Dear Mike's Birth Mom ... Over the past eight years I have mentally "written" you many letters about your two birth sons whom we have been raising for nearly nine years. There have been moments when I have "written" to tell you about their successes, like Kyle's graduation from high school and Mike's athletic abilities. There have been many times when I have asked myself what you might be thinking these days as you remember "our" (for they surely are yours as much as my wife's and my) sons ... and I have wanted to know what they looked like when they were infants. Did they have lots of hair or little hair? When did they take their first steps? What were their first words?
And, I must confess, there have been many times when I have wondered about your own circumstances. In my less gracious mental moments I have wondered, "Why did you drink and drug when Mike's young life was growing in your womb?" Was it because you did not realize soon enough you were pregnant? Or were chemicals controlling your life more than your sense of reason? Or was life so difficult that you had only this predictable means of escape? Mike's birth mom, there have been times when my frustration and anger with you have caused me to lose sleep. Why were you unable to provide the early care and nurture your little boys needed in the early years of their life?
But tonight, Mike's birth mom, I need to tell you that I sat with "our" red-headed son in the emergency room of our local hospital. When I picked him up tonight from his skateboarding afternoon with "new friends," I could tell immediatley something was wrong. "Our" son's speech was slurred, his gait was unpredictable and unsteady, and he was more confused than usual. His pupils were dilated, his mouth dry and his affect drowsy. I asked him if something was wrong and his terse answer was, "No, I'm just tired." I knew from the moment I picked him up to bring him home that something was amiss. And so I prodded further. I said, "Mike, you are not acting like yourself. I know that something is wrong. You need to tell me." He was reluctant to say much, so I began to ask specifically: "Mike, have you been drinking alcohol?" (I knew the answer would be "no" because I could smell nothing on his breath). "Mike, have you been smoking weed?" (I was pretty sure the answer there was "no," too,' because I couldn't smell any marijuana scent). "Mike, have you put anything in your body tonight?" Finally he said, "Coricidin. My friends dared me to take some, and so I did." My immediate follow-up was, "How many did you take, Mike?" "I don't know. I can't remember."
I told him that we would need to go to the Emergency Room to ensure his safety. He was belligerent about that thought. I insisted that we needed to go there, and I was able to persuade him into the car. I have to tell you, Mike's birth mom, that I saw a vulnerable side of "our" son that I have never seen before. He was very concerned that he would be able to come home after our visit to the ER, and periodically, repeatedly asked, "Are you and mom mad at me?" I assured him of our love, and told him that he would be coming back home with us when his hospital visit or stay would be over. He said, more than than once, "I didn't mean to do it. I didn't know this would happen. I'm really sorry."
And you know what, Mike's birth mom, for the first time in a long time I believed him. I believed him because I saw the depth of fear in his eyes, the primordial sense of anxiety that formed his psyche long before my wife and I met him. I saw not a seventeen-and-a-half-year old adolescent male, but I saw a child reaching out for comfort and assurance, concerned that somehow his latest impetuous move would remove him from his family and deteriorate any sense of confidence we have recently expressed in him.
And as I sat there, hour after hour, visiting with him between confused exchanges and momentary lucidity, I began to realize how vulnerable you must have been in your life, those many years ago. How confused, how helpless, how hopeless you must have felt trying to raise four boys in the midst of domestic tensions, economic deprivation and chemical dependency. I feel less of a need to blame you for Mike's disability, because I wonder if you might have been similarly impaired in your life.
Living with "our" son Mike will always be an enterprise requiring day-to-day faith. We walked many, many emotional miles with him in the course of his life with us, and I acknowledge that we will walk many more in the years to come. There was a time when I resented you and what I perceived to be the damage you created for "our" son. But tonight it is not resentment but compassion I feel. I do not pity you, nor do I excuse the choices you made that so significantly have impacted "our" sons. But I do feel compassion because tonight I believe I have experienced some of the pain you must have felt ten and more years ago as you did the best you could with what you had to raise four very challenging boys. I feel compassion because for the past nine years my wife and I have done the very best with what we have to love and to nurture "our" son Mike. And even then it has not been (and will not be) enough to ensure he makes wise choices in his own best interest.
And so it is not parental competence that I rely upon tonight. It is not a "successful adoptive placement" that rings out in these early morning hours. It is compassion and love. Because I love "our" son my heart fills with compassion for him ... and for you. I believe -- as hard as it is for me to understand -- that when Mike says he really didn't know what he was doing tonight, this is as honest as he can be. Exacting consequences upon Mike have been unsuccessful. Getting angry and expressing disapproval have only further scarred his already deep emotional scar tissue. So, Mike's birth mom, tonight I will rely upon love and compassion ... for him and for you.