Getting a brother back

March 2017 · Foster Care / Adoption

It was the hug that troubled her, tugging at her thoughts that February day. It was both unexpected and uncharacteristic. Although Michael deeply loved and depended upon his younger sister, he rarely hugged her. When Christine Blaine returned home from work that evening, he was gone. And he remained gone until March 24, 2015, six weeks later, when Wichita police pulled a body from a pond at 31st and Broadway, just blocks from Christine’s house.

“As soon as I heard the news, I knew,” she said. “I had a gut feeling.”

For Michael, life was more often a burden than a joy. Diagnosed with schizophrenia and dealing with alcohol addiction, he turned to Christine for safe harbor. Six months prior to his disappearance, he’d tried to kill himself in her garage. He spent seven days in the hospital before being admitted to Via Christi Good Shepherd for psychiatric care. They treated and later released him with medication, and he had been staying with Christine about six weeks when the unraveling began. Michael had stopped taking his medication. Then that hug.

The day he disappeared, Michael left everything at her house but his wallet. Frantic, she called police, Good Shepherd, anybody she could think of. She stayed up all night, calling his friends, checking his Facebook posts, and looking through his phone for clues. In the intervening weeks, she and friends posted fliers and organized search parties with dogs and more than 50 people combing nearby neighborhoods and several small ponds in the area. Nothing. Until that day she heard the news report that a body had been discovered in Go Lake.

She left work and hurried to the scene where she told the detective in charge that she thought the body might be her missing brother, Michael Baird. She gave a description and within an hour, police had a positive I.D. Christine felt broken.

Nevertheless, following Michael’s memorial service and still grieving, she tried to get on with her life. She had to. A single mother, she still had her daughter and son to raise, teen aged Kylie and 9-year-old Taylor. Then, in June, she noticed that her brother’s ex-girlfriend had posted a picture of a sonogram on Facebook. And she had tagged Michael.

“Of course, I asked why I was just finding out now that my deceased brother has a baby on the way,” said Christine. “She said she’d just found out herself. They’d split up before his death, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up about anything.”

The mother told Christine her due date was September 25th. But in August, Christine learned about Facebook photos taken in the hospital of both the mother and a newborn boy, Payton Nathaniel.

“She’d had him on June 11th, three days after posting the sonogram,” she said. “He was born three months premature and weighed only one pound, nine ounces.” At his birth, Payton tested positive for methamphetamine. “Then I started fighting for him,” said Christine. “Nobody would give me any information. They couldn’t, of course. We didn’t even know for sure that he was Michael’s. I called DCF (Department for Children and Families) daily asking for information. They were sympathetic, but just told me to wait. After two weeks, Payton was placed in state custody. I immediately contacted Saint Francis to put in my name for kinship care. Already, in my mind, he was Michael’s and I was his aunt.”

The paternity issue had to be resolved before Christine could even think about seeing Payton – let alone caring for him. The court ordered a DNA test from Michael’s autopsy. Then everyone waited. Christine called Saint Francis adoption support worker Martha Pennington every day. Finally, one day, Martha called her, and when Christine answered the phone, Martha said, “Hi, Aunt Christine.”

“I just lost it and started crying,” said Christine. “This was in October, and from that point, I was allowed visitation at the hospital, through Saint Francis. The first time I saw him, he was five months old, still in ICU. As soon as I saw him, I knew he belonged to me. I just held him and adored him.”

Since Michael’s death, Christine had worn around her neck a cross containing her brother’s ashes. On that first visit, as she cradled Payton, his tiny hand reached up and clutched the cross. He held it as Christine held him.

Unable to complete court-ordered requirements to regain custody, the birth mother relinquished her parental rights on February 5, 2016 – one year to the day Michael disappeared. Immediately, Christine began the process to adopt Payton and take him home to his family. On November 19th, Christine formally adopted Payton at Saint Francis’ National Adoption Day celebration. Surrounded by Kylie and Taylor; Christine’s ex-husband Tim Blaine and his parents (they all remain close); and other family, Payton received a new name – Payton Michael Baird.

“It’s funny,” said Christine. “Growing up, I didn’t believe in God. Only because there are so many bad things that happen in life, not just in my own. I thought that if God existed, he wouldn’t let those things happen. But then Payton happened, and my thinking has changed. God took something bad and made it good. He gave me my brother back.”