She had a felony arrest for child neglect last July, but the Department of Childrens Services was not monitoring Latasha Morris, or checking up on her children. In between December 2007 and January 2008, Morris was arrested four times. On February 6th, Morris, a chronic alcoholic and drug user, passed out on top of her 2 year old son, Sheldon Bartley. The toddler died.
It does not appear that Morris was without people who tried to help. Sheldon’s paternal grandparents often cared for the children, and were making plans to get Latasha into rehab, where she might receive treatment for her decade-long battle with alcoholism.
In the meanwhile, six year old Estajah and two year old Sheldon were left unchecked and in their mother’s care, with disastrous consequences.
My January 29th article on adoption garnered a lot of response, including some disturbing mail from an anti-adoption group which seems to be made up of a handful of birth mothers who resent their decisions. They rail at a society which, they say, does not do enough to financially support them. They rail at adoptive parents, claiming they are thieves. They rail at adoption agencies, claiming that they are a corrupt, money-making industry. They take a few stories from unhappy adoptees, and twist them into propaganda to buoy their anti-adoption creed.
It’s difficult to read their tales, because no matter how matter how vague their actual stories are, or how many gaps of logic are apparent in those stories, the facts of these women’s lives — and their regrets — are drenched in pain.
One wrote to me and said that my plea to young mothers to consider adoption would not be heard by those who would do harm to their own children, but only by those whose love was so encompassing that they would give their children up before subjecting them to any harm at all.
She’s very likely right. The majority of birth mothers that I have spoken to are women who love deeply, and whose thoughts were centered on what was best for their child. They chose adoption not because it was easier for them, but because it was gut-wrenching to consider raising the child they loved in anything less than good circumstances. To me, the love and care they expressed through adoption is heroic. Often, they placed themselves in the line of fire from others who questioned their decision – they struggled with their internal emotions and the perceptions of the outside world for nine months – and in the end, chose to put their children first.
There really should be another Mother’s Day just for them. One in which the whole of society acknowledges the unconditional, selfless, agape love of women who placed their faith and hopes in adoption in order to give their child the best possible parents, circumstances, and opportunities.
Not heroic was the note I received from a mother who is outraged that her children were “stolen” by the foster care system due to abuse perpetrated by the mother’s boyfriend. “Not my fault” was the tone of the letter, and “they had no right” was the message. Her children, her choices. She didn’t believe society should have any say in how her children were raised, but she did believe that none of this would have happened if society had supported her. If school was free, maybe she’d have gone, and gotten a better job so she wouldn’t have to live with others. If there was free daycare, maybe she wouldn’t have had the boyfriend babysit.
I don’t know what she expected from me, but she was writing to the wrong person.
I know a few things about pain. I know what it is like to be a child born at the wrong time, to parents who had their own personal problems. My body still carries the memories of their problems – their narcissism, impatience, and rage. At 45 years old, I still flinch when someone moves their hand too quickly or too closely to me. I startle easily, and always have to have my back to a wall in a crowd so that people cannot surprise me from behind. In personal relationships, I have a reflexive tendency to just slip away whenever a confrontation is impending. I go away easily. Arguments frighten me – I always fear they’ll end in disaster.
I know, too, the feeling of standing outside of life’s gate, with no clear way in, and no invitation. To be the girl who feels no sense of place in the innocent, carefree world of others. To be the one with the dark house, the bad teeth, and the worn hand-me-downs, who can only pretend a sense of normal, while dreaming, always dreaming, of being somebody-somewhere else.
And I know passion. I know that at some point memories became a protective instinct, dreams became missions, and that my perspective from outside the gate had a value, if only for those who had not yet seen beyond the iron slats of their own similar experiences.
No one wants to think they’ll be a bad parent. My parents, I know, like so many others, leaned on the bromide of “we did our best” as both excuse and salve. The truth is they did not. The truth is that they both had affairs, and decided to bring a child into the world that was the result of their lack of control, and their lack of love or respect for each other. Instead of being born with a blank slate, I was born into turmoil, shame, and bitter feelings. My coloring was a sign of guilt, and my character was questioned even as an infant. I was too quiet, not like her other daughters, but when I cried it was all wrong, it grated on her nerves. I read too early. I was too athletic. I was too dreamy, too willful, too different, and too much.
As an adult, I once asked my mother why she did not give me up. In a rare moment of honesty, she told me she tried to abort me several times, but it didn’t work. She thought about giving me up then, but it was too complicated. She was married, and people would ask questions.
Embarrassing questions, it seems, were harder for my mother than raising an unwanted child for sixteen years. Instead of temporary feelings of guilt, my mother chose – not just for her, but for me as well – years of despair and hurt.
I survived. Too many children do not even have that opportunity. Many others will go through life feeling disconnected, lost, or alienated. Some will wrongly mistake rage for strength, and seek to become stronger than those who hurt them. Some will even end up with emotional and mental damages that are beyond repair.
The point I made in Dangerous Choices is, I think, clear to those who would hear its message. Children must come first, period. Children are not chattel, and they should not be considered the property of unfortunate birth parents who cannot, will not, or should not care for them. Childhood is a short-lived experience, a limited window of opportunity, and children should not have to suspend their needs, waiting on parents whose histories have already shown a propensity for neglect, abuse, and danger.
The foster care system needs a radical overhaul, and a new mission statement: Children Come First. Period.