As I sit here on a plane to Kansas City in mid-October of 2012 starting to write this**, it is not quite yet time to tell this story. This will be more than a bit emotional for me, and I want to take the time necessary to make sure this is the best it can be. Some parts of this story have already been told, at least partially, in previous posts. Other parts of this story are being told here for the first time.
I will warn you now that this is a long story (it’s well north of 7000 words and stretching into 12 pages single spaced in Word as of January 14TH…just so you have a little perspective). You might shed a tear or two. I did living it and writing it. Go get yourself a beverage, a box a tissues and take a potty break. This will be here waiting for you when you get back. Remember, you’ve been warned.
The fact that you are reading this now means that enough time and events have passed that I am free to finally and formally introduce you to my daughter and recently crowned Princess of the Realm, Miss M&M, duchess of the fair and eternal kingdom of Texas, defender of The Queen and Castle Erickson in training, current drain on and future inheritor of the royal exchequer, worrier of cats and sole heir apparent.
So, with the introductions out of the way, let me tell you the full story of how M&M came to be our daughter.
First, I need to be upfront and say that this is very much a spiritual story for me and nothing short of miraculous in my opinion. Your opinion may vary. While I am by no means the most spiritual, righteous or religious person on the planet, I do consider myself to be a Christian and a person of faith. To borrow from the apostle Paul on the subject, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV).
The Queen and I had been hoping for children for a long time. We waited a couple of years after we married before starting to try for kids of our own. When The Queen lost her job in mid-2005, it seemed like that was God's way of telling us it was time to stop messing around and get serious about starting a family. We tried unsuccessfully for about 18 months before The Queen fell ill with what we ultimately referred to as the mystery illness. In the space of a few months, she went from being a strong, vibrant and athletic woman with boundless energy to a physically weak, bed ridden, subject to major seizures daily and was unable to fully care for herself.
Needless to say, we were scared, crushed, frustrated, sad and angry among other emotions. Our attempts to have children came to an immediate halt.
It took the better part of four years, endless doctor visits (most of which were not covered by insurance due to being "alternative") and enough money to buy a small house (I wish that was an exaggeration) to figure out what was wrong. We came to know and loathe the medical community intimately. There are only so many times you can be told that it’s all in your head before you get a little discouraged. Just because a doctor can’t look passed his training to find the real answer doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong. We have enough reliable documentation to prove that there really was something going on with her and it wasn’t just in her head that I can confidently say never assume that what doctor says is the gospel. They just might not be thinking hard enough or have enough experience to figure it out.
In 2010, we finally started to see improvement after resorting to some fairly unconventional treatment methods. Traditional doctors would scoff at some of the treatment methods we used as pseudo-science if they were being polite and outright quackery and fraud if they weren’t. My response to them is too rude to print. The bottom line is that it worked for The Queen, and that’s all that matters to me. After she regained her strength enough to become active again, we became perhaps overly cautious as we were both in our 40s by this time. With The Queen's recovery still fresh and fragile, we made the difficult decision not to resume efforts to get pregnant.
We talked about adoption. And talked. And talked some more. The cost to go straight, infant adoption is, frankly, insane. The lowest figure I saw was $18,000 on a sliding scale based on income. Our income at the time made us eligible to pay the bargain basement price of $25,000 if we wanted the privilege of waiting for some unknown woman to select us as the future parents of her unborn child. For international adoption, it’s even higher. I’ve seen cost estimates of as high as $56,000 for international adoption with no guarantees, and we’ve heard more than one story of overseas adoption scams.
It was a moot point though. We flat out didn't have the money to do it. Finally, in early 2011, The Queen started talking to foster care agencies about the possibilities of adopting children out of the state foster care system. We finally found an agency that would work with us on getting the required foster parent training completed despite our religious beliefs (most foster training is done on Saturdays which is a problem for Sabbath keepers such as The Queen and I).
The adoption coordinator at the agency we ultimately chose to deal with introduced us to the concept of foster to adopt. If you are interested in adopting younger children from the foster care system, foster to adopt is the only way to go. Most of the children available for immediate adoption in the foster care system are older children, children with behavioral issues or children with severe medical conditions. This is a function of the human nature as well as the nature of the system. In most cases, children are in the foster system for at least a year before they are available for adoption. So, that cute little baby you have your heart set on adopting will be a toddler before the child becomes available and you even have a shot at legally adopting them. Add to that the requirement that the child has to be in your home for a minimum of six months before you can consummate the adoption, and suddenly that baby is a minimum of eighteen months old before you have a chance to hear momma or dadda for the first time. Additionally, at least with our agency, families willing to foster to adopt get preferential treatment regarding placement of newborns and infants over families only strictly in the system to adopt.
So, by October 2011, we were fully trained, newly minted and officially licensed foster parents with the state of Texas. We had been poked and prodded, background checked, inspected, quizzed, interviewed and pronounced competent to handle kids. They obviously didn’t know me very well. I think they had pity on The Queen. We, in turn, had given the agency general guidelines of what we felt capable of dealing with and what we were looking for. It kind of feels like you are ordering a kid from a catalog or a fast food menu. “Between the ages of 0 and 7, no major medical/behavioral/sexual abuse issues, no drug babies or fetal alcohol syndrome, etc., yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.” It forces you to confront your inner self, your biases, your prejudices (are you willing to parent children of other “races”) and your beliefs in a whole new way. It's crass, demeaning and it was the only option available to us if we wanted a family.
Despite that, we were excited and eager to start the process.
In November, we received our first call for a placement which turned out to be a false alarm. It was for a little mixed race girl who was part of a larger sibling group which the agency was having trouble placing together. We were excited at first when we got the call only to be disappointed later in the day when we were called back to be told that they were finally able to place the siblings together as a group. Don’t get me wrong, we were relieved that the kids could be together as a sibling group. However, that experience and the associated emotions led to what can only be described as a moment of unsullied optimism following which I wrote the open letter to the child God had chosen for us. It turned out that I wrote that letter just three days before M&M was born.
The evidence of things not seen indeed.
From what we read in the medical records and what we were told later by the male bio donor [“MBD”] (now that their parental rights have been terminated, they are officially and legally no longer M&M’s parents and are merely her genetic donors) at one of the official meetings where he actually showed up, M&M was almost a stillborn. M&M’s female bio donor (“FBD”) had not had good results in her previous pregnancies with only one live birth (M&M's full brother) out of four other pregnancies. FBD was put on bed rest in the hospital about three weeks before the birth due to premature bleeding. According to MBD, FBD’s OBGYN doctor was supposed to come by on a Thursday to check on the status of FBD and M&M. For whatever reason (God's intervention I believe), the doctor decided to come on Tuesday.
What the doctor discovered still gives me chills to think about. For whatever reason, FBD's water had broken unnoticed and little M&M was in distress. The doctor performed an immediate caesarean, and she was born five and a half weeks early at a tiny, tiny four pounds nine ounces. M&M’s APGAR score was initially a 3 and increased to an 8 a little bit later. For those not familiar with the APGAR scoring system, 0 is basically a stillborn child. A 10 is a happy, healthy baby with no observable issues. For M&M to get a 3 initially means that she scored a zero on at least two of the five categories rated (skin color, pulse rate, reflex, muscle tone and breathing). Had the doctor waited two more days to come check and no one else at the hospital had noticed the problem, M&M would have died.
One minor side benefit of the method of her birth, M&M was spared from possible direct exposure to some of FBD's more interesting medical conditions. We will leave it at that.
The saga with CPS begins right after the birth. M&M's meconium (baby's first stool consisting of stuff ingested while in the womb via the umbilical cord) was tested and found positive for marijuana (an apparent result of FBD's self-medication). Fortunately, M&M suffered no withdrawal symptoms and had no need for detox as a result of her exposure to recreational pharmaceuticals in the womb. Because of that and the bio donors’ incessant arguing with each other and the hospital staff in the NICU (MBD had the nerve to throw a new car seat at FBD…imagine that), CPS was brought in by the hospital staff.
CPS was faced with the daunting task of deciding whether the parents would be allowed to take M&M home from the hospital. During this time period, the bio donors were making lots of competing allegations against each other. She claimed he was abusive, that he had charges pending against him for sexual misconduct with a minor (which was apparently true though the charges were dropped later), and that she was in fear for her life and that of her baby. He claimed she was verbally abusive, crazy and an unfit mother. CPS ultimately offered to let FBD take M&M to a Safe Haven shelter if she would leave MBD. FBD agreed and left the hospital with M&M three weeks after she was born.
Three days later, FBD called CPS and asked them to come take M&M so she could be with MBD. Let that sink in for a moment. She was free and clear with her baby. CPS was out of her hair. She chose to give up her baby to be with someone she says she was afraid of.
Crazy is as crazy does.
The next event in the series of what I believe are miracles leading to M&M's arrival in our lives involves the family that adopted M&M's full brother. The bio donors managed to run afoul of CPS in Utah following big brother’s birth as well (quell surprise). Apparently, there were drugs (No! You don’t say.) and a suicide attempt involved there. Boy brother was ultimately adopted out of the foster care system to a family in Utah.
One side issue with that is that when a family adopts from the foster care system, they get called when any siblings come into the system to see if the adoptive family is interested in the new child regardless of whether or not the family is still in the foster care system. The Utah family that adopted the older brother declined to take M&M.
The story of boy brother's adoption is a sore spot within the bio donor family. MBD indicated that they had felt pressured into relinquishing their rights and that they didn't know any better. That was a bald faced lie, as we have the records of the Utah case since it is part of M&M’s file. Their rights were terminated in Utah for the same garbage they tried to pull with M&M, and big brother was adopted out to his foster family in 2010. MBD’s cousin, who is the foster mother in another state that has been discussed briefly in other posts, made a last minute attempt to get boy brother. She indicated that the Utah caseworker was openly hostile to her, refusing to take her calls, etc. The Utah file states that she called after a certain deadline. It appears from the records that Utah spent a lot of time looking at getting FBD’s mother approved as a family placement. That didn’t happen for reasons we will discuss shortly. I do believe that this incident with boy brother is at least part of the reason that the bio donors are fighting the system in M&M's case. They feel that they were well and truly screwed the first time and are bound and determined to fight to tooth and nail against the system. The fact that they were doing drugs, trying to kill themselves, not working their services plan, leaving the state and generally abandoning their child doesn’t appear to have caused them to rethink their lifestyle or their own character.
Notice I said against the system and not FOR their daughter. Their actions speak louder than any words ever could. This fight they've been waging has nothing to do with M&M and everything to do with beating the system. This is ironic when you think about it. They could have beaten the system by simply not calling CPS back to come take M&M in the first place. They could have beaten the system again by simply completing the services plan CPS arranged for them.
To quote Ron White, you can't fix stupid.
Anyway, the Utah family declining a beautiful baby girl opened the door for a couple of newly minted foster parents in Texas to take custody of a three and a half week old girl weighing in at just 6 pounds and 9 ounces. I've written about M&M's arrival in other places. Needless to say, the excitement was tremendous. I don't think I've been more excited about anything in my life. Less than an hour after she arrived in our house, she was asleep on my chest and I was hopelessly and forever bonded to her.
What we were told initially about the situation with M&M's bio donors, that they were transients who were leaving the state making M&M a strong candidate for expedited adoption, quickly turned out to be inaccurate. Thus began the saga of the emotional roller coaster we have been on worrying whether we were going to be able to keep M&M. I don't think it is possible to put into words how it feels when you are given a perfect, beautiful little girl and are told you will be able to adopt her only to turn around and be told that you might not get to adopt after all.
Aside from the bio donors fighting the system, we also had to deal with other people trying to interfere with our calm. One incident in particular stands out.
As a foster parent, we are required to take any children placed with us for a medical checkup within 30 days of their placement in our home as well as any follow up treatment as necessary. It has to be with a medical doctor (as opposed to an alternative medicine practitioner) who accepts Medicaid as that is how the state pays for the medical care of foster children. M&M already had a couple of doctors following her case given her premature birth and concerns and complications arising from that. We chose to continue using those doctors since they were already familiar with her condition.
When it came time for M&M's initial round of vaccinations in early March (I think...my memory is a little fuzzy at this point...I know I was in a work related seminar and can track down the exact date, but it's not that important), we asked what we thought were intelligent questions about the safety of the vaccines and whether they could be spaced out instead of being given all at once in light of M&M's fragile condition at the time. Being the insurance guy, my concern aside from not making a healthy but fragile baby unhealthy by giving her little system massive doses of stuff to deal with all at once was how to figure out which vaccine was the culprit if something went wrong. The doctor, not the regular one we saw in this clinic and one who had no children of her own, refused to concede that there were any safety concerns over vaccinations and was generally and rudely dismissive of our concerns.
Then, the doctor called CPS over the vaccination argument claiming that we were withholding medical treatment from M&M. Can you say god complex? And people wonder why I avoid doctors like the plague.
Fortunately for us, we already had a gold star rating with the foster care agency and CPS by that point. They called us to find out what the fuss was all about. We explained the situation and our concerns, and the collective reaction from the powers that be was something along the lines of "Okay. We just had to call and check to make sure 'cause it didn't sound like something y'all would do."
In other news, that doctor left the clinic a short time later and word from the staff is that they were only too glad to see the door hit her on the butt on the way out. None of the other doctors or nurses there had any problem with spreading the vaccinations out.
Enter the cousin.
Around about late March / early April, we received word from the CPS case worker that MBD had a cousin in another state (the same one who made the last minute attempt to get big brother) who was interested in taking M&M. We were told that the cousin was a foster parent, and that she had been trying to get M&M since late December. This, of course, came as quite a shock to The Queen and me. The caseworker also said that the cousin was going to come to Texas over Spring Break to visit M&M.
The caseworker put us in touch with each other to arrange a time and place to visit. It was a little awkward to say the least. The day the cousin was going to be in town was a day I had to be out of town for business. So, unfortunately, I did not get to meet her then. The Queen handled the visit with her usual tact and wisdom, and all went reasonably well.
We continued to have some phone and text contact with the cousin after the visit. At one point, she told us she was unsure whether she really wanted to take M&M since she was already bonded to us. On the other hand, she felt that M&M should be with family. For our part, we assured her that we wanted M&M to know her birth family (at the least the parts of it that weren't crazy) and would even be willing to take trips out west to where they lived so they could see her as she grew up.
Things were quiet for a time until the April permanency conference at the CPS office. I'm pretty sure I wrote about that at the time, but I can't recall as I sit here typing this in a tunnel with no Internet connection. At any rate, the cousin attended the conference by phone and was adamant that she wanted to take M&M, that she had been waiting since December and why hadn't the case worker sent the home study paperwork to her state?
Immediately following the conference, the phone calls started. I called the ad litem to find out what her position would be under the circumstances. She was, understandably, non-committal. The Queen received a call from our caseworker wanting to know if we were going to fight for M&M. I still remember that call vividly. We were in the car heading north on Beach Street in east Fort Worth before having to turn around and go back to get The Queen's purse that had been forgotten at the CPS office. I remember telling the caseworker that we did not want a fight. I told her bluntly but politely that we only wanted to be the last ones standing at the end holding the baby.
I had no idea at the time how true that statement would turn out to be, but it seems to me that God heard the sincerity in our voice and the love in our hearts and blessed us for wanting to peacefully wait out the process.
That's not to say we didn't consider fighting if we felt we had to.
I need to take a moment to give a little information about the legal climate we find ourselves in here. Generally speaking, CPS in Texas gives birth families every opportunity to get their act together to get their kids back. If the parents are not viable either because they invented a brand new form of stupid or they just can't figure out how to make the right choices, CPS looks real hard for a viable family member and sometimes there idea of viable is suspect. Foster parents wanting to adopt are at the bottom of the list in order of preference. A foster parent can, according to the state statute regarding such things, file an intervention into an existing suit to terminate parental rights or initiate such a suit after the foster parent has had custody of the child for one year.
Fortunately for us, we are blessed to have M&M's case pending in the one county in Texas which has a court of appeals case which grants foster parents the right to intervene in an existing suit when they have had "substantial past contact" with the foster child. This is important because a court of appeals case is mandatory precedent for the county where the case originates meaning the courts in that county HAVE to follow the ruling in that case. Further, we are very fortunate to have the case involving M&M's rights pending before a judge who looks favorably upon the interests of foster parents when they have had "substantial past contact" with the child which court of appeals case did not define but which the court we are in has practically applied as anything more than six months.
So, with the cousin coming out of the woodwork, we found ourselves in the office of a family law attorney on Memorial Day Monday (it was supposed to be the Thursday before, but there was a scheduling mix up) to have an initial consultation regarding intervening in the case. The short of it is that the attorney went through the above analysis with us and indicated he thought our chances of winning were better than 50%. We left the meeting more or less decided we were going to retain him but wanted to go home, discuss the situation as a family and sleep on it before making a final decision. We were a nervous wreck that night because we had also gotten a call from the CPS caseworker wanting to come over on the day before we would have had M&M for six months, and we feared her being taking away from us before we had a chance to intervene. That fear was unfounded, but not for the reason we thought.
The Tuesday after Memorial Day dawned like any other day. I went to work. The Queen took care of the kiddos. I came home from work and started cooking dinner. Then, the phones started ringing off the hook. The cousin called The Queen's phone several times before trying my phone before finally sending a text saying she needed to talk to us right away. The Queen had her hands full with the kids, and I had my hands full with the cooking. So, it took us a while before we had a moment to answer the phone.
What happened next still makes me tear up thinking about it.
The cousin asked to talk to both of us at the same time. So, we put the kids in secure places, retreated to the office, closed the door and put her on speakerphone. The cousin tearfully told us of how she had been struggling with the decision regarding whether or not to take M&M and how she had been praying about the situation. She told us she felt she would be able give her a good home, but she also felt strongly that having a strong father figure was also important. She told of how she had been driving along when she suddenly felt that she knew what she needed to do. She pulled over and called us immediately to tell us that she had decided to back out of the running so to speak. She told us that she knew that M&M was bonded to us and that it was clear that we loved her very much. She told us she was going to have her home study denied. Her only condition was that the bio donors never know that she voluntarily withdrew.
Another little minor aside here. The CPS caseworker in the state where the cousin lives is a friend of hers. The home study was delayed on that end after that state finally got the paperwork from Texas as the cousin's case worker had been in a serious car accident, and it was unknown when she would be back to work.
We kept our word and didn't say anything about the cousin backing out voluntarily. Unfortunately, the ad litem screwed everything up at a court status hearing in June. It was the one hearing where both bio donors were present, and the ad litem spilled the beans in front of God and everyone. The bio donors looked like they had been hit upside the head with a two by four. They were clearly surprised and immediately began staring daggers at The Queen and I. Based on what happened later, it's pretty clear they thought we were behind the cousin backing out.
Shortly after the June hearing, we received word from the CPS caseworker that FBD’s mom had come forward claiming she had wanted the baby since the very beginning. Bear in mind that this woman lives in an upper Northwestern state and has never seen M&M much less been in contact with CPS about her until after the June hearing. The Queen and I were concerned about this development but much less so than we had been with the cousin's situation. It was clear to us by this point that the bio donors were grasping at any straw they could to try and manipulate the system. More on grandma in a moment.
Another hearing was held in late August. This time, it was for a motion to set court ordered services. The CPS caseworker had gotten fed up with the parents’ lack of progress on their "voluntary" services plan by this point and had had ample opportunity to get to know them for who they REALLY are. By requesting the court order the parents to complete a services plan, CPS was setting the stage for termination proceedings. In Texas (and most states I am sure), legal grounds are necessary to terminate a parent's rights to their child. I thought they had plenty of grounds; but, apparently, the district attorney’s office wanted something more solid on which to proceed.
So, knowing that the parents' compliance rate was next to non-existent, CPS had the court order the services plan as failure to comply with court ordered services is grounds for termination of rights.
There were a couple of other interesting tidbits that occurred at that hearing or just before it. First, I had to be out of town that day traveling on business. I had called our CPS caseworker to find out what to expect as an outcome from the hearing. During the call, she asked me if I had consulted with an attorney. The Queen and I had been very quiet on that subject with anyone at CPS as we did not want to risk them taking M&M away from us just for seeking legal counsel. Faced with a direct question, I answered truthfully that we had consulted an attorney but had not retained one yet. The caseworker surprised me then by telling me that she could not advise me what to do but asked if I was aware that we had rights as foster parents. I let her know that, yes, we were aware of our rights; but, again, we did not want to fight and preferred to wait out the process and be the last ones still standing at the end.
That little exchange bordered on the surreal as we had been through eight or nine months of the case worker constantly reminding us that they had to try and find a family member placement, not to get our hopes up, “now, y’all know y’all might not be able to keep her…”, etc. ad nauseaum. It was like, “Okay. Who the heck are you, and what did you do with our case worker?”
Then, just after the hearing which was held in the judge’s chambers as opposed to all the other hearings which took place in the court room, MBD’s attorney confronted The Queen in a very rude manner. In hindsight, we think she was trying to provoke a reaction. She basically walked up to The Queen and started the conversation by asking The Queen if she was crazy. The Queen’s response was a puzzled “What are you talking about?”. MBD’s attorney asked if The Queen had called MBD’s cousin and begged her to allow us to keep her and saying all sorts of stuff about the kind of life we could provide for her. None of which ever happened. We figure MBD fed his attorney a load of garbage to try and get us discredited somehow. When the attorney figured out that The Queen was not going to fly off the handle in a rage (as her client is known to do from time to time), she toned down the attitude a few notches and began to talk in a civilized manner with The Queen and our agency adoption coordinator. MBD’s attorney claimed that FBD was the problem in all this, and she felt that MBD would have a better shot at being found viable if he were on his own without FBD’s craziness keeping things stirred up.
The Queen and I had a good chuckle about that one after it was all over. Especially the bit about MBD being a viable parent in the absence of FBD. Knowing what we know now, neither of them is fit to parent children and probably never will be.
Shortly after the August hearing on the motion to court order services, FBD called CPS saying she was leaving MBD and that she wanted M&M back. As if they would believe her at this point after she had called them to come get her baby so she could go back to him back in December. Our CPS case worker confided in us that she flatly told FBD she was not getting M&M back, and there was nothing she could do about it. I thought that was a tad harsh. Okay, not really. I wish I could hear a recording of the call, but I can almost imagine exactly how it went knowing the case worker’s usual tact and FBD’s level of insanity.
Sometime in the days following the August hearing, the donors left the state and returned to Utah where they have family. I’m still trying to figure out how they scrounged up the money it would have taken to get from here to there. Otherwise, that news came as a tremendous relief to The Queen and I. The Queen was especially overjoyed as it meant she no longer had to take M&M to her weekly visits with the donors. In a way, it’s sad. They turned their back on their daughter and just walked away. Reviewing the case file records again, that is exactly the same thing they did with big brother two or three years ago. There seems to be a pattern of behavior there.
Finally, in late November, the trial on donors’ parental rights took place. The Queen, Mimi, our agency adoption coordinator were there early. The Queen and I dreaded the possibility of the donors showing up in person. I felt it was unlikely given the money necessary to make that happen for just one of them much less the both of them. We were relieved when the attorneys for the donors announced they were still out of state. MBD’s attorney did make a half hearted motion for continuance claiming he was out of state looking for work. The judge asked several pointed questions of CPS and the prosecutor regarding when the donors were given notice of the trial. The judge didn’t take long to deny the motion for continuance when it became clear that the donors had had ample notice of the trial date and made no effort to come to the trial.
After those preliminaries were disposed of, the prosecutor presented the case on behalf of the state and CPS. The main witnesses were the case worker and the investigator who was originally involved in the case. The attorneys for the donors called no witnesses on behalf of their clients. They made a total of three objections when testimony got into hearsay territory all of which were sustained and none of which had any impact of the ultimate outcome of the case. The attorney for MBD did not ask any questions of the witnesses. The attorney for the FBD only asked a couple of questions of the CPS case worker about access to bus passes.
After about 50 minutes or so of testimony, the prosecution rested as did the attorneys for the donors. The judge considered the matter for a few minutes and then granted the state’s request to terminate the rights of the donors. The judge did ask the prosecutor, the CPS case worker, the ad litem and the attorneys for the donors for their recommendations regarding M&M’s future, and all of them recommended that The Queen and I be allowed to adopt M&M.
That was a special moment. It should also give you a small clue as to what the donors’ attorneys thought of their clients. I honestly don’t remember much of anything that was said after that. I was too busy being a sobbing, ecstatic, relieved, gooey mess.
The judge ordered the CPS case worker to have the file transferred to the adoption unit at CPS by the end of the day. The Queen spent some time on the phone and via text with the case worker as she frantically got the paper work in order.
We talked about the possibility of an appeal. I wasn’t too concerned. The judge ran a fair trial with little to no appealable error. All of the donors’ attorneys’ objections were sustained. So, there was no error as to the donors there. The motion for continuance was denied; however, that was well within the judge’s discretion. A good attorney could draft an appellate argument on that point; however, a good attorney would also counsel their client that such an appeal would have a snowball’s chance in Hell of every succeeding. That leaves an appeal based on incompetent counsel or representation.
The attorneys for the donors were appointed by the state as they did not have the monetary means to retain counsel of their own. FBD’s attorney earned her bar card in 2009 and hung a shingle out as a solo practitioner. Generally, this means that she did not score high enough or network well enough in law school to attract the attention of an existing firm. MBD’s attorney was a similar situation; however, she had been licensed a year longer. I’ve been involved in civil litigation for over 17 years now, and I’ve seen great attorneys, horrible attorneys and everything in between. I don’t think the attorneys did a particularly bad job, but they certainly did not go out of their way to put on a vigorous defense for their clients. It comes down to two things: 1) you get what you pay for, and 2) you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Simple as that.
Another wrinkle in the appellate possibility prognosticator machine is the fact that the donors were no longer living in the state of Texas. There was some speculation after the trial that the donors’ residency status might eliminate their continued eligibility for state appointed counsel. In other words, they would have to shell out some cash to hire a lawyer to file an appeal on their behalf. Finding such a lawyer would be a challenge in and of itself. Good attorneys review the case facts (and the trial transcript in a case like this) and actually counsel their prospective clients regarding their chances of success on appeal. A great attorney would turn this case down stone cold, dead on arrival, and tell the donors to get on with their lives. A good attorney would advise the donors tell them straight up their chances sucked worse than a vacuum cleaner missing a motor but leave it up to them whether they wanted to pursue the matter further and throw good money down the drain. A good attorney would also insist on cash up front probably in the neighborhood of $3500 to $5000 depending on how experienced they are and how enthused they were about the case and their clients.
Moving right along, The Queen and I had a visit with CPS adoption unit case worker in early January. The Queen had had a visit with him in December, but I was unable to attend due to work commitments. It was a good visit. Our new case worker has been in the business for over 20 years. He knows his stuff. Somewhere during the visit, The Queen mentioned that we wished we did not have to wait out the full 90 day appeal period. The case worker looked at us and told us that the appeal period for the parents is only 45 days. The other 45 days is for CPS to locate and consider any other potentially viable family members for placement if the search has not already been exhausted.
The Queen and I did the proverbial double take, slack jawed “WHAT???!!!??!?!?!?”.
The case worker went on to say that the judge in our case usually releases CPS to proceed with adoption proceedings after the first 45 days are over with. The 45 day appellate period expired two days after our visit with the case worker. We discussed the best case scenario, and he advised that there were only a couple of steps left before we would be able to adopt M&M. First, we had to review M&M’s case file which included all the medical records, investigation records, legal records, etc. That file is two, three or four inch binders crammed full of paper. The second requirement we had to complete before consummating the adoption is to participate in an adoptive placement staffing meeting at CPS’ offices. The case worker did us a huge favor by going ahead and scheduling the adoptive placement staffing meeting for the week of January 14TH as he was going to be leaving the country for a month the following week.
As soon as the case worker left the house to get to his next appointment, The Queen and I hugged each with great, big, silly grins on our faces. The Queen broke out into a happy dance. I was too busy tearing up to do much more than continuing grinning like an idiot. We scooped up M&M and smothered her with hugs and kisses until she pushed us away so she could breathe. Then it was off to meet Mimi, who had graciously taken a little time off work to babysit Mini Me and The Banshee at the mall while we had our meeting, for lunch.
Following the visit with CPS, I went ahead and retained a family law attorney recommended by our foster/adoption agency to get started on the adoption paperwork.
The adoptive placement staffing meeting took place on Thursday, January 18 at CPS’ offices in a suburb of Fort Worth. The adoptive placement staffing meeting was the last step in the process before the petition for adoption could be filed and an adoption consummation hearing could be requested. The Queen and I arrived at CPS’ offices with M&M in tow about 30 minutes early. This gave us time to get her a fresh diaper and her mid-morning meal.
The meeting started right around 10:30 AM with a brief discussion with the CPS adoption unit case worker and his supervisor. The purpose of that discuss was to ask if we had received the case file (we had), whether we had had a chance to review it (yep, did that), and whether we had any questions (just one…how quickly can we get the adoption hearing set?). For our part, I advised CPS that no one knows M&M better than we do, and The Queen and I both stated emphatically that we want to adopt M&M as soon as possible. CPS confirmed that they would not be seeking or considering any other family member placement requests.
In other words, nothing else was going to stand in the way of us adopting M&M. Except, possibly, the end of the world. But, let’s not dwell on that.
After that brief discussion was complete, we had to go sign a mercifully small packet of forms…in triplicate…the main purpose of which was to officially change our status from M&M’s foster parents to her adoptive parents.
Of note, one of those forms we signed contained M&M’s new full name. It was the first time either The Queen or I had seen it on anything official. It was a very special moment for me. It really brought home the reality that this little girl really will be my daughter forever. The Queen later told me she felt the same way. She said she almost didn’t notice it at first since she was busy trying to keep M&M, who was squirming and trying to get free to go exploring, quiet. I had to try hard for the rest of the meeting to keep from tearing up. I did tear up later when I told Mimi about it. I am tearing up again right now trying to write about it.
I may be a big softie about this, but don’t mess with my daughter. Tears of joy won’t interfere with my aim. I’m just sayin’.
After the adoptive placement staffing meeting was complete, we were free and clear to adopt M&M on the earliest date we could get the adoption consummation hearing scheduled on the docket with the court. Our foster/adopt agency case worker made sure she sent the signed paperwork to the attorney as soon as possible after the hearing. With the completed file in hand, the attorney filed the petition for adoption on January 17, 2013.
Interestingly, The Queen and I received a notice from the court on Friday, January 18, advising us that a status hearing was set in M&M’s case for Wednesday, January 23. I immediately called the attorney’s office and asked his assistant if that hearing could be converted to an adoption hearing. She promised to get with the attorney and find out. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back from her on Friday.
Or Monday for that matter. It didn’t dawn on me until after repeated call attempts and one voicemail message that Monday was Martin Luther King Day. Courts are closed on MLK Day. Attorneys’ offices are too apparently. Who knew?
Anyimpatience, I was cooling my heels in a business meeting Tuesday morning when I could no longer take it. I called the attorney’s office again and caught the assistant just getting into the office. She confirmed for me that the adoption consummation hearing was scheduled for Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:30 AM.
That was less than forty eight hours away. Awesome!! Immediately broadcast a text with the details to The Queen, Mimi and My Sister…The Devil and waited for their response…. And waited…. And waited some more.
Grrr. This was seriously not the level of response that I expected. Mimi got a pass because she is a college professor and was in class. I knew that I would hear back from her when she came up for air. As it was, I got a hold her before she got a hold of me. My Sister…The Devil works as an occupational therapist for a home health company putting her behind the wheel for long periods of time. So, the lack of response from her was not surprising. The Queen is usually very responsive to texts even though she is herding three house midgets demanding her attention.
As it turns out, she was busy praying and didn’t hear the phone do whatever it does for her when she receives a text. When I called her a little later, her response was the following text exchange:
The Queen: Hearing Thursday for what?
Me: To adopt our daughter.
The Queen: WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!! Are you serious?????????
My phone rang moments later. The Queen cried. I teared up and fought crying mightly as I didn’t want my business associates to get any weird ideas.
Then I had to suffer through the rest of the business meeting on less than five hours of sleep (long story involving Mini Me that does not need to be repeated here). Or, I should say, attempt to make it through the rest of the meeting. By about 2:00, I knew something was wrong. I had a splitting headache, I was dizzy, my eyes wouldn’t focus well and I had the aches and pains that said go home and pull the covers over your head.
I told my boss the deal and headed for the car. I wisely took a 90 minute nap in the car before attempting to head home. When I got home I took my temperature. 103 degrees. We have a winner in the germ sweepstakes.
I blame the boy.
No, really. It’s his fault for spending all that time at school with cootie covered tricycle motors.
So, there I am just 40 odd hours before I am supposed to adopt my daughter, and I came down with something. For the second time in a month. There might have been fowl imprecations involving ducks uttered blindly to the wind. That, or I was hallucinating by that point.
I did what any self-respecting father to be does in this situation…I pulled the covers over my head and went to sleep after two Tylenol and a glass of water.
I don’t remember a thing until the phone rang at about 5:30 in the evening. The Queen had lost her keys loading the kids into the car to come home from the park. Down a storm drain no less. Daddy Hawk to the rescue with the spare keys. In hindsight, I should have done what we wound up doing when we got home which is to take my manhole cover key back to the storm drain, take the cover off and retrieve her keys. I could have saved myself an extra trip and been back in bed sooner.
Wednesday saw me at the doctor’s office. Doc says viral infection, take this stuff and go rest. Okay. What choice do I have when I’m still running a fever less than 24 hours before I am supposed to adopt my daughter.
As I told my boss, I was going to be there even if they had to prop me up and put a mask on me.
Adoption day dawned way to freaking early after The Queen and I spent a restless night getting things ready for an early departure and generally not being able to sleep very well. More so The Queen than me. Still being somewhat sick, I could have slept like the dead had The Queen allowed it (which she eventually did). We had to get Mini Me and The Banshee to another foster parent to babysit for the morning so we could have a peaceful ceremony of just family and make it to the court house by 8:00 AM. Through traffic.
I pulled into the parking garage next to the court house at 7:59 AM. Daddy Hawk is good.
I needn’t have worried. We found out later that the judge we were assigned to was late getting to the court house because of traffic. So, the hearing which was supposed to start at 8:30 didn’t begin until 9:15 or so.
We could not have cared less.
M&M was having a great time exploring the court room. She made a new friend with the court room deputy who gave a cute little stuffed bear. Her audience for the day was Mimi, Opa and Oma (The Queen’s parents), Renee (our adoption agency coordinator) and Rochelle (our agency case worker) as well as several people with hearing times following ours. M&M was dressed in a brand new white sailor dress with dark blue trim which Mimi bought her special for the occasion.
The hearing itself was mercifully short. Almost too short after all we had been through in the past nearly fourteen months. Our attorney called me as a witness and asked me line by line if the information in the adoption petition was correct. It was. Then, The Queen was called as a witness to verify that her answers would have been the same had she been asked the same questions. The attorney rested the case by asking the court to take notice of the testimony and evidence presented. The judge asked The Queen and I a couple of questions including “Do you promise to spoil her rotten?” Someone said, “we already are.”
Finally, the moment we had been waiting for, the judge said “It is my great pleasure to grant this adoption….”
I’m not sure exactly what she said after that as The Queen and I were both crying and smothering each other and M&M in hugs and kisses. I can check the video later, but that’s not the point.
The point is that she is ours forever. No one can take her away from us anymore. In my heart, I truly believe that God blessed us with this little girl, and that we are truly fortunate to have her in our lives. We were patient. We didn't fight (even though we were this  close to jumping into the middle of the ring).
We were the ones holding the baby at the end. Just like we said we wanted it to be.
** I hope this story has made sense. It was written over a period of three months. Most of the story was written months after the events described took place. Some of it was written as it happened while other parts of it were even written/outlined before the events happened and edited later. I’ve tried my best to keep past, present and future tense straight.