She is a tall, generously endowed, middle-aged lady with her blond hair neatly piled in formal curls on top of her head. She usually wears a wispy colored scarf to preserve her hairdo and she favors brightly colored suits. She is mild-mannered, pleasant, and arouses warm leclings in the beholder as she patiently awaits her turn to be seen.
For 2 years now she has faithfully come for her Prolixin shots and her Lithium levels - ending a hectic career of admissions lo psychiatric wards in three states. In her heyday, her appearance al the emergency room would signal the equivalent of a red alert. Unkempt, boisterous, reeking with alcohol, she would continuously rant and rave, was quick of temper and of tongue, and necessitated -security measures until she was safely tucked away in a quiet room, cleaned and sedated.
That is all in the past. She is respectable now, able to take care of herself and keep house for an elderly father. She busies herself with chores of a homemaker, and is active in a rehabilitation program. Since her mood swings have been stabilized, she no longer has frightening hallucinations and her depressions have abated. Neither has she touched alcohol since.
Like Shakespeare, one might remark. "All's well that ends well." Not quite.
For our lady has a son; now age 9, whom she would like to keep on seeing, but soon may not. You see, he is retarded. He is in the custody of foster parents who dearly love him and whom he dearly loves. She has kept up with his progress, visiting him regularly. He has learned to talk, can set the table, can draw pictures, and has learned self-care. She hopes that in the future he will be independent in a sheltered workshop.
He has told her he thinks of her as an aunt, not a mommy, and showsoff his little wares to her. She is proud of him. She says he is one of lhe reasons for getting well and keeping well.
And now, the dilemma.
He is still at an adoptable age and the search is on for a suitable home. Il he is adopted, it will mean that she must forever renounce her right to him. She is told she will not be able to see him or know where he is to be given away. That, they say, would assure his adoptive parents of the right to privacy, and that is the law.
She had requested custody of her own son, but despite her gains, our lady cannot assume full responsibility for a retarded child. Normal parents with adequate support systems sometimes find it difficult to do so; they discover it takes, alt their energy and their ingenuity to care for one. It would not be fair to her, to strain her fragile strength, nor to him, to jeopardize his progress. He will have increasing needs and she won't be able to provide them. She knows this and she seeks the best for her child, but she pleads to be able to continue to see him.
These questions, then, must be addressed.
Does one follow the letter of the law? Was this the spirit in which it was made? Can the law be altered to suit individual cases or will it open a Pandora's Box that will cause more problems than it will solve?
Is it possible his future parents won't be so threatened as to allow her to remain a perpetual aunt? How will she then know?
Psychiatrists, caught in the midst of these human dramas, realize the necessity for individualizatìon and humaneness in these decisions. They can plead the pros and cons and hope that equity will prevail. Or they can help pick up the pieces in the aftermath.
This case went to court. Depositions from the mother's psychiatrist and social worker were taken before the hearing.
Verdict: Son was legally adopted by previous foster parents with regular visitation rights by the natural mother. Mother and son are both doing well.