It is Wednesday, May 3rd, the day before my 21st birthday. I wake upfeeling sad. Something is telling me this is the day—the last morning I will spend with my kids.
It is a typical Florida day, clear blue skies and hot. It seems as if the world around us is moving so fast and we are standing still. I can’t let me kids see how sad I am. I make my children breakfast and get them dressed as usual. Then off to school they go while I go off to work.
At about 3 p.m., the child protective worker is on the phone. She says, “We have taken your children from the nursery.”
Repeating the Cycle
As a child, I always told myself, “I will never let my children grow up without me. I won’t use drugs. My kids will never be in foster care.” But their reality was everything my childhood was.
My father was a heroin addict who died from AIDS when I was 2. Before he died, he passed the virus to my cocaine-addicted mother, who died when I was 8. I prayed to God every night to bring my mother back. I missed her so much. I really don’t know how I made it through.
After she died, my sister and I lived with my grandma and grandpa but they couldn’t get past their sorrow enough to help us get past ours.
I met Marcus when I was 14 and he was 23. I liked that he was so much older than I was. I liked that he showed me affection and love. I thought he could make all my problems go away. As time went on, I ignored the signs of domestic violence. When I was 14, I dropped out of school and ran away to Phoenix, Arizona, to live with him.
Rock-a-bye Baby and ABCs
For the 10 years I was with Marcus, sometimes he could be loving and affectionate. But he also cheated all the time, he controlled me, he manipulated me, and he said horrible things to me. He used to beat me up, often every day. He beat me with a 2×4 and he beat me in front of our kids.
Substance abuse was a big part of our relationship. Getting high on marijuana was just the beginning. After a while, he was smoking crack and I drank and used marijuana and cocaine just about every day.
Sometimes I hated him and every day I’d think about how much I wanted to get out of there. I did leave him off and on. The main thing that kept me going back to him was my fantasy of keeping my family together. I fantasized about being the American dream parent who was on the PTA and who never yelled, the parent with the house in the suburbs, the white picket fence, even the minivan. I dreamed that Marcus would somehow become loving and caring and would work every day.
The Other Reality
I had my first child when I was 15. Marcus Jr. and I used to spend every day all day together. We’d go to the library and read Dr. Seuss. We’d play and I’d sing him nursery rhymes, like Rock-a-bye Baby and ABCs.
Over the next ten years, I had four more children with Marcus. I showed my kids love, because that is what I yearned for my whole life, and I nursed all of them but the last. I know my kids looked to me for security. Although my love turned out not to be enough, I really did love being a mother. My children were my life, my best friends, and sometimes my parents.
But my kids also walked around until late at night cussing, doing whatever they wanted, and watching their father beat me. I didn’t have control of my relationship, my addiction, or my children.
I also constantly had child welfare in my life. I was a runaway minor when I had Marcus Jr., and when child welfare caught up with me, they placed him with his paternal grandmother while I was placed in foster care. Marvin, my second oldest, was removed for a year because I had a positive toxicology test. Then, after I got him home, I was living separately from Marcus but Marcus beat Marvin during a visit. When Marvin came home with purple belt marks across his lower back, child welfare took all my children from me.
Holding Onto Hope
Soon after my kids were taken, I was arrested for grand larceny and cashing forged checks, and the next four months were a roller coaster ride of hope and despair. I was sentenced to one full year in prison. Then I found out I was pregnant with my fifth child. For a couple of days I did nothing but lie on the steel bed frame with a paper-thin mattress and cry all night and day, until I stopped crying and made the decision to do whatever I could to get my children back.
I filed a petition for a reduced sentence. I wrote to the judge telling her all about my children. I contacted a drug treatment program that I could enter the moment I was released.
When I was six months pregnant, I had an emergency C-section. After surgery, I went to visit my daughter in the intensive care unit, shackled and handcuffed to a wheelchair. CPS let me know they would be taking Linsey into care.
I lay in the hospital feeling the most desperate that I had ever felt. But not even an hour after I was back in jail, the guard walked into the cell and handed me a letter stating that I’d been released to a program. Hope came back like the sun in a cloudless sky.
Can I Really Do This?
For the next four and a half months, I worked diligently to get my life in order. I finished my case plan: parenting, substance abuse, domestic violence. In the beginning, I saw my kids once a week. When we were together, we read and laughed. We shared hugs and kisses. I would hold each of them, telling them how much I loved them, talking, giving them that one-on-one.
When I went to visit Linsey in the hospital for the first time and saw her in her little crib hooked up to a bunch of tubes and weighing only 3 pounds, guilt overcame me. I was scared that she wasn’t going to make it or that I was never going to get her back. I held her, kissed her and told her I loved her.
But then came a few months when I only saw my children maybe two times in eight weeks. The time we spent together was short, and long in between. Our bond was really tested.
I told myself that if I kept doing the right thing, child protection would return my children. But even when I had succeeded in finding employment and housing, they still didn’t return my children to me.
The story in court also kept changing. First they said, “We will give your kids back.” Then they said, “We will give you the girls.” Then they said, “We won’t give you any of the kids.”
I’m sure they were thinking: “Will she relapse? Will she get back with the children’s father?” I had been with Marcus since I was a child. I admit, I asked myself: “Can I really do this by myself?”
Leaving It All Behind
On October 7, 2008, my ability to believe in myself failed me. That day, I began to think that I was being selfish for wanting to get my children back after losing them twice. I kept asking myself, “How could you do this?” The more I beat myself up, the harder it was to imagine staying clean.
That’s when I called my cousin and asked him to send me money to buy a train ticket to New York.
I started drinking on the train, and the rest of 2008 and half of 2009 became me living for the next high. I didn’t care if I died because I had nothing to live for. Meanwhile, my sister took custody of my four youngest children.
Finally, on July 28th, 2009, lying on my friend’s couch, I began to cry, thinking, “I don’t want to be like this for the rest of my life.” That’s when I took the first step and went to detox and then a treatment facility.
Pain as Deep as the Ocean
When I started in recovery, I had nothing to cover up the pain that was as deep as the ocean. I had to face the pain I felt from my childhood and all the years of Marcus saying terrible things to me. Mainly I had to face the fact that I’d let go of my children, who I loved more than anything. Recovery was like going through the stages of grief: denial, anger, then acceptance. I had to accept my circumstances because there was nothing I could do to change them.
The best I can do now is tell myself that at least my children are with family. My sister and I have agreed that I won’t see the kids until they get older, though I talk to them every once in a while. The saddest part is that I have no communication with my oldest son, who’s still with his paternal grandma. It’s his father, not me, who he has in his life.
Not long ago I had a daughter, Brooklyn, and I am doing my best to be a good mother, this time sober. After I had Brooklyn, I also had my tubes tied. Although I’m only 25, I’ve already brought enough children into the world.
Does it get easier? Sometimes. When I can’t stand the pain, I say, “It’s OK. They’re coming back, because children always come back.” When my children do want to be in my life, I want to give them honesty and love and be the mother that, before, I couldn’t be.
Still, every day is painful, just knowing that I have to live without them and that they have to live without me.