Life was good. Other than a short bout of sickness on my part, we were adjusting to parenthood quite well, and Sweet Pea was beginning to bloom, having all the full attention that’s afforded a first child. I was allowed to bring her to school, my husband was allowed to bring her to work, and we had absolutely no family visits to worry about. And from the sounds of it, neither birth parent seemed all that interested in taking responsibility.
The call came at 8:06, minutes after my husband got settled into his office.
“Oh, hi, this is Kate, the baby’s first foster mommy. I forgot to let you know that she has her two month check-up this morning at 10:30.”
Luckily, my husband had taken her with him that morning, and had a schedule that allowed him to get there just in time, although he had to handle the post-shot sobs alone. I got text updates throughout the day letting me know how she was doing, and wished desperately that I could have been there.
Sweet Pea’s first court date was approaching the following week. We found out about it via snail-mail, and had attempted to contact the worker to see if this was something we could / should be a part of.
He finally got back to us the morning of the hearing, after we’d already assumed we’d go about our usual business since we hadn’t heard back.
My husband answered, again barely getting to his office after dropping the baby and I off at my school, and quickly learned that it would be a very good idea if we were there, but babies were not allowed in the courthouse, so we better get a sitter.
I was in the middle of a math lesson when my phone rang. The hearing would be starting in 1 1/2 hours, barely giving him enough time to come pick us up and me enough time to scrounge something up for a sub. With all baby-sitters needing to be pre-approved by CYFD with a full background check, we had only two options. Our neighbor, who lived too far away from my school for us to ever make it back to the courthouse in time, or, my mother-in-law who was at work and apparently not hearing her phone ringing. She finally answered and agreed to meet us at the courthouse in 20 minutes.
We got there with about 10 minutes to spare, made the car-seat switch, kissed our precious girl and watched his mom drive off with her. Our first time being separated since getting her.
We didn’t know what exactly this hearing was about. We had no idea what to expect. Would we be called upon to say anything? We clenched hands and went inside.
After one of the workers politely scolded my husband for wearing cargo shorts, a hawaiian shirt and sandals to the courthouse, she escorted us into the courtroom. At least my teacher attire was considered appropriate. She told us to have a seat, motioning to a bench in the back of the room. We obeyed, soaking up the whole situation, bits of information being given away amidst hushed conversations between the social workers and attorneys. One thing caught our attention. “Yes, he’s on the phone right now.”
The judge walked in.
“All rise. Court is now in session.”
The judge looked rather Santa-claus-esque. White beard, blue eyes, black robe. Very official looking to someone who’d never set foot inside a courtroom before. After a brown-haired lady introduced all who were in the room, including us, she said, “And, your honor, the father was not able to be with us today (due to incarceration), but we do have him on the phone.” My husband and I shared a nervous look and squeezed hands a little tighter, as we heard the father verify that he could hear all that was going on.
The investigator, a young woman in her late twenties, took the stand to share all she knew about the baby and her experience with the birth mother. When she was asked to state the child’s date of birth, she missed the truth by two days. And that’s when we learned to NEVER speak aloud in a courtroom without permission (Sweet Pea’s attorney gave us “the look” after we corrected her, silently warning us, like we were little children who just spoke out of turn. A small smile crossed her face…apparently our naivety was refreshing in such a stuffed-up room).
It was very weird to sit and listen to them speak about this little baby… who in just a few short weeks had become OUR baby… so matter-of-factly, when we had never once met this woman on the stand.
We did learn, however, that the investigator had tried to connect with the birth-mother, but she was very uncooperative and really wanted nothing to do with the whole situation. While on one hand this thrilled me (better chance for us to keep her!), it broke my heart at the same time. I couldn’t imagine anyone not loving our little Sweet Pea.
When the focus was shifted towards the father, we learned from his attorney that not much would be discussed with him until a paternity test had been granted. The judge nodded in agreement, threw down his gavel, and departed. Court was adjourned.
When we left the courtroom, we asked Sweet Pea’s attorney, the kind lady who smirked at us, several of the dozens of questions we had flooding our minds. One being, why is the father demanding a paternity test (Does he want to verify she’s his before taking her? Does he want to prove that she’s not his?). She kindly answered all that she could.
Then the father’s worker approached us. He had overheard us sharing our hopes of adopting this precious baby, but wanted us to be clear on one thing.
“Look, the father is not a bad guy, he’s just gotten himself into a bit of trouble. But when the paternity test comes back positive, I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that he gets the help he needs to become a suitable father, and I am going to fight for his right to have her.”
At about 6-foot-2, he had our attention.
“What makes you so sure it’ll come back positive?” we asked.
“Well, he’s the only name that the mother gave. She’s confident it’s him. And the baby looks just like him. There’s very little doubt in my mind that he’s the father. He just needs proof.”
So did we.
One week later, I was in the middle of a lesson when my text alert went off. I read the message quietly to myself as I continued to teach, then startled all my students as I burst into a joyful squeal, and began jumping up and down like a silly schoolgirl who just brushed shoulders with her first crush.
“WHAT is going on?”my students asked, wide-eyed and amused at my juvenile reaction.
“Let’s just say…Mr. D and I are one HUGE step closer to getting to keep our Sweet Pea!”
My students jumped out of their seats and formed a class hug around me, getting caught right up in the excitement, squeals and smiles abounding.
And I breathed the hugest sigh of relief.
One obstacle down.
(To continue the story, click here)