Lindsey Jarratt is now sober and on solid ground. Still, her child remains in foster care.
Lindsey Jarratt’s son, Brayden, was a year old when the Child Protective Services of Dinwiddie, Va., took him to live with strangers. There are things about the months surrounding that moment that Ms. Jarratt can’t remember — heroin has a way of erasing time. But this much is still etched in her mind: how he screamed and sobbed, the way his baby fists clutched at the nape of her shirt, the feel of his tiny body pressed so desperately against hers that the two had to be pried apart.
She sobbed, too, she says. She begged the social workers to let her mother take custody. Or her cousin. Or her best friend. Someone she knew. Someone he knew. Please. But by then, there were too many strikes against her and the baby’s father, Aaron Jarrell: shoplifting charges, jail time, an overdose (Mr. Jarrell’s) in the baby’s presence. Their urine was “dirty,” their arms lined with track marks. And so their little boy would have to go into foster care.
Their little boy. Both parents had ached to know him from the moment they discovered Ms. Jarratt was pregnant. She was not one of those young women for whom motherhood hung like a question mark. She adored children; she had studied to be a teacher and had always known that one day she would have a family of her own. If that day had come sooner than anticipated — she was 24 — it was still a cause for joy and hope.
And if the couple had failed as parents, it was not for lack of love or effort. Ms. Jarratt says Mr. Jarrell gushed “like a kid at Christmas” when she presented him with a blue onesie and announced that they were having a boy. They resolved to get sober. Ms. Jarratt began to wean herself off heroin — slowly, so as to reduce the risk to her pregnancy, and in secret because she was too ashamed to ask for help.
Mr. Jarrell had struggled with addiction for a while, but Ms. Jarratt had discovered heroin only recently, during a stretch of post-college despair. It wasn’t until she tried to quit that the drug’s grip on her became clear. She remained sober during her pregnancy, but relapsed soon after. This, too, Ms. Jarratt did in secret, insisting to friends and loved ones that everything was fine. Until the day the social workers took Brayden away.
Ms. Jarratt drifted after that, through court and jail and at least one rehab, where workers flushed her Subutex pills — which can help people stay off heroin — down the toilet and forced her to pray in tongues. Self-loathing and shame consumed her and she used heroin to escape those feelings. Periodically, a social worker reminded her of the ticking clock: If she didn’t get it together soon, her parental rights would be terminated and her son placed for adoption. The practice of adopting children quickly has come under fire in recent years, as the understanding of addiction evolves. But for now, for mothers like Ms. Jarratt, recovery is often a race against time.
In her weakest moments, Ms. Jarratt imagined that clock running out, and she wondered what it would be like to escape life, for good.
But then, through what she could only describe as a stroke of divine intervention, Ms. Jarratt found herself under the care of Mishka Terplan, a nationally renowned addiction specialist with a program devoted to mothers like her. He helped her get back on Subutex and nudged her into a support group. Her cravings disappeared, and she met women in the same boat. Like virtually every other state in the country, Virginia’s roster of mothers facing addiction is growing.
Before long, Ms. Jarratt had racked up several months of sobriety and was visiting her son consistently. Their time together filled her with hope. So did her and Mr. Jarrell’s second child, a healthy baby girl with impossible dimples who was born in late November. They named her Hailey Grace because to Ms. Jarratt, “grace” meant an undeserved gift.
By then, Mr. Jarrell, who had also relapsed, was back in jail. But Ms. Jarratt was finally on solid ground. For several months now, she has remained there. Her doctor says she is learning not to bury her feelings and that she has built a strong and stable support system.
Still, Brayden remains in foster care. In September, he was removed from his first foster home — with a family who lived near Ms. Jarratt and was content to serve as a temporary caregiver — and placed with a new family, who live several hours away and who Ms. Jarratt says are intent on adopting him.
Ms. Jarratt’s parental rights were terminated. She is appealing that decision, but the process has been bumpy. Decisions about who can and cannot visit with Brayden have felt arbitrary. On some occasions, Ms. Jarratt’s mother, Cathy, has been allowed to see her grandson. On others, she has been made to leave or wait in the car. More than once, Cathy Jarratt says, caseworkers and foster parents have yanked the boy away as he reached out for her. More than once, Lindsey Jarratt says, her scheduled visits were effectively denied, as her calls to Child Protective Services went unanswered for days. Both women have heard Brayden’s new foster mother refer to herself as his “Mommy.” When she did so at one group meeting, Cathy Jarratt spoke up. It seemed like there should be a rule against that, she said, especially since her daughter’s appeal was still pending.
In December, Ms. Jarratt received a text message from a social worker, informing her that Brayden’s foster parents had taken him to Tennessee for the holidays and that she would therefore not be able to see him until January.
And in January, more bad news: The hearing that had been scheduled to address Ms. Jarratt’s appeal for custody was pushed back to March. No reason was given for the postponement, but Ms. Jarratt and her mother had their guesses. Maybe they were waiting to see if she relapsed when Mr. Jarrell was released. Maybe they were hoping to strengthen the case for adoption: By March, Brayden will have been with his second foster family for more than six months, and judges often prioritize continuity of care in situations such as this one. Addiction is increasingly seen as a legitimate medical disorder, but mothers like Ms. Jarratt remain caught between vilification and support.
Ms. Jarratt could not help but despair. Her little boy was slipping away from her, and despite all her progress, she was powerless to stop it…