“When I was born, my birth mom was very young. Unfortunately, due to family circumstances, I ended up in and out of kinship type care. The circumstances and events I experienced at less than 1 years old were not healthy for an infant to live through. 1 year and 10 days later, my brother was born, but never came home from the hospital into our birth mother’s care. A short time after, we ended up in kinship care together with a relative and transitioned to state funded foster care. We would be in a therapeutic foster home for children with special needs until we were adopted. What was meant to be a safe space would end up being an extremely damaging couple of years.
If you’ve never been in foster care or involved in foster care – you should know entering foster care is traumatic. One day your life seems ‘normal’ and then the next you’re living with people you don’t know and are unsure of what will happen next. Don’t let the cute letterboard announcements of ‘We’re fostering’ blindside you from the fact that when children enter foster care it’s because something has happened.
When I was in foster care, my foster mom did not like me. I was very stubborn and had experienced severe pre-verbal trauma. I was distraught from not being with my birth mother and began to exhibit these behaviors by what she called ‘being bad.’ Her reactions to my behaviors were unhealthy and she dealt with me by physically, emotionally and mentally abusing me.
I was emotionally neglected when my foster mother refused to bond with me, leaving me in my crib for hours. I experienced physical neglect when my foster mother locked me outside and did not provide appropriate nutrition to my brother and me. It was extremely unethical and detrimental to my health. Here I was in a very vulnerable place with adults who were supposed to be helping me – yet she was hurting me.
This instilled in me a sense of shame, doubt and responsibility for what was happening to me. She continually communicated with her actions that I was ‘bad’ and everything was my ‘fault.’ I remember very vividly one I was crying in the car and she turned around to slap my legs to make me be quiet. To this day I still struggle to let myself cry and I flinched at physical touch for years.
My brother and I were in foster care for 4-5 years. I believe the only high of my foster care journey was being kept with my brother. I learned a few years ago approximately 75% of siblings who enter foster care together will stay together. I consider it a miracle my brother and I were kept together despite everything else. I cannot imagine my life without him.
The impact of these formative years where I did not experience what most children do in bonding to healthy adults or having a nurturing environment was extremely detrimental to my health. I would be diagnosed with developmental delays, reactive attachment disorder, failure to thrive and projected to be ‘mentally retarded’ (language of the early 2000’s). The statistics were extremely stacked against me considering what had happened to me.
I was adopted when I was 4 years old. My family knew from reading our adoption papers they would need to commit to adopting us once they met us. Considering everything we had experienced, they knew we needed a family. 6 months after my family met us, they adopted us. I remember the courtroom experience very vividly. I remember feeling excited and scared – wondering if I could truly trust these people. I had had a lot of people walk into my life and out – which left me feeling uneasy.
Adoption changed the trajectory of my life in many different ways. Perhaps the most important way was it finally meant permanency for my brother and me. Before, there was the chance that we would be separated always hanging over our heads. Merely being related was not enough to ensure our lives together. But in adoption, the commitment was made to both of us – together.
Being a kid would be a struggle for me, even though my adoptive family was amazing. I would struggle in feeling like I belonged where I was. I struggled to accept my mother as my mother and pushed away everyone who tried to love me. It was hard for me to trust anyone and I felt extremely responsible for what happened to me. I felt like my being born was a mistake and I ruined everything. Learning was really hard for me, yet I worked very hard to do my best. I cried a lot over learning to read and do math. I fought to focus on my schoolwork and was determined to make it through.
In adoption, I experienced the stability and safety I had longed for years. I experienced safe love and even though I tried to push it away – they never left me. My family was relentless in their commitment to loving me and helping me heal. No matter what I did – and I did a lot of things – they loved me. This was so important to me and would slowly help heal my fear of abandonment. Adoption provided a stability that would allow me to feel like I could move forward.
My adoptive parents disciplined me like they would any other child, but they were not mean to me like my foster mom was. They worked hard to undo the harm she had done by holding me for hours as I screamed or continuing to show up even when I was difficult.
Because I had a family and support, I felt like I was able to focus on other things. I did graduate high school and college with the support of my family and knowing less than 3% of former foster youth graduate college inspired me to finish. I believe that’s only because of the support I had that I was/am able to do the things I do. Children need community and normalcy. In therapy, I recently learned a healthy definition of ‘normal’ is ‘safety and health.’ For many years I did not experience ‘normal,’ but now I think my life looks almost ‘normal’ in the terms of experience safety and health.
In April 202, I began attending therapy quite frequently. In fall 2021, I was officially diagnosed with 3 mental illnesses and put on 2 medications immediately. I’ve worked to overcome the trauma I’ve experienced through healthy friendships, family support, my faith, my marriage and therapy.
I met my husband when we were 6 years old, shortly after I was adopted. We did not grow up as childhood sweethearts, but more as enemies. My husband did not like me when he first met me – merely because he did not understand me. As he grew to know me and understand me, he saw I was broken. My husband saw that I needed someone to love me for a lifetime. But being married to me is not easy and my marriage today may not look typical.
My husband cares for me deeply and works hard to be trauma informed in how he interacts with me. There are many times where he does almost everything in our home, from cooking to cleaning. My depression and anxiety tend to take it out of me and I am unable to think clearly and function. When this happens, my husband keeps my life moving. Everyone always comments on how amazing my life is or how much I do – but the secret is my husband keeps me going. He packs my lunch every day, cooks the food and runs the errands. He is patient, kind and cares for me.
My husband has been very supportive in helping me heal. He creates an environment of ‘felt safety’ in our lives together. From helping me work through my food trauma to helping me work through my relationship fears – he is very aware. He’s encouraged and supported me in going to therapy, a psychiatrist, going on medication, and now owning/training a service animal. He supports my sharing about my story and encourages me to rest after long days of teaching.
Today, I am sitting here writing this in my own home that my husband and I bought last year. We’re young but very fortunate to own a home. It will never be lost on me the significance of owning a home considering where I came from. Sitting next to me is my golden retriever Maverick, who we are training to be a service animal to aid me in my mental illnesses. By day I am an elementary 3rd grade writing teacher. My life looks almost normal and that will never not blow my mind. I remember for years wondering it would ever level out – and in many ways it hasn’t – but the health and safety I have is a gift.
My advice to former foster youth or anyone struggling through healing with childhood trauma would be: You are not alone. Your trauma is not your full identity. You deserve to heal and find yourself out of the things that happened to you. You are not responsible for what happened to you when you were a child. Therapy and medication do not mean you are weak – it means you’re strong enough to face the truth.
I would like others to know it breaks my heart that my birth mother, brother and myself were not seen as a family. It makes me very sad to know our being together was not prioritized. If you plan to foster – I want to challenge you to consider taking in teenage mothers and their children. In doing this, you can end the cycle of foster care in a generation.
Helping a child heal from their trauma does not end when they are an adult. I am not done healing and I still need my community support. Turning 18 is not a magical number that means I don’t need help anymore. Your adult children who experienced trauma still need you as the milestones experienced in adulthood often bring back triggering memories. We need you to walk alongside us into our marriages, relationships, careers, parenthood, managing our finances, finding a place to live, moving out of state, owning a car and learning to be an adult.
If you are parenting a child who has experienced trauma, I believe it is so important to help them cultivate an identity outside of their trauma. Encourage them to seek out hobbies and have fun. Having fun was a struggle for me as a kid and I prioritized productivity over fun most times. I believe children need adults who will let them be the child. For those of us who’ve experienced childhood trauma that forced us to grow up – sometimes we need to step back and be the child. We need people in our lives who will let us be the child, even at 25, because healing our inner child is important.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tina Bauer. You can follow her on Instagram, where she shares her life through the lenses of foster care, adoption, dog mom, wife and educator. You can follow America’s Kids Belong on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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