Written by Courtney Jean
The day my children were removed is a day that I will remember forever, every single vivid detail. Looking back I kick myself because I never open the door for anybody, but for some reason that day I did and it was a decision that changed my life forever. I was asked to pack my children each a bag, the workers really tried to make it seem as if they were going away for a fun weekend with a family member. I’ll never forget scrambling around my apartment trying to pack those bags for my 6 month old and my 6 year old (the day before his 7th birthday.) What do you pack when your kids are getting removed? How do you decide in such a small amount of time? I tried to pack all of their favorite things, but they followed behind you and unpacked them because special things stay at home. I would later be so grateful for that, because those special items became what I clung to in the days to come. They left with one bag each, which is silly because they both had so much stuff in our apartment. I remember Heather telling me when the boys first came how they had “nothing.” Little did she know, they had everything.
After the woman who I had known for a total of 3 hrs drove away with my children, I felt abundantly numb…empty, zero emotion. I was left with her business card, a safe sleep pamphlet that was protocol to leave with anybody – and that was it. They would be in touch. My children were removed the day before David’s 7th birthday. I didn’t get to see him.
I would spend the next 18 days calling the number on that business card, their supervisors, anyone and everyone who I thought might have answers, daily to try to get updates, to find out where my children were, to find out anything at all. All the while, I had to just keep going, keep living life everyday, waiting for an update. I struggle with mental health, and at the time I had no support system. I had to keep going because I knew that If I stopped and shut down my mind would wander to dangerous places. I really relied on staying busy with work to keep me sane during this time. I typically never answered my phone prior to removal, just not a phone talker, but after removal it didn’t matter what number popped up I was answering it just in case, desperately hoping for anything about my boys. Finally, after 18 days, I got the call. It was the caseworker who had been officially assigned to our case. She was in such a rush to talk to me, I had so many questions. I asked her if my oldest had a good birthday, I asked her if he lost his wiggly tooth, I asked her if I could see pictures of them.
She said the foster mom has been asking for your email, can we give it to her?
Yes, GIVE IT TO HER.
Within 5 minutes of getting off the phone I got the first of many emails from my boys’ foster mom.
I read it over and over and over, staring at the pictures of my kids, weeping in the Walmart bathroom on my break from work. I felt hopeless. I didn’t know what to do or how I was going to make it through this.
About a week later, we finally got to have our first court date, and they set up our first visit for the same day. It was a four hour visit in a sad looking conference room, one you’d expect a business meeting to happen in, not one in which you’d expect to spend four hours with children.
I didn’t care though.
It was the best day of my life.
Nothing else mattered. I finally got to see my boys again, even if it was only for four hours.
At the end of our four hour visit, our case worker came to collect the boys. I was really surprised when she told me the foster parents would like to meet us, and asked if it was okay. Absolutely it was! I wanted to hate them. I wanted to find a reason to dislike them, I wanted to find more reasons to be angry, but instead, I walked downstairs and I met Heather and Jesse. They were kind and sweet and I hated that I couldn’t find a single reason to hate them. I felt an incredible amount of peace as we left that day though, like my kids were with someone safe, like I could be a little less anxious.
After that 4 hour visit, we were able to finally coordinate a regular weekly visit schedule. Fridays and Saturdays for 2 hours each day. Waiting for those two days to come every week were the hardest.
I emailed Heather daily (sometimes multiple times a day). I would ask for updates, tell her I was thinking of the boys, that I loved them. And she always responded, she emailed me almost every single day and the days she didn’t, I clung to the photos from the day before and wondered what adventures my boys were up to, and which of Scout’s milestones I was missing.
When we began having our visits, there was a very strict rule that biological families had to wait inside the visitation center until the foster family was gone from the parking lot. This was so frustrating for me, I so badly wanted to walk my kids out to the car to say goodbye, and also I wanted to talk to Heather and Jesse more. I so badly wanted to get to know them and for them to know me, truly know me, because what I had been painted out to be was terrifying.
We formed a friendly relationship with the woman who worked at the visitation center fairly quickly. After a few visits, she allowed us to wait for the kids to get dropped off outside and then walk them out to the car. Those 5-10 extra minutes with Heather and Jesse began to build a friendship more special than I could have ever imagined. The first few interactions were painfully awkward, the most uncomfortable small talk. I couldn’t even tell you what we talked about. I think I complimented Heather’s shoes just to fill the silence. But we consistently kept having these interactions, no matter how awkward and how uncomfortable, and it went from 5-10 minute awkward conversations to 30-45 minute conversations, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Heather and I emailed from October until the end of November, and then she sent me an email offering her phone number for me so that I could text her instead of relying on email. That act, as well as the way she consistently treated me as human, equal, worthy…that is one of her best qualities. It meant (and still means) more to me than words can say.
Throughout the entire 276 days my children were in her home (who was counting right?) she never treated me as if I was any less than her. It made me feel like I could approach her more, like she was on my team. It made me feel like I could trust her as a parenting partner and a friend, as a part of my “village.” She’s been just that. When we got to go from supervised to unsupervised visits, we were given free reign to change the days if we wanted to, but the courts didn’t officially give us any more time in terms of the length of visitations. We kept our Friday + Saturday because my job already gave me those days off for visitation. Our first unsupervised visit Heather asked if we wanted to have the boys for an extra hour at the carnival, my oldest said that day was “the best day ever.” We cherished every single second of that extra hour.
Eventually as our unsupervised visits went on, Heather told us if we ever wanted to have the boys a few extra hours on our visit day we could. We went from 4 hours a week to 6+ hours each visit. It was so motivating and meant everything to me. Having your kids in foster care is so lonely, it’s isolating and it makes you feel like no matter what you do, it’s wrong. I knew I was doing everything right and I was getting nothing positive from CPS. Heather giving me extra time with my kids and cheering me on was a reward I desperately needed. Her constant positivity and friendship throughout our case is truly what got me through.
When we were about to reunify, Heather sent me all of the kids current favorite foods, things that would soothe Scout when he was upset. She gave me every single tip and trick I needed to be successful. When we would talk about the future, she always said “when they come home” never if.
They have been home since July 1, 2022 and Heather and Jesse are now the bonus auntie & uncle who will forever be a part of our lives.
I hate that this happened to us, but honestly now I can’t imagine life without Heather. We share many of the same passions, we spend time together, we collaborate together… and it all started with my hope to hate her. But instead, I loved everything about her.
She gave me the greatest gift another person can ever give a mom in my position: she kept my kids safe, she loved them like her own, and then gave them back to me with all the excitement and joy of someone who is genuinely rooting for your success.
Thank you Heather & Jesse.