Many of the stories that you may wander across are of strong, dedicated couples that devote themselves to the happiness of their children. At the very least, you get the heart-warming tale of a mother that grapples with the ins-and-outs of raising her child, and the hope that she succeeds in the end.
My story is not one of them.
In 2006 I met my daughter’s mother. She had a son, and all was well – we were married in November of that year. She was soon after pregnant, but on Christmas day I noticed a peculiar change in her.
She opened gifts with her son, then for herself, and as I began to cook our holiday meal, she disappeared.
Curious, I went to the bedroom to check on her, only to find that she remained in her pajamas even though we were expecting guests. When I asked her what was wrong, she simply said, “I think we should get a divorce.”
I spent that Christmas heartbroken and confused. Though my friends and family tried to cheer me, there was nothing to be done while my wife packed the car with her belongings, and left me behind.
While she was gone I became depressed, and fell into heavy drinking. Nearly a year passed before I would see her face again. In October of 2007, I received a phone call from Child Protective Services. They told me that my daughter’s life was in jeopardy, and that I needed to get to the hospital immediately.
My first thought was simple - I have a daughter? When I arrived I saw my infant child, a full three months old, at a minuscule four and a half pounds. The doctors told me that she was malnourished, had been starved, and that the incubator she was attached to was necessary to save her life.
Confusion and anger with the situation went through me, and I demanded that her mother tell me why. She said she was unable to pay for formula, and that she refused to apply for WIC because it ‘was for poor people’. Angered and dismayed, I said, “You have breasts,” but she said breastfeeding was painful.
The woman I had married was going to let our daughter starve to death to save her pride and avoid discomfort. I saw the ugliness in her then, and I was grateful that my child had been saved before the worst happened. She looked at my daughter, and said, “I don’t want it anymore. You can have it.”
I told her I would care for our daughter, and that I never wanted to see her again. She never came back.
My concern was that she had named my child ‘it’, and I hurried to ask the nurse what her name was; she had been named Ariel Marie Jackson. I went to my daughter’s side and held her tiny hands while I cried, ashamed of the situation, my choice of wife, and I grew to associate that name with the sad truth of what her mother had done to her.
She squeezed my finger in her little grip, and I did not leave her side for an entire week.
I did not sleep, I barely ate, and every ounce of my attention and energy was devoted to her.
Somewhere in that fray, I learned that my daughter had Down syndrome. After the antics her mother had pulled, I knew that my baby was lucky to even be alive.
To help keep me awake while I cared for her in the hospital, I listened to music, in particular, a song called ‘Zoe-Jane’ performed by the band ‘Staind’.
It’s a song about a man that loves his daughter, and when I looked at my baby girl, I could relate to those lyrics.
By the end of that week, she was almost six pounds. They let me take her home, but CPS returned to put her in a foster home due to the treatment she had endured at her mother’s hands.
I immediately went to court to win my child back, and explained to the judge all that had transpired. It helped to further my case when her mother failed to show.
I was granted custody of my daughter on November 1st of 2007. Soon after I returned to court to sue for full custody, and dissolve her mother of parental rights. While I was there, I also changed my daughter’s name to Zoe-Jane.
Early Childhood Intervention was assigned to Zoe-Jane until she was three.
The physicians told me that she would never walk or talk, and though I believed them, I still took her to rehab and therapy sessions.
I asked others to pray for her success, and in due time, my little Zoe-Jane took her first steps. At four, I enrolled her in school.
Zoe-Jane is now six years old, a proud member of the first grade, special-needs classes, and my pride and joy. Her vocabulary has expanded to include whole phrases. My favorite is, ‘I love you’.
Over the years people have told me how wonderful a father I am, or how proud they are of me for taking such good care of my daughter. I appreciate these sentiments, but in truth – all I was doing was being a dad. Zoe-Jane is my little girl, and as her father, it is my right to protect her from danger. I could not have done it alone, of course. I had a wonderful support network: God, my parents, my grandmother, ECI, and Zoe-Jane’s own teachers.
Together we were able to leave the past behind us, and Zoe-Jane has flourished since those precarious moments when she was wired to hospital equipment.
Today, my daughter is a vibrant, bright-eyed child that is eager and ready to take on the world. The fact that she has Down syndrome, and a mother that did not want her – these are just minor setbacks. Me and sweet Zoe-Jane, we’re ready for whatever life throws at us next.