When people think about foster care and adoption, they tend to have a picture in their mind about what that might look like. But in most cases, there is often so much more to the narrative than they realize.
This is my story.
It starts long before I was born. My birth mother was born into a poor and divided family where alcohol addiction was prominent. Her upbringing was turbulent and difficult, with many moves among family members and no feelings of belonging. At 18, she met an Airman in the US AirForce and became pregnant with me. They married and tried to make it work, but after 3 years they eventually divorced and my mother became a single parent to me and my younger sister. She worked multiple jobs trying to make ends meet: waitressing, bartending, and dancing.
Life was stressful, and we were often unsupervised with me as the caretaker of my sister, providing food and safety for both of us. This was my life for approximately two years. Then, just after my fifth birthday, my mother decided she was no longer able to care for us. Our father refused to take us, and ultimately, we were placed in foster care with Gene and Charlotte Snyder.
We stayed with the Snyders for three months before they had to return us to our mother’s care. Approximately, three months later, when our mother was overwhelmed, she called them to help. My sister and I stayed with them again, this time for about six months before returning yet again. Through the experience, Gene and Charlotte built a relationship with my mother through visitation and phone calls. They knew that she loved us, but also knew that she was alone in the world and needed help too. This happened again for about three more months and when we returned this time, our mother had made the decision she was leaving Pennsylvania and moved back to her home in Alamogordo, New Mexico; she then met a man who bought her a house in Lubbock, Texas and we moved there. I attended school and stayed in 24-hour daycares with my sister, often spending the night, going to school, and returning there afterward for days on end. Life was very difficult there. My mother’s boyfriend did not like my sister and was physically abusive toward her. I continued to supervise and feed her when we had food to eat.
Eventually, my mother asked me if I wanted to go back to Gene and Charlotte. I told her that they said their heart couldn’t take us leaving anymore and they would not be able to take us back again if we left. (I had heard them say this on one occasion in the car when I was pretending to be asleep – a skill I learned to keep us safe)
The next thing I remember was her crying and asking me if I would call them and ask them to adopt my sister and me. She told me that it meant we would stay with them forever. I was almost 7 years old when she put me on the phone to make the call. I remember crying when I asked them, and they both start crying too. Within a few days, Charlotte and her father flew to Texas to pick up my sister and me.
Gene and Charlotte, Dad and Mom, worked privately with lawyers to move the adoption forward. We were officially adopted on March 2, 1982. That day, I wore a Cheryl Teiggs pink corduroy skirt and a flower button-up shirt; the details are still vivid to me.
Because of my role as a primary caretaker in my first family, I had to learn how to be a kid after being adopted. My sister no longer needed a mother and I needed to learn that I had people to care for me. This took a lot of love, patience, and support from my parents, but they offered it unconditionally, every moment of the day, every day. They worked hard to ensure we had very normal experiences. Both my family and my birth mother made efforts to answer our questions honestly and age-appropriately, even if it was for the 5,000th time. It was important for me to hear the story, to help me understand it, to learn the words to tell it, and to not own what was not mine to own.
My parents agreed to allow us to keep our first and middle names and supported us having contact with our mother via phone calls on holidays and birthdays. Sometimes she made the calls and sometimes she did not. They were supportive if we wanted to send cards, Christmas presents and even helped me make a recording of a song I learned to play on the piano for her.
Over time, we became so engaged in our family experiences within our home, school, community, and extended family that the grief began to dissipate when the calls did not happen. Our parents were always considerate of where we came from and were proud of our family, letting us know that we mattered and were good. Of course there were challenges and difficult times; I just never felt as though I was on my own after being adopted and knew that we would always get through it together…. and we have.
My mother worked as a director at a growth and development program for children with special needs and my father owned and operated Snyder’s Sanitation. Where my mother helped children, my father helped adults. If anyone needed work, he gave them a job. They included my sister and me in these discussions and I took these experiences to heart.
While I grew up thinking that being an elementary school teacher was my calling, I learned there were other ways to make a difference for children when I went to college, majoring in in Human Development and Family Studies with a focus on Child and Adolescent Development. Since then, I’ve worked to help others build connections, develop their voice, and to use their strengths to help them achieve their goals. This is what drives me to work at Adelphoi, where I serve as the Recruitment and Family Development Supervisor for Foster Care. Here, everyone has a story that matters, everyone has a voice and their strength is valued to bring about positive change, even when it is hard.
Today, I am married to my high school sweetheart Christopher. We have three children together, 2 sons Riley (20 years) and Kieran (17 years), and a daughter, Quinn (4 years old). My sister and I both experienced relief from unknown anxiety when our children passed the ages of when we were placed and adopted; to know that we had changed the family patterns that preceded us was a significant moment in both of our lives. My sister lives in Georgia, but no matter where she is, she is my best friend. My husband and I have stayed in the community where we grew up and have chosen to raise our family here, where they too have connections and a foundation.
My experience as an adult who was adopted as a child has had a significant impact on my life. I was raised with a family of people with significant resilience, compassion and capacity to do good even when things were hard. To understand that no matter what has happened, it is within my control to do good, to help others, and to not assume responsibility for the actions of others.
Working in foster care at Adelphoi allows me to help ensure families are prepared to support children who are going through difficult times that they may not understand for years to come. It is my mission to help people in the community look past the stigma of what they think a foster child looks like or the inconvenience of who they think birth families are. It truly takes all people to love and care for each other to show a child how to love and care back. Being a foster parent is a very important job for a child and they are the people who pave the way to see what is possible. I am blessed to have been adopted and to have had the opportunity to build connections; in fact, that is what I believe made all the difference.