Families share their reunification experience
Parents who lost their children to Child Protective Services and have worked to win back custody will celebrate reuniting with their loved ones on Friday as part of Reunification Day.
“She lost me when I was little, but she corrected her mistakes. She loves me and my sis. She loves my brothers, too. Everyone knows she came all the way to get us back,” seven-year-old Abigail wrote about her mother.
This note sums up the totality of the reunification process: losing custody, recognizing mistakes and then correcting them.
Though they have not known each other long, two local mothers said they have a strong connection since they both have lived similar experiences and have turned their lives around for the better.
“Everybody pretty much hated me. They didn’t want to work with me. I was very difficult, to put it nicely,” said Heather Cantamessa. “And they said I’d never get my kids back. Which was horrible for me because I didn’t know what I was going to be if I wasn’t a mom. And I love my kids so much, but my addiction made me do everything I said I would never do.”
Cantamessa thought she would never see her children again, but a spark inspired her to get clean. Then, she learned that sometimes second chances really do exist.
“About two years into my case, I got a call from my attorney that said my daughters were not doing well in foster care, that they needed to be removed from the foster home they had been in for the last two years and did I want to be an option?” said Cantamessa. “So now, I have all five kids in my life. They’re at my house regularly. I talk to them all the time.”
That was 10 years. But, in the process of getting her own family back, Cantamessa found her passion: helping other parents, just like her, reunite with their children through local advocacy groups.
One woman that Cantamessa connected with is Aleah Edgerton. About six months ago, Edgerton had lost custody of her children for the second time. The two women said they faced similar demons, had a common background and similar personalities. This made them a match.
“I never liked to go to counseling. I didn’t want people in my business, and I was totally against that type of stuff. But now, I will suggest it to anybody,” said Edgerton.
Both women agree that losing their kids was one of the toughest experiences of their lives. But, they also agreed that it was one of the best things that could have happened to them.
In order to regain custody, both women had to regain control of their lives and prove to the state they could give their kids the home they needed. They said that challenge has given them both a new outlook on life.
“My children love me so much and I make sure I let them know every day that I will protect them no matter what I have to do,” said Edgerton.
“I’ve worked so hard. You’ve earned it and you know you’re worthy,” said Cantamessa. “I have this gratitude that I would never have had had I not lost them. I don’t take them for granted. I know it’s a privilege to parent, and I celebrate and recognize just how lucky I am.”
Both Cantamessa and Edgerton want parents everywhere to know just how much it means to be in their children’s lives. They also want those who are struggling to know that second chances do exist.