One of the questions I am most often asked is: “Why?” Family members, friends, neighbors and new acquaintances all want to know why.
“Why did you become a foster parent?”
Maybe one reason I get asked this so often is because in my circle of middle class suburban friends and family, becoming a foster parent is not particularly typical. I can understand the curiosity. Why would someone who grew up with no connection to the child welfare system, who didn’t have a single friend who entered care, who never personally knew anyone who’d been a foster parent … what makes that person arrive at this choice?
I entered the world as a “matter” for the country of England to settle. In simpler terms, I was the product of an affair. A “predicament” as government records indicated:
“The birthfather has paid no maintenance for the child and has taken no interest whatever, either in the mother’s predicament, or the baby’s future.”
After my birth, arrangements were made to have me placed in a foster home. Several months later, my mother read these words printed on a brown piece of paper: In The Matter Of Julie. She signed the document, stating that she could not raise me. Some say it is impossible for a child to sense this moment. I disagree. My spirit felt each letter as my mother pressed down on the signature line, spelling out her name, and severing the cord between us.
Michelle: Was adoption something that was always on your heart, Rachel? Or was there a moment, or experience that you recall that awakened you to this form of family building?
Rachel: I’ve always worked with kids and loved kids. I worked as a nanny, at a day care… I was a writing camp counselor. I babysat friend’s kids, always for fun, never for pay. I just love being around children, so I think I always knew we were going to have children, but I didn’t do a lot of planning on how that was going to happen, just because I was finishing my college degree, and then we got married. I got married when I was twenty one. About four or five years into our marriage, we started thinking about having kids. At that point, the big thing happened. I had been sick for about a year and a half and I went to five different medical professionals and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. I was misdiagnosed with anorexia, and being a hypochondriac, and I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when I entered into a state called, diabetic ketoacidosis. My body was shutting down. Multiple doctors came into my room and said, “I don’t know how you are alive, this is a miracle.” And I knew in that moment—because I knew that Type 1 could make a pregnancy potentially dangerous—that we would choose adoption. Now, my husband wasn’t on board yet, but I was like, “This is what we are doing.” Adoption is a really difficult decision for a lot of people, it was not for me. I just knew.
As children, we are often taught the importance of saying ‘thank you’ when someone is friendly, kind, generous, or thoughtful. It was the very act of extending a note of thanks that changed my life and the lives of many others.
My childhood was full of hardships. At six months old, I was placed in foster care for the first time, because my mother had abandoned me for two weeks. I would eventually be returned to her care, but this was only the beginning. I spent the next eleven years bouncing around between an unstable and abusive home, along with a string of foster homes. At the age of eleven, I was permanently placed in foster care when my mother went to jail for drug and sexual abuse charges. I spent the next five years in a downward cycle, moving from foster home to another, experiencing severe behavioral problems, and struggling academically.
All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood. ~Rainer Maria Rilke
A Love Unfeigned
Evening falls on the glow of late afternoon. The wind outside the nursing home winnows through the trees, reflecting the current of memory, sifting remembrance from forgetfulness. I sit in a chair next to my mother, who turned 94 last December. She doesn’t know me—or anyone—now.
I’m the son of adoptive parents. My mother and father took a chance on me and it paid off. At least, I like to think it did. And I hope they felt, as two survivors of the Great Depression and Second World War era, a quiet sense of pride in knowing that it was due to their risk and devotion that my life worked out so well.
There she stood about six steps off of the road at the end of a driveway. She was standing there waiting to meet me.
Is this really happening? Because if it is, it is more than wild.
All of my life I knew of this woman, Mary. Mary, my adoptive mother’s second cousin and my birth mother, only lived cities away—physically. In my mind, she may as well have lived across several oceans. If I had had my introverted way, I would’ve been invisible until the time I had taken in every detail about her into my memory. Before I could work it all out in my mind or hold onto one detail, I was in Mary’s embrace. Right there on the side of the street where the grass met the gravel was our meeting place. She had long hair rolled up in a bun but the rest of the details of those first few minutes are hard for me to recall.
I am thrilled to be a guest blogger on The Quilt of Life as I share an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir titled, Transgressions in Rouge. This section is from the part of my childhood when my baby brother entered into our lives.
I should note that, after my adoptive father beat two families into hiding, he died a transgender woman, in 2015.
The yen for authenticity is a universal quest. To paraphrase Meister Eckhardt Tolle, “We long to know who we REALLY are.” This knowledge comes from within but also from our environment and the people immediately around us, our families.
Families: a loaded word.
It’s been said that the road to adoption recovery is a search for authenticity. Adoptees must choose from two family trees, one biological and another through adoption. In writing my memoir, The Goodbye Baby-A Diary about Adoption, I realized that neither family tree was the answer. My feeling of being “at home in the world” had to come from a source within, a gradual unveiling, a stripping away of masks I’d assumed for a lifetime.
One. The number of medical issues we had that led us to considering adoption.
Ten. That’s the number of years my husband and I have been in the adoption community.
Twenty. The number of times our profile book was shown to expectant parents.
Four. The number of children we have adopted. Also the number of open and transracial adoptions.
One-thousand. The number of times I’ve mulled over our adoption journeys. Perhaps more… Definitely more.
To my daughter on the day of your adoption,
I’ve called you by that label, “daughter,” many times. But today is different.
Today there’s no prefix, no subtext, no “sort of but not really” as there have always been before. You’re not my foster daughter, I don’t love you “like you’re my own.” Today you are wholly, completely, for forever my daughter. Nothing is changing, but everything is changing.