself better and we could be the family the kids needed. She admitted that she was not in a place to be a good mother to her kids as much as she wanted to be. She needed real help. That admission was the beginning of a new conversation, one that would lead those beautiful children to a home that was not ours.
We were all, save my husband, naive. It turns out that in family adoptions are often not the best solution at all. You see, the problem was, they were not my kids. They were my sister’s. What seemed so simple would be very confusing for them and much more complex than we ever imagined. To put it as simply as possible, counselors told us that the twins would most likely have trouble figuring out who their mom was and might struggle to feel permanence in this situation. They would wonder if and when they were going back to their mom. They would question whether or not our home was really their forever home. As small children, they would not understand the tough love their mommy Katie needed to heal herself and why she could not be a part of their lives. In addition to the children’s struggle, as adults we would need to set strict boundaries for Katie as we tried to build our new family. She would not be allowed to be a part of it for some time and if we adopted her kids, I would be their mom first instead of her sister first. We were overwhelmed with love and sorrow and confusion.
With all the help my sister needed and our real desire for the twins to have the best possible life, the counselor suggested we consider an open adoption. She told us that Katie needed her family’s full support to make a change and that it would be very difficult to do this while bringing the twins into our home. She also told us there were many families that were interested in open adoptions of older children where Katie and the rest of our family could remain a part of their lives.
At first it was unthinkable to imagine our lives without those precious children in them. They were, and always will be, in my heart each and every day. While we cried and cried and Katie felt the situation spinning out of control, she somehow found a calm place in her soul and asked me if we could talk about the possibility. She was honest for the first time about her pain and suffering and the major changes she needed to make in her life. She told me all the things she wished her kids had and that she wanted them to have a life like my kids filled with friends and activities and opportunity. She was brutally honest with me and with herself about the limitations of love in providing the kids of home she wanted for her kids. She also said that she wanted them to be proud of her one day and that she needed to make a huge change in her life for that to ever happen. She really did, and does, love them with all of her heart, and that love gave her the strength to do what was best for her kids, even though it broke her heart. That love gave her the courage to find a forever home for her children that was not hers…or mine.
The next few months flew by with unbelievable speed. The adoption agency had hundreds of families who were interested in getting to know more about us and the twins and who wanted an open adoption. We couldn’t believe it. It was both sad to read all those profiles and absolutely wonderful to learn that so many people wanted to make older children a part of their homes. We had massive numbers of psychological tests with the twins and just as many special memory days spent with their cousins to make our time with them as wonderful as possible.
I will never know as a mother what it feels like to choose a new Mommy and Daddy for your children. I know for Katie, it would have been an out of body experience except the pain was so real that the profiles were quickly soaked with our tears. In those pages of pictures and information though, Katie found hope for her children. She found just a few families that seemed like a good fit for her babies and her desires for them. We cautiously contacted the adoption agency to set up phone calls with these families. We had a list of questions. We had a list of desires. We were terrified.
We found a family that wanted what we wanted. We found a young couple about my age with no kids who wanted to adopt older children. They had a similar belief system and they wanted an open adoption. They liked our profile and our family. They wanted the twins to maintain contact with my family and my kids from the very start. They wanted them to know their birth mother and have communication and visits with her in the future. Katie chose this family to be what she could not.
Katie wrote down everything she could think of about her babies and what she wanted and I called the couple to tell them about their future son and daughter. Through muffled tears I told them everything about Katie’s kids that she could think of since they were born. She wrote stories about them and went through their strengths and weaknesses but also conveyed their likes and dislikes, their fears and desires, the names of each of their stuffed animals, and even their favorite colors. She tried, through me, to give this couple as much of the kids as she could so that they could make them as comfortable as possible from the very beginning.
As the day for thier departure drew near, every experience with Katie and her twins seemed surreal. I started thinking this is the last time about everything we did. I think Katie was in a mild state of shock at this point. I don’t know what other state she could have been in. I felt like I was choking every time I spoke and it was difficult to hold back tears when I saw them, talked to them or touched them.
On their last night here we were busy packing and talking about their new mommy and daddy. This was, to this day, one of the hardest things I have ever done. It is part of the transition – to prepare them for their new home. We sat and talked about their new family, their new rooms, their new doggie. We told them about the weather where they were going and how far away it was from Sophia. Katie told them that she loved them dearly and that she loved them so much that she found the very best mommy and daddy that she could but that she would always be their birth mother and that should they ever need anything she would be there. She told them that they would always be in her heart and that they would always be the most important thing in her life. She told them they were so important that she found them the most wonderful forever home in the world.
This is true. She did what a mother is supposed to do. She did the best thing for her children – not herself. She would have loved to have these two beautiful kids around her, loving her, forever. But she was not at a place where she could be a good parent – and that is what they needed more than anything. Katie had the courage to see this.
I took Katie and the twins to the airport on a lovely April morning in 2009 and on the curb I hugged them for the last time, my tears flowing freely. She flew with them and said goodbye to them in their new city as she was introduced to a transition family that would help them get into their new home. She had to sign many papers on this day, each of which caused her immeasurable pain. She has told me she wanted to run out and get them. She wanted to keep them forever. She wanted to run away with them. She told me she would have if she could but she could barely breathe when she thought of how she would support them, that the panic attack she had when she imagined herself failing as their parent actually allowed her to sign those terrifying papers. If I had been there – I might not have been as strong. After signing the papers she got on a plane and went to live with our brother and figure out what to do to fix her life.
When I thought about the subject, Courage, my sister displayed more courage in this act than I have ever seen before. She had the courage to admit she was not in a lace where she could be a good parent. She had the courage to put her children before herself. She had the courage to give them what they deserved.
Katie’s babies will be in her heart forever. She had their names tattooed on her arm as a constant reminder to make something of her life they could be proud of. It has been a little over a year since they left us and Katie has had the courage to make a change.
Memorial Day weekend my sister Katie will graduate from Marine Corps basic training and she will be a U.S. Marine. She took complete control of her life and chose to serve her country and make her kids proud. The twins and their new mommy and daddy have been writing her in boot camp and drawing her pictures. I cannot express how proud I am of my baby sister and how she has turned her life around. Every letter I get from her she tells me that every ounce of her strength comes from thinking of her twins, safe and happy with their new family and knowing that she is finally doing something they can look up to. She no longer has to be ashamed. She doesn’t have anxiety attacks anymore. She is becoming both physically and mentally strong.
After graduation, Katie will see her twins again for the first time. She will meet their new parents face to face for the first time. We are flying to see them with Sophia and Violet. They are excited to see their “Birth Mommy Katie” and ask her about the Marines. They are excited to see their Aunt Brittany and Cousin Sophia and meet the new baby. They have been talking to Sophia all year and they want to see how tall she is and talk to her about things like princesses and gymnastics. We are all going to a baseball game. I hope it will be wonderful and that I don’t cry though the whole thing. While the kids are all super-excited, I am pretty sure all of the grown-ups are as petrified as I am. We are just going to take it slow and make it as fun for the kids as possible.
The new family assures us through regular pictures, emails and phone calls that the kids are doing really well and that they are healthy and happy. The twins keep pictures of both their new family and their birth family in their rooms. They have a life book where they put notes and letters we send them. We are overjoyed at their happiness, but we will always live with the pain of losing them. Katie will always be aware that day to day she does not have her kids with her. She hopes that seeing them thrive will give her the certainty that she made the right decision. I pray she is granted this wish. She deserves to know they are in the right place.
For all her courage as a mother in a way we never expected, I applaud my baby sister. For all her courage as a woman after giving up what was most precious to her and doing something good with her life, I am proud of her. For all her weaknesses as a sister and a friend while she was in her darkest hours, I forgive her.
I love you Katie, and I am proud of you. You will always be my best friend and my baby sister. I will carry the memories we made with our families close to my heart forever and look forward to making more. They are lucky to have a birth mother who had the courage to love from afar.
Note: This may not be the most well written post, but when I saw the Momalom word was courage, I knew I had to finish it and get some of these feelings out or risk never writing about this experience. I will certainly go back and revise my words, perhaps condense what has turned out to be a very long post. Please forgive any errors in this first draft of my feelings. I wanted to share a part of my family’s story and add my view on one more attribute of a good mother. I will continue to post about adoption and the enormous courage it takes on both the birth family and adoptive family fronts. This has been a life changing experience for all of us, and one that has made our hearts break open and become even larger. Thank you for coming on this emotional journey with me.
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