“I was twenty-one years old, desperate, uncomfortable in my own skin and lonely. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror anymore. I hated who I had become. I tried so hard to break all the cycles I had seen growing up, but there I was, just like generations before me…using whatever substance I could to change the way I was feeling. My family was confused, my friends were angry, and my co-workers were getting tired of my irresponsibility. My behavior wasn’t normal anymore. I grew up being an over achiever and I exceeded expectations of my parents and teachers. But, even as a child I had no idea how to cope. I stuffed and stuffed my feelings down and when I was criticized for my sensitivity, I assumed I was defective. I felt inherently unlovable.
At 19 is when I started using and drinking. The obsession started almost immediately. No amount of whatever I had was enough to numb what was going on, on the inside. It excelled rapidly; consequences happened immediately. As quickly as I gained friends, I lost them. My drinking was confusing to everyone around me. The once over achiever was withdrawing from courses without hesitation. Then, the consequences got bigger. My using had brought me to the emergency room and it had brought me to jail, on multiple occasions.
I remember sitting in jail one night just thinking, ‘This isn’t the way I’m supposed to live my life.’ I wanted so badly to be a professional, to be a wife and so badly wanted to be a mom. That night I thought, ‘My career is over, who will ever hire me? Who will ever marry someone like me?’ I wanted to adopt so badly and I remember thinking, ‘No one will ever let me adopt a baby after what I’ve done. Who would let me raise their baby? I am an awful human being.’ I spent the next five months trying to drown out the feelings that came up for me that night. I had basically given up.
I’ve thought long and hard about why I got to change and others don’t. I know I had a parent and grandparent in recovery from substance abuse. I know I had a moment of clarity. I know I was desperate and I knew I was meant for better. But still, nearly 10 years later I still can’t pinpoint what it was that shifted. I knew I didn’t want to feel how I was feeling. I didn’t want to hate myself anymore. I showed up and I listened to what people who had recovered before me had to say. I did what they suggested. And slowly, sometimes extremely slowly, I picked up all the pieces of my brokenness.
When I was about three years sober, I met my husband. He also has a history similar to mine and was on the same path I was in recovery. We grew a lot in our relationship together, we started a life and we both started gaining back things we lost during our addiction. We shared our dreams together about jobs, buying a house and getting married. It felt crazy and undeserving when those things actually started happening. Someone like me, who grows up as I did, who comes from the part of town I come from, doesn’t get all these things. We got the jobs, we bought the house and then we got married.
Adoption came up many times in the years we spent together. At this point we knew it was the natural next step. After tirelessly researching the internet, listening to far too many podcasts for adoptees and adoptive parents and doing the endless Instagram scrolls, we landed on foster care. These kids we could potentially get matched with were kids who were from similar families of origin as me. There is a lot of addiction in foster care and I resonated so much with that. I also knew I could get on board with taking care of someone’s precious child while they worked on bettering themselves. I would tell myself over and over again, ‘It can’t be bad to be of service to someone as they recovering from whatever they are recovering from.’ But, I still had so many fears around my past and if this could even come to fruition.
We applied, we went through home study and background check and I was incredibly anxious. I genuinely thought I would fail. I thought the background would come back and they would say, ‘Sorry, this just isn’t for you.’ When the social worker called and said, ‘You passed!’ I was floored. ‘Do I have to get letters from the judge? Do you want character references?’ I asked. ‘Nope,’ she said. ‘You guys passed.’ I learned in that moment my past doesn’t define who I am at my core. It was just a short little glimpse that would lead me to my bigger purpose. We were completely honest about everything. When they asked as hard questions about our history, we answered honestly. And when we saw our home study packet, it was all in there. Both of our dark histories, dysfunctional family upbringings, our recovery and my trauma therapy, all in that packet. The thoughts of doubt would trickle back in like, ‘The social workers are going to look at this packet and laugh,’ or ‘No one will ever pick you guys, look at your history.’
Just a few short months later, we got a call, a two-week old, two-month early, premature baby boy was waiting for us at the hospital. They needed us there in 30 minutes and we got there in record time. I couldn’t believe it was happening. When I look back on that day it was so surreal. We had no idea what questions to ask the social worker. Even if we did, there was so little information on baby boy they wouldn’t have been able to answer anyway. I was blown away. Instantly in love. I felt an immediate connection to his little soul. Like I had known him before. My husband and I just looked at each other like is this even real?
Our first year in foster care wasn’t easy at all. We had the birth parent visits quicker than I would’ve liked. They were sometimes smooth and loving and other times hard and I would cry in my car. It’s so much easier to say you could be okay if he reunifies than actually imagining living your life without him. I realized again; I wasn’t trusting the process. I opened my heart to both of my son’s birth parents. I told them about my recovery, I shared with them my experiences of getting sober and what it looked like for me. I encouraged them to keep fighting. All against what my mind was telling me to do. My mind was telling me, ‘These people are standing in between you and what you want. Don’t support them.’ But my soul couldn’t connect with that. We formed an incredible relationship over the course of those visits. And I was deeply saddened when they abruptly stopped. My heart had changed. As much as I wanted baby boy forever, I wanted them to get well, more.
The case plan changed to adoption and I can’t think of a moment in time where I had experienced so much joy and relief, but it wasn’t as happy of a moment as one would think. The other side of this reality was our son now has no legal parent for the time being and his birth parents lost the opportunity to ever raise their child again. Adoption also carries a stigma—kids that are adopted typically have behavioral, mental or attachment issues. The weight of him one day understanding the harsh comments people say around adoption kills me. Adoption also carries a load of grief. There is loss surrounding adoption no matter how hard society tries to make it seem purely beautiful. Both the beauty and the grief live together.
During the last 5 months we have been waiting to adopt (postponed due to coronavirus), a lot has been revealed about this process. We had a court ordered consortium, which is basically mediation for an open adoption. We struggled to put that agreement together. So many fears came up through that process. Would he resent us for allowing too much or too little to be included in this agreement? Are we making the best decision for him at 5? At 12? At 17? What kept coming up for us is when we trust the process, it works out exactly how it should. Road bumps and all.
In a home visit conversation one day, our county social worker opened up to why she chose us for baby boy. She told us she specifically wanted us because she knew we could relate to baby boy’s birth parents. It was an easy choice for her. That if he reunified, we would support it and if he couldn’t, we wouldn’t expect perfection from our adopted child. We wouldn’t expect him to be grateful for his circumstances. We would just allow him to be human. I kept my past close to my chest for years, I had so many fears of what people might think of the person I am today based on the person who I was 10 years ago. My ugly past had given me the best gift I’ve ever received, this baby and his incredible birth parents. It cracked open parts of my soul that I didn’t even know existed. My very darkest moment had become my greatest asset.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jade Pillsbury. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more touching stories about foster care here:
‘Hey, Mrs. Norman. Can you take a 4lb premature baby? We really need a place for him to go.’ Newborn? Baby? Preemie? ‘Are you sure you’re asking the right family?!’: Woman unexpectedly gets call to foster preemie baby
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