I told Bryce about my prompting. "Don't get your hopes up," he said. "You know the odds are not in your favor, being that she has not one, but two parents trying to regain custody."
It was true. Her birth mother and father were no longer together but both wanted their baby more than anything.
But in the meantime, we got to care for 6-month-old Baby Mary. She was the most feisty, strong-willed, precocious baby we'd ever seen--meaning that when she wasn't a terror she was a delight. She began talking at 9 months, walking at 10 months, and bossing around the other kids soon after. Several nights at dinner when the kids were rowdy, Mary stood up in her high chair, pointed her finger, and commanded in her baby voice, "Eat! Eat! Obey!"
In keeping with the plan of service, Mary had regular visits with her birth mother. As with all of our foster children, we took her to the Casa's Rocket Center, where we handed Mary to a caseworker. The caseworker took the child to the parent; the middleman was there to buffer any awkwardness or impropriety. However, there were sometimes brief face-to-face encounters between foster parents and birth parents.
One morning as I dressed Mary for a visit with her birth mom--Cee--I had the distinct impression, "Smile and be friendly."
So when I dropped Mary off, I made sure Cee and I saw each other. I smiled and waved. I thanked her for the cute outfit she sent and told her that her daughter was a joy. Then the caseworker closed the door.
I did this for every visit until one day, the three of us--Bryce, Cee, and I--met around a table for a court-ordered mediation.
After months had passed and hardships intensified, Cee knew that she was not in a position to care for her baby, now or in the forseeable future. This was also the position of the court, and in such cases the parent's rights are usually terminated. However, Cee looked at me and Bryce and said, "I want the best for my baby. I want to relinquish my parental rights, but only to these people. They treated me with respect, like a real human being. That's more than I can say for most of you people."
The room was silent.
"I can tell you love her," Cee said, turning her gaze back to us. "Will you adopt her? Please?"
Tears filled my eyes. "Yes, of course, Cee. We love her so much."
Time stood still. Was this really happening?
Impatient, practical lawyers interrupted our special moment. "It'll take time to draw up the paperwork. And don't forget, her father is still in the picture. This is not a done deal. This case has a long way to go."
But in my mind, we'd come so far. Not only were we a step closer to adding Baby Mary to our family, we had gained an ally in Cee--what a gift it was to have her blessing.
The lawyers were right; we had a long way to go. What we didn't count on was the birth father throwing a major wrench in the works with his insistence we put our fate not in the hands of a seasoned judge, but in the hands of 12 strangers.
Our daughter's life depended on the ruling of a jury trial.