We have been working out the kinks to make sure everyone is comfortable with us going home. Our case worker, the guardian ad litem, and the doctors all have to feel okay with us before they will let us take Bryer home. Jason went with me to the pediatrician appointment today. I probably looked fine on the outside, but my insides shake going in to one of the doctors' offices. I don't like confrontation. I don't like feeling defensive. I don't want to talk about any of it because every time I do, they shoot me down without much explanation and I just feel like crying. What use is all my time researching if they won't listen or explain one way or another? We hear it over and over again, "This could only happen in a severe car accident or a fall from a 3 story building." It's the exact same wording from her pediatrician, the neurologist, and the ophthalmologist. Is that their canned answer from medical school or what?! It's seriously the exact same words from each of their mouths.
It helped having Jason there. He's so composed and straight-forward. He's not afraid to rock the boat, but in a respective way. He's not sorry for our stance on things and he's not willing to back down. Me, on the other hand, would rather huddle at home with my kids and let them say whatever they want behind my back. I know the truth and God knows the truth. And really, that's all that matters. I would be fine with that, just hidden away from all the judgments against me. But we can't live like that. It's not in the best interest of my kids and especially Bryer who needs continued appointments to these doctors and specialists. I still have to take her to the appointments - no matter how I feel or whether I want to or not. A lot of her appointments are to the same specialists she saw in the hospital. They have 'abuse' written all over their notes.
Good thing I took Jason to this appointment, because he was all of the above, that I wanted to be, but couldn't. He was calm and collected and confident. Everything I hoped that I could be. He had questions and shared answers with the doctor. He naturally has a calm nature about him, but he's not afraid to voice his opinion. He likes to discuss things and this topic of Bryer was no exception. About half way through the appointment Bryer started getting fussy. I knew her cry. It was turning from 'I'm upset' to 'I won't be able to calm down unless I nurse.' Unconsciously I let her cry while I tried to sway with her and calm her down any other way. Jason and the doctor were talking and I was trying to pay attention. She got really worked up and eventually I had to sit down to cover myself while I nursed to calm her down. As she quieted, I realized how loud she had been. I hadn't realized the contrast until it was quiet again. I thought to myself, "Is that the demeanor of a Mom that shakes her baby out of frustration?!" Had the doctor noticed that I am okay with the crying? All but one of my babies have been colicky. If that's what they think - that I snapped - then wouldn't I be frustrated about the loud crying here in this confined room while I try to hear a conversation?
By the end of our appointment, the doctor felt good about Bryer being in our care 2 hours away from his office. He said it was good to know that she's with parents that know CPR and that we have experienced seizures with our older boy, so we know what to look for and what to do if Bryer has one, since she's still on preventative seizure medicine. It was also promising to him that Jason works from home so he would be close if I needed anything. The doctor felt okay with releasing Bryer to go home with us, with the expectation that Health and Welfare would still be involved and be investigating more. Is it strange that he expected Health and Welfare to 'investigate' more when this is clearly a medical diagnosis - his specialty. Of course, I didn't say anything and let Jason do most of the talking. I am just happy that we got the first okay to take Bryer home with us! I was in awe at how Jason handled the situation. Had I been the one to do the talking... well, I don't even want to know. I didn't want to be the one to bring up the question of taking Bryer home. I didn't want to risk being shot down.
The guardian ad litem has been harder to convince. She's been coming around, but she still really wants someone to 'supervise' us. The more she gets to know our family and the more she researches on her own, the more it doesn't make sense to her either. There's always those cases on the news of an abused child being returned to the home, only to have worse things happen. I think that's what she's afraid of, even though she wants to trust us and believe that we are innocent. I try to see things from her perspective and be patient for her to feel comfortable.
Our Health and Welfare case worker has really warmed up to Jason and I. She has admitted that we are not her typical family that she works with. She told us she's been impressed at the timely manner we've completed things in our 'case plan' (our list of 'To Do's' to get Bryer back). She said it is very rare for a family to work so quickly and have so much family support. She was a great advocate for us and I think there were some things said between her and the guardian ad litem to help them come to their decision.
They have allowed us to take Bryer home - under a few conditions. The main one is that they want someone to come in and 'supervise' me 6 hours a week. If someone would have sprung that on me out of no where, I would have thought they were ridiculous. A mother being supervised with her own children?! But since I've been 'supervised' for the past nearly 3 months 24/7, then 'only' 6 hours a week is a huge leap in the right direction! Funny how things are all relative! The guardian ad litem, as well as the case worker have also said they could pop in for a visit at any time once we are home with Bryer. Great! More the merrier! Like we have offered from the beginning - come to our home anytime. Come for dinner. Stay for the weekend. Stay for a week. We are an open book. It may not always be the cleanest, but there is no way we treat our children that I would ever be worried about someone else 'popping in' to see. It's something we've begged for from the beginning - get to know us as a family and you'll see! Still, no one has come to our house to even know whether we live in a shack or a mansion.
So, we started our search for a 'supervisor' that would volunteer 6 hours of their time each week to watch me with my kids. It's a strange thing to be on the lookout for my own babysitter. Lucky for us, our church is full of people wanting to help, so we just needed to get some names approved with our case worker. We chose 2 ladies to each come in 3 hours/week.
Home has never felt so good! It's so nice to have each of us under one roof. Eating at one table. Saying prayers together in person, not over the phone. We were able to do Bryer's baby blessing at church on Sunday. It just completed some things for us, emotionally and spiritually. We had hoped to do the blessing the beginning of December, but 3 of our older kids had chicken pox, so we opted not to have cousins and family travel up for it. Then Bryer was admitted to the hospital. One thing led to the next, and now she's 5 months old. The dress my Mom made her to wear when she was 2 months old, when we expected to bless her, doesn't fit anymore. She worked hard to finish a new dress for her just in time and it's beautiful! My Mom has used some of the extra fabric from my wedding dress in all of the kids' blessing outfits. The liner of Bryer's diaper cover came from that fabric.
|Trying to get a good picture of Bryer before church was... a challenge.|
|She's happy if she's being held or nursing. |
Doesn't she look like she could say, "Please don't take me away from my family!"
|One of my all-time favorites of Bryer and her Daddy... With all we have been through, she is such a blessing to our family.|
|We tried to do more pictures a few days later, when it was quiet, no chaos of getting ready for church, and she was happy|
I don't know what I was expecting when I agreed to have these ladies from church 'supervise' me. I thought maybe they'd sit on the couch and have a 3 hour conversation with me. Or just sit and take notes? I should have known better! The first time one showed up for her 2 hour time slot she brought a big bag of flannel board cutouts and entertained the kids and let them tell her stories with them. Bryer was fussy that day, as usual. Her poor little brain is on overload a lot of the time with so much new to take in and so many of her senses being stimulated. All the noise from 4 other kids, the 'new' house, the smells, even touch can be so limiting to her. On this day, I stood rocking her back and forth in fetal position to help her calm her nerves. I watched this sweet lady play with my kids in such a thoughtful way. And I tried to blink back my tears. Why, oh why, have I been so blessed with these people around me to help me get through such a terrible situation? The very suggestion of taking 4 hours out of their week was no big deal and they jumped at the chance.
The next time one of them came, she brought all the supplies needed to bake cookies with my kids while I rocked and nursed Bryer. They sometimes folded laundry or helped me finish up dinner. These early days with Bryer at home were very rough. She cried so much at so many things. A lot of my time was spent nursing her on the couch or rocking/swaying her in fetal position. I asked myself many, many times how I was supposed to be a Mom to 4 active kids while I had 1 baby that couldn't handle anything of normal life in our family of 7. How could I support my kids at basketball games or t-ball practice or help at the school or any of our normal activities? I couldn't take her to the store, could hardly make dinner without taking a break to calm her down, I couldn't fold laundry or wash dishes or any maintenance stuff that moms do. She was the happiest in a dark, quiet room being held in fetal position and swaying back and forth. Forget about deep cleaning anything! I felt like lots of times I sat on the couch nursing and pointed orders to my kids to tell them to stir the hamburger or where that clean pot needed to be put away or to please be quiet so Bryer could calm down. At ages 2, 4, 7, and 10 that's a lot to ask! On a day like one of these, I wrote this in my journal:
I have been missing my time with my older kids so much and feel like I am always asking them to do things instead of enjoying my time with them. Jason too. He works so hard for our family during the day and takes extra breaks to come back and see if I need anything. Bryer requires so much individual attention. I feel so bad for her when she cries. If she were my only child, I could stay busy 24/7 with holding her, rocking her, feeding her, calming her. But, she's not my only. She's my 5th. How do I make this work? I was praying about it this morning and then 'our supervisor' came this afternoon. Usually she plays with the older kids, but today she offered to hold Bryer. As I passed her off, Bryer wasn't very happy, but she took her to a quiet room and swayed back and forth with her just like I do. I had my arms free for about an hour to make dinner with my kids! We sang together and danced in the kitchen while we cooked. It felt so good to just have time with them and know that Bryer was in good hands. Jason could concentrate on work and not have to come back to check in to see if I needed anything. For an hour, I felt normal again. My spirit needed that so badly- to just have some normal mixed in to this craziness. Bryer went to sleep during that time and I didn't feel guilty that I wasn't the one that rocked her to sleep. I can't describe it any other way, other than healing.
I know it sounds silly that these ladies have made my life so much easier during their 6 hours a week, when really it was supposed to benefit Health and Welfare. Did God know I would need these circumstances during this transition back home? I'm thankful that I haven't fought against it, because it really does feel like an answered prayer through two extraordinary ladies. It just happened to come as a Health and Welfare requirement. Another reminder that God is in charge here.
|One of our first Sundays back home... Kids ready for church and Bryer not very happy, as usual|
Today something miraculous happened. We went to Jason's parents' for dinner. I love being with family, but Bryer doesn't like the chaos so much. There are usually over 20 people there at family gatherings and we have so much fun laughing and preparing food together. It was nice to know we were going back to 'visit' and not that we were living there. I was still feeling bad for Bryer though, knowing she would have a rough time with so much noise around. I planned to take her to an empty bedroom or another part of the house to help her stay as happy as she could be. I ate my food in another room where there were only a few others instead of all the kids and adults serving food and cleaning up. After dinner the adults were talking in the living room so I attempted to take Bryer with me in there. Kids were running in and out and I hoped that I could enjoy our visit and not have to stay in a separate room. Bryer didn't get fussy. I tried to play with her and she started giggling. In a room full of people, she started giggling! With kids in and out and so much stimulating her, I tickled her and she laughed! It was such a miracle that Jason's sister snapped a picture while she was laughing. It's not an instant miracle like healing a leper in the scriptures, but I'll take it. Who knows what kind of healing is going on in her brain?!
By the beginning of April we had fulfilled all our case plan requirements. Jason and I had fulfilled all the councilling sessions required, we had both proven our CPR certification, we had Bryer's crib in our room with a lock installed on the door for when she was sleeping. We had a baby monitor in place to hear her, we had subscribed to a type of Life Flight membership, in case our family ever needed to use that emergency service. Still, Health and Welfare was not willing to close our case. A document had to be signed that said we were admitting to being either neglectful or abusive parents. It seemed so absurd. Even after we have been through and shown - all wrongfully accused - that we were supposed to sign something that said we were guilty of all this. What happened to 'Innocent until proven guilty?'
In a meeting with our attorneys, we asked what would happen if we didn't sign. They said Health and Welfare could keep Bryer in their custody until she turns 18.
Even worse, in this same week, I was served child support papers. Health and Welfare was suing us for child support for the length of time she was with the foster mom and also in my mom's care. My Mom had made it clear that she didn't need to be paid or reimbursed for helping, but Health and Welfare still pushed for it. This is after we provided all Bryer's clothes, food, diapers, wipes, blankets, and anything else that was requested.
About this same time, my Mom's big freezer went out. She came to me and told me she needed to talk to me about something and hadn't known how to tell me.
When Bryer was transferred from the foster mom to my mom, she came with a large cooler full of my pumped breast milk. More than just an extra day or even a week. It was 1/2 a freezer full of the milk I had been giving to the foster Mom. She felt Bryer was less fussy on formula, so she didn't use my milk. She lied to me every time I asked her how the supply was going or if she needed more milk. Every time I woke up to my alarm instead of my baby crying, pumping in the middle of the night and while riding in the car and on my way to foster visit appointments - all that milk was stored. Every time I didn't have an appetite, but ate so I could make milk for Bryer. My sweet baby never got the most nourishing food she needed during her prime recovery time. Now my Mom broke it to me that the freezer had gone out and all that milk was thawed. Maybe it's silly to most people, but there were tears over 'spilled milk.' I needed to just cry out my frustration. Get it all out there. My disappointment. The one thing from myself that I could offer my baby had not been given to her.
Then as soon as it hit, I was over it. I couldn't and wouldn't let the choices of someone else drag me down. I wouldn't let this 'uncontrollable' influence the things I could control. There is always a positive side to things. Always. So I searched for that positive. I still have my milk supply for Bryer right now. Even though all that milk was wasted, I could choose now to give her the best. If I am doing everything I can, I have to believe that God will make up the rest.
After many meetings with our attorneys, we adjusted the wording on the document so that it stated that we were not abusive or neglectful parents. The way it read, we agreed that Bryer stopped breathing while in my care. We know that to be a fact. After many prayers and to our surprise, Health and Welfare agreed to also accept and sign the document.
The next step was to have our case legally closed by the judge. We met at the courthouse in a little room to prepare for court. As Jason and I sat at the table with the guardian ad litem and our case worker, the case worker turned to me and said, "Do you want to know my long term plan for you?" I had gotten to know her pretty well over the course of our case, but I still didn't want to have a 'long term plan' with her. I wanted to be done. She went on, "I would hope that you two would do foster care sometime in the future. Our system needs more families like yours." Tears welled up in my eyes. After all we had been through with her, she. saw. US.
Our 4-month case with Health and Welfare closed April 21, 2011 - the shortest Health and Welfare case either of our attorneys had ever seen! I believe it was by the grace of God that we received the case worker we did and that it closed as quickly as it did, although it seemed like forever.
Today I sat in front of Bryer's bouncy seat in my bedroom. I relaxed, knowing all of this was over and we could get on with life again. I gazed into her eyes and fell in love all over again. I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures to remember how good this felt. As I thought she was looking back at me and feeling the same, smiling, her eyes drifted ever so slightly. I lost her precious gaze. Her face was smiling at me, but her eyes were clearly not focused on me. I changed my expression, thinking it would bring her focus back to me, but it didn't. I moved my head to the side and she followed it, but didn't focus on my face. It was like she could see my outline, but not my features. The thought hit me like a wrecking ball to my heart,
'What if she can never see me?
What if she can't see what her own Mom looks like?
What if she never feels that spiritual connection I feel when I look into her eyes?'
The tears fell down my cheeks at the thought of it.
It's a blessing that God knows the whole picture of things and only gives us bit by bit as we are ready. If I would have known what I do today, I wouldn't have been able to relax for a bit after our Health and Welfare case closed. When God felt we were ready to handle it, He began a whole new chapter in our lives. Little did we know that the things we learned through Health and Welfare would only prepare us for more.