The day of relinquishment. As long as the birth mother hadn’t changed her mind, this was going to be a great day.
Once again, our car ride to the courthouse was quiet, proof of the nerves that consumed us. If she had changed her mind, it would delay the process significantly. Her rights would need to be terminated, and she’d likely appeal, drawing upon what little power she still had.
After all, technically, our daughter was hers. In an hour, it could be a different story.
In the courtroom, we anxiously waited as the workers prepared their documents and speeches for the judge. The judge came in. “All Rise.” We were getting so used to this.
Then, bodyguards escorting her through the side door, the birth mother came out.
Again, she was crying.
Our family’s future depended on what those tears meant. Please don’t have changed your mind.
After the judge’s introductory speech, he handed the floor over to the mother’s attorney. I think I stopped breathing, not wanting to miss a single word she would say.
“Your honor, in the recent weeks, my client has undergone relinquishment counseling.”
“And how did that go?” the judge interjected.
“Well, to be honest, your honor, my client feels that the process was disappointing. She claims that the person who administered the counseling did not know anything about her or the baby, and did not seem very empathetic or offer her any real counseling. She expected something different, your honor.”
I looked to the mother’s face as she nodded subtly, confirming to the judge that what her attorney was saying was true.
“Well, does your client feel like she’s been informed enough to continue on with this decision?”
Please say yes.
“She does, your honor.”
Ahhhh, I could breathe again.
“Very well, then. Shall we continue?”
“Please, your honor,” and the attorney sat down.
The judge asked the birth mother to stand up. Then he began his job to ensure that the mother understood what this decision would mean.
“Are you aware that by signing this document here today, you will forfeit all parental rights regarding (Sweet Pea). There is no going back and changing your mind next month, next week, or even in the next hour. Once you sign the paper, it is final. It cannot be undone.”
“Yes. I understand, your honor.”
“By signing this document, do you understand that you will have no power in how (Sweet Pea) will be raised?
“Yes, your honor.”
“By signing this document, do you understand that you will have no say in (Sweet Pea’s) education, should the adoptive parents choose home school, public, or private?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“By signing this document, do you understand that you have no say in what religion, if any, this child may be raised by and become?”
“Yes, your honor.”
He continued on, listing about 20 ways that her rights would be forfeited. With all of them, she paused for a moment, allowing it all to sink in, then quickly agreed, “Yes, your honor.”
Until the last one.
The judge changed the rhythm of his questions, phrasing this one differently. He looked intently at the mother, speaking slowly to make sure she understood.
“You have said that you are relinquishing your rights so that (Sweet Pea) may be adopted by her current foster family. But are you aware, that by signing this document today, you forfeit all rights in regards to who adopts her? Should anything happen that prohibits this family from adopting her, you will have no say in where she ends up?”
She hesitated, and her face went a little white. She clearly hadn’t thought of that as a possibility. We surely didn’t want to think of it as one either. But we knew why the judge had to say that. Even though the odds were overwhelmingly in our favor now, things could still happen. A house fire. Cancer. Death. Unlikely events, obviously, but definitely ones that could change the course of them allowing us to keep her.
After what seemed like minutes, she answered.
“Yes, your honor.”
“Very well, then. Would the birth mother and her attorney please approach the podium at this time.”
Now it was happening. I looked at the podium that stood feet in front of the judge’s bench, and just to the right of the note-taker. On it was several sheets of paper and a pen. The mother was shaking as she stood before it.
“Before I have you sign these papers,” the judge spoke, “I would like for you to tell all those present here today, in your own words, why you are doing this.”
She hesitated, her mind racing for the right answer. One that would be adequate enough for giving up your child.
“Well, your honor… I’ve never done the right thing by her. Throughout the pregnancy and after. I also have two other children who don’t get to see me nearly enough…” She paused, getting teary, and looked towards us. Then she continued, “They love her, your honor, and it is obvious she is happy with them… I don’t want to take that away from her.”
When she was finished, the judge responded, “When you said they love her… you looked over toward the foster parents, is that correct?”
She confirmed yes, and the judge nodded toward the note-taker to make sure that detail got written in the log.
With all the formalities now out of the way, it was time to sign the paper. She brought her chained hands up to the podium, grabbed the pen, and signed on the spaces her attorney pointed to. I could see her chest heaving in and out and hear the muffled tears. Evidence of how difficult this was for her.
But she did it.
When she was finished, the judge asked her to have a seat again at her table. This time, I wasn’t going to miss out on the eye contact should she allow me some. I was ready to look right into her face and acknowledge what she had just done for her daughter, and for me.
But she beat me to it.
“Thank you,” she mouthed to us. And I quickly echoed the same, yet a whole other sentiment. “Thank YOU.”
She looked away quickly, overcome by her emotions. And I did the same, biting my lip, looking down towards my shoes, willing myself to not lose it entirely.
I got to say thank you.
Thank you didn’t seem like enough, but in that instant it was all I could give her in exchange of what she’d given me.
The opportunity to be called “mommy.” Morning snuggles and bedtime kisses. Years to look forward to of soccer practices and school plays. A little girl who sets my heart afire. A daughter to call my own. My deepest dream come true.
Like the previous hearing, the judge wrapped up the session by asking for an update from the guardian ad litem on how Sweet Pea was doing. But this time, he turned it over to us, allowing us to speak straight to the birth mother.
“She is doing amazing,” my husband began, “She has two little teeth on the bottom, she loves reading books and swinging at the park.”
With it being the day after Halloween, the mother asked what we had dressed her as. “She was a lion,” we replied. We later sent her a picture of Sweet Pea all dressed up.
My husband continued his update, moving onto our relationship with her family. “We even went to your niece’s birthday party a few weeks ago. You have a great family… you really do. Except the only thing wrong with them is, they’re Cowboy fans.”
She shot him a hahaha, don’t-you-mess-with-our-team look, and everyone in the room began to laugh, including her.
I looked up towards the judge and he was also smiling as he sat there, watching the exchange between us. I had a feeling he didn’t get to see such nice interactions very often.
That feeling was confirmed when, after the mother had left and court was adjourned, all the workers turned toward us and commented along the same line.
“That doesn’t happen,” one laughed, “such a friendly exchange between biological and foster parents… that was cool.”
“She’s one lucky baby,” another told us, “to have so many people that love her.”
She’s a blessed baby, I thought. With a God that loves her and has orchestrated everything just right, so that this could all happen.
You can bet that we went home and we celebrated. With the most precious little girl who was always, yet almost ours.
There was just one more step.
(To continue the story, click here)