We were in the wake of a devastating family tragedy when we met our son. It was late into the evening on Friday, August 23, 2013 when he was placed into my arms for the first time. He was a tiny peanut just shy of being 4 weeks old, barely sustaining his 5 pounds of life. He was the smallest baby I’d ever held. I didn’t know then that I was holding my first born. I didn’t know then the whirlwind that would be the following 23 months. I didn’t know then that my heart could love another human the way I would come to love him. That was the night my husband and I met Kaiden and rocked him in our arms for the first time. As we cooed and stared at his precious face, we had no idea what journey we were about to embark on. The journey of foster care to adoption.
Five days after we met Kaiden, he was placed with us through Child Protection Services. Our situation was unique in comparison to a lot of foster families. Kaiden’s birth mother is my younger sister. Circumstances at the time led CPS to remove him from her care and place him with us temporarily. We were told 3-6 months, AT MOST, until she was able to get him back.
The first few months were scary and hard. We were thrown into the thick of caring for a newborn suddenly on top of DHS visitation schedules, court appointments and paperwork… so much paperwork. All of which did not compare to the emotional struggle of dealing with my sister and the family dynamic that was forever changed the moment we decided to do this.
It was when Kaiden was about five months old that we started discussing the viability of this being a long term deal, and that adoption could be on the horizon. And it was then that we really embraced being his mom and dad instead of his aunt and uncle.
In those short five months, I came to love this tiny person who I did not grow in my belly, but may as well have. He had me wrapped around his chunky little baby finger. It was just a few months prior that I stood on my soapbox shouting about how we would be the married childless couple and I reveled in that! Oh the freedom we had and how we loved it so much. It was just us two, free as birds to come and go as we please. We would sit back and enjoy our sleeping in and regular movie dates as our friends complained about their cranky infants with dark circles under their eyes. It wasn’t until the raw moments of caring for a newborn that I realized life isn’t always about those trivial things.
We had court every few months so they could check in on the progress of the birth parents and how their relationship was coming along with Kaiden. Those were some of my hardest moments. Sitting there in court, while neither parent showed up, and them (the court) offering chance after chance for the parents to get their act together. WE were Kaiden’s parents. WE were the ones loving him, nourishing him and snuggling him. WE were the ones who saw the first time he clapped his hands together in excitement or the first time he wiggled his way across the room. Why should these birth parents get yet another chance at taking him away from us?
But such is life within the foster care system. The unknowns swirl around you with constant uncertainty and hopefulness.
And the weekly visits… oh the weekly visits. Each week the birth parents were given two hours, once a week, to spend time with Kaiden supervised by DHS. And week after week they wouldn’t show up. This was heartbreaking. Devastating. As much as I wanted them to not show up so this could be over with it still broke my heart every time knowing that they were choosing to not see him.
I would have nightmares of Kaiden being taken from us. He was our child. He was our son. And to ever picture him being anywhere else without us? It shattered my heart into a million pieces every single time the thought entered my mind. But we both accepted that it was a potential reality, that it was a possibility. We had to prepare ourselves for the worst. We had to be prepared for him to be taken from us and to never see him again.
The family dynamic of all this is so crucial to our story. Somehow, to many people on either side, we were the bad guys. We were taking on the role of Kaiden’s parents and we didn’t have the right to do so (or so some thought). However, our perspective was much different. Kaiden’s biological parents weren’t stepping up to be that for him. We were the ones seeing the day to day ins and outs of what was really transpiring with his biological parents and it wasn’t fair that Kaiden was the one who would suffer. So we accepted that this would be our role for him in his life, even if it would be temporary. We would rather be the ones to carry the emotional burden later on if he were ripped from us.
After several months, court hearings, tears, heartache and disappointment, in November of 2014 the biological parents rights were terminated by the State of Michigan. This began our process to adoption which we assumed would be fairly simple. However, we hit some speed bumps along the way, notably being when the biological father filed for an appeal of the termination of rights which could inevitably prolong our adoption process to another 9-12 months.
A few months after the appeal was filed Kaiden’s biological father passed away. I was incredibly broken-hearted over this and mostly for my son. It was yet another part of his life that was chosen for him. If and when he would ever want to meet his birth father, that choice was taken from him.
Two weeks before Kaiden’s 2nd birthday we got the call we’d been waiting to hear for nearly 2 years – he was officially a Dockery.
There are so many things that come up when I write about Kaiden’s foster care and adoption story. I could write page after page about the turmoil in my heart during this time period. I have so many emotions tied to this as I’m sure most would, but more so because he once belonged to my sister. And that’s a fact that will forever remain unchanged.
During the two years that Kaiden was a ward of the state he was always my son – I just didn’t know it. He was my first born. He was the one that taught me more about myself than being married and childless ever could have. He was the one who made me a mom, and to that I am eternally grateful.
And to my dearest son, Kaiden John Paul Dockery:
You grew in my heart instead of my belly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.” – Oceans by Hillsong United
May is Foster Care Awareness month. Check out https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/ for more information on how you can become a foster parent and save a child’s life.