Life in Circles: Mending broken hearts.

April 30, 2016

Jamie Killips

Jamie Killips

Life In Circles by Stephanie Wagner.

Sponsored by Pro-Master Carpet Cleaning, 231-757-9061, promastercarpetcleaning.com.

“There are just so many places this story can go, I don’t even know where to start.”  So begins one of the most difficult stories I have written.

My entire career has been spent advocating for young children in some way. From classrooms to boardrooms to my own kitchen table, the stories of our most powerless and most vulnerable citizens both haunt and lift me.

I have washed feet, picked nits, bought backpacks, and sat with crying mothers. I have rubbed backs, given hugs, wiped noses and changed diapers. I have been bitten, kicked, scratched, called names, and spit on. I’ve been in houses with no hot water, no heat, no beds.  

And at the end of the day, I have always had the gift of going home.

For the Killips family, their home became a place of healing for 6-year-old A., and 10-month-old “Baby D.”

Jamie wears the identity of motherhood like a badge of honor. She has two biological sons, Landon and Robby, along with a home-based child care business. They have also welcomed four exchange students over the years.

“I don’t care who you are – if you are in my home, you are part of my family!  I love with my whole heart. All of them,” she says.

When Jamie’s boys were ages 5 and 7, she realized that they weren’t needing her as much. “I’ve always believed that my kids needed to be independent. I want them to be able to take care of themselves — get their own cereal, pack their backpacks, solve some of their own problems.  I think I did too good of a job, because I started to miss packing a diaper bag and getting out the sippy cups.”

Jamie and her husband, Rob, began exploring the idea of adoption, looking at profiles of children available for adoption from the foster care system.

“We found this little girl on the MARE (Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange) site – it’s a site for Michigan children who need homes – www.MARE.org – and we decided to apply. We weren’t planning to foster, but were encouraged through our agency to get our license because then she could come right home without the adoption being finalized.  She could live with us while everything was processed.”

Ultimately, the situation didn’t work out. “She chose to stay with a family in the Detroit area where she was from.  But by then, we had our license. We decided to be open to whatever happened next.”

What happened next changed everything.

“We got our official license in July of 2013. In September we got a call on a Friday afternoon at 1, and we had A. and Baby D. by 4.”

The children, along with their two older siblings who went to other local foster families, had been severely abused.

“I could never have imagined that there were children living the way these kids did. They didn’t have running water, so they hadn’t been bathed. The baby had – I can’t even call it a diaper rash – he was just welted and raw. The worst part was that he didn’t even cry or react when we cleaned and changed him. He had just learned to deal with the pain.”

The children had been physically and sexually abused, and severely neglected. “The older kids took care of the younger ones, but they were all just little. The oldest was 10.  They would be left alone to eat spoiled food. A. had lice so bad that she was bleeding. It was the kind of conditions that you think only happen in some third world country somewhere, not here.”

Jamie and Rob immediately began the process of healing both the physical and emotional wounds.

“After a while, the bags under their eyes disappeared. A.’s rotten teeth got pulled, and she got new glasses. That first year, absolutely everything was a celebration. They had never had a birthday party, or a visit from the tooth fairy. Christmas was a really big deal. The kids were in counseling and had regular medical care.  Their needs were all met for the first time in their lives.”

The children were with the Killips family for two years before the termination hearing was set.

“We knew that there was always a possibility that the kids could go back to their birth family. We had been told from the beginning that it was unlikely though, and we really thought they would become available for adoption.”

But when they went to court last August, the judge shockingly ruled to return the children to their birth family.

“It was devastating. And then people would say to me, ‘Well – you shouldn’t have gotten attached’, or ‘They weren’t yours to begin with.’  The grief was just overwhelming.”

That is where the second story begins.

“I honestly didn’t know who I was anymore. For over 11 years, I had been “Mom” to young children who needed me for everything. I was lost.”

As Jamie and Rob tried to put the pieces back together, the hurtful comments from those closest to her got to be too much.

“It was hard on my marriage. It was hard on my friendships. But the worst was my extended family. They were hurt too, and they blamed me. They went into attack mode, and I was vulnerable and grieving.”

Jamie began counseling to redefine herself beyond motherhood.

“This is the first taste of freedom I have had in a long time. I’m leaning on my friends that stuck by me more, and I’m doing things by myself too – even just going for a walk alone. My marriage is strong again. I’m learning who I am now.

“I also am learning the value of true friendship. There is one person who has supported me from day one and is still by my side. She has been there for every decision and kept me on track when my brain was scattered. She taught me to keep faith in God and has been there day or night. I don’t know where I would be without her.

“People say I’m not the same person I was before this experience. I agree. None of us are. How could we be?

“Our eyes have been opened up to a world we never knew existed. The boys are more compassionate when they see other kids in need, and they are more appreciative of what they have because they know first hand that others don’t.”

For a period of time, Jamie got regular updates on how A. and D. were doing since being returned home. Sadly, their case was closed when the family moved to a new county.  Jamie thinks about them both, and worries every day.

“A. was 9 when she went back. It is such an impressionable age for girls especially. Her mom had her first child was she was 12, and I just want A. to know there is so much more for her out there in the world. I wonder if she’s getting to school, if she’s getting fed. I hope that the time with us was enough to help her see that there are other options, but I just don’t know.

I hope that we broadened her world as much as she broadened ours. That she knows what an appropriate hug and kiss feels like, remembers what it’s like to have a body that is taken care of and healthy.”

After all of the grief, the Killips family has retained their foster care license and plans to keep it current.  

“I would do all of it all over again. No question.  

There is so much need out there, and I just keep thinking that someone needs to do something. I guess I needed to be that someone. We can all be someone.”

Jamie encourages other families to consider foster care. She believes that no matter what, love is the only answer.  

“This case – it took a toll on everyone involved. I have so much respect for child welfare workers. What they endure every day, how hard they fight. Everyone – even A. and D.’s mom – they are all doing the best they can.”

For now, Jamie is focusing on what is good in her life while nurturing those relationships that are carrying her through her grief.

“I learned so much about myself, my relationships. I am stronger, more willing to speak truth.  I have also found my circle, the people who have my back. I know I can lean on them.”

As I wrap this story, my own heart feels heavy with the weight of a broken system that allows for broken children, and with the complexity of what it really means to love a child. I am also hopeful that there are more people like Jamie and Rob out there who are willing to step up and make a difference in whatever way they can.

After all, we can all be someone.

 

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