We had a very long Shelter Care Hearing today. The purpose for a hearing like this is, after 3 days of a child being in state custody, to determine if he/she should remain in custody or not. Going into it, our attorney warned us that the burden of proof is very low, meaning it doesn't take much to keep a child in custody and the state would rather error on the side of caution than place a child back in a possibly abusive home.
I was feeling composed and pulled-together until I stepped off the elevator to see a mass of people outside our courtroom. Family members, people from church, friends from our hometown that drove two hours to be with us, an amazing amount of support for us. It was hard to hold my composure and I tried to hold back tears for those supporting us. In addition to all the friends and family, we had the support of 4 legislators (including the Speaker of the House) and our state senator there.
Shortly after arriving we were informed that court proceedings like this with Health and Welfare are closed hearings, meaning that the public is not aloud in the courtroom. The legislators and senator pushed the issue and got special permission from the judge to sit in on the hearing, given their elected positions.
Walking into the courtroom was like walking into a movie set ready for filming, except that it all feels so real. It's not a movie that I can pause or quit watching if I don't like the way it's going. It's our life. There was a big stand where the judge would sit, and the lady that sat ready to type the transcript just below the stand. Jason and I sat with our two attorneys in the front on the right side at a big table. Our case worker and the attorney for Health and Welfare sat at the left at a similar table. There were several rows of empty benches behind us. The only ones that sat there were the 5 men that held legislative positions.
Jason and I have been advised to hire 2 attorneys now - one for me, and one for him. The 4 of us sat in a line of chairs behind the table. Both attorneys are professional, well-experienced men. Jason and I have been so united in this so far and willing to stand together through thick and thin, so it seems odd that we each have our own attorney now.
We're hoping that if for some strange reason they won't release Bryer back to us, then they will release her back to Jason. He wasn't at home at the time she stopped breathing, so he's obviously out of the running as a 'suspect.' I'm trying hard not to read too far into it, but my wheels have started turning on how to be a help if I'm not aloud to be there if Jason can get Bryer back. We've talked about the possibility of him staying with his parents and I can stay at my mom's. It's hard to imagine, but it would be better than Bryer being with a foster mom we know very little about. I could do whatever I could from a distance - laundry, fixing meals. That's about it. It's not an ideal situation, but it would be a start towards something better.
They called, "All rise" for the judge and we stood until she told us to be seated. Our judge has been changed from this time forward and we hope that with her being a woman that she will understand my point of view in being a good mom. One of our attorneys called Jason to the stand. After he was sworn in, they asked him questions for his answers to show what our home is like. They asked him questions about how we discipline our kids, what my tolerance level is like, how our kids react to me, what I was like on that day. Jason was a strong witness for me as to what our normal life is like. He explained how sincere my patience is with our kids; when there is bad behavior, that timeout or sitting down with them to talk about it is usually all that it takes. He explained that Bryer had been fussy during church, but that I was naturally a calm person and he testified that I would never hurt one of our children.
Next they called our family doctor from our hometown. He was very professional in his dealings with us. He talked a little about the reasons we have been in to see him, that abuse never crossed his mind on any occasion we have been in to his office. He talked about my normal demeanor at church that Sunday. He testified that he has even trusted his own daughter to be in our home for youth activities, to babysit, and to spend time with me one-on-one.
The attorney for Health and Welfare called 2 different detectives to the stand. One was the detective that came to the hospital the night Bryer was admitted. The second was the detective that served me the Eminent Danger paperwork and escorted Jason and I out of the hospital from Bryer's side. The first testified of my interview with her. She confirmed that I had found Bryer not breathing, did CPR, and called 911. She also confirmed what the doctor's opinions were about the cause, in detail. My body shakes to hear their explanation. Physically shakes. It's so horrifying to hear that someone can do something like that to an innocent baby, let alone myself. No 'alternate' diagnoses were mentioned.
The second detective confirmed parts of what the first had testified and also pointed out that Jason and I have both been willing to work with law enforcement to this point, including leaving the hospital without a fight with officers. Do they know what that feels like? Fighting has never crossed my mind. It's just not in my nature. Unbelievably sad and depressed, but not a fight.
After hearing both sides, the judge took a recess to make her decision. After we stood for her to leave the room, my attorney pointed out that usually in a Shelter Care Hearing the judge rules from the bench. They don't take a recess. We mingled with the legislators, who all felt really good about what was said for our family and the outcome would be positive. The senator said he was so impressed with the way we handled ourselves and the picture that was painted about our family and home being so peaceful. He also told Jason that he was so happy with the way we presented ourselves as people of faith. He referred to us as a 'model family' and as one who he would love to see all our families in our state be like. That was a very nice compliment in our favor.
After hearing the testimonies and talking with the legislators, we were feeling good by the time the judge reentered the courtroom with another 'All rise.' She sat down and began, "Because the burden of proof is so low in a Shelter Care Hearing..." and she went on to site the state code and number where the loophole is. She stated that Bryer is to remain in the foster care system. My heart dropped, along with everyone else from our side. How could a doctor's misdiagnosis consume a baby girl's life? That's the basic representation here. What the doctors' diagnosis is, is completely false. How do we get out of this mess in one piece as a family?! The judge went on to say that Bryer was to be placed with family as soon as possible - by Monday the 17th at the very latest, but she also pointed out that it's not the court's decision in placement. That is a Health and Welfare responsibility. It was pointed out that because Jason couldn't offer an explanation of what happened (he wasn't even there!) and that he was willing to stand by me as a supportive husband, that they could not release Bryer to him either. It all seems so wrong and twisted.
I really felt, along with the rest of those on our side, that the judge wanted to give Bryer back to us. Because of the low burden of proof and the way the law is stated, she lawfully couldn't do it. She sited the exact code that said she wasn't able to. I believe she did that for the political leaders that were there - so they could see the loophole and find a solution to the current problem. It won't help us now, but maybe it will save some other innocent family from our same suffering.
We talked with our case worker after court. I gave her a new 'smelly shirt' to swap the foster mom. I also brought her more diapers and the tape recording we made for Bryer. I asked again about doctors appointments. I know Bryer has more appointments with specialists tomorrow and I desperately want to go. Our case worker denied us that opportunity, saying that all our visits will still need to be supervised by a member of Health and Welfare. I asked if she, herself, would be willing to come along to the appointments and she said that wouldn't work out either with her schedule. Whew. Deep breath. Her schedule? I'd like more than 1 hour a week with my baby! I want to know what's going on with her medically and help make decisions about her care. I'll continue to pray for her. It's obvious her heart has become very hardened to the work she does. I can't imagine checking in to work and taking kids out of their homes every day. Every. Day. That's what she does. What a sad career to choose! Sometimes if helps to try to understand her point of view. It's so hard to do, but it helps me make sense of things. I have to hope that if she had all the parts to the puzzle, she would return Bryer in an instant. The judge would have also. And the doctors. It's just a lot to feel that all these people are against us and our baby hangs in the balance.
January 15, 2011
The only thing I could think of to help comfort me was to write the foster mom and ask how Bryer is doing. I can't hold her or smell her sweet baby smell, but I need to know she's OK. I have to have some kind of contact, even if it's just an email. I feel so helpless not being able to go to doctor appointments, not knowing how much she's eating, if she's fussy or happy, if she's sleeping well, how long her nap time is, how many dirty diapers she's had. So many things a mom just 'knows' without sending an email or having a visit.
In the email back she said she was needing more diapers and milk, and also mentioned being on a special formula since she was eating more. It's hard for me to know that she's giving her all my breast milk or just supplementing with formula. She said the doctor didn't seem worried about more weight gain, but also didn't do a sodium test like was suggested at the hospital for water retention. It's maddening not to be there as the best advocate for her health and know the whole picture of things.
She said in the email, "Yesterday she had a lot of very loose stools. I don't think she felt well, she was very cranky." I wanted to tell her through the computer - you rip the main person out of your life, stick you in a strange place with people you've never seen before, and see how well you recover and how happy you are. I continue to pray for her and try my very best not to be critical. It's hard to be in this situation I have no control.
I find myself researching more - whether it's the best bottle to use between transitioning from bottle to breast; or researching laws and codes; or the worst kind of research - the misdiagnoses of SBS. Somehow I feel like researching will bring me closer to Bryer, or solve all our problems, or give me a purpose to focus all my energy.
I was struggling particularly hard today. I went to the room where we are staying at my in-law's house to pray. When I finished, I just sat for a minute, hoping to feel a peace about things. All our things from the hospital stood in a pile in the corner. On top was my set of scriptures. I realized immediately that I hadn't read much since we came home from the hospital. I had been so good about reading to Bryer in bed, but hadn't been so good about it after leaving her side. I flipped through the pages, wondering what I should read. The pages opened to a small handout I made for the girls I taught at church. It said,
The judge had said Bryer should be in the care of family no later than the 17th. Now it's 2 days beyond that and she's still with the foster mom. The more we bring up placement, the more the case worker puts us off. We now have 3 sets of family members either in the process or already licensed to have Bryer. We had another visit with Bryer today, which is always a highlight, but this was even better! We met at an office closer this time, and we learned that the foster mom has been traveling quite a long way to get to the other office, just because it was convenient for our case worker. Our visit today was a welcome relief. Jason and I had help with the other kids so just the two of us went to meet Bryer. She nursed well - in fact, she nursed most of the time until she snuggled up on me and fell asleep. Jason and I sang songs together to her almost the whole time. I try to be so present with her while I'm there, but I also find myself preparing myself to leave her again. It hurts too bad if I don't brace myself for it toward the end of our visit.
Another visit with Bryer. This sweet Visit Facilitator has taken time out of her own day and her own job to offer us her time so that we can see Bryer. I am so thankful for her!
At the end of the visit, our angel Visit Supervisor asked if we could 'squeeze' in one more visit this week with Bryer before the weekend. I wanted to cry and hug her and squeal. We went from 1 hour a week the last 3 weeks to 3 visits in 1 week this week. We set it up before we left her office and made sure the foster mom could bring Bryer. Oh things are looking up. Holding my baby brings so much reassurance for me, and I have to believe it helps her too.