It is with very mixed emotions that we relay the following update:
After months of thinking, praying and consulting legal counsel (NOT PUBLIC PRETENDERS), Bellas mother attended what would be her final court date in Lynn Juvenile Court this morning.
At this appearance, Chrissi made a very heartbreaking decision to not prolong the case any further, as trial was not anticipated to take place until mid- 2017 or later, and she signed the necessary documents for Bella to permanently remain in her current kinship placement. Though this was not the ideal or anticipated outcome we were all hoping for, this battle if far from over. (More on that at a later date). Below are a few words from Chrissi.
"Today I made the hardest, most heartbreaking decision that I never thought I would ever be faced with. I voluntarily signed away rights to my first born baby girl. Had she been with strangers, this never would have been an option for me. But she's not.
My life forever changed on May 2, 2014 and changed even more today. I haven't led an easy life and far from perfect. But who's not? On May 2, 2014, I became a statistic....but not the kind I wanted to be. I always had ambitions of one day becoming a famous, successful recording artist. The chances of that? One in a million. I have so much unpublished poetry and even a novel tucked away in boxes at my mother's house that I hoped would one day be discovered. But you know what I became a statistic for? Another victim of the Department of Children and Families, and Boston Children's Hospital. I am just one of many parents who have faced the devil. One of many parents who tried relentlessly to care for and protect my child just to have an overbearing, broken, corrupt system see me as prey and swoop in like a hawk and forever change my life and the outlook I once had on it.
From the moment DCF learned my family's name, we were young, dumb, and low income...they saw opportunity. It's so easy to point the finger and claim I was the cause of my daughters medical issues. Despite the fact that she was struggling, but a fighter before she was born, and being a preemie, she's expected to has issues. Resolving some of these issues is a lot of trial and error. But a doctor can never be wrong, right? It's so much easier to point the finger at a first time mom than a doctor admit that his suggestion simply failed to improve a baby's condition.
Once they had my daughter, it was game on. They could do as they pleased. In 2 years, they completely destroyed my life. When I was 13, I became a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence. I went through 5 years of therapy to process my PTSD and resulting diagnoses. I was discharged from all Mental Health care at 18. When DCF learned this, 4 years after I had found closure and continued on with my life, they claimed that I had "untreated mental health issues" and therefore would be unable to parent my now-healthy child as a result.
They wanted me to engage in services with a parent aid of their choosing, but when she began reporting positive progress, they terminated her services and insisted I was non-compliant with my service plan. How can I be compliant when you remove the very services you're asking of me? Due to the traveling to see Bella, we were unable to complete weeks of classroom parenting courses so we were offered the option of online courses which we paid at our own expense. First they claimed they never received the certificate of completion and then decided they would not be accepting online courses and we MUST find classroom courses.
An ICPC was initiated in Alabama, which we passed with the exception of the fingerprints which did not are their way back to the appropriate office from Montgomery before DCFs tight deadline. Despite passing the background checks later, the home study was rejected by Massachusetts due to incompletion. DCF was not a fan of my husband and promised reunification should I return home to my mother's without him. They promised me a date for Bella to come home should I comply with their expectations. One of these outrageous expectations was to take out a restraining order on a man that I wasn't frightened or threatened by. I believe this to be because they wanted to ensure I was still following their plan of staying at my moms without him. I stupidly complied. This meant lying to a judge and consequently ruining the life of my children's father. Before the expiration of the temporary order, I went back to district court, disgusted with myself and told the judge I wasn't in danger. I was pressured into filing. He immediately vacated the order, but it will forever be on record. After learning of my "change of heart", DCF said they would be willing to reunify as a family. We agreed and shortly thereafter, the goal changed to adoption. We still remained compliant to prove ourselves and bring Bella home.
When they learned of my pregnancy with Braelynn, I became the target of further harassment. Alabama DHR conducting random home checks and following up on "concerns" cited by Mass. Unfounded every time. Eventually, the cost of travel became too much and I had to give up my rented home to move in with my husbands family in order to save some money and afford the travel. DCF then claimed the would be unwilling to entertain the idea of a goal change back to reunification if we were not in our own home. I had to do something fast. My mother in law in Georgia, whom I had only met a handful of times since marrying her son told me of an open place next to her so I made the leap and moved to Georgia to show DCF we had our own place once again.
This living arrangement was almost short lived when my landlord witnessed sheriff's knocking on my door multiple times after I signed the lease, but before I was fully moved on. Massachusetts sent the Sheriff's Department to "confirm my residency" while I was still driving home from a visit, so the sheriff Returned on multiple occasions in aggempt to make contact with me. DCF further used the Sheriff's office to carry out "surprise wellbeing checks" on Braelynn despite receiving the same positive reports each time. My landlord was unaware of the DCF situation and came to the conclusion the police kept coming around because we were problem tenants. This almost caused the termination of my lease, but the Sgt explained himself to my landlord and all further wellbeing checks were carried out by him, at walmart in plain clothes. He apologized to me but said they're required to follow up any time they're called.
Despite passing Georgia's homes study as well, this was not good enough for DCF. In April, I attended the foster care review with my own parents as support. Again DCF proposed I divorce my husband should I wish to try again for reunification. Having been through this once before, I hesitated...knowing they would not keep good on their word. Turns out, I was right.
It came to light that DCF would not reunify so long as I was with my husband, but if I were to leave him, they didn't think I would be able to parent any of my children due to PTSD, anxiety and depression. The current psychiatrist I am seeing, at the request of DCF firmly believes the anxiety and depression is currently a direct result of the last 2 years of my battle with DCF.
In the last 14 months alone, I have had to uproot Braelynn multiple times and drag her 1400 miles one way for visits and meetings. We've spent holidays on the road or in hotels because DCF would plan visits next to but not during holidays. I couldn't get Braelynn on a schedule because every time we would settle back in, we'd have to turn around and drive or fly back to Massachusetts. In 14 months, my baby has spent hundreds of hours in a car seat and seen just about every state up and down the east coast so we could fight for her sister and see her for a few short hours. My healthy, early term daughter has met with more caseworkers and examined by the same police officer more times than she ever should have because DCF wanted a reason to grab her too.
We have pictures of Bella in the car, in the house, and Braelynn's favorite word is "sissy". She knows her. We fought a hard battle, but at the end of the day, it would have been another year or two of instability and constant traveling and being a pawn for the government. That much longer of having another state apologize each time they have to come see me momentarily to assure DCF once again Braelynn is fine. More sporadic visits and the heartbreak of saying goodbye all of again. Living my life with limitations and under a microscope. All for a planned outcome. The judge had previously stated in open court that he was "more than likely" going to side with DCF at trial. If I faced termination, I would be restricted from any contact with Bella until she's 18. By breaking my own heart and signing these papers, she will stay in the kinship placement and I can see and interact with her without interference from DCF. It's not how I envisioned this, but at this point it was the only guarantee I would forever have a role in Bellas life where she knows I'm her mother and will always know the truth about what happened. It was better than the potential alternative. My girls will now have the opportunity to grow up together. Just not in the way I envisioned.
This battle is far from over though. Bella may not be coming home, but I will spend my life making sure DCF. BOSTON CHILDREN'S, DR MCDERMOTT and everyone who plays a part pays for what they put my family through. I will also stand alongside other families and support them in THEIR fight. I struggled to find an attorney to take my case. I had finally found 3. But they would not take it on a custody level as that's not their specialty, but I promise...to me daughters and myself that this isn't over.
If you're still reading this, THANK YOU for all the support you've given my family. I will never be whole again, but I find comfort in the fact that I fought a good fight and my baby is still in my life. It's about finding a new sense of normalcy now and just moving forward. Please hug your children tight and tell them you love them, even on days where you just want to rip your hair out. One day, they might come for you too.
Learn your rights and never be afraid to use them. That's one of my only regrets. I'm not a perfect Mom, but my family didn't deserve this.
That’s what true love is. Always wanting what’s best for someone, even if that doesn’t include you.