I’ve held on to this piece since February — just too raw and personal to post. But I’m ready now.
Termination. It’s such an ugly word. It usually doesn’t come with good news. Termination of a job. Termination of a pregnancy. Termination of parental rights.
My husband and I recently sat in on the termination of parental rights (TPR) hearing for our foster baby. Unlike most foster parents, clinic I know this birth mom, Elle*. I went through it all before with her first baby who I fostered and then later adopted. I love Elle. Without her, I wouldn’t have my sweet Maya. Elle has become like family to me — although we rarely have any contact. I keep up with her through her mom who we now lovingly refer to as Gran Gran.
Sitting down in the courtroom, I prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill the space, to reign over the proceeding. Elle walked in wearing shackles and a correctional unit jumpsuit. Still I’d never seen her look better. Her hair was combed and neatly styled. She was clean and well fed. She was not high. Jail is a good place to be when you’re dealt a bad hand like Elle.
She sat down not too far in front of me, so I said hi. She squinted (due to a blinding eye condition) and said, “Miss Stacey, is that you? Is the baby with you!?!?” I told her it was me and that indeed Baby Girl had been placed with me. She beamed with joy! She started asking me question after question about Baby Girl and how she ended up with me, and I answered as best I could. Then…
ALL RISE. The judge entered and the proceedings started. The attorney for child services began reading aloud a long list of every reason why Elle is an unfit mother. And even though they were all true, it broke my heart. Elle sat there with her head in her hands listening to every horrible decision she made over the past several months. She had to hear that she failed as a mother. I cried big sloppy tears. I hurt for Elle. But I also thought about how often I fail as a mother and how it must feel to have that become part of a court record.
After the attorneys were done, Elle asked to address the court. She sat on the witness stand and her anguish gushed out. She sobbed uncontrollably. My husband held me close. Once Elle gathered herself, she expressed in the most beautiful way what I’m sure every mother feels at times. She told the judge that she loved her baby very much, but that she knows that she can’t be a good mother to her. She owned up to her mistakes and shortcomings. Then in an unexpected twist, she pleaded for the judge to let me adopt the baby.
To top it off, the judge gave Elle a precious gift — she validated her. She told her that she is not a bad person; that she is a good person who just made mistakes. She said that we all have struggles, but that doesn’t make us bad people. It was truly beautiful.
And I thanked the Holy Spirit for answering my prayer.
*Name changed to protect her privacy.