‘I got a life-altering call. ‘Can you come pick up your nephew?’ He was born with drugs in his system. No one warned us about the toll.’: Couple adopts nephew, ‘Our house is his forever home’

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“My husband, Steven, and I are high school sweethearts who married in 1999 after I became pregnant with our daughter during my senior year of high school. After contemplating whether we would move forward with the pregnancy and mixed feelings from our family, I finished my senior year early. We married, and our daughter, Alexys, was born all before I was supposed to have graduated from high school.

We lived in a small, rundown trailer in a mobile home park in a rough part of town. Steven worked, and I stayed home to care for Alexys. Life was not easy, nor was it glamorous, but we made it work. After nearly tripping over the rotted floor while holding my newborn in my arms, I called my dad in tears asking, ‘Can you help me find a new place?’ We moved into a nicer duplex in a better part of town, and I was able to return to work, thanks to my mother-in-law’s help with free childcare. Still naïve and immature in many ways, we were able to secure decent jobs and began to make a living for ourselves.

Courtesy of April Perez

When Alexys was 5, we began to consider having another baby. We had conceived so easily the first time it did not occur to us that we may struggle with infertility. Unfortunately, we did. Secondary infertility became a frustrating reality for several years. After five failed IUIs, we decided having another child was not meant to be for us. We considered adoption at the time, and even reached out to a local agency, but we could not afford it.

Fast forward 10 years later… I was in the throes of pursuing my bachelor’s degree at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) after deciding to finally go back to school. Alexys was 16 and would begin her senior year of high school soon. Steven and I were toying with the idea of selling our home in Texas and moving to Colorado after she graduated. Growing our family – much less adoption – was not on our radar.

Then, right before my 35th birthday, I got a phone call from my mom that would forever alter the course of our lives. ‘Can you come pick up your nephew, Austin?’ He was just 3 months old. My sister, Austin’s biological mother and a recovering heroin addict, had relapsed, and my mom needed help. My sister struggled with mental illness and drug addiction for several years prior to becoming pregnant in sober living. Like many folks, she thought having a baby would ‘fix’ things, so she decided to move forward with the pregnancy. She moved home with my mom, who offered to help her with the baby if she stayed sober.

Courtesy of April Perez

As I recall, things were okay during her pregnancy. If I am being honest, I kept an arm’s length distance from the situation to protect my peace. I did offer to host a baby shower for her, but I reneged it when I found out she had been smoking marijuana. I was worried about the baby’s health and how things would be after he was born. My mom and sister have a strained, codependent relationship, and I was not confident he would be raised in a stable home environment.

In December 2015, as I was heading into a marketing exam at UTA, my mom called saying, ‘Your sister is in labor.’ I headed to the hospital afterward, and I stayed with her while she labored and gave birth to Austin. Looking back, I wonder if I had some strange intuition to be present for that moment. After all, he was my nephew who would become my son several years later. Austin was born with marijuana in his system, and my sister was ordered by Child Protective Services to attend parenting classes.

After Austin was born, I only saw him a few times until I received that call from my mom asking me if I would pick him up. My sister brought him to our Christmas Eve celebration at my home when he was just a few weeks old. She fought with my mom on the phone about leaving with him to go hang out with friends, and I remember being annoyed there was drama during our holiday. We later found out she had been sneaking Bailey’s into her McDonald’s coffee cup while breastfeeding Austin in our spare room. Ultimately, it was an unhealthy, tumultuous situation and I wanted no part of it. I did not desire to have a relationship with my sister, and I continued to worry about Austin’s safety and long-term ability to thrive. I do recall having conversations with Steven and my mom about the possibility of us needing to care for him, but it felt very hypothetical.

Courtesy of April Perez

This brings me to March 2016, the week before my 35th birthday when I got the life-altering call from my mom asking me to come pick up Austin. Choosing to bring him home that day was easy, but pretty much everything afterward felt hard. Not only did we have a newborn overnight with zero preparation – mentally or physically – but we were also dealing with my sister and CPS. With my sister’s approval, CPS granted us a child safety kinship placement. This meant CPS would routinely visit our home for inspections and my sister was only allowed to see Austin with our approval and observation. We were told we had ‘zero legal rights and no financial assistance.’

Courtesy of April Perez

Steven and I worked full-time, so this meant we had to secure childcare and absorb the cost of it ourselves. Also, my sister had entered another in-patient rehabilitation program and I was responsible for taking Austin there to see her on a regular basis. This was emotionally taxing enough as-is, but we soon discovered Austin also had some developmental issues. He would cry for extended periods of time without reason, and bang in his crib until he formed a calloused bump on the back of his head. Now we know this is due to diagnosed Sensory Processing Disorder, but at the time we were full of stress and guilt, thinking we were caring for him all wrong.

Easton Jay Photography

No one warned me about the toll this would all take on my mental health. No one told us we would wrack up enormous amounts of legal debt without the state’s financial assistance. No one told me I would be riddled with the worst anxiety I had ever experienced. No one explained how adjusting to his special needs would affect us. I missed quality time with my daughter during a pivotal time in her life. I missed intimacy with my husband. I missed quiet alone time. I missed my friends. I missed simple things I had taken for granted like a full night’s sleep or the freedom to do what I wanted, whenever I wanted.

Courtesy of April Perez

I had panic attacks. My drinking increased exponentially. The ‘mommy’ wine culture feeds us the lie that we need alcohol – AKA ‘mommy juice’ – to survive motherhood. I would hide in my closet and cry uncontrollably. I felt guilty all the time. I struggled to finish my bachelor’s degree. I had convinced myself I was a failure.

Easton Jay Photography

My sister decided to voluntarily leave treatment prior to completion, and we feared she would show up demanding we give her back her child. Remember, we had no legal rights. If she showed up and we refused to hand him over, we could be charged with kidnapping. This prompted us to seek legal counsel to acquire legal guardianship. There was no talk of us adopting Austin during this time because getting a judge to grant orders removing her legal parental rights would be near impossible without her consent, especially in Texas.

Easton Jay Photography

Thankfully, we were granted conservatorship giving us the legal right to make decisions regarding his health and safety. For the next couple of years, my sister would visit sporadically per the court-ordered visitation schedule, but we were settling into our new normal. Austin was 3 years old by this time, and somewhere along the way, a shift took place. I began to grieve my old life less and embrace my new life more. I stopped drinking. I graduated. I turned my guilt, bitterness, and anger into gratitude. We had transitioned from being ‘aunt and uncle’ to ‘mom and dad.’ We knew in our hearts our house would be Austin’s forever home, and it was time to make it official.

Courtesy of April Perez

It was tough to call my sister and ask, ‘Will you sign off on your parental rights?’ We would not be where we are if she had not made the selfless decision to allow Steven and me to adopt Austin. While I know this was not easy for her, she did what she knew in her heart to be best for her son. My sister is currently sober and enrolled in school. She spends time with Austin, and I wonder if some part of him feels a connection to her that he cannot explain. One day, when he can understand, Austin will learn about his story. He will grow up knowing where he came from, and how loved he is.

My story is not the typical ‘woman wants baby, woman can’t have baby, woman adopts, woman lives happily ever after’ story, but I do not think it was supposed to be. My story needed to be different to make me the woman I am today and to encourage others who may be going through a similar experience. Today, I am happy, I am proud, and I am a boy mom.”

Easton Jay Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by April Perez. You can follow her journey on Facebook.  Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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