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.”