Our crew

Our crew

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The whole story

I know it's been QUITE some time since I posted here.  There is so much privacy surrounding the foster care system that I didn't feel I could share enough without sharing too much.  But now, on the other side of things, I can share OUR story.  Our son's story.  Though he will always be who he is and will always know where he came from, his future is entirely changed.  He is our son, but more importantly, he belongs to Christ.
Here he is at just a couple of weeks old.  I photographed him in our family's baptism gown even though we didn't know if he would eventually be a Shipp or not.  But all of my children have worn this gown and I wanted that for him if he was in fact going to be a Shipp.

We also got to put him in the baptism gown that belonged to my great grandmother, who was also adopted.  So here he is in his great-great-grandmother's baptism gown.

Here is the story I wrote up to keep for him, along with the continuation I finished up today. Some of this will be recap on the blog, but I wanted to share the whole thing.

We always knew we wanted to adopt.  We always thought that something would just “fall in our lap.” One of my great grandmothers was left in a basket on a doorstep. We didn’t think we would start the process until after our biological kids were much older, but in the summer of 2013 we decided to go in that direction.  We went to our first meeting at Buckner International in October of 2013 and were licensed to do straight adoption through CPS waiting Texas children.  We were licensed to adopt as many as three, which would give us 8 total in our home.  We submitted our homestudy on numerous sibling groups but were never chosen or matched.  

In early November of 2014, a young homeless couple showed up at our church.  That Sunday my husband was teaching Sunday school for the first time.  It was “Orphan Sunday” and he was teaching on the responsibility of Christians to care for orphans.  After Sunday school, this couple came up to us and introduced themselves.  They told us they had two girls in foster care in different homes.  They had heard from someone else at church that we were licensed to adopt, so they told us they thought maybe we could get their girls and adopt them and then in a few years when they “get back on our feet”, they could take the girls back.  We immediately thought that they didn’t know what adoption meant!  They also told us they were expecting.

The next month, my husband took a job working in NM 3 weeks a month and we found out we were expecting.  We decided to put adoption plans on the back burner but to keep our license up so we wouldn’t have to go through all the training classes again.  I also started mentoring the young mother.  Our church helped the couple with housing, a vehicle, jobs, and food.  I drove her to many doctors appointments, food banks, and more.  I developed a good relationship with them, but especially with her.  She was very open with me and we talked often.  I got more and more comfortable and learned much from her.  Her stories exposed me to many things and experiences I never dreamed of.  (These details are in another note.)  Folks from church also helped with a wedding and the couple was married January 3rd, 2014.

Her baby was due in March.  Between November and March, they had lived in 5 different places including living with various friends.  The father had acquired and lost 6 jobs.  I maintained a relationship with them.  Their parental rights had been terminated on their daughter in December.  Mom had another older daughter that was not in CPS custody but was living with family of the father.  She had no contact with them.  On more than one occasion she and I had conversations about her girls and she expressed her desire to get her girls back.  CPS had told her she would not be getting the middle daughter back.  Their parental rights were terminated and case was closed.  She still didn’t seem to get it.  At one point she asked me if I thought she would ever get her back.  As hard as it was, I had to tell her “no.”  We shed tears together.  I hurt for her.  During this conversation she also asked me if I thought CPS would get involved again when this baby was born.  I told her I expected they would.  She asked if I would be there with her at the hospital when he was born and if CPS came if I would be there to help her understand what they told her.  She also asked if CPS decided to remove him, if we would take him.  I told her we would talk and pray about it.  We both cried.

We did talk and pray about it extensively.  I knew that if it came to it, we were their best chance at getting him back.  We could continue to offer support.  The church could help them and encourage them.  They could get and stay clean.  We could surround them with love and prayer.  Despite my husband being gone so much, me being pregnant, and having 5 kids already, we decided that we would say “yes” if the call came.  On one Sunday after telling her we would foster him if needed, she commented to me casually in the lunch line that she liked knowing that if she couldn’t have her son that we would and that we would raise him the right way and love him and discipline him like our own.  I couldn’t imagine saying such a thing.  

After several false alarms, I finally got a call from her telling me her water had broken.  She was in labor and headed to the hospital.  She asked me to meet her there.  On Tuesday, March 17, 2015, a healthy baby boy was born via c-section.  He was 6 lbs 9 oz and 18” long.  He spent his first 8 hours in the nursery.  Mom never asked for him but asked frequently if she could go down and smoke a cigarette. She was in lots of pain from the surgery and asking for pain meds.  But she wanted a cigarette more than her baby.  He was precious and perfect.  He looked like his daddy.  I took pictures.  I was the third person to hold the little tiny bundle and I spent a lot of time holding and snuggling and kissing on him.  I was there all day while my mother-in-law was at home with my kids.

The next morning CPS showed up.  Mom texted me and asked me to come now.  I was already in the parking lot.  I went up and the investigator was there.  I asked mom if she wanted me to come in and she said yes. She was a nervous wreck.  The investigator asked lots of questions and I listened as mom answered and lied about many of them.  Dad wasn’t there and I was afraid he would fly off the handle when he got there.  The investigator asked mom if she had someone, family or friend, that could take him if CPS determined he could not go home with them.  She named me.  I spoke with the investigator outside of the room afterward.  Then my dad, the pastor, showed up coincidentally and spoke with her as well.  Then the dad showed up.  He actually stayed calm and answered the investigators questions.  Both parents thought she was satisfied and that baby boy would be going home with them.

I went home again that night.  My husband and I were prepared for the possibility of bringing another baby home soon.  My dad called and told me his concerns about the potential of having a foster baby, especially this foster baby with all the complications of knowing the birth parents.  He also told me that he knew, as crazy as it all was, that if anyone could handle it, I was it.  We of course prayed more

On Thursday morning I called mom to see if she wanted me back at the hospital.  She said she did so I went.  She had not had the baby in her room all night.  She said she had too much anxiety and needed something for it and needed a cigarette and more pain meds.  The CPS investigator came back with an armed guard to tell them that baby boy would not be going home with them.  After she left the room, I stepped out to give them a moment with each other to process and grieve.  The investigator told me they weren’t sure yet if baby would be going with me.  They had to talk to the family that had his sister first.  I left to go get a bite to eat with a friend.

While I was at lunch, I got the call.  Baby boy was coming to my house within a couple of hours.  I called mom to let her know and I told her that this would immediately change my relationship with her.  I would have to limit contact with her.  He was now my priority.  I would be loving and helping her by loving and caring for her son.  She thanked me.  So did dad.

I went home to get ready and my mother in law ran to the store for diapers.  He was brought to my house shortly after that, we signed all the papers, and we were officially foster parents.  My parents came within the hour with a baby gift.  My dad said to all of us that as long as this baby is with us he would be treated 100% like family.  No matter how long he would be with us he would get all the benefits of being in our family.  My husband hadn’t even met him yet and wouldn’t for two more weeks.  He called my father in law to let him know.  My father in law agreed that we had done exactly what needed to be done.

They came to the first court hearing.  CPS stated that they wanted to go straight to termination based on the previous case and the parents lack of improvement since that short time ago.  The judge denied that request and required CPS to give them a service plan.  At the initial staffing meeting at CPS the parents did not come.  I was present.  The service plan was laid out for the parents to have consistent employment and housing for six months, to stay off drugs and out of jail, to do parenting classes and psychological evaluations.  The primary goal listed was for “non relative adoption” and the concurrent goal was reunification.

Over the next couple of weeks baby boy had weekly visits with his parents at the CPS office and on Sundays at church we would go in the office and have a short visit that I supervised.  It was a bit awkward but they were always friendly.  When he was about 3 weeks old the parents failed their drug tests and visits were suspended by CPS.  They were no longer allowed to have contact with him, even at church. They continued to come on and off but couldn’t hold him.  On Mother’s Day they showed up again and informed us that their daughter had been adopted.  Then they disappeared.  

I enjoyed all the new baby snuggles and baby boy slept constantly.  He never cried.  Our baby girl was born on June 7th.  She was baptized on Father’s Day.  That day his birth parents were at church again.  They asked to hold him but we told them we had to follow CPS rules.  We did get a picture of him beside them.  After that they disappeared again.  That was the last time we saw birth dad.  I don’t know if we will ever see him again.

After a month or so I heard from mom again.  They were in Louisiana but wouldn’t tell us where.  They didn’t come to court.  Mom would contact me periodically.  I would send pictures and tell her how he was doing and what new “tricks” he was learning.  She assured me that they were “working hard.”  At one point she asked me if I was disappointed in her and I told her “yes.  You left your son.”  She always thanked me for loving him and taking care of him.
Several months went by without contact.  Then suddenly, on Halloween, I got a facebook request and message from her.  I seriously debated accepting the request but decided to do so on a limited basis.  I could see what she posted and send messages back and forth, but I could hide most of my posts from her.  They had moved to Colorado.  They were “working hard”.  At this point they both told me that they realized the best thing for baby boy was for us to adopt him  I had several very good conversations with mom on the phone and once with dad.  They both thanked me profusely for loving and caring for their son.  They told me they knew he has a future with us and that they couldn’t provide for him.  I asked them if they intended to relinquish their rights and they said yes.  They were going to get a P.O. Box and get the papers signed.

More time went by with nothing.  They told me they had contacted their court appointed attorneys and informed them of their desire to relinquish their rights and for us to adopt.  They never signed papers.  I didn’t hear from her after mid December.  I was worried about her.  Homeless, cold, and for all I knew, missing.  Or worse.

The Sunday after Christmas, I stayed home from church with a sick kid.  I never miss church.  That morning I got a text from my dad letting me know that birth mom was at church.  I was an emotional wreck.  I wanted baby boy home with me.  I was shocked.  I was relieved that she was ok.  I wanted to be there to talk to her.  I wanted to know what was going on.  I wanted to see her.  I wanted to hug her.  I wanted to ring her neck.  I didn’t know what I wanted.  She was friendly to everyone.  My husband told me she came up to him, kissed baby boy on the head, called him by the name we gave him (not what she named him), and told him to be good for mama and daddy, referring to us.  She told him she loved him.  

A few days later she sent me a Facebook message and we made plans to have lunch.  I picked her up on the side of the road about 15 miles outside of town.  We went to lunch and had a good visit.  She told me her husband was in jail in Colorado and would be there for a while.  She said her intentions for us to adopt still stood.  She knew she couldn’t be a parent.  She was staying with her dad, who up until this point, I had no idea existed.  I had never heard her talk about him.  He send me a FB message and asked me to call him.  He wanted to confirm her story of meeting me for lunch.  I had a good conversation with him.  She didn’t go back “home” to him.  She moved in with a friend and started laying low because she knew she had a warrant out and would be arrested.

Court was Monday, January 11th.  Mom didn’t show.  CPS filed to terminate parental rights.  Mom and Dad’s attorneys said that they had been contacted and informed that the parents did not wish to contest and that they willingly gave up their rights, though they never signed anything.  The judge granted this order and their parental rights were terminated that day.  

Now we have to wait 90 days to adopt our little guy. Then I can share pictures of this beautiful boy that essentially fell in our lap.  He may look like his biological father, but he is practically a twin of our now six year old.  He will also grow up as a twin to our baby girl.  They are two and a half months apart.  Most of the time when people in public ask if they are twins we say “yes.”  The first time someone asked that and my husband said they were, I asked him what he was going to tell them when they asked how old they were.  He said, “I was going to say I don’t know, ask my wife.”

We hope that we can maintain a relationship with birth mom.  I’m not sure what that will look like.  I hope she can get clean and lead a productive life.  I hope that she comes to know the Lord.  I hope that all this mess leads her to fall down at the foot of the Cross.  As much as I think it would be easier for ME if he never knows her, I know that he will benefit from knowing her and knowing his history.  This is nothing at all what we expected when we set out to adopt.  But it’s exactly what God had planned for us.  He is the author of this story.  My constant prayer through all of this last 10 months and beyond has been that glory would be brought to Him through this experience.  That more people would be drawn to foster and adopt.  That this sweet little guy would change lives. That his birth parents would know HIM.  And when I would worry about baby boy’s future I would remind myself that God loves him way more than I do.

To be continued...

The rest of the story is that on May 13th, we finalized his adoption.  We had a huge party to celebrate!  His is ours forever!  It's not exactly what we set out for, but it's what God intended for us.  And it's perfect. 
For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

On May 15th, my dad had the privilege of baptizing his 16th grandchild.  And of course my mom made a beautiful outfit for the occasion.

The day we received his Birth certificate in the mail, in late October, was overwhelmingly emotional.  To see our names listed as his BIRTH parents, on that official document stating that we are his REAL parents,  Wow!

I do still maintain contact with his first mom.  She knows that if she is open with me that she will continue to know him.  She also knows that if she ever shows up for a visit and is strung out on something, the visit will be over and we will not continue visits until he wants them again.  Of course at this point he doesn't even know who she is.  But that will never be hidden from him.  I have the only pictures from his first parents' wedding and from his birth.  He will know where he came from.  He also has several letters written by his first father and mother along with pictures from her childhood.  He will always know he was loved.

Though she made many bad decisions, she made two great ones, and I thank her often for that.  She chose to give him life when she didn't have to.  And even though it was a forced decision, she did chose us to be his parents.  I will forever be grateful for that sacrifice and I will never forget the valuable lessons I learned through all of this.

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