When my daughter was 18 months old, she was removed from home because my husband and I were using drugs. At our first visit, my husband and I were very anxious. I was scared that my daughter would forget me or feel that I did not want her anymore.
Waiting in the hallway for our baby, we saw a Spanish man holding a little girl. The girl looked like my baby but she had bangs. Could that be her? My husband said, “It is her,” and he grabbed her from the guy’s arms, saying, “Sweetie.” She grabbed him back and put her little head on his shoulders.
When I saw my daughter’s haircut, I was so upset. She did not look like my daughter. I confronted the worker and she told me that the foster parents could not see her eyes. I told her, “They should have put her hair up!”
“I’m sorry,” the worker said. “It will grow back.”
Sad and Confused
During the visit, my daughter would not let go of us and was quiet. Her eyes gave a blank stare, moving ever so slowly. We tried to play toys with her but she just wanted comfort. She wrapped her body around me and rested her head on my shoulder. Her father and I rubbed her back and told her that we loved her very much and would fight to get her home.
At the end of the visit, it was hard to say goodbye. My daughter was crying so much. Her face was full of agony. She screamed, “Mommy! Daddy!” I can still remember her arms stretching out to us.
When I looked into her eyes, I felt despair and guilt. I cried and hugged and kissed her and told her we would see her again.
A Mom, But Not a Good One
Before my daughter was removed, I had a very bad addiction for almost 20 years. At times, I barely slept or ate. I wandered the streets looking for my next hit. I had six other children and didn’t raise any of them. Two of my sons ended up in foster care and were adopted by their foster mom, who I asked to take my daughter when she went into foster care.
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I was determined to raise her. I stayed clean for six months. But I relapsed, even though I loved my daughter with all my heart.
While I was using, I tried to take care of my daughter. I put her to sleep by laying her on my stomach and rubbing her back until she fell asleep. I held her and comforted her when she cried. My daughter liked to be tickled on her tummy and she liked rolling a ball back and forth. When she was old enough, I would take her to the park and push her on the swing and help her climb the jungle gym.
The best thing I remember during that time was my daughter’s first birthday. I planned and saved money. I made tuna salad, baked macaroni and cheese, pernil, chicken and green salad. We had a big cake and capias for each guest. We taped the trees with streamers and hung a piñata stuffed with candy. All of my friends came and my sons’ foster mother and her husband came with my two sons. That was the best thing—spending the day with my two sons and my baby.
My daughter was laughing and playing. I don’t think she understood what was going on, but she was very curious about her toys and ate a lot of cake. She even took her first steps that day.
I was a good mom to my daughter sometimes but not always. Other times I would sell her milk and food stamps for money, and I would leave her in her crib while I got high. I hated when my high came down and I had to face that I’d messed up as a mother. I would lie on the floor with my daughter watching TV and cry. My guilt was tremendous. I always prayed to God to forgive me.
After my daughter went into foster care, we had visits at an agency for two years. The visit room had a small red couch and some little chairs. There was a toy room but the lady in charge was rarely there. So basically, it looked like an office: no toys and very gloomy green paint on the walls.
A few days before each visit, I would pack a bag of toys, coloring books and reading books. I tried to be ready for any activity. My husband and I would go shopping to buy our daughter a new outfit and things for her hair.
My daughter would come wearing clothes that were too small, and her hair was never really done properly. So when she first came in to visits, I would hug her and then take her to the bathroom to change her clothes and do her hair.
Eating and Playing
It made me feel better that I was still able to take care of my daughter. Even when I was using crack, I would get my daughter clothes from the church and wash them by hand so she would look like a clean little girl. With her hair done, she looked like my little angel again. I also loved to be in the bathroom with my daughter, away from everybody else. It was my time to comfort my daughter and let her know that I loved her.
Then my daughter would usually eat a Happy Meal that my husband would bring for her, and for the rest of the visit, she and her father and I would play. Her favorite thing to do was color. She also liked us to bring kitchen things, like plates and spoons and forks. We would pretend we were cooking. Every visit, I brought a camera and took pictures to look at during my week.
When it was time to say goodbye, I tried not to cry because I did not want my daughter to see me hysterical. I would tell her, “I love you and I’ll see you next week.” My husband would ask, “What do you want us to bring to the next visit?” As she got older, she could tell us if she wanted any candy or a toy. Then we would say goodbye with a hug and a kiss.
Smothering Her With Love
When the judge gave my family unsupervised visits, it was such a weight off to leave the agency. I was able to really hold my daughter and smother her with all of my love. She would call out, “Mommy!” and give me hugs and kisses. The more time I had with my daughter, the more connection I felt to her.
We would pick her up at 10 a.m. and bring her back by 4 p.m. We always made sure we were there early to pick her up and on time to drop her off. We would take her out to lunch, to the park and the playground, and to see all of our friends.
I loved taking her to the swimming pool. I bought her a little sky blue one-piece bathing suit. I would take her in the baby pool and watch her try to swim in the water. Now that I was sober, I was able to laugh and play in the water with her without any shame. My husband would meet us at the pool and we would go for lunch. These were moments that I did not want to let go of.
A Good Mother
Being out with my daughter sober was so much better. My thoughts were clear and I was able to take time to enjoy her laughter and her ideas.
I had never been sure that I could be a good mom. I was not raised by my mother; I was raised by the system. During moments when I felt I needed advice, I felt empty. Feeling empty and alone had fed my addiction.
In parenting classes I learned that I could become a real parent to my daughter and have family activities with her and my husband. I learned about unconditional love and how to show my daughter my love.
During visits, I was able to do motherly things with my daughter, like saying “I love you” and playing with her. I learned that I could be a good mother. I also found out that I am a responsible person. I was proud that I was able to plan outings with my daughter and make sure that I had packed what she needed, like milk, juice, diapers and a change of clothes.
The Little Things
The best parts of our visits were the little things: being able to hear her say “Mommy” and feeling her hand in mine. Simple things felt so good, like eating at a Chinese restaurant together, or asking my daughter about her brothers and her foster mother and how things were in her foster home. The best was taking my daughter to church with me. I was able to put her in a nice dress and shoes and finally introduce her to people there. That was something I had wanted for a long time.
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