The Players: a key of sorts
A= our Baby Girl, whose name I cannot yet mention :)
C= the kids' birth mom
Y= the kids' birth dad
GAL= attorney for the children
Other Attorney= A's attorney who represented his client's wishes, even though he never sat down with our 5 year old to ask her where she wanted to live!DFCS= Department of Children and Family Services of the county, the attorney for DFCS and the two above were all "opposing counsel" (which later became an oxymoron as you will read in Part II)
sign over/ surrender= sign over rights to your children and give up all legal right to them in the future
Before the Hearing
The first notable thing that happened was that the kids' father left almost as soon as we got there. Gave the kids a quick hug, barely shook David's hand- no eye contact, and then left after he was assured that he wouldn't get arrested for not showing up in court. He was encouraged by many to stay. A later told the judge that her dad must have left to "go get something, I think". The judge did not correct her on that.
Shortly after we got there the kids reconnected with their transporter, the lady who used to take them to and from our home/ day care/ their visits with their parents- her name is Brandy. Brandy was nice to have around that day because she knew what the kids like (ahem, iPhone videos :) and could entertain them while we all tried to figure out what was going on.
Shortly past 9 am, the time we were scheduled to begin, C's lawyer and the kids' social worker, Elizabeth, came to us and asked if we could talk to C. Her lawyer said the judge would give us extra time. I had no inkling of her signing her rights over- we had been over that several times. David and I still both think she said different things at that point- I thought she said "I might sign over" he thought she said "I won't sign over". But we talked anyways.
"We love them more than we could imagine.... Yes, they are so smart...We will send you updates and pictures...Thank you for loving them the way you did."
"Did you know that they are all miracle baby's? I almost lost A to a miscarriage third trimester, and M was so sick when she was born....The doctors told me I would probably miscarry B because I was pregnant a couple weeks after M was just born...Oh how I prayed for them to be smart.....I would talk to them all the time....was just me and them."
Then, back and forth, an awkward time of possible last hugs, no wait, she changed her mind. We're going through with the hearing and she is not gonna sign. OK, here we go... David and I went into the court room ready for what I did not want to happen, but still with peace.
The HearingThen, about five minutes into the hearing, a teary eyed young woman made the hardest and most loving decision of her life. She decided to sign over her parental rights and agreed to waive her 10 day waiting period to change her mind. Then, with her lawyer and a DFCS representative, she went away to another room to sign many papers to make it final.
I truly could not believe that it was happening. David and I just looked at each other and teared up a bit. And almost lightning fast, we heard the DFCS attorney making a motion for the judge to terminate right of the dad with M and B because he never legitimated (a paperwork process really that GA law requires the dad to file if the child is born and the parents do not live together- he was given many notices to do so, even given the paperwork to file, but he did not; however, he was present for A's birth and the three of them lived together, so therefore, the court recognizes him as A biological and legal father). And then the judge, after seeing that their dad never legitimated M and B, signed the order to terminate the parental rights of their dad. So just like that, Mia and Braylen were legally free children!
After a short while, C came back into the courtroom, testified to the fact that she received sound legal advice, felt no pressure by anyone, etc. etc. Then, when she was done, the children's GAL (an attorney assigned to the kids to recommend placement on behalf of the children and seek what is in the children's best interest), asked C if she could testify to whether or not she thinks Y would be a good father to A. What?!! She just did a hard thing, why would they put her on the spot like that? But I'm glad they did because she told stories about how their dad was abusive to both her and the children, specifically A. This was going to be a long day!
(Warning: Jerry Springer Drama Moment) Then bustin' up in the courtroom comes C's mom in her pajamas (or 'jammers as they say in rural Georgia)! Now, C's mother had lost her own daughter to foster care and did not even show up for her own court hearings. They reunited some years later, and apparently, she did not want C to give up her rights to the kids. "Excuse me I need to talk to someone. Yes, judge I wanna talk with you. A witness? No I ain't a witness, but C's gots lotsa witnesses to the fact that she can be a good mom!" Note: she has not been there for C at any point during the last 16 months that the kids had been in foster care. After she directs some mean looks C's way, the judge has a bailiff escort her out of the court room. And my heart breaks for C. So I quickly write a middle school-like note on a notebook I had brought to C. "I will always honor your memory with the kids.....Thank you for this gift....You are brave, you are smart...no matter what anyone says!" (you is smart...you is kind...you is important- flashed through my mind at some point)
Honestly, I barely remember what I wrote; I just wanted to communicate that we loved her and what she did was beautiful! They let C leave a different way so as to avoid any crazy family members (there were others who came down once they got wind of what was going down, and thankfully, David fielded most of the phone calls and conversations with total strangers who want to know why DFCS is "being shady" or "doing this to us"- first, if all of you were any likely candidates for parenthood, then she wouldn't be in this mess, and second, my husband is awesome because he handles all of you like a pro, nod along with "yes, I hear you/ what you're sayin"s were handed out a plenty!), and I caught her right by the door.
I gave her a note and we embraced. A long hug between two women who have mommy love for the same three children. One mommy loves without full understanding of what it means to register your child for school, keep them away from food allergens, or be able to tell if they need medical attention for their hearing. And the other mommy loves without knowing what her kids were like as babies, what that funny thing they did at 11 months that totally explains their personalities, or what the future holds. But somehow, as we were standing there holding each other, I felt like it was complete. Both mommies make a complete one; I am a good mother because of her and she knows she is a good mom because she let them go- gave them hope and a future.