I was in family court today and while I waited my turn for my case to be called I sat there on a cold metal bench watching people around me. In the far corner was a group of family members there to celebrate the adoption of the most adorable blonde haired, blue eyed girl, dressed in a red velvet dress with a white lace top and red bows in her hair. There were at least 10 family members and a professional photographer. They were called into the courtroom first, as usually happens with the adoptions. They came out ten minutes later, the new mother crying, the new father proudly carrying his official new daughter. The family members were joyously hugging and congratulating them, which was completely incongruous to the rest of the mopey general public, myself included, waiting to be heard in court. (Not too many people smile or dress elegantly when waiting for court, and the judges and social workers all have their own private room so they don’t have to mingle with the rest of us!) Anyway, it reminded me of the 4 very different adoption courtroom experiences I’ve had with my children.
The one that comes closest to the scene I’d witnessed was when we adopted Dinora from Guatemala. Adopted at the age of 12 months, I did dress her is a frilly dress with a bow in her hair. Our 3 year old son came along dressed in a little vest and tie, and my husband and I proudly carried our children into court for our little one to become an official member of the family. We did not think to bring other family members around, (just as I did not want any other family members around when I giving birth, I guess!) We did take a few pictures, and then we all went out to Chuck E Cheese’s for pizza to celebrate. It was a lovely adoption! What a great experience!
Our third child, Steven, we had had since birth. I took him home from the hospital when he was one month old. They had trouble placing him because he had been born heroin and cocaine addicted to an alcoholic birth mother and anyone with any experience with these children know what serious difficulties they can have. Due to his exposure to drugs and alcohol, his brain appeared to be wired wrong, (my “formal” diagnosis.) He had excessive sensory integration deficit whereby he would scream if you touched him gently, or if there was a tag on his clothes, or it the tv was too loud, or if the room was too bright, and so forth. Plus, by the age of 2 he was super active and never slept. Joy! Joy! Nothing, however, could dim our love for him and we wanted to adopted him. (What held it up for several years was a reported birth father, in prison for life for murder, who would not release his custody. The funny thing was, Steven’s birth mom was Caucasian, light colored hair, blue eyes. His reported birth father was a red headed, blue eyed Irishman. Steven was obviously bi-racial with his dark skin and gorgeous curly black hair. Even though one might entertain the idea that it WAS theoretically possible that these two people could produce a child with Steven’s characteristics, the fact that the reported birth father was in prison when Steven was conceived should have given a clue that he was grasping at straws to obtain custody. Finally, after a forced court ordered DNA test, it was determined he was not the father and Steven was free for adoption. Our loving son could become a permanent family member!) His adoption courtroom experience was very memorable, but all for the wrong reasons. He was almost 4 and wild, wild, wild. He was taking Ritalin, which just took the “edge” off. He still had his sensory issues, and wearing clothes was a real challenge for him. During the adoption proceedings, I sat Steven on my lap, but he wriggled and cried and tried to get free. “Let him DOWN”, the judge said sweetly, and who can argue with a judge? So I let him down. He proceeded to run around in front of us and strip off his clothes piece by piece. The judge started talking faster and faster, trying to hurry the adoption process along. Steven finally was naked and he started to climb up the wood in front of the judge, just as the judge finalized the adoption. “Good luck,” the judge said to us, “I think you are going to need it!”
The adoption of our son Angel was semi-sweet. He loved to dress up, so he was wearing a suit and tie. The court had combined his adoption with the adoption of his five brothers and sisters who were being adopted by their aunt. The children were removed from their birth mother when Angel was born as he was also born to an alcoholic birth mother who was addicted to heroin and cocaine. The aunt agreed to adopt his siblings because they already had a family relationship, but Angel was a stranger to them all. His aunt, only twenty-eight years old herself, had five children of her own. They lived in the poorest part of town in a small apartment that could not rationally hold eleven people. She did not have a car,so we picked them all up to take them to the courthouse for the adoption. They were dressed in clean but tattered clothes. It was obvious that this mother was going to struggle with these children as several of the older, teenage ones were already showing signs of delinquency. The adoption process went smoothly in court, and we dropped them off at their home with a hope that things would work out. Then we happily went home to celebrate with Angel. Another family outing to Chuck E Cheese’s for pizza! (Angel has kept in touch with his siblings, whose adoption has since been rescinded by the adoptive mother. Two of his brothers are in prison, one in the training school for boys, one sister had died and the other sister has lived with several different foster families.)
Marie’s adoption was our final adoption. She had come to us as a foster child at the age of seven, having been picked up in the city streets at 4:00 am carrying her infant brother trying to find food for him. At her tender age, she had been the caretaker of this infant because her birth mother was incompetent and spent her nights out doing drugs of hooking up with guys. Marie was devastated when she and her brother were separated, and she worried and cried for months that he was going to die because she wasn’t there to take care of him. At the adoption proceedings, as in Angel’s case, her brother was to be adopted at the same time she was. By this time he was about four years old. When she saw him in the courtroom lobby she joyfully ran up to him to pick him up. He started to cry! He didn’t know who she was! His new adoptive mother held him and calmed down, but every time Marie came near him he’d start to cry again. Marie was devastated and tearful the whole time. The joy of her adoption was overshadowed by her sadness that the infant she had raised did not know who she was. (She managed to recover somewhat, however. After the proceedings, they let us go up and take a picture of the judge. In every picture, Marie snuck in “bunny ears” fingers over the judge’s head. So much for a memorable adoption picture!)
I would have to say that no two adoption courtroom proceedings are exactly alike. The only thing that is alike in all of them is a deep love of the adoptive parents for their new child/children. For me, in each case, it matched the love I experienced during the birth of my first child. That is a joyful thing!