By Lauren Huneycutt
Hanna Fuetsch and Martin Mendoza were not irresponsible. They did not accidentally get pregnant. They chose to take on the responsibility of a baby.
Alexander is not Mendoza or Fuetsch’s biological child. Although the couple is frequently told they look as if they could be, they are actually his adoptive parents. At the ages of 17 and 20, this couple fought for the guardianship of baby Alex.
Fuetsch splits custody of Alexander with ex-boyfriend Martìn Mendoza, 25. Mendoza is currently a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and holds a part time job as a custodian at Our Lady of the Snows Elementary. His full time job is being a father to Alexander.
Reno native Hannah Fuetsch, 22, recent graduate of UNR, holds three part-time jobs: children’s counselor, after-school teacher and yoga instructor. Her full time job however, is being a mother to 5-year-old Alexander.
“I didn’t plan anything,” Fuetsch said. “I just knew in my heart he was mine and I knew I had to have him.”
THE BABY WHIRLWIND
Older brother of Martin, Richard Mendoza is the biological father of Alexander. Richard’s girlfriend Alexis is the biological mother.
“For a while, it was really ugly,” Mendoza said. “My brother would call me, curse me out and say he was going to wait for me to get off work all because he wanted Alex back.”
Alexander’s mother did not take care of herself, Mendoza said. He was born 10 weeks prematurely because his mother had no prenatal care. Being full Native American and registered to her tribe, she receives monthly stipends. She chooses to live on such means.
“She is the laziest person I have ever known,” Mendoza said. “I only remember her having a job once and it was for two, maybe three months.”
According to Mendoza, she was no different when it came to Alexander. He was not her priority, nor was he Richard’s, relying heavily on Fuetsch and Mendoza’s help. The first time the couple asked Fuetsch and Mendoza to babysit on a Friday, they were thrilled.
“I figured it would just be for the night since he was still such a little baby,” Fuetsch said. “But we didn’t hear from them until Sunday, then they came and picked up Alexander.”
This one weekend of babysitting turned into every weekend. Then gradually moved into entire weeks at a time.
“We let it happen for a while,” Mendoza said. “I guess you just get attached.”
It became a running joke. Every time Fuetsch and Mendoza would pick up Alex, the first thing Fuetsch would do was give him a bath. He was always filthy.
When Fuetsch and Mendoza would have Alex for a week at a time, their lives did not stop. Fuetsch was still in high school and working, while Mendoza was in college and working. They had sacrificed much of their college life for Alexander.
“They were really co-dependent,” Haley Quirk, long time friend of Fuetsch, said. “We didn’t see much of Hannah for a while. She missed out on a lot of social stuff, but Alex was the priority, as he should be.”
They constantly had the responsibility of caring for a child forced upon them. The couple did not have to continually stick with abandoned Alexander. They could have said no. But they chose to put their lives on hold and care for him.
Fuetsch’s parents supported them emotionally and financially, helping when they could. Mendoza’s parents helped watch him as well, but eventually something had to give.
Alexis and Richard called Fuetsch and Mendoza in the early hours of the morning in a commotion when they were living in a downtown motel. They asked them to pick up Alexander.
Fuetsch and Mendoza dutifully went to get him on that summer night.
They found the baby in an old soiled diaper and with a bloody nose.
“This is bullshit,” Fuetsch said. “I’m done giving him back.”
Fuetsch and Mendoza were so in love with Alexander at this point they could no longer bear the thought of him in a home where he was not properly cared for. That evening, Fuetsch’s father consoled her and calmed her down, but the incident had opened the door on the idea of gaining full guardianship of Alex.
“It was around Thanksgiving time,” Mendoza said. “We agreed to babysit on a Sunday night, but only for a couple of hours because we both had school and work the next day. Alexis said OK. Then we didn’t hear from her until the next Sunday. By then we had already called CPS (Child Protective Services).”
Fuetsch and Mendoza had hit their breaking point and called CPS. They filed a claim that Alexander had been abandoned and neglected. A social worker came to the Fuetsch home to see if it was fit for an infant. She then contacted Alexis and Richard.
When Alexis would disappear for hours, weekends or weeks at a time, it was because she was out looking for Richard. He would go missing, so Alexis in turn would go missing, leaving Alex behind.
“Alexis flipped out,” Fuetsch said. “She was so angry and just kept saying ‘you were supposed to be helping us and now you’re trying to take our kid.’”
The social worker advised Fuetsch and Mendoza to talk to Alexis. She could have Alexander back if she came to the Fuetsch house with a police officer to pick him up. For the longest time, she never did.
The day of the guardianship hearing, Alexis arrived with about 22 stitches across her forehead. Richard was not there. He chose not to attend the hearing because he had a warrant out for his arrest. He was later arrested on charges of drug possession and domestic violence.
The judge made it clear to Fuetsch and Mendoza that they were third in line to take care of Alex; they were not his biological parents. Alexis still had rights as the mother and Alex’s tribe had rights before Fuetsch and Mendoza.
Alexander is half Native American, which gives him a unique set of rights. Even though he was never registered to his tribe, they had the right to gain guardianship of Alexander over Fuetsch and Mendoza. It was revealed in court that because of cases of molestation, the tribe was unfit for Alexander.
So at the ages of 19 and 22, Fuetsch and Mendoza were granted legal guardianship of Alexander while Alexis put her life back together. She had to take parenting classes, stop dating Richard, get a job and pass a drug test. She also had to see Alexander a minimum of two times a week, but was encouraged to make more visits than that.
Fuetsch and Mendoza wanted Alexis to make the effort to see her son. They told her to call anytime and come over anytime. Alexis quickly became a stranger and did not try to see Alex at all.
In the two years that Fuetsch and Mendoza were Alexander’s guardians, they enrolled him in a day care and formed a family routine. With the Fuetsch basement as their house, they were able to continue going to school and have a family at a young age, but it was not all perfect.
“Until he was about 3 years old, he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming,” Fuetsch said. “I don’t doubt he saw terrible things as a baby. He would have these night terrors and you could not calm him down.”
Fuetsch and Mendoza grew worried. Even though it seemed unlikely, Alexis could still get Alex back by completing a few simple tasks. This is the last thing they wanted to happen. With the help of Tim Fuetsch, Hannah’s father, they hired a lawyer and began looking into adoption.
There are stipulations that come with adopting. The couple has to be at least 21 years of age, be married and in this case, have both biological parents sign away their rights.
Fuetsch was then 21, but she and Mendoza had moved into a new stage of their relationship.
“Martìn is a great guy and an amazing dad, but I knew I didn’t want to marry him,” Fuetsch said.
So the couple settled on and signed a domestic partnership, which would suffice in place of a marriage.
Alexis did not oppose when the lawyer asked her to sign away her rights to Alexander. Richard Mendoza had been in jail throughout the duration of these years and was surprised when the lawyer went to the jail and asked him to sign away his rights to Alexander as well.
“I don’t think he knew Alexis wasn’t trying to get him back,” Fuetsch said. “He must have seen the light in jail because he was crying when he signed the papers.”
Richard Mendoza called Martìn from jail. He said thank you. He thanked his younger brother for giving Alexander the life that he could not, Mendoza said.
All of the paperwork was in order and properly signed. A date for the adoption hearing was set.
Friends and family gathered in the courthouse downtown. Fuetsch and Mendoza were preparing for the worst, thinking that this hearing was to decide whether or not they were fit parents.
“The judge looked at me and asked how I was doing,” Fuetsch said. “I immediately started bawling.”
The emotional day was a happy one. The judge went around the room and had everyone in attendance stand up and say something about the young new parents. One of these people was Richard Mendoza.
“It felt good that he was there,” Martìn Mendoza said.
“Nothing changed really,” Fuetsch said. “We were already being parents. But the judge said, ‘what you know in your hearts is now official on paper,’ and that meant a lot.”
Fuetsch and Mendoza parted ways romantically shortly after this happy time.
“Martìn is a great guy. If something happened between them in the future everyone would be so supportive,” said Haley Quirk, long time friend of Feutsch. “But Hannah has grown into a free spirit and Martìn is a little more structured. I can’t see them getting back together.”
Alexander is now in kindergarten. He grew out of his night terrors and is the poster child for a solid home life. His parents are a great example of how split custody can be efficient and create a happy environment.
“We are good co-parents,” Fuetsch said. “If we fight it’s usually because we want more time with Alexander. If you’re going to have a fight, that’s a good thing for it to be about.”
Fuetsch is taking the LSAT in December and Mendoza is graduating from college at the same time. Upon Fuetsch’s dream of attending law school, the plan for the future is to move wherever Fuetsch is accepted. Mendoza and Alex will move wherever she goes to keep their family united.
At 7 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, Fuetsch can be found in her bright yellow bathroom, kneeling in front of the bathtub, quickly scrubbing and cleaning her son so he can return to playtime.
“This is just my version of a normal routine,” Fuetsch said. “I have him during the week and Martìn has him on weekends, which is nice because I still get to be 22. ”
Fuetsch and Mendoza kept an open adoption, meaning if Alexis and Richard wanted to see Alex, they could. They are minimally involved in Alex’s life. He sees them on occasion because they had another child, Sophia.
“Alex loves his little sister,” Mendoza said. “He’s always drawing things for her. My brother was really artistic, that’s where Alex gets it.”
Mendoza has Alex Thursday –Sunday. Mendoza works and has school during the week so the custody days work out perfectly. They go to the park, visit his sister or go to the movies.
“We do whatever Alex wants,” Mendoza said. “Sky’s the limit.”