Eight years ago, Amanda and her 5-year-old foster son, Angel, sat on chairs in the sterile hallway of a DCF office, waiting to visit with Angel’s biological mom. As she arrived, Amanda said to Angel, “Let’s say hi to your mom.”
Amanda had no idea how that first hello would ultimately impact all their lives.
Saying hello isn’t easy
Amanda describes the first few months of interacting with Angel’s mom, Jen, as mostly small talk. The two spoke as if they were in a grocery store line — strangers in the same place for the same reason. Over time, their interactions “became more like neighbors rather than strangers.” But, Amanda says, they knew very little about each other.
“When you hear that a kid had to be removed because of an unsafe living situation,” Amanda says, “you can develop a picture in your head” of what his life was like. Although it would be easy for stereotypes to take root, as Amanda got to know Jen, it was clear to her that this mom loved her son and wanted the best for him.
Three years after their initial meeting, Angel’s case was still in judicial limbo, and Jen’s lawyers continued to work on her behalf to regain custody of Angel. On the other hand, Amanda was hoping to adopt him, but “every court date was a dead end,” and the case was not progressing.
But they kept meeting with each other, and spending time together, ensuring Angel maintained a connection with his biological mother. Amanda says talking to Angel’s mother came with its fair share of awkwardness, but, as the adult, it was important for her to push past that for Angel.
“He needed to not be torn between the two of us while we were sitting in a room together,”
Amanda says, explaining that both she and Jen remained committed to making their blossoming relationship work, for Angel’s best interest.
Over time, they all began to learn a little more about each other. “We grew a mutual understanding that we both loved him, and a mutual respect for that love.”
And so it was that one day, unbeknownst to Angel and Amanda, Jen did something extraordinary. She went to court and told the judge she wanted Amanda to adopt her son.
“She made the biggest sacrifice a parent really can and gave me my son — her son. I was just awestruck,” Amanda said. “I was fumbling for words because the magnitude was not lost on me. That means she was making the ultimate sacrifice for him to have stability and what she was really hoping would be a better future.”
Amanda says she’ll never forget that day.
Amanda believes Jen came to that life-changing decision as a result of the years they spent getting to know each other, developing a mutual trust and understanding, and believing staying with Amanda was in Angel’s best interest.
“Her ability to step back and realize where things were and what was best — I really have no words for how big of a deal that is and how impressed I was for her to be able to think that way,” she said. “I’m not sure were I in her shoes, I would’ve been able to do that.”
She says she learned a big life lesson from that moment, one she hopes will be a lesson for others as well.
“Just because a family has become involved with DCF, it does not indicate anything about their level of love for their child,” she said. “And just because a family may not be able to ultimately parent their child does not mean that they shouldn’t have a role in their child’s life.”
A growing family
Recently, Amanda, Jen, and Angel’s biological brothers all sat together watching Angel play in a basketball game — as a family.
“Sometimes, you have to be open to an unconventional family tree,” Amanda says.
Even before Angel entered her life, Amanda hoped she would would one day adopt a child and be able to have an open relationship with that child’s biological family. “That total unknown loss seemed devastating,” she says, imagining her adopted children being cut off from their biological roots. But she never envisioned it working this well or being this fulfilling.
Amanda says keeping a relationship between Angel and Jen was important to her, in part, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to answer all his questions. Angel’s biological mom has provided baby pictures, told him how tall his biological dad is and given him an understanding of where he comes from – all things Amanda wouldn’t be able to do for her son. But Jen can.
And now Angel’s biological brothers call Amanda their aunt.
“They were old enough; they weren’t looking for another mother,” Amanda says. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t be an ongoing addition to their family and that they can’t be an ongoing addition to our family.”
Just the other day, one of the brothers helped Amanda put up fencing in their backyard. It’s what family does.
“These kids are more resilient than we realize,” Amanda said. “If it’s built on love and respect, you can figure out the rest of it.”
Special thanks to MamaRazzi Photography!