The judges gavel bangs down with a loud crash sound. Her monotone and clipped words leave her mouth with all the boredom of someone calling a play-by-play of paint drying. She finalizes the adoption of our friend’s son in four minutes and 15 seconds. My husband, Russell and I look at each other in bewilderment. This adoption finalization looked very different from the beautiful, engaging one we had for our oldest daughter. This is the fourth adoption finalization we have been invited to and it is by far the least personal. As we exit the courtroom, hugging and celebrating with our friends, we whisper to each other “we hope we never get this judge.”
On a beautiful April day, Maya came home. Her pink room was decorated with ballerinas and butterflies, ready and waiting. Our home was filled with family and friends. We were on top of the world. Erin loved her new sister. Being an only child for 6 years, Erin longed to have a sibling with whom to play and grow. After the many weeks of visitors diminished, we settled into our normal rhythm of being a family of four. We watched Erin carefully for signs of resentment or sadness from having to share our attention. My parents filled in any void quickly to give her special time when needed. The only reminder that Maya did not come from my flesh was the monthly visits from Maya’s social worker.
Maya’s social worker was an older woman who masterfully balanced compassion and government efficiency. When she visited our home, she interacted with Maya to ensure that she was adjusting well. She collected any medical paperwork from doctor’s visits. She inquired about Maya’s adjustments. Most of her visits ended with an update on the court case surrounded the termination of the birth parents’ rights and the biological family’s lack of interest in taking Maya into their homes.
These conversations were extremely troubling to me. When the presentation of Maya was made to us, we were under the impression that this would be pretty straightforward adoption. Every month, our visit with the social worker contained some update on the biological family. The social worker did her best to allay our fears. The only person that expressed any interest was the biological father’s current wife who was not directly related. As the months wore on, we became content with the permanence of our little family.
Maya was full of personality. She quickly became the “child of a million nicknames”. We called her Drooly Andrews because she drooled all day, going through at least 15 bibs. Her abuelos called her Angelita (a name which soon changed to Mariposa). We called her Maya Baya, La Patrona, and any other nickname that fit in the moment. Maya was a busy and engaging baby. She hated naps, loved to dance, and tried to walk at seven months old. She finally got her legs under her at eight months old and never looked back. We were all enthralled by her energy, joy, and intelligence. She was our gift.
The Storm is Brewing
In September of that year, our social worker made what in hindsight was an ominous visit. We were clueless to the coming storm. During her monthly visit, she nonchalantly mentioned that the termination of parental rights hearing was scheduled for October. She let us know that the actual adoption process would begin soon after and we would be finalizing our adoption of Maya within 6 – 9 months of that date. She also told us that when parental rights were terminated, the very next day, we should file for De Facto Parent status which would give us every right to involvement and knowledge of any court proceedings regarding Maya.
When the day came, she called us. We ran down to the court, paperwork in hand. We felt like great soldiers – diligently following directions. We had no idea what a blessing this small filing had done for us.
The Storm Arrives
I have to be honest. As I am writing this, my entire body is tense. I feel like I am coming apart at the seams at the mere memory of this event. Like PTSD, this chapter in Maya’s life brings feelings of sorrow, rage, and despair. I struggle to put into words the pain of our entire family during the next two months.
In November, I was sitting with my mother in chemotherapy. She was in the midst of her reoccurrence with pancreatic cancer. Everything was going smoothly with the adoption and I focused my attention on supporting my mother. After we entered the chemo suite, my mother laid in the recliner, closed her eyes, and put her arm out to receive the IV transporting chemotherapy drugs into her body.
In the darkness, my cellphone rang and I stepped out into the hallway to take the call. Our social worker was on the other line. She informed me that she was leaving court and under the direction of her supervisor, she was asked to file a motion to remove Maya from our home and put her in another placement. My heart began to race as I fell to the sterilized linoleum floor. Outside the chemo suite of Kaiser Permanente hospital, perhaps one of the saddest places on Earth, I met with my own tragedy – they were going to take my daughter away from me.
One of the nurses came out after hearing my gut-wrenching sobs. She picked me up of the floor and held me as I cried. I needed to pull myself together before I went back into my mother’s room. She didn’t need this stress as she battled for her own life. What was I going to do? How was I going to live? What was going to become of Maya?
As I walked into my mother’s room, tears flooded her cheeks. She heard the commotion outside and knew it was bad. She asked me what was going on. I told her. As her arms held me against her chest, the IV filled with life-saving poison entering her veins surrounded us as we cried together.
I called my husband who responded with shell-shocked anger. When I arrived home after dropping my mother off at her home, I fell into his arms. What were we going to do? How could this have happened? Why would they let me love a child that would be taken away from us? What would happen to Maya? He had no answers. My brave and strong husband just held me, silently, giving me his strength.
We began to tell the family about the new developments. Sorrow, deep and wide, ran through our family. My father, who I leaned on for logic and calm, was silent. My stepmother’s soul-wrenching sobs rang through the phone. My gift-children were distraught. They loved their little sister. That day, the thought of losing Maya brought a deep separation in our family of grief and sorrow. No one was in the position to offer feelings of comfort or hope.
If we lost Maya, I didn’t know if we would ever recover.
The next day, we called our social worker and asked what were the next steps. We were under the impression that parental rights were terminated. Legally, there were no longer any “relatives” for Maya to go to. Why were these relatives showing up 10 months into her life? We were confused by it all. She had no answer other than her supervisor made her file the papers.
Maya’s lawyer filed an appeal to the decision. Our social worker informed us that because we had filed for De Facto Parents status when parental rights were terminated, we too could file an appeal to the decision. That meant that they would leave Maya in our care until the case was settled. We also had the right to hire our own attorney to represent us.
We immediately found an attorney who filed paperwork for us. The following week, we were assigned a court date – December 23rd. The shocking thing about this date was not that it was close to Christmas. The unfortunate factor to this date was that Maya’s first birthday was in early January and we could not plan for it. She may not be with us. This entire episode, already causing a gaping wound in my soul, continued to inflict damage, like tiny paper cuts.
As the day approached, we prepared our family and friends for the inevitable. We held on to hope and despair equally. This was a precarious limbo of an existence. We continued with our lives as our future hung in the balance. Maya was always in someone’s arms. Our family came to our home often as if giving her a constant outpouring of love would somehow be enough to keep her in our home.
During this time, I reached out for a lifeline. I called Nicole, the same woman, who I had never seen face-to-face, but was the catalyst for our creation of our little family through adoption. Nicole could not provide me any insight into the inner workings of the adoption system but what she gave me a shoulder to cry on. As I asked her what would happen, she encouraged me to continue to put my trust in God. She helped me focus on Maya and what was best for her. Together we prayed that God’s will would be done and that Maya, no matter where she went, would be protected, safe, and able to grow into her greatness.
Finally, the day came for the hearing. We entered into the small lobby of the courthouse with our entire family. After the security check, we waited. We brought no less than 25 people with us for the ultimate battle. No one spoke. We all sat in silence, afraid to speak, afraid to whisper our worst fears. Maya, oblivious to the potential change to her life, stayed home with her nanny, Blanca, who was as distraught at the thought of losing “her baby”.
Our lawyer ran between the County representatives, Maya’s lawyers, and us with updates. There was conflicting information. Talk of us having unsavory people in our home or other weird occurrences. It was like playing the game of telephone at the absolute worst time of your life. Details from other cases were being interjected into our own which intensified our feelings of frustration and fear. We were at the edge of sanity as the lawyers entered the courtroom. We waited outside the court on the hard, wooden benches for the result. After 20 minutes, our lawyer emerged from the courtroom and whispered in our ears.
“She’s yours. Forever”
An Unlikely Savior
As we entered the courtroom, spinning with disbelief, we looked up at the Judges’ bench. Who was peering back at us?
Yes, the judge we never wanted. The judge who had given such a dry and lackluster performance at the adoption finalization of our friend’s son. She looked out at the courtroom and addressed all of the lawyers (5 in all) and us. She gave us a slight smile as she began her ruling, in that dry and lackluster voice.
This time, her approach rang like a symphony in our ear. She hit her gavel down on the desk, proclaiming Maya to be forever our daughter. Russell and I crashed into each other, thanking God that this was our Judge. We also had a deeper understanding now that the universe is a crazy, chaotic mix of order.
This judge, whom we chided for not executing her job with softness and delight, had just delivered to us our greatest joy. We were humbled, chastened, and forever grateful.
As we walked (jogged) back to the lobby, our family’s joy shook the rafters of the lobby. This building, usually filled with the desperation of parents trying to rebuild their family units after government intervention, was filled with immeasurable love, relief, and elation.
We had crossed the finish line, battle won, our family complete.
We had a first birthday to plan!