In writing my first article for Odyssey, I am battling in my head whether to share my inner most secrets or not. I chose to reveal myself in the most human way possible, and that is without hesitation. I chose to write about my fight to win my daughter back from the state of Connecticut. I hope in reading my story you find empowerment, strength, and courage.
The day my daughter was taken into the department of children and families care was the most soul crushing, earth shattering day I have ever experienced. As the on-call DCF worker drove off with my screaming daughter, I was being arrested for a domestic, and I had no choice but to watch her go. Was this really happening? What the hell was wrong with me? Everything — I had just chosen an abusive relationship over my daughter. Hadn’t I remembered the promise I had made to my daughter the very first moment I looked into her eyes? No. I was selfish, and quite frankly, I did not deserve my daughter. I had failed my daughter the same way my parents had failed me. In just a short period of my daughter’s existence on this earth my baby girl was already being corrupted by trauma, exposed to violence and instability, and it was no one’s fault but my own.
I thought the day I gave birth to my daughter would be bittersweet. Her father was in prison, and I had an almost comical group of companions with me at the hospital — my case manager, doula, therapist, and mentor. I thought the day of her birth I would be sad because her father wasn’t present, and I had no family there to witness this once in a lifetime moment. At about 5 a.m. on August 26,I went into labor, and just a few hours later, I met my beautiful little miracle. I remember her birthday like it was yesterday. She was silent and the nurses thought that there was something wrong with her, but I knew there wasn’t. I knew already that this was who she was, an observant and curious child. She looked up at me with the most beautiful big brown eyes I have ever seen and we just stared at each other. Everyone seemed to disappear, and I was in a world of pure euphoria.
As mothers, we want to give our children the world. We fear putting their lives in ruins with our mistakes, and we try our hardest to give them a better life then we had. At least that’s how I wanted to be as a mommy. Before my daughter was born, I had already been broken down by what life had thrown at me, and soon after my daughter was born, life continued to test me in the harshest ways. Just a few months after my daughter was born, I was flying down to North Dakota to attend my father’s funeral. He had committed suicide in jail. He was actually incarcerated at the same time as my daughter’s father. To this day I regret giving my time and money to the father of my child over my own father.
Life has its dark demons. I have faced all of my mine, and that is why I choose to write such personal things, so that I can feel human and help others to speak up about their pain. Here I was, 20 years old, a young mother with a deceased father and an absent mom — here I was choosing an abusive relationship over my own precious daughter.
I found out later in my relationship with the father of my daughter that he was just as broken, if not more than I was. He tried to find acceptance in negative people and dealt with his pain through alcohol and bad decisions. His way of becoming a man meant to degrade woman and bring them down, and that’s exactly what he did to me. I was a broken woman searching for love in all the wrong places. I was a walking cliché of trauma and “needing” a man to mend my problems.
He didn’t start abusing me until I was about six months pregnant with my daughter. He would grab me and slam me down on the floor, and when I told him I was leaving, he’d make threats of killing himself. I stayed. I stayed after all of his abuse, and I stayed after his imprisonment. And worst of all, I stayed after he told me he was gang affiliated.
Finally, one night of arguing while my daughter slept in her crib, I had enough. I didn’t know how to cope anymore, so I resorted back to my old ways of grabbing a razor and sliding it across my skin. DCF became involved and placed a safety hold, which simply meant I needed to be supervised when I was with my daughter, ironically by my abuser. The next few days were chaos as they always were. Our relationship was nothing but dysfunction, abuse and pain. We decided to have a night together and dropped Avaline off at a babysitter’s house. Wow, what an idiot I was. I should’ve walked away the minute he put his hands on me. What was wrong with me? Why was I still fighting for someone who wanted nothing more than to put me in harm’s way? Why was I taking my motherhood for granted? Without any regard to these questions, I continued my day with my abuser. That night we discussed what we were going to do. Soon things quickly turned to terror and the next thing I remember, I was being punched repeatedly in the side of my head, nose, and stomach.
As I lay there in my own pile of blood, too scared to get up, I remember thinking, “Thank god my daughter isn’t’ here”. Soon after the police showed up, I decided once again to protect the man who had just punched my face in. I told the police we were arguing over me slashing my wrists, and I showed him the old wound, as my abuser stood by. The police officer, knowing me as a “cutter,” kept telling me it’s okay that you did this to yourself, just tell the truth about your arm and the blood on the floor. I chose to tell him, “Yes I did cut myself and that’s why we were fighting”. We were both arrested and charged with domestics.
After this argument, I was released. I came home to find my child’s father sitting on my couch. An officer saw both of us walking together on the way back from picking my daughter up. We were arguing with my daughter present, and the officer had followed us home. That’s the day she was taken from me. I want the world to know that I continued choosing my baby’s father even after she was taken, and it took a while to decide that my daughter was the most important person to me. I also want the world to know that in sharing my story, I am choosing to be vulnerable, honest, and brave. I am a mother choosing to admit to her mistakes and grow from them.
I named my daughter Avaline. It means little bird, but strong. What a fitting name for such a brave and resilient little being. She has surely endured enough pain in her life, yet she continues to be goofy and outgoing, and chooses to live every day to the fullest. It was almost a year after my daughter was gone that I had stopped feeling sorry for myself and became the mother my daughter needed. It had been two years that my daughter had been out of my custody — the longest two years of my life. The best way I got through it was to learn to live in the moment. It was painful to think of my daughter when she was not around me, and so I didn’t. It was also painful to think of the goodbye I’d soon be forced to say to her at the end of our two hour visits, so I didn’t. I embraced her presence when she was with me, and I shoved aside my grief when she was absent. I thought deeply about how we only get one life, and sometimes it saddened me to think about how tomorrow is not promised, and that if I did not wake up, that would be the last time my daughter would see me.
For a long time I became slave to my depression and self-pity. I slashed my wrists and tried numerous times to take my own life. I covered all of my daughter’s pictures up, I wouldn’t eat for days, and I chose not to get out of bed. I lost my apartment, and I had lost myself, my job, my friends, and my right to be a mother. I had become a slave to the cruel words people had said about me. I thought I had to prove to them that I was a good mother. My daughter’s family would post things constantly on social media both true and not true. I did choose a man over my daughter, and I did fail as a mom. They said I lost my daughter because I was a drug addict, they made fun of my father’s suicide, they threatened me, they physically attacked me with my daughter in my arms and even posted nude photos that were on my own personal camera given to my baby’s father by me.
Enough was enough, and it wasn’t my job to prove to others that I was a good mom. In their eyes, I had already stained my motherhood with failure, and there was no coming back. Well I did, and I came back as the best damn mom I could be to my daughter. I fought hard, I never gave up, and I had faith in the power of a mother's love for her child — of MY love for my daughter. I grew up, I got an apartment, a job coaching position, and I opened up more doors for our future together by choosing to further my education and study business administration. This whole journey has allowed me to not only begin writing a new chapter for my daughter and me but to start a whole new book.
I was meant to get this second chance as a mother. Everything happens for a reason, and after all those nights of crying for my baby girl, I finally found the reason. I was not the mom I needed to be to my daughter. I did not appreciate her the way she deserved to be appreciated, and I was certainly not in the right state of mind to give my daughter the love she deserved. The biggest challenge I faced was putting aside my past traumas and sacrificing my own grief, sadness, and pain for my daughter’s happiness. Sometimes I am still wrapped up in my own struggles, but as soon as I see my daughter’s face when I pick her up from school, it all disappears. The day I walked out of the court room with my daughters hand in mine is the day I felt complete, and the day I made her another promise to always protect her and love her the way she so deeply deserves. Some people don’t understand how I could have let this happen. Some people are also naïve and some people have supported me all the way and knew the whole time that I would get through this. My DCF case has taught me a lot about life, love, and motherhood. I love my daughter unconditionally and sometimes I think “My god, I did it.” And at night, when she is asleep in our home, I just stare at her and I think to myself…. You are right where you belong.