No one sits behind their desk and says “Lets emotionally scar a child”.
No one speaks out in a courtroom and tells a judge, “Your Honor, we need to ensure this child ends up with RAD.”
No one sits at your dining room table and says, “We really ought to set this baby up for complete emotional failure in life.”
In foster parent circles, you hear a lot of people saying, “The system is so broken! It must be fixed!” And indeed it is broken. Like the public school system, it is a one size fits all path. So while slight variations may be made here or there, it’s designed to work for the average case— whatever that is.
In my county, young children are not supposed to end up in the system terribly long. This is a good thing. But what is supposed to happen and what does happen are two different things. A child whose life hangs in the balance. A baby who has formed attachments to people other than their parents for months or even years, suffers from the instability of belonging nowhere. An older child passed from home to home, racking up a line of diagnoses and worsening behavior with each disruption. A teenager, ready to age out, with no real hope or plan of what comes next.
So we should speed up the process, right? Well, if we reunite these children too quickly, their parents will fail. Often times, parents have a long history of struggles to overcome in a short time. Addiction, mental health problems, abusive tendencies, and the like cannot be fixed with the swish of a wand. These hurdles can take a long time to overcome. We set children up for failure and re-entry into the system, we risk their physical and mental health, and sometimes we risk even their lives by reuniting too soon.
But, if we terminate parents’ rights too quickly, we needlessly rip families apart. This leads to resentment on the part of the adoptee. We see depression, RAD, we see regret, we see that a family may have been reunited if the parents only had more time. We see two families worn down and broken.
So what’s the fix? How do we “reform the system!”? I don’t think there is an answer to that. Call me a pessimist, but there is no fix that would work in a one size fits all system. The system, “broken” though it may be, is the most effective formula for the middle cases. The ones on top and the ones on bottom get the short end of the stick, but there simply has to be a middle of the road procedure they slap on every case.
Individualizing every case would be ideal of course. But this would require so much more manpower, so many less hard and fast laws, and so much more personal interpretation of the rules on a case by case basis by the decision makers. While that sounds great, it is, of course, a lawsuit nightmare waiting to happen. You terminate the rights of one parent at 3 months into the case, give others 6 years, and you’re asking for revolt.
So what happens? What happens is you sit awake all night with a screaming baby on visit days who is torn apart by anxiety because you left her with a stranger for a few hours. Except that stranger is her mother. You have a little boy, so shaken up by instability that he eats obsessively, hoards food, and steals more for later, because it’s the only thing he can control. You have a preteen girl punching holes in walls, completely conflicted by the stability she gets in one home, and the love she feels for her mother— no matter how unstable her mom’s home may be. You have an adolescent boy shooting up heroine to stop feeling the rejection he has felt from being bounced around home to home for the majority of his life.
So, no. There are no lawyers asking to inflict RAD on a child. There are no social workers providing drugs for foster youth. There are no judges sentencing small humans to a life of depression and instability— but it’s still what’s happening. Fix the system? I don’t think you can.
Sound bleak? Yeah. It is. I’m worn out. I’m weary. I’m tired. I’m wrecked. What can I do? What can you do? If we can’t save the foster care system, how do we make a difference?
By taking the punches— sometimes literally. By being a child’s rock to cling to when they’ve been shipwrecked in a stormy ocean of instability. By praying for that baby while you rock him, since he is too small to understand why he is so scared of visit days. By advocating for resources when you are personally tapped out, and that young lady needs clinical help. By not giving up on the child— even when you’ve given up on the system.
You cannot control the system. You cannot control the parent. You cannot control the judges, lawyers, and social workers. You cannot control the child sometimes. But, you can control the conscious decision to keep going.
So. Tired though we may be. Exhausted. Wrecked. Jaded. Bruised and broken. Soldier on. Keep going.
After 6 years of discussing it, 4 years of deciding to do it, 1 year of going through classes, background checks, paperwork, and fingerprints, Milkman and I got the call to become Foster parents. The last week and a half of my life has been so exhausting and such a learning process. It brings more emotions each day than I normally experience in a month.
Thankfully, we expected uncertainty, we expected to work through a lot of emotions, we expected to be exhausted having 5 children aged 4 and younger… But one thing I didn’t know I would feel is intense love and compassion for the mother of our Foster children.
There are so many horror stories of biological parents who get their children taken away and put into foster care. There are parents who truly don’t care about their kids, parents who abuse their kids, and parents who grossly neglect their children. Many of those stories are sad and real. These are the stories that made me want to become a foster mom as a teenager, so I could help remove a child from a scary situation.
However, in my VERY short time as a foster parent, I’ve come to the realization that some (hopefully many!) mothers whose children get placed in foster care are not so far gone that they are not in shambles at the thought of their precious babies being handed over to complete strangers. I don’t know the parents of our placements. I don’t know their ages, what they do for work, or what kind of struggles they are going through. What I do know of most parents whose children end up in foster care is that things got tough enough in their lives that someone needed to step in to help out while they get the right things into place.
I am not the hero. The parents of these children are not villains. We are not fighting some war on opposite sides of the battle field. We are, in fact, on the same team. We are on the same team as their children. We all want the same thing: for their children to be healthy, happy, and safe.
When I hold these sweet children close to my heart and sing them bed time songs, I think of how their mother must be wondering who is tucking her babies into bed. When I push one of these children on the swings and hear them giggle, I think of how their mother must miss that sound. When I look into their eyes, I wonder if they look like their mom or dad did as children, and think of how I’m staring at a piece of this mother I’ve never met.
How her heart must ache. How empty her arms must feel. How many tears must her eyes have shed…
When I put myself in her shoes, I imagine her desperation, fear, love, and yearning to feel complete again.
There may come a day when we have children in our care who have been in truly deplorable circumstances, and whose parents I struggle to love. But for now, I’m so glad that God is teaching me to practice empathy for these people I have never met.
I wish I could tell the mother of these children that her treasures are safe, and hug her when she cries. But for now, I’ll just keep holding these little ones close for safe keeping, until she’s ready to hold them safely again herself.
I really recommend avoiding non-positive birth stories when you are pregnant. I hate setting people up for fear. If a non-positive birth story will trigger you or cause you to fear birth, please pass on this for now, and instead go pay Birth Without Fear a visit.
I have been avoiding writing this and posting it for several reasons. One of those reasons has to do with my own trauma surrounding Peach’s birth, I’m actually nervous about re-living it right now to write it. The other is because the community in which I live has a very tight knit birthing, baby wearing, and breastfeeding circle. I am thankful for these wonderful women, but many of them have had such different experiences from my own using the same care providers, and I am anxious to post this for fear of extradition from these circles because of their loyalty to the care providers I chose.
If you know me, or have read much of my blog, you know this to be true: pregnancy is unkind to me, labor is an enemy most cruel. In spite of this I am obsessed with babies, and just this week told Milkman how much I miss the feeling of contractions. I have real issues.
After losing Ezra, Milkman and I were elated to be pregnant. The anticipation of our rainbow baby kept my head above water through the insane amount of appointments I had, doctors I visited, specialists I tried out. It kept me hoping when the pregnancy threw my body in a blender and spit me out, leaving me to hobble with a cane, til I resorted to a walker, and right up until I succumbed to a wheelchair. Though pregnancy and its disabling effects on me were unescapable, I was determined to have a better birth experience. I had difficult back labors with Captain and Mamitas. Captains labor clocking in at 34 hours and Mamitas at 24. I just can’t seem to progress past 5cms and I stay there for hours and hours til my body goes into crazy person exhaustion mode. Its at that point where I will go for an epidural– only to have them fail. Every. Time. This time, I had decided would be different.
We saved and planned so that I could have a birth center birth this time around, wondering if a different environment would help me to progress better. I also had some trauma surrounding delivering at the hospital where I delivered Captain and Mamitas… Because the last baby I delivered there was dead. My sweet Ezra.
We were planning on going with who seemed to be the most respected midwife in the county. I will refer to her as HMF for Head MidWife. Turned out we couldn’t afford her. She recommended a doula that worked with her. We met with the doula and she informed us she was training to be a midwife (Lets call her DMF for Doula MidWife) and could offer us half off at the birth center as our midwife, with HMF watching over the birth as well. The price was right. In fact it was JUST right. The exact monetary amount we had set aside for a birth center birth.
Pregnancy progressed, I had some moderate risks due to losing Ezra, my MTHFR, my SPD, and so I saw my medical midwife (I’m gonna give a huge shout out to Margaret “Peggy” Colby at Kaiser!!!! She is one of my favorite care providers ever), an OB, a Perinatologist, and DMW/HMW during my pregnancy. (This does not count the chiropractors, acupuncturist, physical medicine doc, and physical therapist I also saw during my pregnancy! Can you say APPOINTMENTS??). Milkman had finally agreed to let the baby’s sex be a surprise after refusing my request for my other kiddos. I was elated, and this made my pregnancy and its pain seem all the more tolerable. Everything was seeming awesome, apart from the pain til my 36 week appointment. My perinatologist, who was very sweet by the way, knew that gender was supposed to be a surprise. HMW and DMW told me I needed to ask the medical side of things for baby’s measurements. As it is, I was uncomfortable with even knowing percentiles because of how off they can be. But as they were insistent I went to the medical Midwife, Peggy, to ask to see what the perinatologist had recorded for baby’s stats. As we scrolled past her notes, she listed the baby’s gender in the chart. I held it together in the office but when I got to my car I cried. Hysterically. And continued to for the remainder of the day. I knew this didn’t change anything, I was still having a baby, I was still excited, I didn’t really care what was between my baby’s legs, but I was so disappointed for the surprise to be ruined. We decided not to tell anyone else that we knew, but it was incredibly difficult to have gone that long without knowing only to have it ruined. This was my first downer leading up to my birth.
Once I was full term, I was aching to get my little baby born. I am a huge believer in trusting your body to birth when it’s ready. However, when you can’t get yourself out of bed in the morning without help, and need a walker or wheelchair to get around because of the pain you are dealing with from the baby, it’s hard to wait.
The week before I was due, I checked in with DMW who informed me that she had attended many, many births in a row. Most midwives and doulas have a cap for how many patients they care for in a period of time, but because she was working as both, she essentially had double the case load. I told her I was having contractions and after telling me that the babies had tried to kill her (just too many births in too few days) that we should have “none of that”. After trusting her and liking her during my prenatal care, I all of the sudden felt very nervous. Why would she say that? Was I an inconvenience? Would she collapse from exhaustion at my labor? Would she be able to hold up her end of the bargain? I had one of my weird atypical migraines I get with pregnancy the next day. It acts like a stroke, and I lose the ability to move and feeling in half my body, as well as my vision, hearing in one side and I cannot speak clearly. I checked in with her and once again she seemed hesitant about my ability to birth at a birthing center, even though the OB on call at the hospital spoke with her and gave her the OK.
This should have been my sign to back out, but I felt like we had already paid too much money and I was afraid of disappointing people (my own made up fear) by not going through with it, so I shut up that voice in the back of my head and continued on.
(Here is the log of what I wrote in real time during my labor).
October 4th, was here. My EDD. Sunday morning. I woke up to a big contraction at 8:20am. Captain and Mamitas ran into the room to tell me daddy had made apple crisp for breakfast and to get out of bed. I sat up and felt a small gush. I went to the bathroom and saw I had some show, and put a pad on. We went to church, and I brought a chux pad to sit on in case of membrane rupture in church. I had a feeling this was the day I would go into labor.
I got home and had a surge of energy and stamina. I scrubbed the bathroom. Nothing worse than laboring in a dirty bathroom. I even took the shower drain apart and bleached it! I wanted this labor to be perfect.
I had Milkman take a full body picture of my, thinking this would be my last day pregnant. I sent him to the store for gatorade and ice. I sat down on the couch to watch Call the Midwife, and and eat a snack and I felt another small gush. at 2:15, a HUGE gush. There went my waters! I hobbled to the bathroom to get cleaned up and texted Milkman to let him know. I had never had my membranes rupture spontaneously and never before labor. No contractions. I got nervous for a little bit, but I decided to remain positive. I got on the ball and was hula moving back and forth in hopes to make something happen. When Mamitas woke up from her nap, I asked if she wanted to nurse, hoping that might get things moving, her response was, “I want to nurse FOREVER mama!” And so we nursed for what seemed like forever.
I kept in touch with DMW via text and Milkman installed the carseat while the babies and I paced the backyard and then came in to make some chocolate chip cookies! It started to rain. Odd for October in California.
We fed the kiddos dinner and cuddled a lot. My mom came to get the kids in case I went into labor. (I wish I hadn’t done this. It caused a huge upset in my mood, I missed them so badly I couldn’t keep it together emotionally).
Milkman took me out to dinner and we came home to get some sleep. STILL no regular contractions. DMW told me that contractions would likely pick up in the night. But they didn’t. They stayed erratic.
Monday morning I woke up and cried. Where were my contractions? Why did I let my babies go last night when I needed them close? DMW told us to meet her and HMW at the birth center to test to make sure it was amniotic fluid I was leaking and to talk about a course of action. The test was positive for amniotic fluid. They sent Milkman to the store for sprite and castor oil, and set me up with an IV of antibiotics. Unfortunately, DMW couldn’t get a good vein anywhere except antecubital, and that’s a crappy place for an IV. The antibiotics burned, as she had the drip too high. HMW seemed peeved with DMW and I felt even more nervous about birthing with this team, but I was determined to take it back to a positive. The castor oil began working its effects. I threw up most of my pregnancy and had nausea throughout. Nothing like how awful castor oil makes you feel. I would ask for pitocin a hundredfold over castor oil if I were to do it over. It was awful. HMW told us to go walk, but I was terrified to get too far from a restroom. We attempted to walk the mall, and my memories of walking the mall are like a cloudy nightmare. Intense nausea, intense contractions, aching back, aching and tired body. We went back to the birth center.
Contractions stayed steady, but I wasn’t progressing. At one point I was crying for my babies and DMW came in and said in a strangely unfamiliar tone “You need to get that out of your system, crying like this is going to stall your labor. Stop focussing on your older two children and focus on getting this one out of you.” At this point I was shattered. Had I been allowed to display my emotions, I would have felt better about progressing, but because I had been shut up, my walls came up, and I felt like I had made the wrong choice to birth with this woman. Even still, I refused to vocalize these feelings to Milkman or to myself, because I wanted to remain positive. I dried my tears and tried to lay aside my mistrust for my care providers. Hours passed. Contractions became erratic. I walked as much as my aching, hobbling body would let me, willing my body to progress. Reciting scripture, praying, singing hymns.
I was checked so many times. I was under the impression that you should not be checked often with ruptured membranes for fear of introducing bacteria. Every time I hesitated at a check I felt like I had to.
After a very long time, I asked why I wasn’t allowed to go into the birthing tub to labor since my back labor had kicked in. With hesitation I was allowed to labor in the water (this was the number one reason I picked this birth center, so I could labor in the bath). The water was warming and comforting, but I could hear HMW and DMW talking about me in the other room in hushed tones, and I couldn’t block it out. I felt so awful. They were tired and not offering the support I had hoped for. At 2am I told Milkman I was scared. HMW came in and said very forcefully during a back contraction “If you are scared you should not birth here, you should transfer.” I wanted to scream. I was scared because I was scared of having to transfer and lose out on alllllll the money we paid out.
At this point I faced the women who were supposed to be supporting and comforting me and asked for them to be realistic with me. I had been ruptured a long time. 36 hours. I was stuck at 5cms and had been for a very long time. How realistic was it that I would deliver at the birth center? HMW was honest with me at this point (for which I was very grateful). She told me that likely I needed pitocin to progress as well as a pain reliever so I could sleep. I had been awake too long, my body was too tired. It was time to transfer. They checked me for the umpteenth time. Still a 5.
We got to the hospital just a block down the street. DMW said she would meet us there, and though I didn’t want her to, she had agreed to taking the role of a doula in the event of a transfer and I needed someone to help Milkman help me through contractions. She got there and her demeanor seemed one of someone who is apathetic. The nurses insisted I have yet ANOTHER check. I refused. I was told I would not be given pitocin or meds until I was checked. I looked at my DMW hoping for some support, she gave me a “Well, what are you gonna do?” look and began scrolling through her phone. I wanted to scream “HELP ME.” but I was too busy breathing through contractions. I finally agreed to a check. Epidural was placed. Epidural failed. Second was placed. Second failed. Pitocin was kicking my uterus into high gear and there was no relief. Though the epidural was placed, it was leaking into another part of my back, so no pain relief was brought but it was still being pumped into my body. I have very low blood pressure normally, so at one point the nurses came in and told me I needed ephedrine for low blood pressure. Through a contraction I tried to inform them that my BP is always low. I looked at DMW for her to speak up and let them know that my whole pregnancy she would joke with me about this very fact. I said “No… ephedrine. Please. Its… normal. Low blood pressure. NO. NO. NO!!!!” and it was shot into my IV. Here I was. I was becoming one of those stories where the interventions keep piling on top of the other. I looked at my DMW and she gave me a look again, unsympathetic and went back to her phone. Hot tears seared my cheeks. I was so angry. I told DMW she was free to leave. She kept refusing to. I asked her to get food or go take a break, and though she seemed like she would rather be getting a root canal than stay with me, she kept saying, “No, it’s okay, I’ll stay.”
Finally another anesthesiologist decided to give the epi a try. He told me my scoliosis curved right where the epi was supposed to fit, so he eyeballed it to the right and got it in. It offered temporary relief and I was able to sleep for a while. Milkman passed out, DMW passed out at my feet. I woke up once the epi stopped working to breathe through my contractions. I stared at sleeping DMW with tears in my eyes. I wanted her gone so badly, but I didn’t want to be rude. I could slap myself now for caring about that in the moment.
I woke her and Milkman up to help me through contractions. Milkman went to the restroom at one point and I looked up at DMW during a very hard contraction and reached my hand out to hers for her to hold mine. I swear to you, the look that returned to me scared me. It was almost sinister? She refused to hold my hand and stared at me with a grimace on her face while I went limp and breathed. This happened several other times. Once again I told her she could leave, once again she refused. I still don’t know why she stayed other than maybe she wouldn’t have gotten paid if she left?
After a few rude nurses, it was time, I was a 10. New doctor on call came in and I told her due to my SPD I could not push on my back and would need to be on my side. The doctor said she hadn’t delivered with a mother on her side, I said that was nice, and I would be her first. If DMW would not advocate for me, I would advocate for myself. DMW offered to take pictures, I got in place. 3 contractions, Peach was born. Relief. Tears. She was here.
I looked at her warm wriggly body and I cried out “She’s alive! This one breathes. She’s not still like Ezra was. This is my baby and SHE IS ALIVE. Thank you, Lord, she’s perfect!” I cried for a long time. It was quiet in the room, and the air felt thick and awkward, but the only thing I cared about in that moment was gratitude for this gorgeous little creature I held in my arms.
After a while the room cleared out and DMW finally announced she would be leaving and a great wave of relief washed over me. She assured me she would send the photos and when the door shut and it was just Milkman, Peach, and I, I breathed easy for the first time in 48 hours. Peach latched on and looked up at me with one eye open, and I marveled at her perfect skin and face.
Once we got into our recovery room in postpartum, my mom brought Captain and Mamitas to come meet their little sister. It was so wonderful to have my little family all together, if only for a short period of time. Captain was feeling homesick and it made it hard for me to say goodbye when they left.
That night, I sat in the hospital bed, nursing the baby and eating dinner and I looked over at Milkman and asked, “What did you think about DMW?” He pursed his lips and (wisely) asked me, “What did YOU think about her? Did you find her helpful?” I started crying. I told him how unsupported I felt, how I felt like a burden to her. How I didn’t want to talk with her or have anything to do with her. How she made labor that much harder. How when I reached out for her she ignored me. He nodded his head as I talked and came over to hold my hand. I asked him again and he said he felt very much the same as I did but didn’t want to bring it up in case I hadn’t caught on to it because he didn’t want to put a damper on the experience. I wept and he held Peach and I while I shook with angry tears. He agreed that any contact with the birth center and either of its Midwives would go through him, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.
We picked up my placenta from her a couple days after delivering, all the correspondence though Milkman still. She never did send my birth photos. I wept much in the weeks following my birth. None surrounding my baby, or the usual baby blues, all in relation to my awful birth experience and the care I was promised and paid for but was not given.
6 weeks later we finally heard from HMW and she asked why she hadn’t heard from us to schedule my follow-up appointments. We hadn’t been contacted til that point. Milkman was a saint and explained that I was dealing with birth trauma and I couldn’t bear to go to the birth center. Right after he sent that we heard from DMW for the first time in those 6 weeks saying she was concerned she hadn’t heard from us. It felt awful, all over again. Like it was my fault she hadn’t done her follow-up. And it confirmed all the more that she didn’t care enough to contact us sooner. Milkman went to the birth center to pick up my records and asked if someone would please send the pictures from my birth.
A while later we received an email with the photos, all thumbnail sized and poor quality. I asked for her to re-send them at a higher quality, as these were the only pictures I had of the birth, and were intimate and meaningful to me. She never replied and I haven’t heard from her since.
Since all this happened, I attended a birth trauma session at MommyCon and spoke with the ladies at Integrated Birth. At the end of the session where they offered advice for avoiding birth trauma (like hiring a doula, birthing at a birth center, using people who came highly recommended, etc). I began crying very hard (thankful my sister was there with me to hold my hand and cry with me). There was a Q&A time so I asked “What happens if you did all those things, you did everything right, all your research, picked the best people, and it still went horribly?” I was told that most likely DMW had taken off more than she could chew and was in birth burnout mode, and most likely shouldn’t have taken me on as a client. I was told that I was supported and to not be afraid to write my story, whether or not I ever shared it with anyone. The compassion I received from the fellow attendees and from the presenter and the Integrated birth team was AMAZING and empowering. We all cried together. At once point Laney from the Mommycon team came over to me and hugged me and she said she understood how I was feeling. For the first time I felt like people other than my sister and my husband understood me, and actually cared. That my concerns were valid and real.
I still occasionally break down thinking about Peach’s birth because it brings up a lot of angry and hurt feelings, but I am on the road to emotional recovery, thanks MOSTLY to Milkman and his love and patience and understanding. He’s heard me hash it out so many times, cry over it so many times, and never once has he dismissed those feelings. Peach is the happiest baby I have had and this has also helped tremendously. Had she been as high needs as her big brother and sister, the physical and emotional healing would undoubtedly have taken much longer. Every smile reminds me just how worth all the pain really was. She is magic.
If you’ve made it thus far, you are dedicated! Thanks for reading. If you are dealing with birth trauma and want someone to talk to, feel free to reach out and contact me, I’m here to support you!