Families Belong Together

I’ve been feeling unsettled lately for two very specific reasons.

First, because in a week’s time, Olive will be flying across the country to stay with her dad. He moved to Ontario at the beginning of April, and our custody arrangement has changed significantly as a result. We are still working out what will work best for Olive, but the likeliest outcome is that Olive will live with me for the majority of the year and for a portion of the summer, when time off school permits longer visits, Olive will spend time in Ontario.

I have a lot of feelings about this. Part of me is desperate for a break and part of me is excited that she’s going to spend time with her dad and part of me is deeply, deeply uncomfortable with the whole situation because she’s going for seven weeks. Seven weeks.

With Olive, I’ve been 100% encouraging and supportive, we talk about how she’s excited to go but also a bit sad, we’ve discussed phone calls and letters and all the amazing things she’s going to do when she gets there. I fully support Olive’s relationship with her dad, and I think having an extended period of time with him like this is going to be essential to maintaining their relationship in the future, given the distance. It’s the length of time, though, that kills me. It’s the feeling that once again, Olive is bearing the brunt of this situation. It’s not even about her dad – even if she was going to Disneyland, seven weeks is a long time to be away from your mom when you’re five years old.

So, I’ve been watching the date creep up on the calendar and have begun slowly assembling a suitcase full of things she will need – swimsuits and hats and sunscreen and sandals, her favourite books and a picture of us. I’ve been encouraged by how excited she is and I’m hoping that all of my nervousness and discomfort will be for nothing and she’ll settle right into a wonderful summer.

But I also recognize that we’re talking about the deepest part of a mother’s instinct, to feel unsettled by the absence of your child; to be unnerved and powerless when your child isn’t with you, under your watch and in your care. I carried this child within my body for nine months, nourished her with my body for almost two years. Keeping her safe and helping her grow has been my most important focus since the day she was born. It’s purely animalistic, how physical the connection is between mother and child.

Every time I think about this and feel this deep need to keep her safe, I think about the second thing.

Right now there are thousands of parents who have had their children – some as young as eight months old – taken from their arms and placed into warehousing facilities. The parents aren’t told where their children are going, the children have no idea where their parents are or if they’ll ever see them again, and there are buildings being filled every day with more and more terrified, traumatised, children.

This is what that sounds like:

So, here I am, struggling with the reality of my child being away from me for seven weeks. It feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest when I think about it. I worry about her missing me, I worry about what will happen if she gets hurt and I can’t be there for her, I feel sick sometimes thinking about the sheer length of time, the sheer number of days where I won’t see her face or hug her or kiss her or hold her hand. I feel all of this with a visceral sort of panic, a bone-deep sense of instinct that defies all reason or logic. I feel this way even though she’s going to stay with her own father, who knows her and loves her and has planned handfuls of fun activities for her in a place filled with more people who know her and love her.

I can not fucking imagine having Olive taken from me without warning and placed into a warehouse separated by chain-link fences, sleeping on a cold floor with nothing more than a tinfoil blanket, surrounded by hundreds of other terrified, crying, children. I can not get through more than ten seconds of that audio above. I can not bring myself to understand how any human being can think this is in ANY way acceptable, politics notwithstanding.

As if it weren’t abundantly clear how absolutely horrifying this is, child development experts have weighed in, stating:

“Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. When that bond is broken through long and unexpected separations with no set timeline for reunion, children respond at the deepest physiological and emotional levels. Their fear triggers a flood of stress hormones that disrupt neural circuits in the brain, create high levels of anxiety, make them more susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and damage their capacity to manage their emotions, trust people, and focus their attention on age-appropriate activities.

These facilities are not set up to adequately care for children, let alone thousands of children in a strange country suffering the intensely distressing psychological trauma of being abruptly removed from their parents. Some of these children – toddlers, babies, preschoolers – have been there for six weeks already. Some are too young to speak.

With horrific world news, I typically have a policy in place where I educate myself about the situation, take whatever action I can, and then try to stop the influx of information. I started doing this in my mid-twenties because I realized that when I go too deep and compulsively consume more and more information, I begin feeling increasingly depressed and overwhelmed. Once you’ve taken whatever action you possibly can, it’s just not helping anyone to put yourself through that mental turmoil.

I tried to do that same set of steps with this situation.

I researched and then donated to Together Rising, which gives 100% of donations received to lawyers, caseworkers, and reunification efforts for these separated families.

I tried to stop, after that. I tried to click away and shut it down and not see the pictures or read about these so-called “tender age facilities”.

But the two situations twin each other so eerily that every time I pack something else in Olive’s suitcase I realize these kids have none of their own clothes. Every time talk to Olive about what will make this time easier, I realize that these children have no pictures of their parents. No favourite stuffed animal for comfort. Every time I think about missing Olive I am struck with the realization that I will know exactly where she is, who she is with, how loved she is, and when she’s coming back.

She will know these things, too.

So tell me, how do I look away from this?

How can you move on after hearing those kids? Those kids who sound so much like my kid, pleading, crying in panicked sobs for their moms and dads? How can anyone, in any capacity support such horrific, unnecessary abuse?

I don’t know what to do here.

I hope you’ll join me in doing something. This thread gives ideas if you’re struggling, like I am, with this feeling of horrified helplessness. If you’re American, please call your elected representative and unleash the fury of a mother down that phone line. If you’re Canadian, call your MP or write to the Prime Minister to voice your feelings on the issue and ask that Canada officially condemn these actions. Ask for action, demand action.

There are Keep Families Together protests planned worldwide for June 30. I’m trying to find one locally to attend, even though Olive will have been gone for three days at that point and I can’t promise you I won’t be bawling the entire time.

Please advocate for these kids the way you would want someone to advocate for yours if they were taken from you and treated like this. There is absolutely no reason in the world that thousands of small children should be taken from their parents and caged in 2018, in the United States of America.

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  • Reply Livia Dittmer June 20, 2018 at 6:41 AM

    Thank you for this piece, Madeleine. This breaks my heart. I also love Together Rising and the work they’re doing on this issue. Another idea for Canadians is to contact your MP to ask Canada to officially condemn this practice and call for the reunification of these families. If Trudeau and our MPs across parties will take a strong stand on Canadian values about trade and the economy, we should also take a strong stand on Canadian values about human rights and the wellbeing of children.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine June 20, 2018 at 8:53 AM

      This is a fantastic point. I’ve written to Trudeau and cc’d the Minister of Foreign affairs, and will add this info to the post. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Reply Lorri Epstein June 20, 2018 at 10:54 AM

    Thanks for this post. It’s infuriating and heart breaking. Donating, demanding action and hugging my babies so damn tight! There’s no such thing as other people’s children.

  • Reply ericast1 June 20, 2018 at 1:30 PM

    Oh so painful. I cannot wrap my head or my heart around it.

    I understand seven weeks feels like such a long time – I’m in the middle of two and I can barely deal with it! I can’t image how those families are feeling.

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