It’s time to come clean. Get ready for a long read.
While people have called me brave and strong and a great mother to the Peanut, I have been keeping something quiet. For the last two months, the Peanut has not been in my care. She has been in the care of a wonderfully supportive, caring family who provide foster care to some of New Zealand’s most in-need children.
I have kept this quiet for some obvious reasons; I was judging myself for my actions and didn’t feel I needed to hear the judgment of the internet; and I was unsure of the final outcome and what my ultimate decision would be. It didn’t feel it was right to share it.
After she was born and the bad news started flooding in, the hospital sat us down to talk to the social worker dedicated to the NICU. She talked about the grieving process. Explained that I was mourning the loss of the baby I thought I was going to have. This was all brand new to me. Special needs children were not something I was familiar with. So I asked what our options were. She took us through the options which included adoption, foster care and keeping the Peanut. When she first said the word foster care I felt the bile rise up in my throat. I asked her, “how could we do that? People know we have had a baby”. Of course I wasn’t just worried about what people would think. At that point the Peanut was just a few days old and I already loved her to bits, but my own feelings of judgment immediately made me realise how we would look to others.
I put it out of my head. When I stood over her crib I said “we’re taking her home.”
Within a day or two I sat with the Peanut on my lap as they did the hearing test. I saw the line that indicated her hearing fall well below the green pass area. I looked around the room, at the hearing instructor and I felt a great wave of panic and release come over me. I had reached my limit. I could not do this anymore. It was too much. I put the Peanut back in her plastic hospital cot, her face red and irritated from the gels they use in the hearing test, and walked out of the NICU to give everyone the bad news.
I felt I had reached my breaking point. Her hearing was where I had drawn the line. I had bargained with myself that I could handle blind with brain and heart abnormalities, but I couldn’t handle deafness being added to that mix. I had reached my tipping point and in some ways it felt good. I had set up this line before I found out, and now that I had I felt like I could do what came next knowing it was the right decision.
We talked to the social worker and began the process of finding her an adoption placement.
When I look back on my notes and appointment times from this time I realise we met with the adoption agent when the Peanut was just six days old. Six days old. Not even a week in this world.
He talked us through the process and sent a call out nationwide to establish interest. There were three families, across the whole of New Zealand who responded. They were scattered across the country and I thought about the benefits of each location in terms of the hospital and resources.
During this time I continued to express, and spent every day with the Peanut. If I was going to do this I wanted to ensure I had done my best by her. I wanted to continue to advocate for her and be the best mother I could until I wasn’t anymore.
When the number of potential adoptee families dropped to one, I wasn’t surprised. I was told they would be contacted and a meeting arranged. After I got off the phone, I sat in the hospital looking down at the Peanut in my lap and wept. Tears rolled down my face onto hers. Nurses stopped by to ask me if I was ok, and finally one offered me a private room to spend some time alone with the Peanut and my growing puddle.
I was devastated but I felt like if I could give the Peanut a solid family who would love and care for her, I would be doing the best I could for her.
When the family fell through a mix of panic and relief surged through me. I firmly believe I would have gone through with an adoption. I would have missed that little girl every day, and who knows what kind of life I would have had, but I felt like she would be ok and that was the main thing. When it was taken off the table as an option I was hemmed in, but had been relieved of the permanence of adoption.
The next weeks were spent organising a foster placement for the Peanut. I won’t bore you with the complex government processes and meetings that this entails, but lets just say on the whole it’s not a pleasant process and one I hope never to repeat. The government employees working with us turned out to be fantastic, and the hospital staff were so supportive, but trying to give up your child is not something the organisation is used to seeing.
Over this time we had a couple of pieces of news which began to change things for me. The Peanut’s MRI scan results improved so that we now saw her frontal lobe was not nearly so affected as originally thought, and the opthalmologists thought they might be able to return sight to her eye (this turned out to not be true). Each time I received a piece of news like this my spirits lifted and I felt like, that’s it, I’m keeping her. But over a couple of days the feeling of despair would return and I would go back to thinking foster care was a better option.
I had been given advice that in terms of getting help for the Peanut and placing her, I had the most control while she was still in hospital. Once she left hospital, I was told, it would be much harder to get the organisations to listen to me and act. So as the Peanut’s list of tests and procedures shrank, I got more and more anxious about what was going to happen to her and us.
So the day arrived that the Peanut was due to be discharged. The plan was that she would come home for six weeks. At that point we would have a family conference where we would agree as to what would happen with her future. She would go into foster care which could last up to a year before they could place her as a seriously disabled child in another form of foster care. If anyone wanted to take the Peanut out of foster care they only had to give seven days notice. I held onto this fact and repeated it to myself like a mantra. Seven days. Seven days.
Quick update: The Peanut’s father and I broke up shortly before the Peanut was due to be discharged. Out of respect for him as the Peanut’s father, and someone going through his own traumatic process, I will not go into the whys and what happened.
I was left to decide the Peanut’s future and what it would look like for me. I would love to say that our separation was why she went into foster care. That I found I couldn’t do it by myself. Or that it was just him who didn’t want to bring her home. But that wouldn’t be true. I had reached a breaking point and I didn’t know how to come back from it. While the deafness had been my final tipping point, it felt to me like the Peanut had to make miraculous progress before I would flip back in the opposite direction. I was aware this didn’t seem fair but I couldn’t help it.
The Peanut and I shared six weeks together where we got to know each other and bonded. I continued to express and she had three months of expressed breast milk. I started to look at the foster care time as a chance to regroup. To get my head straight and figure out if it was going to be able to raise the Peanut by myself. I needed to answer some logistical questions before I made any final decision.
Was I going to be able to work?
Would there be childcare for the Peanut with all her additional needs?
Could I afford to live with just the two of us?
Then came the day that she went into care.
There seems no way to express how this felt without resorting to cliche. I could feel an elastic band between us, stretched taut, but not broken. When ever I thought of her, or looked at a photo on my phone, I felt the band twang and pull at me. I felt physical pain at being away from her and ached thinking about what she was doing at each moment. When I woke at 2am for no reason, I imagined she was crying and needed my care.
Her foster mother, not used to this kind of arrangement, did an amazing job of adjusting her expectations to parental involvement and let me pick up the Peanut and take her for afternoons and then soon whole days. When I wasn’t with the Peanut I was investigating my options and meeting with support people and potential day care options.
I kept a lot of this to myself. My research was done fairly quietly and I pieced together in my head what our life might look like.
A decision was forming in my head, but I wasn’t brave enough to quite hit the accelerator pedal. I flip flopped and played mental gymnastics with myself until I was exhausted. People told me “there is no right decision”. Which sort of helped, except I didn’t believe them.
Then my parents sent me away on a holiday with my sister. We kayaked. We swam. We surfed. We walked. We read. I felt for the first time in months a sense of calm. And it wasn’t because I was far from the Peanut, and far from my worries. It was because the distance and distraction had allowed my brain to work through the last of its concerns.
I wanted the Peanut back.
After waiting for the scales to tip back I finally realised it didn’t matter. I didn’t care if cochlear implants would give her hearing (of course I care, it just wasn’t a deal breaker anymore), I wasn’t waiting to see if she could walk before I loved her. I already did. I didn’t need her to be better. The scales were already tipped. And I wanted her back.
When I got back to New Zealand I started the wheels in motion and now, two weeks later, I am four nights away from having my baby back where she belongs. I am excited and happy. I feel sad that I have missed almost two months with my baby girl, but I know I needed that time to get my head straight. I have never felt so confused or sad or desperate in my life, and I hope to never feel that way again.
I know some parents, most parents even, would not have done what I did. I know there are parents of special kids all over the world who didn’t need two months to get their shit together. But I also know, those two months will make me a better mum and a happier person.
I don’t judge anyone who has to face this decision. It’s an impossible choice that makes you feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t. For a while it felt like I was sinking and that no path lead to a happy life. People were right. There is no right choice. But I know I have made the right choice for me.
I debated writing this post many times. I knew I wasn’t brave enough to write it if the Peanut had stayed in care. But I wanted to acknowledge this time. I’m not ashamed. This is a hard process. You go from having one life to another in a matter of moments, and it takes time for your head to catch up with that switch. Your life gets turned upside down and then shaken like an etch a sketch, so it feels only natural that it takes some time to recover. I’m happy to have reached this decision, but like to think if I saw someone else going through this I would keep an open mind about what they might decide. Life is not obvious sometimes. The choices we make aren’t always black and white.
When people told me I was strong and brave and that the Peanut was so lucky to have me I felt like a fraud, like if they only knew the truth, what would they say then? But now I don’t care. The Peanut is coming home.