Sunday, October 24, 2010

Adopting Our Girls Against PA Objections

When I was 22, I got my first foster care placement--two sisters--Shannyn, age 6, and Elizabeth, age 5. It was supposed to be only a six month placement but it ended up becoming a three year placement instead. We had regular visits with the girls' mom and their four other siblings who had been split up into different foster homes. I had tried to keep a sort of emotional distance between myself and my girls, dreading the day when they would have to go back to their mom. As time went on, though, it was harder and harder not to become emotionally attached. Of course I know NOW that keeping that emotional distance was not healthy, either for my girls or for myself--but at 22, that's what I thought was the wise thing to do. Anyway, time passed and I was so distressed about the girls going back to Philadelphia, that I decided to strike up a closer relationship with their birth mom to see how she would feel about us adopting the girls. I had already talked to our caseworker about the possibility and she told us that the state (PA) would not be in favor of a cross-racial adoption. I asked her, "So, what if their mom can't get them back? Are you going to look for a black family to take them even though they are already attached to us? Or are you going to leave them as foster kids until they turn 18?" She was young like me and didn't really have any good explanations--only that having white parents adopt African American children caused identity problems with the kids, etc. and that the state frowned upon it. This was why I decided to go straight to their mom. She and I talked several times on the phone and I let her know how crazy we were about Shannyn and Elizabeth and how it was going to be so difficult for us and for them when they had to leave and go back to Philly.

For all of the issues Shannyn and Liz's mom had, she did care about her children a lot and she knew that she was limited in how she could raise them--especially having six children to care for. She wanted to see which of the foster parents would be willing to adopt her kids--but she didn't want to sound like a horrible mother who didn't want her kids back. So she made up a story, telling us that she had Leukemia. She told me that the doctors weren't sure if she'd get better, and that she wanted to know if we would adopt Shannyn and Elizabeth. I really didn't know whether or not to believe her story, but I knew that even if she was lying, she was doing it because she wanted what was best for her kids. We were ecstatic and told her that of course we would adopt the girls. So she signed over her rights to us, thereby taking them out of the foster care system completely. Unfortunately, none of the other foster parents felt they could adopt the children, so a couple of years later the other four kids were returned to their mother.

The state no longer had the right to tell us whether or not we could adopt Shannyn and Elizabeth. We had the legal rights and could proceed with adoption as soon as we wanted. But there was still one little issue to work out--the finances of paying for both adoptions.

The Financial Miracle The state wasn't going to pay, so we had to hire a private lawyer, but it was going to cost around $2,000 per child. So we let several months go by without doing anything. This was a bit nerve racking because we knew their mom could change her mind at any time and take them back. But back then, it wasn't like today, where you can just give the attorney your credit card number. We needed the cash and we didn't have it. One night I decided to get serious about praying for the finances for our adoptions. I sat before God and told him, "God, I know that you can easily provide the money for us to adopt Shannyn and Elizabeth. I know this is your will and you see that we don't have the resources to do it on our own. Please God, send the finances..." And then I proceeded to give him several ideas of ways in which he could provide the money we needed. I suggested having some anonymous person send us a check in the mail; or someone could put the money under our front door; or someone from our church could make a donation, etc. etc. But the very next day I was shocked and humbled to find that God had his own plan all set up. When my then husband got to his office at Merrill Lynch, he called to tell me about the amazing answer to prayer he found sitting on his desk. It was a letter from Merrill Lynch headquarters to all Merrill Lynch employees and said something to the effect: "In an effort to encourage families, for any Merrill Lynch employee who wants to adopt, Merrill Lynch will contribute up to $2,500 per child to cover adoption expenses"!! Wow! What an amazing answer to prayer--not any of the ways I had "thought up" but all in God's perfect plan!

Committing perjury in the courtroom....We contacted a lawyer right away and started on the paper work. Because the girls' fathers hadn't signed over their rights, notices had to be put in the papers to the fathers, stating our intent to adopt, allowing them to make objections. The girls' mom had lost contact with Elizabeth's dad, but Shannyn's dad still visited their mom occasionally and saw the girls. About a month before the adoption, one such visit took place. The following month we were sitting in the courtroom. The lawyer first called up the girls' mom and one of the questions he asked her was "Has either father been in contact with either of the girls in the last six months?" Under oath she answered "no." I didn't know why she did that, and I didn't know what would happen when the next person went up and told the truth. Shannyn was called up next, and when the lawyer asked her if she had seen her biological father in the last six months, she also said, "no". Now I was even more nervous, and I couldn't believe that Shannyn had flat out lied to the judge!--I knew they were going to call me up and I would have to tell the truth--was that going to throw everything into confusion??? My then husband, Chris, was called up next and when asked the same question, he also answered "NO"!!!! I couldn't believe what I was hearing--he was the type to never tell a lie. He KNEW they had seen their biological dad just about a month before. I was so nervous and praying to God to help, because I knew there was no way that I would lie under oath. Was I going to get the others in trouble for lying? I had such a sick feeling in my stomach. But God intervened when the lawyer told the judge "I see no reason to have Lisa come up and answer questions." And the judge, to my great relief, agreed! After the court hearing, I asked all of them "Why did you guys lie under oath like that?" The mom's answer was "I was afraid that if the judge knew that the girls had seen their dad, he wouldn't have let you adopt them." Shannyn's answer was "I thought I had seen him within six months, but when my mom said I hadn't, I figured that the visit had been more than six months ago." And Chris answered, "Well, I thought they had just seen him recently, but when both their mom and Shannyn said 'no' under oath, I figured that I had misunderstood and that in fact, they hadn't seen him last month." LOL. After that stressful event we all went out to eat together and a couple of days later we had a small adoption party with the family.

The first difficult transition we had to make was in having our girls call us "mom" and "dad" instead of by our first names. When you're used to calling someone something for three+ years, it's awkward changing that, but we kept reminding them, and soon enough it was like they had called us that all their lives. I now felt like I had some catching up to do on bonding with my girls. Had I known when I first got them that they were going to be mine forever, I would have allowed my heart to love them and nurture them like my own flesh and blood instead of being reserved in my emotions. Home schooling really helped us to draw closer to one another--being together working on things every day all day long created more oneness between us, though it took a while to feel like real mother and daughters, I honestly know that my heart towards them now is no different than had I given birth to them. God has been gracious to adopt us into his family--the Bible even says that he has made us "joint-heirs" with Jesus Christ. That's pretty amazing if you think about it--God has made us to be his "real" children just as Jesus is his Son!

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