We were warned this meeting would be uncomfortable. And really, why wouldn’t it be? You put together a baby, the foster parents, the birth mom, and all the corresponding case workers in a room and talk about what’s going well, what isn’t, and what needs to happen next.
We walked into the room with Charlie screaming. We knew he was hungry, but we also knew we shouldn’t be late. We pulled out the bottle and were beginning to get set up to feed him, when a worker suggested that we allow the birth mom to feed him.
Oh yes, of course.
I walked over, carrying Charlie, and gently placed him into her arms. I went back to my seat and tried to avoid watching her. I could imagine she was just as uncomfortable as I felt. I avoided looking so I wouldn’t have to fight the urge to tell her how to do it the way we do, to hover, to give tips, to be the mother. I swallowed hard and tried putting myself in her shoes: being surrounded by the foster parents and then case workers. How could she not feel like everything she did was being observed? It made me cringe and I was even more determined to not plop her into a fishbowl.
“Now, let’s start with why Charlie came into care.”
I was quite curious to hear the case worker’s response, because to be honest, we didn’t really know the answer to this question. We had bits and pieces of a really broken picture and, quite frankly, we had filled in the gaps ourselves.
As the worker began talking, I felt my mouth get dry. She referred to the birth mother in third person, as if she wasn’t sitting right next to her. What a horrifying experience for her.
They talked about all of the worries the society had and all of the reasons Charlie had been apprehended right from the hospital. The list got longer and longer and longer.
“…lack of supports…”
They continued painting a fuller picture, leaving less and less up to our imagination. Yes, it actually was as bad as we had imagined. Or was it worse?
“… history of domestic violence…”
“…still investigating the death of a child…”
My eyes widened and my breathing got shallow. I set my coffee down, closed my eyes, and began telling myself to take deep breaths. I tried focusing on the rest of what they were saying– I tried forcing my eyes to follow the man’s handwriting, but all I could hear was “death of a child” over and over and over and over again. Yes, it was much, much worse.
When they finished, the facilitator turned to the birth mom and asked, “Do you have any questions or comments about the list of worries?” She lowered her eyes and her “No” was barely audible.
My heart hurt and I realized it broke for her. My protective, motherly instincts were itching to jump out of my chair and snatch Charlie right out of her arms, but my mercy-loving, second-chance championer side wanted to take hold of her hand and give it a gentle squeeze. The conflicting emotions roared within me, creating a dizzying effect of sorts. Fierce love and protectiveness of Charlie were at the forefront, but there was an undeniable compassion toward his mom beginning to stir in my heart.
But it’s easy to stand up and go on and on about the importance of second chances when it’s all hypothetical. Was I as devoted to rehabilitation and restoration and this hopeful optimism that I have always defended in the past? Could I look this woman in the eye and genuinely say, “I hope you get your child back?” Could I even picture a scenario in which I would ever feel comfortable with that? Did I believe it was possible? Could his parents ever be that rehabilitated?
I know the “right” answer in my head. Of course, people can change… but this kind of change requires a dramatic encounter with Jesus. Did I really believe it? Not just in the hypothetical, but in the here and now? Did I believe it with this woman?
We concluded the meeting discussing Charlie’s permanency plans. Plan A and Plan B. Plan A is always reunification with the birth parents. I stared at the whiteboard and actually had no idea how that was even being talked about as Plan A. How could all of these concerns be resolved within the short one-year window?
Charlie’s birth parents have a long, difficult journey ahead of them if they have any hope of being reunited. Our case worker doesn’t deem it likely; this assessment brings me an odd sense of peace. Charlie will probably not be returning home. And while there’s a sense of peace, I stagger under the weight of another blow, another tragedy. This mother will likely never have the privilege of raising her son. And this beautiful boy will likely never have a meaningful relationship with the woman who carried him for 9 months.