When my daughter was born, I studied her face. It was in her little eyelashes and wide forehead that I searched desperately for a piece of me. I had and still have never seen an infant photo of myself and I was curious that my “first” biological relative would resemble me, a trait I had never witnessed. Over the years, the lack of relation that foster care emphasized, impacted me in different ways. Family trees that were empty, medical appointments with an empty page, the albeit odd tale every time I met someone new. A feeling of aloneness in the universe that nothing seemed to fill. The somewhat jealousy over friends’ family ties, positive and negative. The relentless search for identity through older men who generally wanted a flashy confused girl on their arm and not much more. So finally, here was mini me..the tie I wanted, the bond, the answer, the connection I needed. A big piece of a foster child’s personal history is always missing, regardless of bonds with siblings that come and go, or later, lovers and spouses. Adopted children do feel something similar, I imagine, but when you have also have a disconnected or abusive connection to some biological family, that estrangement is doubly confusing. It was one wave of delirium after another. But identity is not just in appearance, or a link in appearance though if you think about it, that is how we recognize connection. I was adopted eventually, and my adoptive parents died soon after. My identity was always changing it seemed, as was my name. I’ve had more names than Elizabeth Taylor. I have been trying to devise a more exotic explanation for years with no luck. A parade of scandalous marriages (I have not had that many), running from the law (I am not a great runner), witness relocation (plenty would like to lose me permanently, maybe that would work). It is to the point where I do not know what name to even call myself. Several states have stepped up to the plate legally and mandated that parents who lose their children to the state or voluntarily give up their children, must fill out at minimal, basic information to be put in a registry for adult children to access. The information is supposed to have basic health information, such as cancer warnings (this may have been helpful), birth date, parent, sibling information, photos if possible or if any were taken, some criminal history and on and on. In 2004, I was notified from the New York registry that information from my long since closed abuse case against my mother was available. Basic name, date, and health/criminal information was supposed to be coming to me. Not much was available at all. Since I had already known my mother, having been taken from her when I was 4 and visiting her until 10, I was hopeful that someone made her give some basic health information now that I was an adult and a mother. I had health issues and concerns for my daughter, and I at least wanted the names of some family from my side of the gene pool. That was not the case at all.She left most of her information blank. My father’s name was not recognizable to me, except for the last name which I actually carried for some time. My prayer is that mandates become more strict, and that health information, age, name, birth date, criminal information becomes mandatory. It is a double insult to not have any relative information about our background at all, especially for children who are not fully adopted into another family, or even lose that adopted family. Health information is vital, criminal information is a matter of safety. I have learned over the years that my identity was not to be found in names, or in a physical connection to anyone. And it is definitely not found in promises from the mouth of lovers; we are all fallible and promises go unfulfilled. I did want to have more children, give Phylicia and myself more of a biological connection…give all of this love I have to someone connected to me. I even found someone whose qualities seemed to enable him to be a strong family leader, as I always imagined a strong man to be, but it was not his wish for a family life. Regardless, I recreated bits of myself, through becoming a mother, through bonds with some foster brothers and sisters and even through friends and lovers I have known (even the ones that took off like a bullet). These things are my identity. Though I do not resemble anyone expect for the shadowing facade I have of my mother, a person whose violent mysteries died with her, I have recollected myself.
My message to other foster children I mentor is that even if the echoes of your hallway are filled with mystery, and not a family tree, you can find who you are through learning to recreate yourself and use your experience to foster an independence that others sometimes never find.
** Next week I will discuss the physical impact of child abuse on brain development. Then I will post a highlight feature on another organization I am proud to support. This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.