fighting for her little boy

I posted briefly the other day about my friend Ani and the struggles she is facing right now.  I'd like to elaborate and show my support for her now, as she has decided to go back to the county and fight to keep T.  Knowing how dearly she loves him and how much she wants him to be her forever son, it hurts my heart to know he is potentially going to be ripped out of her loving home into another foster home.

Let me go back to the beginning of this story.  I remember Ani & Flaco's lovely and sweet wedding ceremony, held on her parents' farm in rural PA.  I remember her telling me later that Flaco wanted to begin trying for kids immediately; he wanted a houseful of kids and he was ready to start.  Though they met while she was in the peace corps and were married in Nicaragua before he moved to PA, they did not look toward trying for children until they had a wedding ceremony with family and friends there.

Ani was a bit more hesitant, at first, she told me.  She was so looking forward to starting a family, but she was anxious to make sure they had a stable life together before bringing children into their home.  Not long after, though, excited to move forward, they began their journey toward a family.  It started as most of these journeys do:  with a decision to pitch birth control and see what happens.  This turns into a mild obsession with the monthly calendar.  And from there, for them, as it does with many, many couples, it turned into an infertility journey, taking over their lives and uncovering physiological issues that could prevent them from ever conceiving a child together.

With that realization, their path toward a family changed direction.  Ani began to wonder about adoption.  Flaco was slower to come on board, concerned about already being a minority here, and about potentially adding a child to their family who would not be the same racial mix as their biological babies would have been, and possibly completely different from both of them.  Wanting a family as they did though, he agreed and they moved forward with the process, while also exploring the possibility of fertility treatments (none of which turned out to be viable for them).

I heard from Ani last June, asking if I'd agree to be a reference for their adoption.  I agreed immediately, and received a questionnaire in the mail, which I filled out and returned.  It was much simpler than I expected it to be.  Very basic questions, and easy to answer.  I wrote exactly what I thought based on what I knew of their marriage and of each of them personally - obviously I know much more about Ani, having known her for almost 12 years, including as a roommate in college.  But the minimal time I did spend with Flaco, at various gatherings and occasions, I perceived a loving, stable marriage.  I know they struggled with many things, not least of which was logistics of Flaco's move to the US, and the culture shock and adjustment that went with it.  But the picture I saw was that of a stable couple.

The last time I got to see Ani & Flaco together in person, it was this past December.  They came up for an overnight to renew Flaco's Nicaraguan passport in the city.  We had some time to catch up, and it was so enjoyable.  They knew they were on the brink of approval for adoption, and the anticipation was evident in both of their faces.  I gave them an old high chair of ours to take home for their collection of kid stuff they were trying to accumulate to be ready.  Flaco carried it out to the car, and there was joy even in the task of loading into the car, knowing its potential.

I know my friend well.  If there had been any shadow of doubt about her marriage and their future as adoptive parents together, I believe I would have seen a sign of it.

When I heard the following day that they'd been approved and were officially waiting for a child, I could not have been more excited.  After following Ani's struggle against infertility for three years, I felt such joy that she and Flaco would soon have the family they'd always wanted.

It wasn't long before their world changed.  It changed so fast and it changed everything.  Ani and Flaco took in a little boy named T at the end of January.  Having met him, Ani's entire universe refocused around this boy she expected would become her forever son.

Through texts, emails and photos, Ani told me about T, her days spent with him, getting to know him, helping him to adjust to a stable home with discipline and steady love.  She told me how he began to thrive with them, to learn new words in both English and Spanish.  I heard about their journey to discover cloth diapers and a solution that worked for T.  I heard about difficult bedtimes morphing into routines that helped T feel adjusted and secure.  And then I heard that he, unprompted and out of the blue, began calling Ani, "Mommy," a thing he'd never done with his previous (long-term) foster family.

My heart soared for Ani, hearing about her happy new life.  Not without its difficulties and adjustments, she and Flaco welcomed their long-awaited baby home and found such joy in it.

Almost as quickly, this new life started to shatter.  Flaco decided he wasn't sure he could accept this son if his skin was dark.  After much deliberation and agony, they came to an impasse.  Ani suggested marriage counseling to decide how to move forward with their relationship and family.  With one fell swoop, Flaco refused to accept T, refused to accept marriage counseling, and their marriage was over.

Devastated by the loss of her marriage, Ani stumbled but did not fall.  She couldn't.  Like any other mother, she had her baby to consider, and knew that his needs come first.  She picked herself up and moved forward.  She made plans, calculated finances, came up with solutions and ways to move forward in the best way possible for T and for herself.  She took cautious steps forward, and, met with acceptance by T's social worker, who has been with him through his entire foster journey, she made plans to continue with T's adoption on her own.

These adoption plans have been torn apart by the county -- by T's lawyer, who had not seen T in six months, and who has never even met Ani, and by the county social worker handling T's case, who began interviewing families where T could be relocated.  With the devastating outcome of one meeting, impersonal and failing to take into account the most important piece of the puzzle - T himself - Ani felt empty, lost, sad and unable to see a way forward without T.

Unable to envision her life without T, Ani decided to do everything in her power not to allow that to happen.  Ani is going to fight for her little boy.  She's going to go to the county, and show them that she's a fit mother for T, and the best choice for him.  She doesn't know how it will come out, but she can't go down without a fight.  She won't let them take him from her without her fair chance to prove that T deserves to stay with her.

She said the following in an email to me today:  "I am looking to see if there is an appeal process or any kind of 'check' on the decisions that these people make - what if they are wrong? Who checks up on that? And I am looking to friends and family, who support me, to write a simple email to the county... I don't know if it will do any good, but I MUST try. I have nothing to lose at this point, since they plan on taking T away from me..."

Ani is so strong.  She is filled with so much love, and she would be such a wonderful forever mommy for T.  She can bring T and herself through all of this and come out of it with a happy, stable home for the two of them, I know she can, if only the county will give her that chance.

***Update, 2/28/12:  The county has made its decision and placed T elsewhere.  Thanks to all of you for your prayers and words of support for Ani.  Also updated this post to change identities to pseudonyms.


Maresi said...

Dear God, how awful. People that act swiftly without considering the actual lives at stake make me sick. I'm so sorry for your friend, and even for her husband who couldn't see past these perceived blocks in the way of becoming a family.

Jennifer said...

I only met Ashley once. But I remember a kind and sweet person who loved children. She was so sweet with Bella. My heart goes out to her. Please tell her I am thinking of her and let me know of ANYTHING at all I can do to help. Praying for her and TJ.
Jennifer (and Bella)

Meredith said...

So sad. So many children need just one person to love them and show them that this world is a good place. I feel for her. I hope she gets to keep him. How long has she been his foster mom?

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