‘I was taken from school to my last foster home. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. I didn’t know I would NEVER go home again. My parents had run out of chances.’

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“I can’t remember back to a time when I wasn’t in foster care for at least some time. I think I was first placed in care when I was about 1. At the time, I mostly lived with my mom, dad, half-sister and half-sister. Although I just knew them as my sister and brother. Our mom and my dad had drug problems.

I remember days where I didn’t go to school, and even if I did, I would fall asleep and be taken to the kindergarten nap bed. I had permanent sniffles, asthma, and I was very skinny. Some days I wouldn’t go to school, and when I did, I remember my sister taking me. She took me shopping. We hand washed clothes in the bath tub. She is the main memory I have from childhood.

Courtesy Toni Locke

I was in and out of foster care as my parents were given chances to sort themselves out. When I was taken from school one day to my last foster home in the middle of the day, I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. I didn’t know it was the last time I would see my friends, go to that school, and that I would NEVER go home again, because time and time again I had. My parents had run out of chances.

I remember the car. The social workers wore suits and the car was dark blue or black with silver trim around the windows. I sat in the back, the child lock was on and I felt trapped. When we arrived at the foster home, it was a place I had been placed in before with my sister, so a little familiar, but I still didn’t understand. This time it was only me.

From then on, I would see my sister and family occasionally. My sister visited most, and when she got pregnant at 15, I was excited to become an auntie. I was only 6 when she had her first child aged 16. In school I went to special sessions and I remember learning about ‘goldilocks and the three bears’ and families. I remember being asked why I had no ‘parents’ coming to ‘parents evening’. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I hadn’t ever known a time where I wasn’t living with strangers every now and then, so I assumed I’d go home. But then I was told that I couldn’t. I needed a new family who could look after me properly.

One day I was told that I was going to meet two people who wanted to be my ‘forever’ mommy and daddy. And so, we met. They took me swimming for the first time. These would be the people that would do so much with me for the first time. That would teach me so much. How to tie my shoe laces. How to hold a knife and fork. How to ride a bike. I moved to live with them in a different city 5 hours away.

Courtesy Toni Locke
Courtesy Toni Locke

My accent changed quickly, my name was changed, and my heritage was wiped. See, my biological father was mixed race, a fact I only knew because my biological mother once made a comment to me about him in a fit of rage. ‘He bathes in coffee to get that color skin’. My new parents were both white, an English lady and a Canadian man. At that age it meant nothing to me. But I found my dad’s accent hilarious. ‘Say tomato’. ‘Say Tuesday’. Even now we have banter about itsometimes.

I met my new family in England and was welcomed straight away by my 4 older cousins and my aunties and uncles. When I was 8, I met my new family in Canada for the first time. This was all so new. International travel? New toys, new clothes. Most of all, ONE place, a warm home. Hot food in my belly, although that was a huge struggle for my parents as it was the one area of life where I was a terror to them, and I wouldn’t eat!

Courtesy Toni Locke

It’s scary worrying if you will be ‘sent back’ and I could have so easily had behavioral problems or rebelled, but I took another route and was always trying to make everyone else happy. Apart from eating. I’d skip lunch at school. I was forced to stay and eat an apple once in primary (elementary) school and missed afternoon classes.

When I headed to university a strange thing happened. My eating improved as I let go and tried new things. I think it had been a coping mechanism. The one thing in my life I controlled. But then at university I struggled with my identity. As I had just turned 18 which in my head had been a ‘magic age’ because it meant that legally I could see my sister again.

But so much had changed. How do you rebuild that? It was cruel that we were ripped apart, but it felt cruel to still long for a sibling connection when I had such a great family and happy life.

We made contact over Facebook and spoke a bit. I did eventually go back to my birth city as my biological mother is terminally ill. My biological father died when I was living in Spain and I didn’t tell anyone or reach out. I had a lot of confusing emotions to deal with. This time though I spoke to my parents and I went to say goodbye (or hello?!) and see my sister and her children.

My biological mother had a drip in her foot because her veins everywhere else were destroyed. It was an awful sight. Ultimately it was sad, but I didn’t feel any connection to this lady. I did however with my sister. We have stuff in common and she made me laugh and I hope one day we can build on our relationship.

I’m now almost 27 and a lot has happened. Other things have affected my life like ending a 6-year relationship and dealing with some tough incidents, but I have decided it’s important to me to talk about my childhood now. To talk about the pain, you feel being taken from the person you are closest to (my sister, not my biological mother). It’s important to me to recognize where I came from and how far I have come. I couldn’t read or write like the other kids because my education had been so disrupted. My (adoptive) parents were told I should be moved down a year to catch up. They weren’t having it.

With good support and a LOT of strength, determination and resilience from myself, I have gone on to be able to read and write not only in English but in other languages too. I have learned that it is not about where you come from but about where you are going. Your circumstances might not be great, but you can always work hard and push yourself to do better.

I’m glad that my sister didn’t let our difficult childhood stop her either and she has always worked to provide for her family.

I am proud of who I am, this complete mixture of different backgrounds and people and nationalities. I have been lucky to be part of the family I am. Not all families look the same. Whether it’s adoption, single parent families, step families, same sex parents, childless families or whatever the case may be. Family is what you make it. Family is more than DNA and sharing a whole life together. Anyone can become your family, and everyone has the ability to love other people in the world unconditionally.

Courtesy Toni Locke

I will continue on my journey, going to psychodynamic therapy sessions, being open, talking about things, and admitting that my life hasn’t been easy, but I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve suffered from crippling depression and anxiety, I take medication at the moment, I have days where I feel worthless. Unwanted. Abandoned. Rejected.

But I wanted to write this story with the hope that even if just one person sees it could help them. I get ‘you don’t look adopted’ or ‘I would never have known’ or ‘for someone who came from that background you’re normal’. But what is normal and how am I supposed to look? This IS normal. This is MY normal!

I don’t know what it’s like to have people in your life since you were born. But now I don’t know what it’s like to only have family in one city or country either.

Don’t ever judge people or underestimate them. They may be stronger than you think. You are stronger than you think.”

Courtesy Toni Locke

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Toni Locke of South London. Follow Toni on Instagram hereSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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