Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Just Keep Piling It On, October

October 2007 is going to be a month we will all try very hard to forget for several reasons: finding out our baby has rib fractures, child abuse allegations, rescuing my car from the city repo lot, polygraph tests in a south side police precinct, hurtful comments from internet message boards, our son being taken from us and put in a shelter for five days, getting two parking tickets, having to drop two enjoyable law classes, getting a ticket for an expired license plate when my license plate isn't expired (yesterday's treat), and now- having Landon's social security number stolen.

Yep, he's 15 weeks old and a victim of identity theft. We applied for his social security card at the hospital and it was supposed to be mailed to us within 4 months. Today the envelope was in the mail, but it was torn open and the card with the number was ripped out. So that's going to be a big pain in the ass- because I don't have enough of those right now. I called the SSA headquarters and they said to call the three credit agencies to have a fraud alert put on his number but I couldn't get a new one. Well, that's not acceptable- more can be done with a social security number than just getting a credit card and running up the bill. I'm going to our local office (when, I have no idea) to have a chat about the situation. He needs a new number. I'm also a little freaked out that someone got in our mail in the first place. Did a postal worker steal it? Does someone have a key to our mailbox? Why would that person leave the other half of the envelope and enclosure when all it does is alert me to the fact that the number has been stolen? All very odd.

In other news, our investigator never called me today so we didn't have a visit and I still have no idea what Thursday will bring. But the fact that Thursday is the 1st day of a new month does make good news seem a little more possible.

Monday, October 29, 2007

X-Rays and Squeaky Toys

I wanted to write a quick post about Landon's skeletal scan this morning. It actually went pretty well- 100x better than last time. Thanks to my aunt's singing and the variety of toys and rattles she packed in her purse, he actually smiled and cooed his way through the first 12 x-rays or so. He then he started to look suspicious, and then he started crying. Luckily, he only had four x-rays left when he was in full meltdown mode, and I was able to pick him up and cuddle him in between each of the last four. It still took over an hour from start to finish, and if I'd never experienced one with him before, I probably would have thought it was awful, but now I know it could have been much, much worse.

Dr. K didn't call with the results, although I'm not sure I expected her to. I think if it was good news (no changes) she wouldn't tell us, and if it was bad news, she would have just called DCFS. I've asked our orthopedist to take a quick look at the radiology reports and let me know if there are any red flags, but I would be absolutely shocked if there were any new breaks. That would mean he definitely had a bone disease, and he's been so squirmy and happy lately it would also mean he doesn't bruise, swell, or feel pain. Tomorrow we're supposed to see the investigator and hopefully we'll get some indication of where this case is going. I'm feeling somewhat optimistic and that's scaring me more than anything.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Investigation Update

After not hearing from DCFS since the hearing, I almost let myself hope that this investigation was just dying a slow death. Almost.

Our investigator called on Thursday and said that Dr. K continues to insist that Landon was abused, despite additional opposing evidence from the orthopedist (and the complete lack of any other evidence beyond the existence of fractures). Our investigator seemed almost annoyed. I really think she believes we are innocent and would rather expend her energy and resources on other cases; however, anything she does must be approved by her supervisor and she is the one who insisted on taking protective custody. The investigator has also spoken with our pediatric orthopedist and appears to be much more impressed with him than Dr. K. Unfortunately, Dr. K is DCFS's contracted "specialist" (child abuse is Not a medical specialty). During the phone call the investigator said "we're still trying to figure out who our expert is." The expert is supposed to be the most specialized physician. Dr. K is a general pediatrician who was certified in 2006. Our orthopedist is a bone specialist and surgeon, board certified in 1985, and unlike Dr. K, can read and interpret his own x-rays. It seems rather clear who is the more specialized, at least to me.

The investigator wants to come by the apartment to check on us Tuesday afternoon (this would be the first time someone has come by since the hearing). She then said something odd: (background: Landon has another "rib series" of x-rays on Thursday for the orthopedist) "We're going to wrap this up on Thursday." What does that mean??! And why tell me now so that I can obsess over it until then? I want to hope it's good news- that they're going with the orthopedist's opinion and they just want to make sure this x-ray doesn't show anything new or inconsistent with his earlier reports. But DCFS has a unique way of dashing my hopes. I'm afraid it's bad news and she just means they're going to wrap up the investigation on Thursday. I'm not sure why they'd choose Thursday to end things, but after taking the drastic step of protective custody, I'm afraid the supervisor won't approve an "unfounded" decision. If we're "indicated" I'm not even sure what happens next- there's lots of options. They could petition in court, not petition, contest custody again, etc. I have no idea where this will go and even less of an idea when it will end. We're supposed to go to Houston for Thanksgiving and to have Landon baptized- will we be able to go? Will we ever get to be alone as a family again? Once again, I have no idea. And I hate it. I can't emotionally prepare myself for anything because I never know where this is going to go. The last 12 days have been relatively uneventful and I'm scared we'll get sucker punched again.

The CPS doctors are making Landon get another full skeletal scan tomorrow. I'm dreading it. It takes about 90 minutes and involves 24 individual x-rays to capture each bone in his body. Last time he screamed and sobbed the whole time. It requires two people to hold him down in the different positions and the technician had to tape down his fingers and toes to get them scanned- it was terrible. We're already following up with x-rays for the rib fractures and wouldn't a doctor be able to tell if he had a recently broken arm or leg? I would never challenge their decision to require it for fear they'd think we were trying to hide something, but I hate that he has to go through that again. I will be so glad for the day the CPS team can't dictate his life.

So this is a big week. Monday is the skeletal scan. Tuesday our investigator is coming over. Wednesday is Halloween (Landon will be a lobster, there will be pictures). Thursday is the rib series and supposed DCFS decision. Saturday is the MPRE which I have not begun studying for- the book is still sitting in my car. My aunt is here as Safety Person and the past 2 days have been lots of fun- there have been significant stretches of time during that I've forgotten we're still under investigation and don't know where this is heading. The fact that Landon was in a shelter 2 weeks ago is something I still can't process. (Tuesday is also the day of my first therapy appointment. I won't be blogging about it, but for those concerned, yes, I'm going.)

No matter how much I'm trying to steel myself for an "indicated" decision on Thursday, I know I can't keep the hope down. We so desperately need this to end. Our lives have got to go on. At some point I need to pay attention in class and catch up on my reading. JP needs to focus on work. We need to be able to enjoy Landon like normal parents- not two people constantly under supervision and desperate to soak up every second with him for fear someone will take him away again. We need to sort through the insurance claim denials and hospital bills that are piling up on my desk. My car needs new shocks and our apartment needs to be cleaned. Life is moving on and we can't move with it until this is over. It's absolutely maddening that one doctor can make our lives hell. She doesn't even have to explain herself. While it's true that we don't have a story for what happened to his ribs, neither does she. She can just say "abuse" with no further explanation. Shaking a baby to the point of fracturing ribs causes brain bleeding and/or rhetinal hemorrhaging. He has none of that. Squeezing a baby to the point of fracturing ribs causes severe internal thoracic damage 85% of the time. He has none of that. He's never had a bruise. We've had a multitude of visitors in our apartment- child abuse is normally hidden. He's been to doctors constantly and not one ever suspected abuse. He's thriving, happy, and relaxes in our arms. We sought out explanations for a popping sound in his rib after two doctors brushed it off. We asked for the x-ray that started this nightmare on Oct. 4th. We both passed lie detector tests. But she doesn't have to explain any of that. She just has to keep repeating that rib fractures indicate abuse. If she stopped there, I wouldn't complain- that statement is true. But she's not- she's making follow-up calls, sending irate pages to an orthopedist who's actually trying to figure out what happened to him, and continuing to insist that Landon was abused. How can she possibly declare that as certainty? She met us once, never examined Landon, never talked to our pediatrician, and never requested his earlier medical records (including the ones from the NICU).

Anyway, I've written more than the update I intended to deliver, but I am happy to see I have a little anger popping back up. If we get bad news on Thursday I'm going to need all the fury I can muster to keep from collapsing on the floor and never getting up.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Post-Bath Snuggle

I love his expression here- I couldn't edit out myself as well as I'd like, but I figured what the hell, you all can see me smiling.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Break

I was sitting in class this morning trying very hard to focus on The Law and I could feel myself getting depressed- I was sinking. I couldn't concentrate. I felt sad. Sad and tired. I got an email from a blogger friend I've long read and she was filled with outrage and indignation at what is happening to us. I suddenly realized that I've been so beaten down by this investigation that I've forgotten to be angry. I've lost sight of the fact that we're innocent and wrongfully accused. Whenever this investigation ends I will effusively thank the person who tells me so. I will feel relieved and grateful. That's absurd. We're innocent and we’re out thousands of dollars, under enormous emotional strain, had our son taken from us for five days, and have had to deal with constant accusations, questioning, and the stigma of being under DCFS investigation. Because Landon was discharged from the hospital into the state's care and not mine, I didn't know if he had any follow-up appointments. I spent yesterday morning calling around to his various doctors to see if appointments had been scheduled, and to figure that out, I had to explain that Landon was discharged to DCFS. I resisted the urge to spill the whole story to a busy receptionist and then hated the change in her voice when she understood why I was calling.

It's amazing how just being associated with an investigation can make you feel guilty. I barely want to talk about it anymore because I feel ashamed. I have to remind myself how shocked I was when the nurse at the ER told me a hospital social worker would like to speak with me. We kept thinking it would go away when they realized there was no possible way we hurt our son- we believed our innocence would matter. We volunteered to take polygraphs and after we passed things somehow got much worse. The past 19 days have been a nightmare in every sense of the word. I can't stop thinking about how I felt when I handed Landon to the case manager and she walked out of the hospital with him- how it felt to know that a group of people decided he was not safe in your care. Everything was so out of our control. The morning they took Landon we asked our DCFS investigator's supervisor how this could end if we didn't find a medical diagnosis. She responded, "a confession." I now understand why people confess to things they didn't do.

During the investigation I was asked over and over how I dealt with stress, how I felt I was balancing school and motherhood, how I felt towards Landon after he was born. Ironically, I was doing okay then. Sure it was hard and I was tired, but most of the time things were wonderful- the blog heard the worst of it. Now, I am depressed and I do need help. I'm having a really hard time dealing with what's happened. Most of me doesn't believe Landon was in a shelter a week ago- that I'm a mother whose son was taken from her home for his own protection. I need to process being sad, being angry, and being resentful of what this process did to our family. It's not even over- that's what scares me the most. I don't know what's happening beyond our apartment or when or how this will end. I don't know how to interact with my classmates or how to respond to a normal, "What's up?" This should be such a great time in our lives- Landon has grown exponentially more adorable and more fun. He's smiling and squirming and a bundle of love. My school schedule is easy and actually enjoyable. But outside of our family time, I'm a mess.

So I’m taking a break from blogging. After constantly defending myself in real life, I hate that I now feel the need to do so here. I also don't want to keep writing the same sentences about how much I hurt, but I can't yet move on to lighter things. I have received immense support through this site- far, far more support than negativity- and I'm very grateful for it. I’ve read every comment and email countless times, and you all helped me when I was scared and confused. I'll let you know when big things happen in the investigation, but the rest of the thoughts in my head- the ones that make me feel like I'm drowning- I'll be dealing with them privately.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Moving On, or trying to

I'm having a hard time writing. Life is moving on, like it always does, so there's plenty of little things to blog about: Landon's new found love of clocks, going back to school, the gorgeous fall weather, the 5-hour MPRE class yesterday, and just generally trying to pick life back up where we left it on Oct. 4th. But hanging over us all is the ongoing investigation and the uncertainty of how and when it will end. The elation we felt on Tuesday when we got to bring Landon home is starting to fade into a constant fear of where this is going. We need to try to move on- we're not in crisis anymore and everything can't stay on hold- but the terror of an adverse decision by DCFS and a trial or question of custody keeps me awake at night. Normally I blog about what's on my mind, but there's only so many ways I can re-write the same fears. And just writing about funny Landon stories and law school doesn't seem true to myself. So new posts, like me right now, will probably consist of rehashing the same worries while trying to focus on the ordinary.

Going back to class on Friday was strange. I ran in to a classmate who asked where I'd been and I wasn't sure how to answer. Part of me wants everyone to know our story, but it's rather long and I just didn't have the energy to begin telling it. I've also started to fear people not believing me and I just can't deal with that right now. I think I said something about family trouble. The seminar itself was great. It's a practical class about negotiating complex business transactions, and if I had nothing else going on I would have dedicated a blog post solely to it. This Friday we were split in half to negotiate an employment agreement. My group represented Heidi Fleiss, the owner of "Rancho Macho", a male stud farm in Nevada. The employee was a famous adult film star who would be our big ticket item. The negotiations resulted in some very interesting contractual provisions.

Yesterday was the MPRE bar/bri class. It was long, although the guy doing it made it as amusing as possible, and I managed to half-listen while cleaning out my inbox. I had 215 repeatedly read but unanswered emails from people, many of them strangers, and all were so nice and meant so much to me that I really wanted to write some of them back. I'm still working on it, but I got through about 150 in the class. By the time I arrived home JP's aunt had arrived and my dad had left. His aunt is just wonderful and Landon is thoroughly enjoying her attentions. When I came out to the living room this morning, he was curled up in her lap sleeping and they both looked very happy with the situation.

I'm trying to work through the to-do lists that were written before this nightmare began. There are stacks all over our apartment- bills to pay, letters to file, and notifications to deal with. I found notices for two parking tickets I didn't know I had, one now overdue. We got our first "denial of claim" letter from the insurance company for Day 8 of the hospital stay. If Day 8 is denied I'm pretty sure Day 9 will be too- and probably days before that. JP is still working on his business school application and I helped edit his essays. We went to the grocery store for the first time in almost a month and restocked our fridge. At some point I'm going to attempt to play catch-up with my law reading. Tonight JP and I are taking advantage of our Safety Person and going out to belatedly celebrate his birthday. From the outside we look like things are back to normal (other than having a perpetual house guest), but inside we're far from recovered.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Deflated

It's amazing how put together you can be while your world is falling apart- there's lists to make, things it accomplish, and the perpetual drive to Do Something to make things right. But when your world is right again, when your baby is curled up on your chest as you type on your laptop, that's when you can let all the emotions and exhaustion flood in...



I've now sat for thirty minutes trying to think of something to type. I'm not sure what to say- there's no action items or big updates- we're just working with the Safety Plan, seeing doctors, talking to the lawyer, and waiting for the day when this nightmare is over. Landon got a more detailed series of x-rays yesterday. There was nothing new to report, just the same breaks that now look even older. He's was poked and prodded pretty hard by the doctor and shows no signs of discomfort (and we don't think he ever did), so it all remains a mystery. He goes back in two more weeks for the same set of x-rays. I just don't know how this will end and I'm starting to feel depressed. Before, there were finite dates like leaving the hospital and going to court. I couldn't focus on (or even acknowledge) my own feelings, it was just about getting Landon home. Now he's home and we're waiting. Waiting for a medical explanation. Waiting for someone to decide that while there may not be a proven explanation, there are probable ones that are not abuse and Landon is not in danger under our care. We love him so much, it hurts more than I can express to have that love called into question.

I stupidly clicked on some of the referring links to my blog yesterday. It's incredible how much comments from strangers can sting. I found out that my story "just doesn't fit" because I don't seem emotional. Should there be tear stains on your web browser? Do you want to read paragraph after paragraph of me trying to explain what it feels like to have your child taken from your arms because someone decided he is in imminent risk by remaining in your care? Or how it feels to wake up at night expecting to hear him, but instead remember that he's gone and you don't know when you'll get him back? Or read about how I collapsed on the floor when they told me they were taking him? How I almost dreaded our 1-hour visits at the shelter because it hurt so much I felt like I was breaking? Words to express those feelings don't exist. And apparently a lot of people found the fact that I mentioned a friend bringing by a "delicious dinner" to be suspicious because it should be so trivial compared to everything else going on. Could it be that my blog was intended as a means of updating family and friends and that sentence was an embedded thank you? The posts were meant to keep everyone informed so I wouldn't feel guilty for never answering an email or returning phone calls, not to prove myself to random passersby. I know I shouldn't read these message boards and I've promised myself I won't anymore, but it's hard not to when you know they're out there. People are more cruel when they're anonymous and don't have to see the hurt in the face of the person they're writing about.

Somehow in the midst of all this drama and turmoil, Landon has started smiling with meaning. He used to have little flashes of accidental smiles, but now his grin lights up his face with delight when he sees something he likes. JP, me, another smiling face, and for some reason, clocks, all bring out a series of smiles. There's a clock on the wall of our living room and every time he catches a glimpse of it he grins and coos- even if he's hungry and/or crying. It's amazing. And it's amazing how much he makes us laugh even though we're hurting inside. When we're playing with him and holding him, we can almost forget that we're under investigation for harming him. It still doesn't seem real.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Happy Birthday JP

Today is JP's 26th birthday. I didn't have time to get presents or a card, but Landon is home and they had lots of cuddle time this evening. Who needs presents?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oh Yeah, Law School

After a two-week hiatus, I am back in the glass cube that is the UC law school. My friend the "supervisor" had class so we had to come with her (DCFS still hasn't approved my dad- it takes longer to get info from Texas than within Illinois). Other DCFS approved friends have sat with us in the green lounge all day so that we won't violate the Safety Plan. It might be ridiculous, but it's ridiculousness we agreed to and I'm not taking any risks. We're working on making sure the next several weeks are covered- I have aunts, grandparents, and family friends flying in to be Safety People. At least they'll all get to see the newest addition to the family.

I talked to the Dean of Students this morning- she couldn't have been more understanding and accommodating. I've done a bit of complaining about UC, especially 1L year (they're not kidding about the rigor), but being part of a small law school community is paying off in ways I never imagined. Professors I barely knew immediately offered their assistance; my whole 3L class sent emails full of support, encouragement, and offers to help; and both Deans contacted me to make sure that school was the last thing I was worried about. That meant a lot to me. Honestly school was already being ignored, but it was nice to have official permission. A professor had already offered to let me write a paper for him for class credit so I dropped corporate finance- it's too bad because I liked the topic, but it was a lot of work and I was so behind. After talking to the Dean today I dropped transactional lawyering as well. If I knew for certain this whole nightmare was over I could still catch up and handle my class load, but I don't. I also have the MPRE to study for and a paper to write for a class last year, so I'll be plenty busy anyway. People have been stopping by our table throughout the day to say hello and meet Landon. He's been wearing his pumpkin hat and is a big hit.

It was so wonderful to wake up with Landon in the apartment this morning. We've been thickening his formula with rice cereal on the advice of the GI specialist at the hospital and that made a world of difference. He hasn't had a screaming fit since the day we made that change. He's eating larger quantities at a time and sleeping longer between bottles- last night he went 6 hours!

He's going in for a "rib series" of x-rays tomorrow afternoon. They're supposed to give us more details about the fractures than a regular x-ray can. Several people have asked how he's doing- and I wanted to reassure them that he's fine. He has no idea any of this is going on. The fractures are at least five weeks old (the orthopedist thinks they're older than that) and totally healed. There's five- two on one side, three on the other- right under his arms. I think they must have been from birth. He's never shown any discomfort when JP or I picked him up out of his crib or car seat, and our hands would be placed precisely where those breaks are. Surely he would have cried when we pressed on that area when the breaks were recent. In the NICU we didn't pick him up that way because he was always swaddled- we just scooped him into our arms. He was tested for OI and the results are pending, but the geneticist didn't think he had it. We may never know what happened- troubling as that lack of an answer is.

JP went back to work today. I'm back in the law school (though I never opened my backpack). Landon is back in our arms. We're trying to get back to some semblance of normal- or as normal as you can be when you have to live with a supervisor and you're part of an ongoing DCFS investigation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Promised Details

After very little sleep and a lot of stress, Dad, JP, and I headed down to juvenile court at 8:00 this morning. We were supposed to meet our attorney at 8:30 so that we could give our investigator the information we gathered over the weekend. He ended up in traffic so we went up to the ASA's waiting room at 9 to catch our investigator before she went in. She was also late, so we didn't talk to anyone until about 9:45 (I sat frozen in place while Dad and JP paced). We showed her the report from Dr. B, the NICU pictures, and the letter from our pediatrician. She seemed happy with the new information- I never got the impression she was very interested in our case- it was definitely pressure from supervisors. We then sat across the waiting room from her while she talked with the screening attorney. We heard him say, "We don't want this." And for the first time we had some hope. The ASA then called our investigator back to her office and they were gone for a long time. I remember thinking how amazing it was that two strangers were deciding something so enormously personal and important. Finally our investigator came out and she said, "We're going to do a Safety Plan. The state's attorney's office taking the case right now- they're concerned that the two medical reports conflict so we need to reconcile that and investigate more."

And I didn't know how to react. Of course I was thrilled that Landon was coming home. But it also hit me how ridiculous it was to be in this situation at all and a little bit of the anger came to the surface. I'd been holding it at bay because it wasn't going to help me get Landon home, but now that I had him back, I couldn't keep it away any more. I now wanted this to be completely over. I didn't want to agree to a safety plan, I don't want to have someone supervise my interaction with Landon 24/7, and I didn't want this investigation to continue. Nothing is settled. I don't know when it will end. The investigator guessed 8 weeks. It could be longer, it could be shorter. They could get another CPS doctor to agree with the original report and feel they have a stronger case. They could lose interest entirely. I don't know, and I hate it. Our attorney felt that this was extremely good news. If the ASA didn't feel that there was an "urgent and immediate risk" to the child today, how could they argue for it in a week? While this investigation may continue and we may end up at trial (he doubts it, I take nothing for granted), our custody of Landon should be pretty safe. We may have classes and more monitoring in our future, but no more shelters. So we officially agreed to the Safety Plan while the investigation continues. We can't be alone with Landon, but we can live at home with him and we can switch out our Safety People at will- there's a lot more flexibility than a fostering situation.

Because Dad still hadn't been cleared by DCFS, I had to ask a friend to stay with us until he is. She immediately agreed to meet us at the shelter. Dr. B called on our way there- he guessed we had good news because he had an "irate" page from the CPS doctors at the hospital. I don't understand why they are so determined to have us punished. They made their report (without speaking to our pediatrician, us, or an orthopedist)- why are they continuing to push so hard? It scares me- I don't know that they'll let it go. The paperwork at the shelter took forever, but we held Landon the whole time and were so, so happy to walk out that door for the last time. When we got home we immediately gave him a long soapy bath, put him in our favorite "Little Cowboy" outfit, and took turns cuddling him for hours. A friend brought over yet another tasty dinner and we're all hanging out watching a movie. Landon is fast asleep on his dad's lap and they both look completely content.

I'm not sure how to sum things up. I know that we received the best outcome we could realistically hope for, but the uncertainty of it all is troubling. We'll start living again, but still with that constant nagging worry about the damage DCFS can still cause. Dr. B wants Landon to come in for the rib series of x-rays tomorrow. We'll still be working with the attorney and at least one more expert witness to make sure we can be ready for a potential trial. I suppose I'll have to start attending classes at some point. JP will go back to work. We'll hug Landon more, kiss him more, and never curse another midnight feeding.

Thank you all for your support, prayers, and love. It's not over, but he's back in our arms, and right now- that's enough

Background: Monday's Events

[an email I sent out to family last night]

Our attorney met with the ASA this morning. She found our NICU pictures (especially the one showing bruising at the ribs, under the armpit), medical articles, and testimony from Dr. B (the pediatric orthopedist) quite interesting. She wants us to show it to our DCFS investigator tomorrow morning before she approaches the ASA office so we don't ambush her in the hearing and she can include our information in her report. Then our investigator will approach the ASA and she'll decide to accept the case. I'm trying not to hope very much- any hope so far in this nightmare has been smashed into tiny pieces- but in some secret place I'm daring to think this case might not even make it to the judge. There's a million variations that could occur- this is such a unique set of facts and circumstances to come in front of a juvenile court judge. As I said yesterday, the only thing I'm hoping for is that Landon will be out of the foster care system. I will cry tears of absolute joy at that decision- ridiculous as it still may be.

This afternoon we met Dr. B for the first time. He's one of the only doctors out there willing to look at rib fractures and consider other causes besides abuse. He looked at Landon's NICU records, the x-rays taken after he was born, and our pictures. The first NICU x-ray was taken only 1 hour after he was born and is therefore too early to show anything, but the one taken about 20 hours later had something on the 7th rib on the right side (one of the ones broken)- it would be almost impossible to get any more info out of it though. He did confirm (in a written report) that he felt the fractures were from a single incident and that they were at minimum several weeks old. He couldn't commit to our theory of birth injury (and we didn't expect him to- we'll prob. never know how they happened), but he felt comfortable including in his report that it was absolutely possible. He believes this will continue to trial (it seems like rib fractures always do) and he wants a "rib series" done on Landon next week to compare the fractures, their healing, and get a more detailed look. Dr. B also mentioned that the x-rays were originally read by the hospital's "weakest" radiologist- and that's the report the CPS doctors based their decision on (he said there was no evidence to support the conclusion that the fractures were at "various stages of healing"- and that's the phrase that's been killing us). We also spoke with our pediatrician, who is so upset at what is going on, and got a letter from her attesting to our frequent visits and the lack of any signs of abuse.

We went to visit Landon at 4:30. He was finally wearing new clothes- an outfit we had brought him on the first day. He felt so much more "mine". It's hard to explain how I feel about that 60 minutes. Of course I couldn't go a day without seeing him and I look forward to our appointment, but when the time comes, part of me just wants it to be over. It's so, so hard to hold him and watch the clock countdown until I have to give him up again. I have never complained that DCFS was called because of our x-rays (though I protest mightily at their lack of any "investigation"). I understand why the CPS system exists and I have to believe that overall it does far more good than harm. However, I will never forgive the fact that they put my baby in a shelter instead of with his grandmother who was sitting right in front of them and was willing to move into a hotel or her own apartment within the hour.

A friend made a delicious dinner for us and then we came home to assemble our file for tomorrow. We've got it all: legal cases, medical articles, letters from doctors, pictures of Landon, etc. JP and my Dad went to sleep a while ago. JP has been so strong- I think it eats at him in a way I can't understand that he couldn't protect his little family from this nightmare. And Dad has been such a help- he makes lists (so that's who I inherited my obsessive list-making from...), makes me eat, keeps us upbeat, and acts as another person to bounce ideas off of (and a smart, caring person at that). We all just stay focused on getting Landon home and we pass the time doing everything we can to prepare for that decision. It's amazing how strong you can be for your child- we're being strong for Landon and dad is being strong for me. It would be so much easier to just break down and scream or cry- or both.

I can't describe how much I'm anticipating and fearing tomorrow. There's a best scenario (the ASA won't take the case) but it's also the least likely (our lawyer thinks that at a minimum they'll want more time so that the CPS doctors can respond to Dr. B's report); and there's the worst scenario (Landon goes to foster care) that is also unlikely. And a million things in between- none of them great, but all of them some degree of acceptable. Of course if you step back out of this nightmare and remember how absurd it is that we're in this situation, they're all totally unacceptable and we should just take Landon and flee to Canada. If the judge puts him in foster care, I think we may do just that.

He's Home

It's not the very best outcome, but it's probably the second best. The ASA declined to take the case at this time, so the investigation is still ongoing with DCFS but there was no custody hearing. We picked up Landon from the shelter and got home about 30 min. ago. We're still under a voluntary Safety Plan and we must have an approved person supervising us at all times with Landon, but we're together.

We'll start fighting the rest of this tomorrow. Right now it's time for a bath, a meal, and a lot of family cuddling.

What's the Word...

There is no word that properly captures the feeling of terror, anticipation, anxiety, hope, and nervousness that has taken over me this morning. So much can happen over the next several hours. The best outcomes are the least likely and the worst option hardly seems possible (that the judge would put Landon in foster care rather than with my parents in a separate residence). There's so much in between.

My stomach is in a million knots. I promise to post when we get home with the decision.

I Never Wanted To Be Popular

An interesting phenomenon has occurred on my blog. I went from getting 80-100 hits a day, mostly from people who knew me or other law school moms, to getting 1500+ hits a day. I never wanted to have a story this interesting or emotional. I was happy that my posts revolved around being behind in my law school reading, disliking pregnancy, and the joys and struggles of having a newborn. A cute picture of Landon or a surprisingly good grade on an exam is about as exciting as this blog got. It was fun to see the random google searches that brought people here: "eating pizza while pregnant" was oddly common, "why don't I like being pregnant" pops up a lot, but the most frequent, and the reason I started this blog, is "having a baby in law school." I wanted to write my story of balancing the two- with a few cute pictures thrown in for fun.

And then Oct. 4th everything changed and I became a story that people talked about and linked to. Now hundreds of strangers read this each day. I am unbelievably grateful for their support- I have read every comment several times over. But it comes at a cost. Suddenly I'm open to being doubted (or outright criticized) and while that should be the last of my concerns right now, it hurts, a lot, when I find someone who does. I think it's human nature to remember every word of the 1 criticism out of 100 positive responses, and I'm no different.

I'm not sure what I'll do when this is all over (because someday, somehow, it will be). Do I start a new blog under a whole new name? Do I go back to my boring posts and trust that most people will lose interest? Have I discovered a whole new reservoir of online friends and blogs to follow? I'm not sure yet. I've gained a lot from this blog. My circle of blogger friends have enriched my life in ways I never anticipated. I was one of the first among my friends to have children and despite their enthusiasm and support, I felt a little lost. The other MILS (moms in law school) understand me in ways that my friends in real life cannot and they have become an important part of my support system.

I understand why people would doubt all of this- there have been many times over the past few days when I can't believe it's real. But I think that when you decide to become part of an online community, you take a leap of faith to trust the words of someone you wouldn't know on the street.

So thank you to those of you who have made that jump and offered your belief, prayers, and support. A year ago I never would have imagined this nightmare. And I certainly wouldn't have imagined that much of my strength would be drawn from people I've never even met.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Absurdity

All I can think about is getting Landon out of the shelter. I will be weak with relief and happiness if the judge gives my parents protective custody or at least directs DCFS to make them the foster parents. That result would have me celebrating tomorrow night.

But then I pause and think how ridiculous that is. JP and I did not hurt our son. We did nothing but love him, care for him, and push for a medical explanation for a noise his ribs were making. The costs to the people affected by this investigation are enormous- and I don't just mean financially. JP has missed work since Landon was admitted to the hospital. That affects the other analysts who are pulling his weight and the partners he was in the middle of projects for. I haven't attended class since Oct. 3rd. I have a group project due Wednesday and there's no way I can contribute. The stress and worry are taking an emotional and physical toll. My hands and face have pink splotchy spots and I haven't slept or eaten in days. My mom will likely have to take a leave of absence from her job to fly up here and foster Landon- that's 2 months without a paycheck. My dad will stay in Houston without his wife for several weeks and will need to use to weekends to fly up and see her. Our big family plans for Thanksgiving (and Landon's baptism) will need to be changed. JP and I will need to rent another apartment to live in while DCFS puts us through whatever process we need to be deemed reformed child abusers. And despite the fractures being at least "several" weeks old, DCFS is still investigating Maya and have shut down her daycare while they do it. She's losing out on at least a week of work (JP and I plan to make her whole- while she keeps insisting that no one could have known this was going to happen and it's not our fault- we feel terrible). The parents of the other babies she watches have to find alternate care for at least a week. Some of them may have to miss work. The friends that are helping us with research, meals, prayers, and worry are doing so at the expense of their own normal lives and schedules. Landon is in a shelter where his clothes haven't been changed in 3 days and a different person is looking after him every few hours. He spends all his time either being fed or laying in his crib.

And yet, despite all the inconveniences and knowing that JP and I are innocent, I will cry tears of joy if all the judge does on Tuesday is keep him out of foster care. That is a sad, sad thing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pressing On

Life is so surreal right now. I focus on my to-do lists: reading and highlighting medical articles, calling doctors, collecting character letters, etc. If I think for more than 5 minutes about the absurdity of our situation, I'll either get so angry I'll explode or so sad I'll be immobilized. Any time I think I'm going to lose it, I just remind myself that this is all for Landon and that we have to get him out of the shelter. Right now, that matters more than any need for vengeance or justice.

Here's what's been happening since I last wrote:

Last night we went to dinner at my professor's house. It was so nice to have food just out there to eat. I have no appetite and the thought of making something is totally overwhelming. (I just found out that friends have arranged to have meals brought to us every day this week- they're amazing.) We had a nice meal and it was good to talk with other people as upset as us- apparently my professor can't even sleep at night he's so furious about the whole situation. His wife is a doctor and she had some great research and articles for us. We're really thinking his ribs broke during delivery. There are several articles about this- and given my weirdly narrow hips (I had a rare hip surgery in high school because my hips were so turned in I wore out all the cartilage on one side), Landon's bruising (we found a picture that clearly shows bruising on his head, feet, and the side of his chest), and his respiratory issues when he was born (which are rare in such a large, 36-week baby), it makes a lot of sense. Many articles mention the main symptom of broken ribs as tachypnea (rapid breathing) and the ribs broken exactly match his. The pediatric orthopedist said he felt the fractures were from one event, compression from front to back, and could be 10-12 weeks old. We meet with him in person tomorrow to give him the NICU records. It will be interesting to see what he thinks. We certainly have no guarantee he'll agree with our explanation, but it does make a lot of sense given the other doctors we've talked to. Almost anything makes more sense than abuse. He has NO other signs- no bruising, no malnutrition, no retinal bleeding, no subdural hematomas, no canceled doctor appointments, no time he was kept hidden from others, etc. The doctors keep talking about the amount of force it would take to break a baby's ribs and it's so much that it seems impossible that nothing else would be hurt too.

This morning we went to the law school to print all the medical articles people have been sending (thank you so much, I really didn't have time to do the research and they've been so helpful). We marked them up to place in a file we've been creating for the lawyer. We also picked up the letter from the neonatologist attesting to his tachypnea, bruising, and JP and my behavior when we visited him. Tomorrow we will get letters from my midwife attesting to my narrow hips and Landon's bruising and the pediatrician attesting to his frequent doctor appointments and lack of any signs of abuse.

At 1pm we had an appointment to visit Landon. This is the hardest part of my day. Part of me wishes visiting wasn't allowed- it's such a forced, horrible thing. You get exactly 60 minutes and someone sits in the room and watches you the whole time. You try to hard to be smiley and fun with him, but you're hurting so much inside. He seems like another baby- he looks and smells different. He was wearing the same clothes he had on Saturday and they were all stained and felt clammy. I'm sure he's being adequately cared for, but adequate is really all I can say about it. I don't understand how the system can think it's truly in his best interest to be cared for by strangers in a group home than in the care of his grandmother who was with us at the time (or his loving parents, but I suppose we're beyond that now). I think the reason I don't cry is because it doesn't seem real. This isn't my life. One thing that saves me is knowing that Landon won't remember any of this. He will be fine and we are doing everything we can to get him back.

After the shelter visit we assembled the file for the attorney: NICU pictures, medical reports, character letters, medical research, legal research, etc. It's all in there for him. There's such a need to Do Something that we've basically prepared for a trial instead of a hearing. At 4:30 we finally got to meet our attorney and I feel really, really good about hiring him. He knows the system and all its many players. We get a free "substitution of judges" motion immediately after being assigned to a judge- and he'll know whether to exercise it. He knows the assistant state's attorney (ASA) who decides to accept the case and is going to talk to her on Monday and give her an idea of how we're prepared to fight it.

Because I haven't explained it, here's what's being decided on Tuesday:

(1) Our DCFS investigator will meet with the ASA to get her to take their case based on the medical report from the hospital and DCFS's own investigation (whatever that is). If the ASA declines, temporary custody ends immediately and we get Landon back right away. But due to the rib fractures there is only a very small chance our saga will end here.

(2) The ASA takes the case and we go the hearing. Our case must be heard before 1:02pm because that's when DCFS's temporary custody ends. The judge makes two findings:


(1) Is there probable cause that the child was abused?
Once again, given the rib fractures and the medical report, this is a likely finding. And probable cause is a very low standard. If he did decide there is not probable cause, everything ends here, and we get Landon back right away.


(2) Is the risk to the child's life/health so great that he must be removed from his parent's care?
Here's where we have a little hope. The judge may decide that while there is probable cause to believe the injuries were caused by abuse, the risk is not so great that Landon could not remain in our care with supervision and a plan with DCFS for us to go to parenting classes, anger management classes, etc. If that doesn't work our lawyer wants to push for my parents to receive protective custody (rather than DCFS) We'd still have to work the DCFS to be reunited, but my parents could dictate our visiting schedule with Landon rather than DCFS. If that doesn't work and the judge grants DCFS custody then the judge should request that DCFS look to my parents first as foster parents. My mom will take a leave of absence from teaching (a thing that I hate she has to do), move into JP and my apartment, and we will move into another one.

While I have a small, secret hope that this whole thing will just end on Tuesday, I realize that most judges don't want to take the risk of a child getting hurt. There's not much outside the box thinking going on. The only thing that really matters to me is that my parents get protective custody or get to be foster parents. Landon CANNOT be in the Chicago foster care system. I don't see how any judge could think that his interests are better served by anonymous foster parents than by grandparents in a separate residence. We are willing to get them their own apartment or move out of our place and into one we would hopefully find in the same neighborhood- absolutely anything to keep him with family.

After this we will proceed to trial in 90 days. If DCFS can't meet the higher burden of proof that there was abuse, then this ends, and our record is expunged. If they can (and I can't imagine how that would be possible given that there is no other evidence), then the road to getting Landon back is even longer. Amazingly, families pretty much always end up reunited. In fact, if JP or I had just lost our temper and beat Landon to the point of breaking his ribs, we'd get through this process faster. We'd do the classes and therapy and get him back. It's the unknown, the lack of a confession, that is making this worse. We truly do not know what happened, and for that, we are suffering. His rib fractures would never have been found if we hadn't asked for that damn x-ray. I think there are likely other babies who have rib fractures and no one ever knows.

That's pretty much it. One of my wonderful Chicago friends brought over a delicious meal of meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. After days of takeout in the hospital, it was divine. As always, even in the worst of times, I know we are lucky- we have amazing support from family and friends (including anonymous ones). Tomorrow we'll be meeting with doctors and getting reports from them. We get to see Landon from 3-4pm and then we just wait for Tuesday morning. I'm never looked forward to a day with more terror- I want it to come but the part of me that has been sucker punched by this system at every turn is terrified the judge will put Landon in foster care. It takes sleeping pills to get me to sleep at night because that's the only time I let that fear take hold of me. But most of the time I still have hope, thanks to all of you, and one way or another Landon will be in loving arms on Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Broken Inside

People ask how I'm feeling and I can't think of the right words. Devastated doesn't cover it- I'm also angry, sad, worried, indignant, disbelieving. And it's more than just emotion. There's a deep sense of something hurting inside, like part of me is missing. I feel broken. I'm a mom and I don't have my baby. I woke up several times last night waiting to hear him cry, and instead cried myself when I remembered where he was and that we didn't know when we would get him back.

We talked with the lawyer last night- he was pretty grimly realistic. Tuesday is mostly a formality- almost no judge will take the risk of a child going home and getting hurt again. The lawyer stressed how important it is to gather medical opinions that state the fractures could have happened from something other than abuse. Also, we should be able to have a family member stay with Landon in Chicago during all these proceedings instead of going into foster care. He was pretty confident any judge would agree to that. Last night we also talked to a pediatric orthopedist who works at the hospital we were in (we asked for an orthopedic consult and the doctors insisted it wasn't necessary). He looked at the x-rays and immediately said, "This looks like one event, the fractures are several weeks to a few months old, and it was likely compression from front to back." WHAT?! That's completely the opposite of what we were told by CPS. One event is enormously different from multiple and they could even date back to the birth. We are meeting with him in person on Monday and he is willing to write a report or hopefully be phoned in during the hearing. He talked about how unfortunate it was the the research around rib fractures focuses solely on abuse and he feels that there probably are more babies with these fractures that just never get found. Landon would have been one of those if I hadn't asked for that x-ray. My professors wife (the doctor) also found several medical journal articles that talk about rib fractures occurring at birth. Landon was very bruised after he was born so that's certainly possible. My dad flew in at some point during the evening- it is great to have him here too. I couldn't eat anything all day so I had a terrible headache and was just emotionally exhausted. We all went to bed pretty early.

Today we've spent the whole day trying to gather more things to take to the hearing. The lawyer called this morning sounded a bit more optimistic (I think he had a bad day yesterday). He felt that being able to use the orthopedist's opinion to counter the medical opinion from DCFS would be pretty powerful. (DCFS doesn't have a doctor there to rebut our doctor's conclusions, they just have the written report from Dr. K). He also felt that the judge was sure to allow a family member to foster Landon while the rest of this saga continues. I'm not sure if we'll need to put them up in a temporary residence or if JP and I are allowed to stay home, but we'll do anything to keep him out of foster care. We went to Northwestern to get his NICU records and x-rays (unfortunately he only got one on the first day which is too early to show anything). I called my midwife who said she would be happy to write a letter attesting to my prenatal care, the delivery, my narrow hips, and his bruises after birth. We also talked to the neonatologist at the NICU who is also writing a letter about Landon's breathing troubles and birth trauma. We'll probably never know if his ribs broke in delivery, but it could at least raise the point that there are possibilities other than child abuse.

At 1pm we had an appointment to visit Landon. As long as he's in the shelter we get 1 hour of supervised visitation a day (as opposed to foster care where we get 1 hour a week). I'm praying he remains in the shelter until Tuesday. It's not great, but anything is better than the lottery of a foster parent. It was almost worse to see him for an hour in those conditions than not at all. At home I can pretend he's still in the hospital, but there, the reality of it all just slaps you in the face. He was so cute and cuddly. We tried to soak up our time with him as best we could, but it was hard not to think about how much time you had before he would be taken from us again.

We're now working on a timeline of doctor visits and his hospital stay to send to the lawyer. My mom flew home an hour ago. It was hard to see her go, but by going back, she can fly up again soon. My dad is staying through the weekend. We're still researching alternate explanations for rib fractures (I greatly appreciate any articles you send- especially those from medical journals). We're going to dinner at my professor's house. His wife has some journal articles for us and it will be good to get out of our apartment.

We're doing everything we can think of- it's keeping me from becoming immobilized with grief. I can't believe my baby is in a shelter. I can't believe any of this is happening.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Landon Fund

[Edited in January, 2008: In previous comments, people suggested setting up a fund for donations from those who wanted to help. One reader did just that and the resulting donations from family, friends, and strangers covered the financial costs of our nightmare. Our gratitude can't be put in to words, but I tried here and here.]

They took Landon to a shelter at 3pm. He started crying when they took him from my arms. I held it together (because I promised to as a condition of them allowing us to come to the hospital to say goodbye) and then completely collapsed, sobbing, back up in our hospital room. I can't believe my baby is in a shelter. He's 12 weeks old. We're legally allowed one visit a day for one hour. We won't get to see him today. Right now we're doing everything we can to get ready for the hearing in front of the judge on Tuesday morning.

The Worst

They're taking Landon. We had a home visit at9:30, supposedly to check the safety of the apartment, with my mom, JP, our case worker, and her supervisor. They looked around and then calmly informed us that they were taking temporary custody of Landon. The risk too him is too great, based on the doctor's report. They go to the state's attorney on Tuesday to see if he'll take the case (which is probable, given the medical report) and then we appear before an administrative law judge. If he grants TC, we go to trial for child abuse in 21-45 days. We are allowed to have supervised visits for a specified time each day.

They're taking my baby.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Emotionally Exhausted

There's so much to say about today. I'm trying to sort through my thoughts- 8:30am seems so far away. The most important thing is they are not taking Landon (for now). I think I'm going to do this chronologically- though not by hour because time had no meaning today.

1- My mom and I get to the hospital (JP slept here last night) around 8:15am thinking this is all over- we were practically expecting an apology about the whole situation. The CPS doctor ("Dr. K") walks in, sits down, and begins the worst conversation of my life. She said she still felt his injuries were called by the infliction of trauma, that she found the results of the polygraph "surprising" (can you f-ing believe she said that?!), and that the next step will likely be to remove Landon from the home for a "period of time" so they can observe him and see if more fractures appear. I start to cry, Dr. K says "I know how you must feel", and my mom icily says, "You have absolutely no idea how this feels." I talk about how JP and I have done everything to get him looked at by doctors and that we passed the polygraph yesterday, etc. Dr. K is firm in her belief that there is either a known medical reason or it's abuse- there is absolutely no room for a "we just don't know." DCFS calls me while Dr. K is in the room, I answer, and the first thing our case worker (who hasn't talked to us since Friday when she agreed to our original Safety Plan) says is that they have decided to remove Landon from the home. I completely break down sobbing and my mom says to Dr. K, "You did this. You need to leave." and she practically runs out the door. DCFS explains that they got a call from the hospital at 5:30 and the doctor feels that his breaks were caused by abuse so this is the next step. I protest again saying that our pediatrician hasn't even been talked to, etc. Our caseworker (who never seemed all that zealous about prosecuting us) says she'll talk to her supervisor and get back to us.

2- Lots of things happen. I keep crying, JP gets back from working out and my mom fills him in. I call the lawyer, send out an email, write a blog post, and call the hospital social worker. My professor's wife (a high up doctor in this hospital) calls, and she is furious. She spends the next several hours talking to other doctors way up the line, advocating on our behalf. The lawyer says this is crazy, that DCFS hasn't even attempted to investigate anything, etc. She is on standby to come help us. My pediatrician calls- she is very upset about the whole thing. She says she talked to Dr. K last night for 30 minutes and "she will not budge." She offers to call DCFS for us (they have still not contacted her) and give another physician's view of what is going on. I talk to the hospital social worker who is surprised at this morning's turn of events and says he is about to go to a meeting with Dr. K and will get back to us as soon as it ends.

3- The hospital social worker comes to talk to us and is very nice. We explain what happened this morning and why we are so upset. We notice that while he says nothing negative, he does not once defend Dr. K (as a physician or human being in general). He asserts that in the meeting Dr. K denies ever recommending that Landon be taken out of the home (a lie, but one we like, we we let it go). She is now "frantically calling" DCFS to make sure they understand this- basically she's back pedaling. We say that we would like to see the chest x-ray because we keep getting different stories on the number of ribs and when they were broken. We also ask to speak with Dr. K's supervisor, Dr. A. He talked with us for a long time and we feel like at least someone is listening- even if there's not much he can do.

4- DCFS calls. We are now back to our original Safety Plan of having someone stay with us while they work on the investigation. She estimates this will last at a minimum 5 weeks. This seems ridiculous, but we clench our teach and cheerfully agree to anything necessary to get Landon home. We will probably have to take parenting classes and jump through several more hoops. At the beginning of the conversation she seemed much more pessimistic than she did at the end. Our case will be indicated and there is still a chance the decision will not be in our favor, but I really don't get the impression she thinks that will happen. Now we have to find someone who can drop everything and come live with us for 5 weeks (although by the end, it really didn't sound like it would be nearly that long).

5- Dr. K, her supervisor Dr. A, and the social worker all come in to talk to us. Dr. K doesn't speak for the first 30 minutes, she looks rather trapped by having to talk with us again. Dr. A says a lot of nothing, but does agree that the pediatrician absolutely should have been contacted and seems more open to the idea of grey areas in medicine. I do believe the doctors are working very hard to find a medical explanation, I just don't accept their ironclad belief that every injury has one. We view the x-ray and talk some more about the fractures, this situation, etc. JP was excellent- very calm but obviously emotionally affected, and he asked a lot of questions. Nothing has changed when they leave, but I do believe that they went out with a lot more doubt about our culpability than when they came in.

6- DCFS calls to get the background information on my aunt so she can be approved as our safety person. She still hasn't worked on the paperwork, even though my mom was cleared days ago, so we are stuck in the hospital again tonight. She told my aunt it can take four days to be cleared (um yeah, because you don't work Sat-Tues) so my mom may have to miss more work and stay here longer.

So here we sit, in the hospital for the 8th night. Landon has a cold but has otherwise been totally unaffected by the situation. Somewhere in there he had blood drawn for more tests and we ordered the OI genetic test (though no one expects that to come back positive). We are still scared about the DCFS process, terrified about coming back in two weeks for a full skeletal scan, and emotionally exhausted from the whole saga. As I write this I really can't believe this is my life right now. Your support has meant so much- when everyone is looking at you with suspicion and wants to believe the worst, reading emails and comments from those who believe in you makes an enormous difference.

Research Request

Our caseworker this morning said that DCFS can't use the polygraph results as part of their investigation/decision-making. But I know they can use our refusal to take one against us. If the police can use a polygraph test as reason to drop their investigation, is it really true that DCFS can't? A doctor earlier this week mentioned that she's had parents take a polygraph for DCFS purposes. We're talking to lawyers, etc, but I was wondering if someone could do some quick research on that. As always, your comments, thoughts, prayers, etc. are so much appreciated.

Yet Another Punch in the Stomach

This will be brief, but the CPS doctor in charge just came in and said she's recommending that Landon be taken out of our home and placed in a foster home immediately "for observation." Even though we passed the polygraph and cooperated completely (and sought out the x-ray that is now incriminating us) she is still convinced "clinically" that his injuries were caused by abuse. She's completely unwilling to consider other possibilities (that our other attending and pediatrician have suggested) like that we just don't always know medically why things happen. DCFS just called and confirmed that at 5:30pm last night (30 min. after we passed the polygraph) the hospital called and made this recommendation. They are planning to put him in a home. I won't even try to put words to our emotions right now- just pray.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Little More Good News

I just talked to Maya and everything is fine with her too. Apparently the detective called her right after dropping us off at the hospital to ask if she would take a test; she agreed and he picked her right up. He was actually very nice about it- he told her that I had already passed the test and JP was taking it tomorrow. At first I was perplexed by that deception, but I think it was to make her less nervous. It would be much scarier to have a detective show up and say, "Both parents have passed the test- now we want to take you in for one." I can honestly say that in all of this the detective has been the most up front and expeditious about his investigation.*

Surprisingly, Maya has not dropped us as a client. She was so nice when we talked- she basically brushed off the whole polygraph thing and wanted to know all about how Landon was doing and what we are doing to find out what is really going on with his bones. She repeated so many times that now we can just focus on him ("her good boy") because he is what's important. She's so right. In all the drama it's easy to forget that he does have 6 unexplained broken ribs. Maybe we'll never know why, but at least now we can try to figure it out without having to defend ourselves.

* DCFS is a whole other matter- I cannot believe she didn't contact us today. We passed a freaking polygraph test and still nothing has changed? Not to mention our "Safety Person" flew up here and is missing work so we could go home. ARGH!

We Passed

It was definitely two of the worst hours of my life, but it's over and we passed. The police are dropping their investigation against us and are recommending to DCFS that they do the same. I may post details about the polygraph later, or I may just try to forget it all.

Because our DCFS caseworker seems to have no interest in moving our case along, she has not contacted us again today. We're in the hospital again tonight. That will be 8 days total. Landon is getting a cold and apparently insurance won't pay for the days after Friday because there is no medical reason for him to be here. Obviously, we are rather upset with DCFS at this point. She called Friday night, told my mom to fly up, said she'd call back with the final word and we haven't heard from her since. We're also upset with the CPS team doctor who decided to hate us and never talked to anyone (including our pediatrician or the doctors who have seen us on a daily basis) about the situation after Friday. I understand this is a necessary process and I'm not mad that an investigation occurred. I'm mad that people didn't do any fact finding (like at least talking to our pediatrician) and we're still stuck in the hospital even though our "Safety Plan" person is right here. I'm also mad that the police now want to polygraph Maya (which will scare the crap out of her) even though the fractures could not have happened in the 10 days she watched him. She'll have to find someone to watch her kids while she goes- I'm not even sure she has a car.

This has been a horrible, horrible past seven days, but hopefully we'll see the end of it very soon.

Stomach Knots

JP and I slept at the hospital last night after I took my mom back to our apartment. We had been switching off nights so that one person could get a good rest, so it was nice to be able to hold each other again. We're both afraid of the polygraph not being reliable- afraid that it will only confirm the false ideas that the police and CPS team have of us. I did talk to the criminal lawyer yesterday for a long time and he agreed that this was the right step to take. And really, we don't have much of a choice. The police can't use our refusal against us, but DCFS can and will, so we might as well look at it as a chance to prove our innocence. We'll deal with the unthinkable, that the machine's reliability fails on us, when and if we have to.

I just finished talking with our pediatrician. She said she was only notified this morning that Landon was in the hospital and that we were under investigation. She was shocked by their failure to contact her. She's an attending at this hospital and a member of the physician's group. She used to be on the CPS team and said it was always standard procedure to talk to the primary care physician first- and then make a decision to call DCFS and/or the police. She's upset about this lack of communication and has been trying to call our CPS doctor all morning. I feel like the CPS doc just made a decision and doesn't want anyone to make her doubt it. We only met with her once- on Friday for about 10 minutes. She's never come back to our room even though I often see her in the hallways. Every other doctor has admitted that sometimes we just don't know why things happen- that his bones could be temporarily weaker- and medicine isn't as exact a science as we'd all like it to be. Our pediatrician said she wished that she had ordered the x-ray because then this whole process wouldn't have been started. It was nice to hear her say all of that and know that she believes in us- and has the paper trail to prove that we've been trying as hard as anyone to figure out what's wrong with him.

We're being picked up by the detective at 2. I can't believe we're going to be in a police car, entering a police station, and hooked up to a polygraph. This is so surreal. Both are stomachs are in knots- we just want this over with.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sucker Punch

Landon had a great night last night- he's back on Alimentum and we're thickening it with cereal. He drank more than he's ever drank before without spitting up and was in a very cute mood. The doctors this morning were very friendly, and the attending even asked if everyone was being nice to me. My mom flew in, JP picked her up from the airport, and we were all sitting in the hospital room feeling pretty optimistic about the situation.

Then the police detective arrived and asked to speak with us separately. I had kind of let myself forget they were even involved. I went first and the conversation started like this:

DETECTIVE:
So has anyone told you that this has turned into more
of a police investigation than a DCFS investigation?

ME:
(in shock, hands shaking) No.

DETECTIVE:
The doctors on the CPS team feel that the wounds were
intentionally inflicted and we need to find the person responsible.

And then I nearly started to cry- and then nearly panicked because I didn't want crying to seem like I was guilty. Then I was trying to figure out how to not sound guilty and then thought that trying not not sound guilty was likely to make me sound guilty. He asked a lot of questions about JP. How we met, how long I'd known him, etc. I reiterated that I know him better than anyone in the world and no one could be more loving towards his little boy. After a little more talking he seemed more gentle and asked if we'd be willing to take a polygraph. I said yes. I'm not sure I really had much of a choice- it was posed as (a) take the lie detector and this will go away or (b) don't take it and that will be used against you (for DCFS purposes). I know we did nothing so I want to see this as a way to make this go away. But the lawyer in me is freaking out because I know we can't be compelled to take it and the tests aren't considered reliable enough to be admissible in court; however, I honestly think it would do more harm than good to call the detective back and say we aren't going to do it. I'm calling the criminal lawyer who was recommended to me, but like I said, I don't really want to make this into a bigger thing than it needs to be and I'd like to see this as a chance to exonerate ourselves. We're currently signed up to take it tomorrow at 3. So basically, we are squarely back in Hell.

And to keep us there a little longer, our DCFS caseworker "isn't in today." That's it. She just isn't in. So we're in the hospital again tonight waiting for her to get to work and fill out the paper work for the Safety Plan that would allow us to go home.

I pretty much feel like I've been punched in the stomach. Again.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Holding Pattern

Sorry for the lack of an update yesterday- the truth is, not much is going on. DCFS doesn't work on weekends (or Columbus day) so everything is pretty much on hold until tomorrow morning when our caseworker shows up again. The good news is that the doctors truly seem focused on Landon and his pain instead of our parenting. Almost everyone in the hospital has been witness to his screaming fits and they've done tests for the few things they can think of that would be causing them- it's a short list of problems that wouldn't have shown up in the bone scan, blood work, CT scan, physical exam, etc. Right now the working diagnosis remains some combination of reflux and colic, and they all say they've had babies with symptoms just as intense as Landon's. Right now they're trying to ease his reflux pain to see if that helps the screaming. We tried thickening his Neocate yesterday with rice cereal, but he absolutely refused to drink it. I don't blame him, the Neocate is disgusting- it makes Alimentum smell good by comparison. After 14 hours of not eating we tried Pedialyte which he gulped down. GI is coming by today, but I'm hoping they'll switch him back to the Alimentum and try thickening that. The screaming fits are no easier to endure, but at least I know he's been thoroughly checked for any and all other serious ailments and we just have to wait it out and comfort him as best we can.

Nothing has changed regarding the fractures and DCFS. They still don't know what caused the breaks, but they no longer look at us like criminals. In fact, since Saturday morning we've pretty much been treated like regular concerned parents. The doctors have said that the odds are we'll go home (still with the Safety Plan), DCFS will finish up their investigation, we'll "go on with our lives", and we'll never know why or how those ribs broke. This morning the new attending came in and almost sounded apologetic about the whole DCFS process. Once again, I'm not sighing in relief yet- I don't know where DCFS stands and who knows what tomorrow will bring- but it was certainly nice for the assumption to be "good mom" rather than "child abuser."

On Sunday I called a law professor who's wife is a muckety-muck physician here. She's met me several times and immediately offered to help. She called our attending and emphasized how caring we were with Landon and got all the inside information. She reported back that the doctors were no longer considering malice, that the rib fractures were accidental in some way, and they probably wouldn't know why they broke without the force usually required. It's not as tidy of a conclusion as I'd like, but it certainly sounds like the doctors won't be recommending any kind of extreme guardianship action to DCFS. I won't rest easy until all of this goes away completely, but we certainly feel more hopeful than we did on Friday.

My mom flies in tomorrow morning and we should be discharged under the DCFS safety plan. I won't be at my law classes today or tomorrow, but plan to return to some kind of normal schedule on Wednesday. If normal could ever encompass being legally barred from spending time alone with your son.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Nightmare, Day 3

I woke up this morning in the twin-sized cot I'm sharing with the 6'3" JP and couldn't believe this was still happening. Last night was definitely a low point as it seemed that no medical diagnosis was going to be found and the reality of DCFS and the Safety Plan was crashing down on us. We still haven't heard anything from DCFS and apparently we won't until Tuesday because they don't work on the weekends and Monday is a holiday. It's a horrible state of limbo.

However, two things happened this morning that made us feel a little more positive. First, we met with yet another hospital social worker (not related to DCFS) and she was the first person to acknowledge what a "nightmare" this was and be honestly sympathetic about what has been going on. I reiterated my fear that nothing medical will come up and JP and I will be blamed for his injuries by default and taken to court. She felt confident that was not going to happen- in fact she felt sure there would be one of two results: (a) the allegation of abuse is determined to be "unfounded" and dropped completely or (b) it is still "indicated" but the reason is unknown and the case goes in a file somewhere in case Landon shows up in another emergency room with fractures. It doesn't go on our record or show up in a background check, it's just sort of on DCFS "hold" just in case we really are abusers. She was certain they would not try to take Landon. I'm not letting go of all my worry because she isn't DCFS, but she has definitely seen a lot of cases like this and I don't think she'd be so optimistic if there wasn't some cause to be. Of course we still have the Safety Plan while DCFS does their investigation, but unless they have actual evidence of abuse beyond the fractures, the proceedings won't go beyond that (according to her). She also emphasized how unusual it was that JP and I are allowed to be alone with him in the room- that is very much not standard procedure and it shows that the doctors aren't particularly suspicious of us.

Second, two doctors came in this morning that actually treated me like a concerned parent rather than a criminal. I told them that JP and I are scared we're going to leave the hospital having gained nothing but an investigation- we still don't know what's causing his screaming (the fractures are old enough that they shouldn't be hurting him now) or the breaks. They went back over the reasons that they don't think it's OI, but said the geneticist could come talk to us on Monday to investigate further. I brought up the possibility of Temporary Brittle Bone Disease (which fits so well given his prematurity, the lack of bruising or internal organ damage, his lack of kicking in the womb, and the fact that no other doctor noticed the rib fractures despite all his appointments). They hadn't heard of it, but sat down at my laptop and read that article and said they would talk to the head of the department and look in their own literature to find out more. They both seemed concerned about Landon's well being rather than JP and my guilt, so that was a welcome change. They also said they would talk to GI further to see what else could be causing his pain- he's continued to have screaming attacks in the hospital. Both doctors also emphasized that Landon would not be taken from us just because they didn't have a medical explanation. They said DCFS often fails to take custody of kids even when the doctors recommend it- and that doesn't seem to be happening in this case (especially since we have no restrictions on being alone with him now).

So we feel a little better, but not relieved quite yet. The people we've spoken with today aren't the decision makers. The doctors aren't on the CPS team and don't make the official recommendation and the social worker isn't affiliated with DCFS. I think they wouldn't be too optimistic without good reason, but the reality right now is that DCFS is still involved, as are the police, and there isn't a medical answer.

Landon is doing pretty well. He still has his screaming attacks and I think he's in pain, but he's on the Neocate formula, Prevacid for reflux, and Tylenol as needed. Much of the time he's completely adorable and has been dancing in his mini hospital gown. He's charmed all the lady doctors and luckily has no clue about all the drama going on around him. Thank you again to everyone for your support, research, and shared stories. They make us feel like we're connected to the outside world and remind us that most people don't think we're capable of hurting our child- a sad thing to have to be reminded of.

Still in Hell

The medical investigation is concluded. They've found no medical reason for the fractures (although we don't feel like they've looked particularly hard) and trauma/abuse is still the diagnosis. They want to discharge him tomorrow because the medical work is done, but he isn't allowed to go home with us because DCFS is still investigating. We have to use a "Safety Plan". At first he was going to have to go to someone else's home (since we have no family nearby, it would have to be a friend). I asked our caseworker if we could have a grandparent fly up to stay in our home to "supervise"- Landon is so young and none of my friends have children, so how could it be in his best interest to be somewhere new with someone who has no experience with taking care of a baby 24/7? (Not that my friends aren't amazing people for even offering.) So for now it looks like he will be discharged as long as someone is with him at all times when we're home, and DCFS and the police are still separately investigating. The DCFS worker didn't seem to be very "against" us, we're still alone with him in the hospital room and she agreed to the alternate Safety Plan, but a doctor must have really pushed the trauma diagnosis because she changed her demeanor somewhat after talking to them.

We've talked to a lawyer (two actually, thanks to the work of the amazing Citations) and we've asked about bone issues (OI and others), but the doctors don't seem very motivated to pursue that. We will obviously get a second opinion as soon as possible. It's so frustrating to be seen primarily as suspects rather than concerned parents- our son has six unexplained fractures in his ribs, that's scary enough.

I just don't see how the DCFS investigation can end well since the doctors have told them the fractures are due to trauma and JP and I are the only suspects. DCFS can take up to 60 days to decide to prosecute (though the caseworker said it should be within two weeks, which is good since we're doing a major shuffling of the grandparents to keep him supervised at all time, as required), so if there's no medical diagnosis by then, but they have no reason to think we did it, (other than the fact there's six fractured ribs) what happens? Can they decide to just drop it as unexplained? The lawyer said it happens, but it's very rare. Odds are they'll choose to pursue a civil guardianship suit. We haven't seen the police detective since yesterday, but we could be facing a criminal suit as well. It's a pretty lose-lose situation. A medical diagnosis would clear us, but any bone disease is a pretty tragic thing for Landon. So we're basically in some kind of parental hell- we don't know what's wrong, can't seem to get people to help us, and are suspected child abusers with no clear end in sight.

*I also wanted to say: thank you so much for your support, it means so much. Everyone we've talked to has been so helpful, indignant, and appalled. It's definitely kept us from actually feeling like criminals and helped us maintain the hope that this will all be resolved in a way that avoids a suit and a tragic bone disease*

**Update: he won't be discharged tomorrow because DCFS decided to take off for the night and not resolve anything. My mom won't be flying up quite yet and we'll be here "through the weekend." Hopefully we can use teh time to keep bugging the doctors to keep looking for something.**

Friday, October 5, 2007

And It Gets Worse

The skeletal scan showed two more fractures in his ribs and all his blood work is normal. Their diagnosis remains child abuse and we're the suspects. We keep being told that everything works out better if we're honest- no matter what we did. I don't know how to make them believe that we've never hurt him. We've told them about JP tossing him up in the air and catching him and anything else we can think of, but they keep saying it would take a Lot of blunt force to break ribs. I can't even imagine using that much force against our baby. DCFS is coming in soon. This is such a nightmare.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Adding Insult to Serious Injury

My car was towed. I didn't see the sign behind me that said no parking from 4-6pm because I was distracted by my son's screaming. It's going to take $160 and leaving our child for at least an hour to get it back. It would be very hard to make today worse.

Scared, Worried, and Defensive

Landon's GI appointment was this morning. He finally had a full screaming attack in front of a doctor and she was duly impressed and concerned. She diagnosed him with a milk protein allergy and switched him to Neocate- an insanely expensive, bad tasting, bad smelling scientifically created formula composed of pure amino acids. She also adjusted his medication. I mentioned the popping noise in his ribs for the 5th time (I've told every doctor we've seen about it for the last month) and she set him up with an X-ray. She didn't suspect much would come of it and told us to go home after it was taken.

Right after I walked in the door of our apartment the phone rang, and it was the doctor saying that his x-ray results were very concerning. He had "several fractures with different stages of healing" and we needed to return to the hospital immediately and "plan to stay." My hands were shaking as I packed a bag and raced off to the hospital trying to think of all the reasons his bones could break so easily. I didn't even think of all the drama that was about to ensue...

JP and I are now under investigation from the hospital's social worker, the Dept of Children and Family Services, and the police. We're not parents- we're suspects. I'm freaked out about the fact that my son's bones are so fragile and they're all pretty sure it must be caused by abuse. It's the easiest (and probably most common) explanation for multiple breaks over a long time period. The detective interviewed JP and I separately. He was pretty gentle with me, but threatened JP with all kinds of stories about DCFS taking guardianship of the child if there is no medical explanation. JP is completely terrified (and feels even more like a suspect than I do) and I'm just mad. Why would they launch a full investigation before he's had a single test to rule out medical reasons? And even though all his breaks definitely pre-date Maya, they've already started investigating her. The police already went to her apartment and she's understandably freaked out.

It's so hard to answer the interview questions. You don't want to sound too defensive because that seems suspicious, but I know I've never hurt Landon and I know JP hasn't either. I was asked so many times out our stress level, how we deal with stress, how much JP is alone with Landon, if I've ever come home early when JP was alone with Landon, etc.- and I have all their cards to call them if "I remember anything new." This is so awful. I can't really believe it's happening. If they can't find a medical reason then he's put in a "safe space" until they figure things out. I just want to focus on worrying about my child- not worrying about whether he's going to remain in my care after tonight.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

On Childcare

Several people have asked me how we found Maya, so I thought I'd do a general post on childcare. Obviously I am not an expert, but maybe something about our thought process will be helpful to others.

What We Wanted: I was interested in a small family daycare. I knew Landon could be as young as 5 weeks when he started and I wanted someone who could give his as much individual attention as he was going to need. The fancier, more official daycare centers are very bright and look filled with fun, but he wasn't even going to be sitting up for several months and it looked like the infants mostly hung out in their cribs. I wanted someone who could (and would) hold him and interact with him.

Our Process: UChicago is about 75% graduate students and many of them have children. The school hosts a listserve for student-parents and I sent out an email requesting infant daycare recommendations. I got several responses and set up appointments to visit each one. At the visit I mostly went off gut-reaction. Was the apartment clean? Was the person warm? Did she seem excited about caring for an infant? Did she ask good questions of us? What were the hours and flexibility? What was the cost? How long had she been doing this? How many other children did she take care of? Things like accreditation and certification weren't on my list (many would disagree with that, but given that I'm not certified to be a parent, I cared more about the provider's personality and demeanor than a certificate). I also wasn't too concerned with English language skills- if we could communicate clearly, that was enough for me.

Timing: We started looking for care in April (I was due in August and needed daycare beginning at the end of September). Having a baby over the summer was very convenient because many grad students move away during those months. One of Maya's clients had received a fellowship and was moving in August so she had a spot for Landon in September. I think finding care in the middle of the year would be a little tougher because looking too far in advance would yield few results (people moving in the middle of the year may have little notice) and waiting too long would just be nerve-wracking. I think I would probably start investigating early, get several leads, and then check in again closer to the end, but someone who has dealt with the situation should definitely chime in if they have a better idea!

Our Decision: We chose Maya for several reasons. I liked her matter of fact answers to my questions- when I asked her about a daily schedule (I was just reading off a list of questions to ask that I found online) she said, "they eat, they sleep, they poop, and we play - no schedule for the little babies!". She also seemed genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about babies. She asked all about the pregnancy and talked about holding our baby close so he could hear her heartbeat and get to know her during that first week. She had been operating the family daycare for 23 years and just seemed warm and competent. I called a few of her current clients and they all raved. One had her baby in Maya's care from 3 weeks to 3 years and that recommendation meant a lot to me because her daughter could now talk and tell her about her day and about Maya- Landon wouldn't be able to do that for a while. Her apartment was cozy and she had a few baby play gyms and comforters spread out on the floor with toys. She had each parent bring a play yard for their baby to sleep in and I liked that because he would know his space and I could control what was put in there (one place we visited had lots of blankets in the crib where the babies slept and that just screamed SIDS risk). Her price was $200/week for full-time (drop off between 8-9, pick up around 5, although you could always drop off later and pick up earlier) and that was on the lower end of the price spectrum of the places we looked at. One wanted $250/week and another was $300. We honestly liked Maya the best, but the lower cost was definitely a bonus. I know the infant care at daycare centers in Austin is between $1200-1350/month, so I'd imagine that's what a center is in Chicago as well.

In Practice: Before Landon's first day we brought his play yard, diapers, wipes, and a few changes of clothes for Maya to keep for him. I think supplying the diapers and wipes is pretty standard for in-home care. Each morning I make up 3 bottles and drop him off in his car seat with a little lunchbox of bottles. In the afternoon when I pick him up she hands me the lunchbox with the empty (and cleaned!) bottles with a little post-it note on each one stating when he drank it and whether he had a dirty diaper. I had not thought of that system, but it is so nice when I get home to know what his schedule was like during the day. So far things have gone very well. Landon seems happy and I sincerely believe that if he didn't like her, he would let me know. He's always happy in her arms and that makes me happy when I continue on my way to school.

In The Future: I knew I wanted a small informal daycare for Landon as an infant, but I think that we'll switch to an activity filled center after he's one, which coincides with our move to Austin. I'm already on three Austin daycare waiting lists for Sept. 2008 (a post on the absurdity of that statement might be forthcoming). I also think that when he's in elementary school it would be preferable to have a nanny so that he can come home after school and keep a schedule similar to that of his classmates with stay-at-home-moms. We would also like more kids and at some point a nanny is just more cost-effective. I think it would be nice to come home at the end of the day to a bright and busy house with the kids already there. All that said, JP was in daycare and then after-school care all the way through middle school and he loved it, so I'm sure all of this will depend on our kids, their activities, and our financial situation.

Guilt? Just a quick paragraph about this. I've already said I'm okay with the fact that Landon is in daycare while I'm in school. I also think that he's okay being separated from me during the day. At this point in our relationship, I'm pretty replaceable. He needs someone to hold him, love him, feed him, and change his diaper. My physical presence is a bonus- I think he knows who I am and together we've learned how to comfort him best- but I'm not necessary. However, I do think that at some point JP or my presence will be more important- still not so much the physical, but rather our unique thoughts and beliefs. I want JP or me to be the one the kids talk to when they've had a bad day, not the nanny, and I want time together so they can unburden their troubles whenever they randomly want to. I don't have an answer to this yet, but it's something we both think about and will have in our minds as we talk about, plan for, and live out the next several years. It's hard to admit that I struggle with all the realities of being a working mom. I feel pressured to put on a front that I'm 110% happy about the situation every second (mostly because my family is so full of doubts), but I want to be honest in this blog. The arrangement we have now is the right one for us, and we'll just keep trying to make the decisions that are best for everyone.