Nathan and Jess dressed up for my dad’s wedding
Here’s one of the things that tells me the Judge had it in for me: the day all the testimony had been heard, the Judge stood abruptly, glared at me, and said, “I have up to six weeks to make my decision. If you want to appeal it, you’re on your own. No lawyer will be appointed next time.”
Appeal a decision that hadn’t even officially been made? I knew already I had lost my babies before the notice came in the mail almost exactly six weeks later. I spent a great deal of time in the law library trying to write a motion for appeal to regain custody. An appeal would, at least, give me a new Judge, one from Columbus, Ohio, someone who had no ties to anyone involved in the case.
When I had done all the paperwork that was required, I filed the motion at the Morgan County courthouse and waited for a hearing date. Finally, one was scheduled for November 1991. I didn’t know that, as the two-year mark approached, the system would make a decision to either give my kids back, or sever my parental rights permanently.
Meanwhile, I had to lay my baby to rest without ever telling anyone in my family I had been pregnant in the first place. I knew it would make me look bad in court.
Mike and I searched the city for clothes small enough to place on our son for his burial. We finally found some preemie clothes and took them to the funeral home. At the time, the state of Ohio had a burial fund that provided a funeral, casket, and a plot at the cemetery. We left the clothes at the funeral home, telling the man we’d have no formal service, but that we wanted to spend some time with our son before they buried him.
I had been staying at Mike’s while I recovered from Derek’s birth. It was early and I needed some fresh water, so I grabbed my glass from the nightstand and headed down the narrow steps. Somehow, my feet slipped out from under me and I threw the glass down to keep from falling on top of it. The glass hit the wall and shattered just about the time my tailbone hit the edge of the unyielding step.
Mike came running. He helped me up and got me some ice. Then joked, “Did you have to break my glass?”
I was more worried about what the fall might have done to my tender womb than the pain in my back, so I called my obstetrician. The doctor examined me and found me to be intact, but said that my tailbone was most likely cracked. He told me not to drive for a while, but other than that, to go about my business as usual.
Mike and I then went to the funeral home to say our last goodbyes to our baby Derek. However, when we got there we were told that they had already taken him to be buried. They said to call the groundskeeper at the cemetery and he would tell us where the plot was located.
I called the office at the cemetery for days and couldn’t get in touch with anyone. My emotions were so lopsided by then, and on top of it all, postpartum blues were taking ‘hold of me. Mike and I started to argue and fight. I decided to get my stuff together and go home to my apartment.
I was mad at God. I was mad at the world. Even though it was excruciating to drive, I got in my car and went up and down all the winding dirt roads in the graveyard looking for a fresh grave. But I couldn’t find it.
I was still in the shock part of the process of grief, still somewhat numb and watching it all as if watching a movie. This wasn’t my life. This wasn’t really happening to me. But after my useless jaunt through the cemetery, I sat in my apartment alone and cried, and cried and cried.
All at once, the front of my shirt felt warm and wet. I looked down to see what was going on. My milk had come in. It was a cruel joke, having nourishment for my dead son. I thought I would go mad. Just then, a knock came at the door, and I looked up to see my Nathan standing there with his dad, grinning from ear to ear.
I quickly dried my tears and ran to greet him. It was then that I noticed the suitcase in his hand! His dad was done trying to raise him. He had brought him home to me! It was a miracle when I needed it most. Now all we had to do was make it legal and get the rest of our little family home.
After about a week, we found the groundskeeper, who directed us to the right spot. Mike had made a white wooden cross for our son, which we placed on the grave. Someone stole it not long after that. But I know Derek isn’t really there, anyhow. He’s where all God’s children will be eventually, and I’ll see him again.
A few months later, Mike and I decided to try for another baby. This one, I knew, would be the little girl from my dream.
I went to yard sales to gather clothes and other baby items as soon as the pregnancy was confirmed. It made people wonder about me when I bought nothing but little dresses. One man asked if I had had an ultrasound, which revealed the baby’s sex. He commented that I didn’t look that far along. I said, “No, I’m only two months. But, I had a dream…” At which he just shook his head.
I would get that reaction a lot over the next few months, from counselors, ultrasound technicians, friends, and even the doctors at Columbus University hospital, who told me, with steely faces, that my baby was in trouble, and might not make it.
Jesse turned five August 23rd. His aunt decided to enroll him in kindergarten, though I was of the mind that he should wait another year.
Nathan was still struggling in school, basically trying to be the tough guy on campus. I knew his behavior was born out of a feeling of helplessness, and tried to reason with him, but I could see things going downhill fast.
One day he had his headset on listening to the radio. I could hear the music blasting, a song that had been “Jesse’s song” since the day they took him from me. I politely asked Nathan to turn it to a different station, and in uncharacteristic form, he refused. He kind of snarled at me instead and said he liked the song and he wasn’t going to turn it.
I decided to let it go; I didn’t say another word about it, though hearing the song made me feel rather melancholy. Later, lying on his bed, tears began to stream down Nathan’s cheeks. I asked him, “Honey, what’s wrong?”
He said, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I just realized that song, the one I was listening to earlier, that’s Jesse’s song, isn’t it? That’s why it hurt you. We’re never going to get him back, are we? I’m just not going to love him anymore.”
At that moment, there was a visible hardening of his heart that showed as he brushed the tears away and his face became like stone. I went to him and hugged him, assured him that we would never stop fighting to get Jesse back, and that he should never try to stop loving him. We needed to love each other even more now over the miles that separated us. But there was no going back. Nathan was a different child from that day on.
Mom had left her husband and gone to live at a shelter for battered women. Natali went with her, of course. They finally ended up in a small home one block over from me. That meant I could see my daughter more often.
My place was on Natali’s way to school, so she’d duck in for a morning snack and to say hello. Mom found out and put a stop to it. I was mad. She was going to get a piece of my mind. Before I stormed out the door to confront her, I opened my bible in case God was interested in giving me any advice. The passages I read told me to conquer evil by doing good and a gentle answer turns away wrath. I thought about that for a little while. Then I went to buy Mom a house-warming gift, a plant to sit in her window.
The next day, Natali was back visiting before school. I told her she should probably not stop in again if it would cause her trouble. But she beamed at me and said, “Grandma decided it was ok!”
Then one day, unexpectedly, Mom brought Natali and her belongings to me and told me that she was giving my daughter back to me. Just like that. She said she would go to court with me in November to testify that I was a good mom so that I could get Jess back, too.
Jesse’s dad was still fighting for him. His aunt and uncle never really said where they stood. I would have to wait for the hearing to find out.
The day before we were to appear in court, I lay on my sofa and started a tentative conversation with God. I wondered if he would hear me. Then I remembered a place in the bible where Jesus said that no one could come to him unless they were called. At that moment, I took that to mean that I didn’t have to beg him to show up, because he was the one who had called the meeting in the first place.
I told him that I knew he didn’t need a lawyer, a psychologist, or anyone else to accomplish what he wanted. I knew that, whatever happened, it was really not up to the Judge, it was all in God’s hands. As I was praying, this uncanny faith and peace filled me, and I said, “Please give my baby back to me. But if, for some reason, you decide not to, I’ll believe he’s better off without me.” Then I wept bitterly at the very thought of not having all my babies around me.
The next day the two psychologists who had positive reports on me showed up in the hearing room, poised to give the Judge their opinions that my children should be in my care. Two social workers were there, one from MorganCounty, and one from WoodCounty, ready to come to my defense. Mom was there to turn over Natali. The other parties had been informed to show up if they wanted to contest custody, but no one did. The Judge still had the option to sever my rights as a parent and put my kids in foster care or with relatives if he so chose.
I prayed silently as the appellate Judge scanned the case file for what seemed like hours. Then he looked up and said, “I don’t see any reason why the children shouldn’t be returned to their mother. I don’t even need to hear any testimony in this case, but, since you all came such a long way, I’ll hear what you have to say.”
Mom squealed, “We did it! We got your kids back!”
The kids and I moved to a two-bedroom house, and, once again, I fixed the dining room up as a bedroom for the baby in my womb and me to share. The boys would share a room, and there was a cubby of a room in the back of the house for Natali. We didn’t care how cramped the quarters were; we were just glad to be getting back together.
My step mom went to get Jess in Fremont a few weeks later.
Up till then, my pregnancy had been going had been going on pretty much without a hitch. However, things were about to change.