What’s in a Name: Fostering Identity


Me and Mini me
Me and Mini me

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. Creative Commons License This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

16 thoughts on “What’s in a Name: Fostering Identity”

  1. Thank you so much! I appreciate your support and advocacy! Yes, I do need to update my twitter account for my new blog here. I will post it and also send it to you tomorrow so we can keep up to date with each other! Thank you again.

  2. Thanks for reading my blog… I’ll be interested to keep reading your’s! It’s good to hear about foster care and adoption from the “other side.” I’ve often been very glad that we were able to record these identity-links for our children, such as medical history and sibling info. We were also able to get to know their birth parents a little (all four). I’m glad of this for my own sake, too, as it helps me put their biological features and temperments in context (something that helps us get to know others better). It would be so hard not to have that context. I think people adopted internationally must feel similarly. Thank you again for sharing your experiences!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your story. These are the things that haunt me as a child welfare worker. I am always trying to put as much information in my notes so that some day the children who read them can catch a glimpse of their biological family. Advocate to get your records! It is your life and you should be able to fill in some of the gaps…. this is why I am writing the book “This Is Mine”… stories like yours need to be shared with others. My heart is really broken for the children who cannot look back and remember the house they grew up in, their favorite dog/toy/auntie/whatever, and all the things that come with knowing your biological family and your history. Our state requires us to get as much health information for the case record when children transfer to adoptions. Blessings to you and your sweet little punkin.

  4. Continually impressed. Looking forward o your weekly post. Your thoughts and experiences are admired. How lucky your daughter is to have such an intelligent an compassionate mother. I pray you have the peace and love you deserve. Thank you for sharing!

  5. One problem I have encountered with gathering the health and history from families, is if you are moving toward legal rights of the parent being severed, they are not always cooperative with sharing that information and sometimes they cannot be located to get it. It can take some legwork to get it accomplished, but it is SO important.

  6. It takes a lot of leg work! Generally as I’ve seen, once parental rights are severed it is entirely an uphill battle. It would be nice information was mandated as soon as a child is placed in state custody. This way, regardless of the any possible reunification, adoption or continued state care, the child has the information needed to live a full life.

  7. Agreed. That has become the practice of some social workers but that change in the law would definitely help. There is this space after a child is placed and the anger stage hopefully settles but before permanency is considered where lots of information can flow more freely.

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