Language Lessons

She hates us.   She hates herself.  She wants to kill herself.  Babygirl says she’s going to kill us in our sleep.  She calls us every day from the hospital to cuss and threaten us.   She’s 13 years old.

Right now, she’s at a crisis stabilization unit in a hospital downtown, but sometime, maybe today, they want to move her to a residential facility for a 30 or a 60 day stay, and the nearest appropriate place with available beds- that will contract with our insurance- is two hours away.  That’s ok, we’ll make it work.  Whatever she needs to get better.  I’m not convinced that a residential facility is the best place for her, but she’s not stable enough to be safe here at home at this time, and there’s my 8yr old son to think of.

She blames us.  Says we took her away from her family.  That’s not true.  Children’s Services was in the process of removing her from her home when we were contacted by her bio-mom to please come and save her.   The judge awarded our custody after a case that took entirely too long because of incompetence and transphobia on the part of local CPS and the Guardian Ad Litem assigned to the case.   In that time, she languished in an sub-par adolescent psych ward.  Four months spent locked up three hours away from anyone she’s ever known, in this facility whose approach to helping was to dope the kids til they were too numb to engage in any behaviors at all, good or bad, and then declare them ‘fit’ to return to their homes.

At the first court hearing, when we announced our intention to seek custody, the relief on the faces of everyone present was written as clearly as a mushy Hallmark card.  Finally, Responsible Adults were stepping up and seeking to take care of this child!  The child services intake worker who was assigned to the case loved us from the start.  The Guardian Ad Litem was the only one in the courtroom that day who didn’t seem to be happy to see us.  She sat, sour-faced, her disdain for my partner clear in her eyes.  A subsequent DNA test proved Babygirl was my partner’s child.

Soon, a different, ‘permanent’ social worker was assigned to our case.  Initially, this woman seemed to be supportive of our efforts to obtain custody of our Babygirl, but she held hidden reservations.  More importantly, her supervisor had decided a foster placement would be preferable to a transgender, biological parent, and blocked her placement with us.  On the drive to the foster home, which was ‘coincidentally’ located in the part of our state furthest from our home, our daughter had a complete meltdown and attempted to hurt herself.  They turned the car around and took her back to a crisis stabilization unit, and from there, to the pill mill she spent the next four months in, while the ‘grown ups’ tried to rationalize a way to deny us custody.

They investigated us up and down.  Background checks, home visits, fingerprinting, interviews, every way they could to try to find something to hide their discrimination behind.  Its no longer PC to deny custody based on LGBT status, but there are usually ways around that.  But they couldn’t find a thing to base a denial on.  My partner has a great job in IT at a local university, has never been in trouble, and has been an excellent parent to her autistic son.  We are active, fun parents who go camping, work out, volunteer in the community, eat well, and engage our kids in fun learning and growing opportunities.  We have the best network of supportive friends and are deeply committed to each other.  When we bought our house, we limited our search to the area served by the best school district in the state win an excellent reputation for serving special needs kids.  We have a lovely home in a safe neighborhood with everything we need to provide for our family.  I’m able to stay at home to care for the kids and organize the household.  My background in psychology and social services means that I could navigate the processes involved in getting custody of a 13 year old with mental health problems and can do the research to get her the best help possible.  My partner and I have educated ourselves on the needs of our kids and prioritized their well-being over all.

Everyone who had helped our daughter since we’ve had custody has said the same things to us: we’re the best parents they’ve worked with. A model family.  They want to clone us and place all their kids with us. They wish all the families they deal with had our skills and commitment to our kids. We should write books on successful parenting.   I’m not bragging.  These are exact quotes.  I’m sure that most of the families that these therapists, doctors, and social workers have had to deal with are usually the reason their kids are messed up, abusive and negligent, and inconvenienced by their kids.  Our situation is so unique.  Part of best-practices treatment is educating the families of these children, and always, they tell us that we can skip that part, that we have already engaged in learning above and beyond what they teach.  One social worker said, half-kidding, that I could teach the class!

Our daughter was raised by rabid wolves.  Scratch that, even rabid wolves treat their offspring better.  Her bio-mom had emotional problems even before Babygirl was born.  When she and my partner were dating, fourteen years ago, she was abusive and unfaithful and often cruel.  My beautiful partner had a lot of self-esteem issues at the time and was vulnerable, having been raised in an abusive home, and trying to wrap her head around her intersex biology and a gender orientation that didn’t fit her biology, and bio-mom took advantage of that.  Even after my partner was told Babygirl wasn’t her child, even though there were good medical reasons to believe it was impossible, as she was taking hormones preparing for her transition, still she wanted to be there for bio-mom and the baby, but was refused and threatened.  Despite these threats, she persisted, because she recognized that bio-mom wasn’t fit to parent a goldfish, but ultimately had no options except to bow out and leave it behind her.  But in her way, she did what she could, for herself, so that she could be the kind of parent this child might someday need, through her commitment to being the parent her autistic son needed.

The next 12 years were horrific for our precious Babygirl.  Neglected in infancy, left tied in her crib for hours on end, rarely held, never experiencing healthy expressions of love, she was deprived of all the human contact that babies need for development.  Abandoned and abused, punished severely for minor transgressions, sexually traumatized, exposed to domestic violence at home and community violence all around her, she was raised to believe she was the product of rape, so she wouldn’t be curious about her other parent.  Predictably, she never developed the sense of empathy, can’t form appropriate attachment bonds, doesn’t know how to be loved, and having spent her entire childhood drowning in inexpressible fear, she only knows how to speak the language of rage.

Sometime last August, our assigned children’s services social worker was fired, and a new, even less competent one was assigned our case.  This caused additional delays in processing our case.  Our daughter spent an extra month at the Pill Mill she was sent to because this caseworker couldn’t fill out paperwork correctly-even after three tries.  This setback was additionally traumatizing.  By then, she’d earned weekend passes to come stay with us, and was eager to come live with us, and when she found out that she wasn’t being discharged on the date she’d been promised, contingent on her behavior, she was devastated and angry, lashing out at everyone, assaulting her therapist, and engaging in fights with her peers at the facility.  Calling us just to cuss at us and threaten us.  The response from the facility was, of course to dope her up even more, til she calmed down sufficiently.  Because we didn’t have custody, all we could do was sit by helplessly and watch our daughter’s deterioration.

Finally,  the GAL came to talk to us, and met with us in our home, and she actually became our biggest cheerleader in the courtroom.   Her reservations about placing Babygirl with us disappeared when she saw that we were not only acceptable parents, but that we were committed to actively parenting our kids with love, consistency, humor and fun, supported by a strong group of friends. After the GAL’s objections were withdrawn, we were granted custody.  The magistrate refused to allow children’s services’ inability to manage paperwork continue to be an obstacle, and granted us ‘supervised custody’, with the ‘supervised’ part dropped two months later.  Her last words to us were, “Good luck.  You’re gonna need it.”

For the first weeks at home, all was well.  Babygirl learned the rules, started school, began to trust us, and to earn our trust.  She was permitted monitored phone calls to her family.  Her step-father has custody of a younger half-brother and sister, and we wanted to allow her to keep in touch with them, even though we knew her step-father been abusive to the kids in his care.  She worried for them, telling us about dreams in which they were kidnapped, raped, killed, etc., and the contact was, for her, reassuring.  All was well with her behavior, with only minor incidents, until her step-father came to visit her.  He displayed the most insane road-rage behavior we’ve ever seen in the car going to lunch that day, saying that ‘that bitch was lucky I didn’t have my gun with me’, and making obscene, abusive statements about the other driver in front of Babygirl, her younger siblings, and my partner.  The next day, she started having psychogenic non-epileptic seizures at school.  We consulted her psychiatrist, her therapist, her pediatrician and her neurologist.  All said the same thing: dissociative syncope and seizures resulting from Conversion Disorder.  Her brain couldn’t handle the stress, and she started fainting to escape the overwhelming feelings.  Her school felt that we weren’t doing enough to eliminate organic causes, and called children’s services last month.  Meantime, the seizures and syncopes escalated and made attending school impossible for her.  Every day we sent her, she was back at home by 10:00am.  The disruption to her routine exacerbated her mood, until she finally had a meltdown that ended with her taking a knife and threatening herself and us.  We had to send her to the hospital for crisis stabilization.  She was beginning to do better at the hospital and they were preparing to discharge her, when she found out her school had called children’s services. Though the assigned CPS worker almost immediately closed the case, the damage to Babygirl was done.  She reverted to her self-harming statements, attempts to choke and punch staff at the hospital again and still the daily phone calls to us to cuss and threaten us, til earlier this week, she had her phone privileges taken away.

Babygirl has challenged us in unexpected ways.  Her issues are deeper, more complex than we originally knew.  She seems perfectly ok one minute, the next is lashing out at us.  She’s terrified of loving us, afraid of us, because no adult has ever treated her well.  She’s scared we will also abandon her after she’s come to trust us, so she refuses to trust.  She’s afraid we will abandon her; afraid that she’ll be taken away from us.  But she’s never been allowed to be afraid; showing fear was always a sign of weakness in her world, so she can’t express her fears.  Her cultural norms are vastly different from our own; she asked me once why we don’t get food stamps.  Her step-family is African-American, and her tastes in things like food, music, and dress are different from our own in many ways.  But there are commonalities, too, and we accommodate her tastes when appropriate.  And as much as she is learning from us, we are learning from her.

She says we love her too much, and that we won’t stay for the long haul once we get fed up with her, that we’ll abandon her as soon as she starts to feel safe, or someone will make her leave us.  She says some of this with words, and some of it with her actions. Fortunately for her, I’ve learned to speak fluent Babygirl.  I know what she’s really saying.  She’s saying, “I matter.  Please love me.  Please don’t leave me.”  I’ve learned her language; she will start to recover once she learns the language of love and commitment.  Then she will understand that we are saying, over and over, “We love you.  You matter.  We will always be here for you.”

 

Advertisements

Darling, J., and Babygirl, or, How we got our daughter

My beautiful partner, Darling, (not her real name, just how I feel about her) experienced a horrific childhood.  Her father, a police officer, was controlling and violent, was abusive and erratic with the whole family.  At birth, she appeared to be a healthy male child with smaller than usual boy parts, but boy parts all the same, and was raised as a male.  What wasn’t known til much later was that Darling also had been born with Kleinfelter Syndrome, an intersex condition in which the chromosomes don’t pair as XY, but combine as XXY, meaning that she is both female and male.  In High School, she developed boobies.  That was a huge embarrassment, being in the boys locker room with a B cup.  Inside her mind, she knew her breasts were right- her gender identity didn’t match her appearance, and in those days, that was considered deviant and perverse, even among mental health specialists.  She kept it hidden as long as she could, until at the age of 22, she was at the brink of suicide. She couldn’t continue living her life as a male, knowing in her heart that she was meant to be a girl.  She tried.  She tried to shoehorn her identity by marrying and having a child.  The marriage, predictably, went sour, and ended when she told her wife that she wasn’t going to keep trying to be a circle in a square’s body.  So she stopped trying.  She changed her name, grew her hair, and began the path of transformation.

This didn’t go down well with her ex- or with her parents.  They colluded to kidnap her son, who the ex- didn’t want to care for; the heartless bitch thought that his autism made him too broken to be worthy of her love and attention.  Darling’s parents didn’t believe in autism, they thought the best thing for him was to beat it out of him.  They moved from state to state, never staying in any one place long enough for the local courts to have jurisdiction, so that Darling could not file to get him back.  During those 4 years, she was in a special hell trying to get him away from their abuse and the horror that was his daily life of autistic confusion met with violence.  Eventually, they made a mistake, and with the help of her ex-wife’s parents, Darling was able to file and regain custody of her son.  The next years were spent working with him patiently. learning to be a loving mom to him and to take care of him while juggling her own inner demons which came from a gender identity inconsistent with her biology and from the abuse she’d endured as a child.  She taught herself to be exactly the parent her son needed.  Today, he’s smart, funny, and well-adjusted, successfully enrolled as a sophomore in college and doing well.

Struggling with her gender identity and self-esteem issues, she made some unfortunate choices during the years that her son was kidnapped.  She took up with a stripper girlfriend who was violent, unfaithful and who used drugs and drank excessively, (we’ll call her J., because its her first initial and because we don’t want to stoop to the name calling she deserves) became pregnant.  Kleinfelter Syndrome usually entails fertility disruption, as does taking estrogen medications.  J.’s behavior in the relationship was abusive and unfaithful, so when J. said “its not yours”, Darling believed her.  Still, she wanted to do right by the child and asked J. to consider letting her stay in child’s life.  J. said “no, and if you don’t go away, I’ll have you charged with stalking and harassment”.  Up til then, they’d gotten along, this was an abrupt about face on J.’s part.  Darling contacted a lawyer, and learned that she had no rights to ask fora DNA test and that she should respect J.’s request and stay the hell away.  A year passed, and J. called to say she was the bio father and please come see her and the baby, and she did.  The following day, J. said “I just wanted your money, you’re not the father, go away.”

Eventually, Darling went to Thailand, and corrected biology’s mistake. But her transformation wasn’t just genital, or gender-based, she changed her life.  She built a career for herself in IT, set goals and more than met them,  challenging herself to overcome her childhood-instilled tendencies toward drama and violence, and to accept herself and to live life on her terms.  She taught herself to ski, to ride a motorcycle, to build and program computers, and to be calm, loving and generous.  She got off her ass and learned to fly airplanes.  She’s a renaissance woman.  A friend called her “The Most Interesting Woman in the World”  before the Dos Equis guy made that a thing.  The woman she is today has a good job, lives in a nice neighborhood in a lovely, well-cared for home, with a partner who loves her dearly, and a close circle of good friends that have replaced the family who wouldn’t accept her.  She didn’t become a female; that was always who she was.  Darling became an extraordinary woman.

J. didn’t get in touch again for 11 years, and when she did, she said “I lied, she is yours, and she’s all messed up. Can you please come and save her.”  That’s how Babygirl came into our lives.

Babygirl was a scared, scarred 12 year old girl, who was bouncing between J.’s house, her step-father (B., again because I shouldn’t call him what I want to) and various psych wards.  She’d been tortured, abused, neglected, molested, and exposed to family and community violence.  She was diagnosed with PTSD, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder, a diagnosis usually found in extreme cases of abuse, first observed in Romanian orphanages) ODD, ADD, ADHD, and a host of other alphabetical terms that all basically mean an unloved child is responding to her caregivers in exactly the same ways that she has seen them behave.  We immediately went into action.  Children’s Services was in the process of removing her from her mother’s custody.  J. had invited Darling back into Babygirl’s life not out of concern for Babygirl., but to hurt her stepfather, B. who wanted her to live with him for reasons that had more to do with finances than with any real concern for Babygirl’s welfare.  Our first move was to contact a lawyer to find out how to go about getting custody and getting her to a safe stable place.  Next, we confirmed Babygirl’s parentage with DNA, to prevent J. from pulling any more stuff. Then we filed for custody from Children’s Services, determined to give this hurt little girl a chance at a normal, healthy life.  It took nearly a year, and was a hell of an journey, but we were finally granted custody 4 months ago.

Aging Gracelessly

I read a Facebook post by a friend the other day who wrote that she was excited to start seeing gray hairs coming in.  I have always thought of her as a Super Empowered Woman and this added to my appreciation of her self-awareness and esteem.  I find that I’m unflatteringly jealous of her attitude. It does me no credit, and I feel very guilty for not embracing my own maturity in comparison. 

Perhaps its because my partner is much younger than I am- 7 years younger, and yet she has much more life experience than I do.  I feel like I should have accomplished more than I have if I’m to be this old- so old that I am growing gray hairs of my own.  Or maybe its the example set by my mother who always claimed that she was 29, even into her 40’s.  Maybe its because I don’t want to face my own mortality at all.  Maybe its just that I don’t like looking old. Society has taught us that women are supposed to stay forever young. 

In 2005, a friend was killed in a car accident, and I realized then the value of having birthdays, of being able to get older. Its not a gift granted to everyone.  Some people don’t get to celebrate birthdays anymore, having died all too young.  I’d much rather get older than not have the opportunity.  

But still I fight the signs of aging with all the vigor I can muster in my decrepitude.  I pluck gray hairs out, finding that coloring my hair doesn’t really help, and they seem all thick and wiry and not at all like the rest of the hairs around them, wavy and long.  I moisturize my skin now, though I neglected it in my youth, and often find myself reminding me to drink more water to keep my skin looking younger through this cold, drying winter.  I look for signs of aging in my hands, and in a magnification mirror, and glow at compliments that I don’t look my age (which I do not lie about.)  

What does 45 look like?  What should 50 look like?  Why would I want to hold on to youth, immaturity and an impossible ideal of what I should appear to be held by people who’s opinions I care nothing for?  Maybe, just maybe, I’m closer to acceptance than I think I am.  Maybe I would benefit from spending more time caring about myself and less time staring in a mirror worrying about what my hair might say about me.  

 

 

Confessional

A confession: With both of my pregnancies, I was more than disappointed that I was pregnant with boys.  With my oldest, my pregnancy was miserable.  I was convinced that if I was going to have to go through so much nausea, heartburn, weight-gain (please, God, let this baby weigh 80lbs!) achiness and exhaustion, it should be for the daughter I envisioned in my head! With my youngest, I laid next to the ultrasound and lied through my teeth when the middle-school-age appearing technician asked me if I had a preference.  “No,” I said, “I just want a healthy baby.” But I wanted a girl this time, so bad it ached and I was sorely disappointed when a few seconds later the wand outside my huge belly showed a wand on the baby, too.

That does it, I thought, I am officially the Worst.  Mom.  Ever.

I pretended throughout that pregnancy that I was delighted to have another boy, but secretly in my head, there was this daughter that I envisioned so completely, that her absence was tangible.  I was so deeply ashamed of these feelings of loss, I knew other people wouldn’t understand I would not soon be celebrating the birth of a son, but would instead mourn the loss of a daughter.

When my oldest son was born, there were complications.  Slightly pre-term and born via c-section, his teeny lungs just weren’t quite ready to do their thing.  I visited him constantly in the NICU those first few days, aching to hold him and kiss him and make it all better for him.  I cried to look at him swaddled not in my arms but in a cold incubator with tubes.  I didn’t need him to be a girl, I just needed him to be perfectly healthy.  We were incredibly lucky, we spent 3 days in the NICU, 2 days in the nursery and got to go home together.   As they pushed my wheelchair out of the hospital, taking a photo and leading me to the car my now-ex-husband waited in to take us home, I remember thinking “These people are crazy, letting me take a real honest to goodness human baby home with me! I’m going to be a terrible mother, I couldn’t even keep my freakin’ hermit crabs alive, for petes sake!”

When his brother was born, 11 years later, my pregnancy was much smoother and the labor and delivery was uncomplicated and I bore a son whose physical condition was absolutely perfect and whose personality was apparent immediately.  Again, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about him.

I still harbored inside me the loss of my imaginary daughter.  She would have brown hair, with pigtails.  She would be exuberant and artistic, funny and adorable, and I would give her all the love I never quite felt from my parents.

Yes, Dr Freud, I know… I know.

At the time, I thought I was going to make a terrible mother because I was so disappointed I was going to have boys.  I thought I was awful, but I came to find out that I was not awful, I was human.  And I wasn’t mourning for a daughter, but was instead sad for my own inner child. But enough about me.

After my divorce, I met someone incredible.  The strongest, smartest and bravest woman I’ve ever come across.  When she sat me down and explained her life’s journey, having been born a male with Klinefelter syndrome and told me about her transition from Intersex to fully female, I had no qualms about being with her.  She had such a beautiful spark to her, an appreciation of life that I wanted to share, I knew she was The One.   I wanted to learn her secret for living life so fully.

She has a son, from an earlier marriage, a son she wasn’t supposed to have been able to sire having Klinefelter.  He’s the same age as my oldest, Autistic, and she loves him enough to let him live away from the bustling city with his maternal grandparents on a farm about an hour away. Letting him go to her former in-laws was the hardest thing she’s ever done, in a life replete with hardship.  They could properly care for him, though, and make sure he got to dr’s appointments, attend school with his peers, and all the things she couldn’t do for him and still support them both working.  Her sacrifice for him has paid off: he’s a college student with a rich and healthy outlook who’s exceeded all the professional’s opinions of his potential.  This is in no small part due to her own efforts, as well as theirs; she spent all her non-working time visiting and working with him to teach him to speak, to have patience with the unexpected and decrease his sensitivities to time and sensation, and pursue an independent life through education.

None of this came easy to her, though.  Her own parents were abusive and hurtful.  She learned no parenting or coping skills from them.  She researched, observed her son and saw what worked with him and what didn’t, and taught herself to be a mother to him.  And those skills paid off when a ghost from her past came calling, and it turned out that she also has a 12 year old daughter she didn’t know about.