Last week our family had wonderful news. Eli became an official member of our family as his adoption became finalized. We are excited and extremely happy that our family has grown and can’t imagine what life would be without his happy smile.
You may be thinking that the title of this post reflects that day we received the good news, but you’d be wrong. No, this post is about the day that we found out he might not be ours.
Even to this day there are things I can’t write about. Some because I want to protect privacy, some because I don’t know if it’s appropriate, and many things that we just don’t know. The following events took place in May.
I was at home with the kids and was in the middle of holding Eli while trying to feed Eva. The phone rings in my pocket, but I’m unable to get to it before it goes to voicemail. I see it’s our agency, and unsuspecting of anything bad assume that it was related to a thank you letter we sent. I’ll get back to them later. I place the phone down and it buzzes with an email, something else that can wait until later.
Later comes, and I’m able to pick up the phone to read the email. The email is from our agency as well, and it informs us that there has been contact about Eli. I place the phone down, unsure of what to think. We have done everything by the book, but should I worry about this? I believe nothing can take him from us at this moment as long as we continue to be good parents. Then the stark realization of the actual magnitude of the moment. There are very few things in the world as terrifying as someone trying to take your child.
Steph walks in from the garage. She had been off to get a massage to relax those mommy muscles. Instead of that relaxed momma walking through the door walked a mother tightened up by the steady stream of complex and often conflicting emotions flowing through her. Instantly you could see that there had been tears, there had been fits of anger, moments of trembling, and the essential mother need to hug her son.
Here is what we knew then about the call. A woman had contacted our agency to find Eli. She was the sister of a guy who had been associated with our birthmother before she got pregnant. She was saying her brother was Eli’s father. That was about it. The lack of information was maddening. It’s like getting a shot. You know that the needle will puncture the skin and hurt, but in this case we had no clue of what was in the needle.
The facts of our side of the equation were murkier than they had been a hour before. We had no hits on the father registry, a fact that was still unchanged. We had the surrender papers signed by birthmother and birth father 72 hours after his birth. While fairly certain about the first signature, the second signature was now less than certain.
There were many questions that had to be answered, and yet even to this day many of them remain unanswered. They include:
Why did the sister call the agency instead of the potential father?
Was the sister interested in raising Eli because of the potential blood relation?
Does she have any rights to him?
Does the potential father have any interest in raising him?
Does the potential father even know that she made the call?
Did the sister make the call as a proxy for her brother, or because she was upset with him not taking action?
Is it a ploy to extract some money from us?
Does the birthmother know this call has been made?
What is our next step?
Was there something we should have done but we didn’t?
Can we be sued?
Can we continue to keep bonding with him if we’re afraid we might lose him?
and of course the big question….
Who is Eli’s birthfather?
We knew about PBF (potential birthfather, I’m going to abbrieviate from here on) before. In fact, we had met him the year previous during one of our visits with Eva’s birthmother. When we had been contacted about potentially adopting Eli we had asked her if PBF was the father, and were told that he wasn’t.
This was reiterated by her throughout the preganancy and through this moment. She had no reason to lie to us as we would have loved him no matter who his father was and I think she knew that. So I was 90% sure that PBF was not the father.
We sat down, composed ourselves, and called our lawyer. He discussed the situation and our options with us. Those of you who have or have dealt with lawyers know all about how they are. They care about the law, they care about the facts of the situation, and they care about the things that influence a judge’s decision. What they don’t care about are everything else. For instance, they don’t care about the sister because the sister has no rights. At this moment, they don’t care if PBF is actually the father, they don’t care who is the father. They care that someone may try to bring litigation against us right now, at this moment it doesn’t matter if that person is the father or not.
There are two options for us. One, do nothing. Two, file our petition to adopt into court immediately. This typically isn’t done until later in the process because among other things it costs more to do it earlier and has no advantage usually. The reason we would do it now is because if there were any claims made in court against us, they would all go through probate court (we call it adoption court, but the judges perform other functions besides adoption). The advantage is that we don’t have to go through multiple courts and Eli’s case would be in front of a judge that specializes and knows the adoption laws.
At this point we still have many of those questions unanswered, of which we can now add these:
How much is this going to cost us in lawyer fees, etc?
How engaged is the PBF/sister? Are they planning to fight until they have no strength left or did they think a simple phone call is all they needed to do?
Do they have the means to put up a long fight?
Have they contacted a lawyer of their own?
Have they already filed in another court?
With the next steps laid out, we ponder the essential core of this situation. Who is Eli’s parent, who is Eli’s guardian, and who does Eli belong to.
After the discussion with our lawyer and some mad Google searches we can determine that according to the state of Ohio we are, and will be. There is a father registry that any PBF must register with within the first 30 days of his birth. PBF did not. PBF must have supported the mother (and thus the child in utero) and/or after birth until placed for adoption. PBF did not. Judges tend to follow the wishes of the birth mothers, and her’s (presumably at this point) was that he be with us because we will take good care of him and she will get to see him. So in the eyes of the law, we are probably going to take care of Eli. (Probably because nothing is 100%).
What gets more tricky is the ethical. Years and years and thousands upon thousands of terrible examples, men have generally let down the system and the children they are supposed to care for. Spurred by traditional beliefs that women take care of the children while the men work/play, men have let it happen to themselves. Deadbeat dad is far more common that deadbeat mom. Single mothers outnumber single fathers by large margins. The system has noticed, and over the years it has developed into a situation where the mother has the benefit of the doubt, and the courts doubt the father. Our PBF has to battle this, battle against the wishes of the birthmother and battle a stable home that will provide Eli a fantastic home.
It sounds like I’m making his case, but that’s not my intent. We’re in the situation, and in order to see it better you need to see it from PBF’s side of the situation. It seems like everything is against him, but I also failed to mention the self inflicted wounds. PBF must battle the laws he failed meet including failing to register, and failing to support. PBF potentially got someone pregnant that he wasn’t married to, or in a long term relationship with.
PBF also was (as we think we knew) unemployed and had bounced around different living situations. Everything was against him except for one thing: he was POTENTIALLY the biological father.
Let’s pretend for a moment that he is the biological father. Now we enter a much deeper discussion of the ethical solution. Are we in the ethical right to love and care for this child if a biological parent also wants to? This is such a deep topic that must discussed in it’s own post sometime, but know this.
There are biological parents who are incapable, unable, or unwilling to provide care for their children. Adoption is a beautiful answer to this problem, and in order for adoptive parents to give themselves fully to these children, there has to be some point early on where they are confident that the children will not be taken from them. PBF knew of the pregnancy, did not register, did not contact the agency on his own, does not have means to support a child.
We passed that point, and have given our hearts fully over to Eli. This cannot be undone.
We love him, and have cared for him from birth. We support him financially, spirtually, and emotionally. Screw it, I don’t care what Ohio says, we know we are his parents. PBF only claim is that he is possibly biologically related. This is not insignificant, but remember this as well. If Eli stays with us, he gets to stay with his sister, who we know for a FACT is his biological sibling.
While I sympathize with PBF potentially feeling like his child was taken from him (once again, we don’t know his feelings or his motivations), I know that he is ours and will fight with everything that I have to keep him. The law can only tell us who has the right to care for him. It can’t tell us we can’t love him forever.
While I was of the belief that we had done nothing wrong and we had nothing to worry about because everything was on our side, I was still beat down. Next we needed to call our parents to tell them the news. This had to be the first time I’ve made a call to break bad news. It was hard, even though the message itself wasn’t as terrible as it initial sounds. Yes there has been contact, but we should be fine. But we knew about the adoption world and how things work.
Once we finished our calls, we melted into the couch. Late at night and still we hadn’t eaten yet. I went to go get the only meal that was appropriate:
Tim Horton’s doughnuts and Arby’s shakes.
I brought “dinner” home and talked with Steph. I had the wind knocked out of me from this news, but I always held the belief that things would work out. I was always the optimist. Steph on the other hand does not work this way. I expect things to work and she prepares for the worst. She prepares for the worst and hopes for the best. And now, just days after giant leaps in bonding with Eli had occurred, she was preparing herself for his departure.
How do you prepare for something like that?
She evaluated the worst case scenario. They bring a case against us, we fight it and it goes on for months, maybe years. Then we lose. By then, he’s such a big part of our family that losing him may just destroy us. It is the weight of this potential pain that makes her think for a moment that if they take him now, it won’t hurt so bad.” But she also knows the truth. That it’s too late, that we’ve passed the point of no return of our hearts. That fact was obvious the moment she walked in the door and had to hold Eli. If we lost him at that moment, it would crush us. We’d spend everyday, waking up wondering if he had a roof over his head, praying at lunch that he had enough to eat, spend the afternoon wondering if he was happy, sitting dinner wondering if he was with those who loved him, and lying in bed wondering if he remembers us.
This is the harsh truth about this situation. There is no perfect ending, and there probably will never be one. While we will continue to care for Eli, there are people out there that wishes to but can’t. Can’t because they knew their limitations and wanted him to have the best care with us or can’t because the law says they don’t have the right. What is for certain is that we have an enormous responsibility placed on us by his birth parents, the state of Ohio and God above to provide Eli with a warm home, the best parenting we can offer, and more love than can be known.
This is the first of three posts (I think, I haven’t written the others yet), The Day, The Wait, and The Aftermath.