Former foster children live a patchwork life, with bits of small recollections of the past, often blurred by emotional pain. Most of their own heritage and lineage remains a complete mystery. Identity is shuffled and recreated in different foster homes. In adulthood it can remain precarious. A lifetime of sorting through a past they will never find, leaves them in the cold.
In my collaboration with other foster child advocates, we talk a lot about abuse cycles, attachment issues, success, stability and strength. What is often overlooked, outside of the adoption arena, is identity and the lack of a concrete past.
Dissimilar from adoptees taken or given away at birth, most foster children are taken from their biological families after attachments, negative or positive, have formed. Children enter the foster care system due to neglect, abuse, addictions of the parents, or abandonment.
The bonds with parents, even if they are abusers, with siblings, or any other family is often sketchy and disjointed. Siblings are often torn apart forever, cousins or distant relatives are never known. Even worse, the children placed in foster care and sent “away’ are often buried in shame in family history books. Whatever negative incident precipitated removal, is often dark and stormy.
I was taken from my abusive mother when I was 5, after being locked and left in a basement, starved, burned, and abused. My older sibling was left behind. I cried for him for years, until I forgot him. I went on to change my name, start a new life, lost both of my adoptive parents, 6 months apart when I was 13, and I started over again. And again.
My mother who had supervised visits never saw me again after my 10th birthday. I never asked her any questions from age 7 on, because I was afraid of her. If I upset her, she could hurt me, or even worse decide to just forget me. So I kept quiet and studied her every move during those brief visits. She eventually vanished, and when my adoptive parents died, my real mother was long gone. She was nowhere to be found and my father was just a name on a certificate.
Like other former foster children, finding some branches of the family tree sounded like a good idea at one point in my life. After all if you know where you are from, you may feel like your birth had value. Often foster children feel like discards. Purpose, for some, is found in getting answers, and unearthing some semblance of the truth. So, I peaked under a rock one day and found out my mother told her family I died as a child. I saw she had other children, and that her abusive patterns persisted.
I would never have any complete answers. Unfortunately, I felt worse about myself then when I began this investigative journey, and so I closed the book. I chose to instead build my own biological link, and had my beautiful daughter.
My lineage, hopes, and only connection rest on her. Some days I am disappointed I do not have answers for her. I never realized that me not knowing about my own family, means she does not know about her’s. This idea is starkly present when she makes a family tree and my side is bare. It is present when we have had health issues and I have no background information. But it is painfully present when I look at her and try to decide who she looks like. Where is that gesture from, is it me? Not ever seeing a very young photo of myself, I do not know.
My daughter’s face is sometimes mysterious, sometimes a shadow falls over her and it sparks a memory of my own mother’s gaze, as I recall it.
Over the years I considered having other children. After all, I needed lineage and I could create my own! But, the truth is time is short, and I am not sure if that is in the cards for me. The recent acceptance of this has been painful.
When I am asked about reunification as adults for former foster children, I never know what to say. I recently collaborated on a piece that advocated adult reunification, and my opinion was not shared amongst my colleagues.
For some former foster children, digging up the bones helps hearts heal. Some are fortunate enough to make strong connections with siblings, and find the family they need. For others, they forget the past altogether ( though nothing is always forgotten in the heart), and find their family niche in love or parenthood.
My mini me may be the end of line for me. And I hope she forgives me for the emptiness on my side of her lineage. And on all of the fathers days and holidays, when I have no answer to her questions, I hope she understands my silence. But I also hope she grows up one day and sees that she saved my heart from a lifetime of nothing. She was the answer.
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