Losing Mom to Domestic Femicide

Not my usual adoption related story but adoption does come in at the end. Definitely a “Missing Mom” story. It isn’t a blog I really feel good about writing and yet, I believe this cautionary tale is important. Andy Borowitz, who generally writes satire, brought my attention to this story his wife has been investigating – The Murderer’s Little Boy by Olivia Gentile. <– You can read the sad details at this link. As a woman (as I am sure is not unusual for many women), I have been afraid at times due to some response by my romantic partner or spouse (I’ve been married more than once). It is a dangerous world and very dangerous for women, who have been described as the “weaker” sex and not without reason. I grew up in Texas and I apologize for feeling at this point like I have to say – “because Texas”. The state seems to me today to hate women in general – to be very misogynistic.

Losing a mother to domestic femicide is “the most horrific trauma that children can experience,” said Peter Jaffe, the child psychologist. Afterward, they are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, dissociation, attachment difficulties, behavioral problems, and many other issues. To heal, Jaffe said, they need a caregiver who engages with them appropriately and truthfully about the murder, helps them mourn and honor their mother, and enrolls them in long-term trauma therapy. 

This is very much like the trauma and behavioral impacts that a lot of adoptees suffer from.

Far more children whose fathers kill their mothers are placed with maternal than with paternal kin, research suggests, though exact numbers aren’t known. No laws specify which side of the family is preferable, but in all custody cases, judges are supposed to address the child’s “best interest.” Paternal relatives must be carefully screened, Jaffe said. Since abuse is often intergenerational, the family’s entire history should be reviewed. Furthermore, anyone who enabled the killer’s abuse, remains aligned with him, intends to keep him in the child’s life, or “tries to wipe out the maternal family in the same way the perpetrator wiped out the mother” is presumptively unfit.

His maternal grandmother was forced to file a lawsuit to get visitation rights from the paternal side. Filed on March 15, 2017, she argued that as R.’s grandmother, she had standing to seek custody because the child’s present circumstances could “significantly impair” his emotional development. Her suit failed but she appealed.

Finally, in April 2018, 15 months after she last saw R., a panel from the First Court of Appeals convened a hearing on the maternal grandmother’s pleas. In their questions, the three judges seemed to convey concern for the boy’s welfare. Wasn’t it potentially harmful for R. to be raised by a man whose son had confessed to killing his mother? Wasn’t it worrisome that his father could see R. whenever the grandfather allowed him to? 

The judges ordered the parties into mediation, specifying that the mediator be from Houston, not Galveston County where the paternal kin were prominent. The resulting agreement, signed in July 2018, affirmed the maternal grandmother’s standing to pursue custody and gave her two mornings a month with R. as the case continued. Yet the deal stipulated that the visits be supervised by the paternal grandfather or by someone he chose, and it barred the grandmother from discussing R.’s mother or half-brother with him or showing him their pictures. 

Fearing an acquittal due to complicating circumstances, prosecutors made a deal with the murderer. At trial, he would have faced up to 99 years in prison for murder. Under his plea agreement, signed on November 25, 2019, he received 30 years for murder and 20 for tampering, with the sentences running concurrently. He’ll be eligible for parole in 2033.

The custody trial was scheduled for April 2020. But in a new twist to this story, in March, the paternal grandfather obtained another delay: he wanted to adopt R. and had obtained his murderer son’s willingness to cede his own parental rights. The maternal grandmother asked the court to stop the adoption. Her luck now was that there is a new Judge Kerri Foley. She appointed an attorney, Genevieve McGarvey, as a neutral assistant in the adoption case. Later, Foley added McGarvey to the custody case, too. For the first time in four years, an official was tasked with helping the court advance R.’s best interest. 

At a hearing in September 2020, McGarvey testified that R. wasn’t in trauma therapy and needed it “desperately.” She added, “[H]e’s got to talk about his mother more.” And he appeared to miss his half-brother profoundly. “The first thing he ever says when I see him is, ‘How’s J.?’ ‘Do you know J.?’”

Foley halted the adoption case until after the custody trial. But the trial has been repeatedly delayed and won’t happen until this summer at the earliest. Tired of waiting, his maternal grandmother filed a motion on February 2 demanding temporary joint custody in the meantime. A hearing is scheduled for March 21.

Judge Foley recently granted the grandmother longer visits with R., and she’s now allowed to bring his half-brother. But she wants the standard access granted to Texans who don’t reside with their kids: two to three weekends per month, alternating holidays and school breaks, and 30 days in summer.

Understandably the grandmother wants to protect R. She wants to get him into trauma therapy, and she wants to participate in decisions about his medical care and education. Recently, he has bounced from school to school and struggled. She wants to talk freely with him about his mother, whom he remembers and misses. And she wants to terminate his father’s rights and bar him from contacting R.—either from prison or upon his release. 

Even if the grandmother prevails at trial, her struggle won’t be over, since joint custody could be meaningless if the paternal grandfather’s adoption goes through. The grandmother is determined to continue to fight for her grandson.  “R. has never wavered in his desire to see us or just surrendered to the horror of circumstances,” she said. If he won’t give up, how could she? 

Some organizations with links also mentioned in the article –

National Safe Parents Coalition who advocates for evidence-based policies which put child safety and risks at the forefront of child custody decisions.

Kayden’s Law – requires an evidentiary hearing during child custody proceedings to vet allegations—new or old—of abuse. Though ACLU opposed it but it has now been included in the Federal Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act which President Joe Biden signed on Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

Respond Against Violence providing “The Strangulation Supplement,” a tool for first responders and investigators to better guide them in investigations and to help capture cases involving strangulation that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. These tools are available upon request to law enforcement, forensic nurses, and EMS, as well as tools for pediatric cases and bathtub fatality cases.

Loss of Custody in Domestic Abuse

Let’s talk about domestic abuse and child custody.

For everyone who is convinced that children only end up in foster care and/or adopted because the parents were abusive, guess what? Women in abusive relationships are especially vulnerable to losing custody of their children. Spouses/intimate partners use custody of children as an abuse tactic.

Examples:

–If you leave me, you’ll never see your children again.

–Filing false/malicious child abuse reports if you succeed in leaving with your children

–Deliberately impoverishing you so you can’t afford to provide for your children to the standard required by social workers

–poisoning authorities against you by using things like depression, addiction, etc. to paint you as an unfit mother

–deliberately getting you pregnant to make you vulnerable and unable to leave the relationship

Domestic abuse services are notoriously underfunded and unsupervised. Unscrupulous providers can get away with neglectful or even downright harmful treatment of the vulnerable women in their care because it’s non-profit, charity funded, and people assume that they’re doing good things.

Someone in an abusive relationship is in the most danger when they try to leave the relationship.

A tactic abusers might use is to always keep one child with them (as a way to make sure you can’t leave without putting that child in danger).

Abusers might explicitly favor one child over another, creating a situation where one child contributes to the mistreatment of the other child.

An abuser might groom a child to make false accusations against you (projecting and protecting themselves, the real abuser).

Of course not all cases are the same, but there are too many situations in which the mom would be a perfectly fit parent, if she just had enough support. All the things that we talk about – help getting a job, affordable daycare with flexible hours, supplemental income for pregnancy and maternity leave periods, actual maternity leave, and in this particular example, trauma therapy/mentoring/emotional support.

Someone who has fled an abusive relationship often has to cut off contact with family and friends. If there are children involved, this might be a requirement from social services (such as: if you move back to that area, you will lose your child because you’re being a bad parent putting them at risk).

That means being especially isolated when you’re already vulnerable and unwell and stressed. If your case goes to court (and many don’t, due to lack of funds or resources or simply not being able to cope), this can trigger more danger for you and your children. Some women successfully flee an abusive relationship with their child(ren), only to have their children taken away later.

Now imagine that you’re a foster carer or adopter in this situation. You’ve been told by social workers that the child was removed from an abusive family and that you’re “rescuing” them. You’re told the parents are a danger to the children. You’re told about addiction and jail time and all kinds of fairy tale reasons why you now have custody of the perfect parentless child who is yours to shape as you will.

You then go onto social media and repost this false story everywhere. Launch fundraisers, complain that your stipend “isn’t that much,” and say that you need respite care because caregiver burnout is so awful and claim you have “Post adoption depression.”

The reality is that you have no idea what the hell these children have been through. You have no idea what their parents’ situation was like.

Case in point – “Most recently I’ve watched a young lady whose abuser isn’t the parent of her children. He manipulated, punished, and such – until he was able to get the two children to their biological father by feeding him false information. This caused the biological father to be able to gain emergency custody and a restraining order against the mother. All while this same abuser has promised he is “going to help her get her kids back so they can be a family.”

Tainted Love

I heard this old song from the 70s and immediately, I thought of current events, our president and his supporters since the election was called in favor of the opponent. However, as the lyrics kept playing in my head, the words of so many adoptees who’s perspectives I have read for the last 3 years started forming themselves into the truth of this situation.

The sad truth is that no matter how much love an adoptive parent has to give the adopted child there will always be something tainted about it. Not that the adoptive parent could do anything to prevent that or that their love is not genuine and heartfelt.

An adoptee begins with a serious strike of perceived abandonment at the start of their relationship with the adoptive parent. It matters not the reason really – it is a fact. The parent who gave birth to them isn’t there. This happens as well in divorce when the two parents that were one entity for the child split apart. I know that one. Coming of age in the early 70s, I bought into the idea of male/female equality and that extended itself in my own perspective to the two parents. Either one was equal to the other. In a divorce, it really didn’t matter which parent raised the child, both were equally the parent. And it is true as far as it goes.

Since learning about adoption trauma and the impact of mother loss, I have had to accept that it really wasn’t the same. Not that I can change the way things came out but I do understand the errors in my own thinking at the time. I remember clearly explaining to my daughter regarding the divorce – you still have a mother who loves you and you still have a father who loves you but we won’t all be living together anymore. That was true as well. What I didn’t conceive of at the time was that she would not grow up with me but with him. And decades later, come to find out, it wasn’t the good situation that I thought it was but I was never told until very recently.

So, back to adoption. Fact is, an adoptive parent is never going to be the same as the parents the child was born to. There are many issues. There is the feeling that if the adoptee doesn’t live up to the adoptive parents expectations, they could send the child back. While that may sound like a far-fetched worry, it actually happens and causes what are called second-chance adoptions. So there is an insecurity and people-pleasing aspect to being an adoptee.

If the parents actually have biological children AND adopt, there are differences in the parental response to the children, even if that is NOT the intention of the adoptive parents. It has been explained as – your house is on fire and you can’t save ALL of your children. Which would you chose ? Your biological/genetic child or the one you adopted ? Sadly, the answer is obvious excluding issues that preclude a choice at all.

And I have read more times than I would like to admit to that adoptees can be difficult to love and tolerate. They act out. They often do not understand themselves why they behave that way. These are deep seated psychological issues. It is always recommended that a trauma/adoption informed therapist be employed to salvage a truly destructive and dangerous situation. Yes, it gets that bad sometimes.

Now you know why those words “tainted love” inspired me to write today’s blog.

A Sad Fact of Life

~ Childhood Sexual Abuse ~

So here is the story (not my own personal story, just making that clear) –

So my brother and I got taken away from my mom at a young age (I was 6 or 7) my brother was an infant and we were put into foster care. I went with my aunt and my brother went to a stranger foster family. My mom was able to get me back before she got my brother back. (From what I remember my brother had been hurt and they thought he was being abused, so we both were removed from the home.) Around the time my mom had us both back in her custody, my brother’s father started sexually abusing me. I told my mom and she ended her relationship with him and told him to leave. I always wondered why she never told the police but I now realize that maybe she didn’t tell law enforcement because she didn’t want us taken away again. As a mature person now, that seems like a reasonable explanation.

One adoptive mother replied –

I think your explanation of your Mom’s failure to report is plausible. She got you back and wasn’t going to let you go… also she managed to take you out of immediate future harm by making him leave. It sounds as if this is maybe an older story, and I don’t know the timeline, or your relationship with your Mom right now, but: do you think you could ask her why? She might not have an answer or know why she didn’t report. But asking her and talking openly about it can deepen your connection.

I have a very good adult relationship with my Mom, but we went through a really rough patch due to me having difficulty coming to terms with why she didn’t have the capacity to take me out of harm’s way when I was abused as a young child (not by a family member), by a person I knew she strongly (and justifiably) suspected. I have compassion and empathy for why she didn’t report and that eases the pain of the fact that she didn’t… and also, discussing it with her was zero fun but it ended up deepening our relationship and connection.

Another part to this is, and I can’t tell from your post how you feel, but do you want him reported? That is something to consider asking yourself. For my part..: By the time I came to terms with the abuse, I was well into adulthood and my abuser was dead. If I could have gone back in time and reported him myself, I would have done it. But I ironically wasn’t ready until my late 30’s… I’m not saying you want to do this, that’s only for you to know, but if you find yourself wanting to report him, there are resources that don’t have to include your Mom, if that’s not going to help your connection with her.

You could talk it through with a counselor who will know the laws in your state and know whether you are jeopardizing your and your brother’s ability to stay in your Mom’s home. IF you want to report. Which many people don’t. I just regret that I wasn’t able to come to the decision to report before the f**ker was dead. You have no responsibility to anyone but yourself in this. I am so sorry you’re carrying this burden. If you have access to a trauma therapist, I encourage you to consider engaging one. While I won’t tell you to report, I will tell you that getting support to work through childhood sexual abuse is better than white knuckling it for decades.

And another person with some thoughts about Child Protective Services (CPS) –

If your mom had knowledge or experience of how reporting abuse works, that could explain her silence about it. My son was abused by a 14 year old boy when he was 11. Last year CPS did a mandatory assessment to see why or how my child wound up in the position of being abused! Luckily for u,s it was a boy from school and it happened at school. No blame could be laid at my feet. I was abused as a child. My mother believed me but didn’t report it as she “didn’t want the family to get a bad name!” I know how that felt, so I never thought twice about reporting my son’s abuse. However, doing so did throw us into the bureaucratic ringer! Both with CPS and in actually having to go to court! The boy was found guilty of 5 charges but wasn’t jailed. We were made to feel at fault and under the microscope. Had it been a family member, I’m damn sure I would have lost all my kids. I would not go through reporting again. A lot of victimizing comes with taking action, especially blaming of the accuser by CPS.

Shocking Statistics

Private adoption is illegal in other countries. America has made the buying and selling of children a business; a multi billion dollar industry. Children are the commodity.

A woman writes – “I spent the first 16 years of my adoption experience as a ‘birth’ mother in complete isolation. It was preceded by the nearly 10 months of family-conducted isolation during my pregnancy. Such is the life of a shamed pregnant teenager. I had personally never known either an adopted person or a natural mother. ”

Clearly isolation isn’t simply for a time of a global pandemic.  Young women have been isolated for decades in order to relieve them of their baby when it is born.

She goes on to acknowledge – “If I could relive that day (when she gave birth) again, I would run from that hospital with her in my arms and never look back. I would take my chances with being homeless and the foster care system.”

The truth is that “better” life for your child is nothing more than a different life.

Over time, she came to see – that an adoption agent and her very own mother reduced her to a bodily function for total strangers.  It has landed her in trauma therapy. She didn’t receive counseling before or after the adoption by the agency. She had secretly held herself together somehow all these years only to discover she had been suffering with PTSD stemming directly from the adoption itself.

There is a world full of adoptees and natural moms in Adoptionland who have found each other in virtual space and are a kind of sisterhood that understands each other’s pain.  I belong to a group like that.  I have learned so much from reading about the direct experiences and points of view.  So much so that I no longer support the commercial practice of adoption.