When I found out I was pregnant, I was 19 and living in foster care. I didn’t want my daughter to be born into the foster care system.
I myself went into care with my sister when I was 4 and she was 1. Growing up, I felt like my little sister and I were alone in this world. We lived in many homes and went through verbal and physical abuse. We never felt loved or understood why no one loved us in those homes, or why we couldn’t return home to our biological mom, even after she stopped using drugs. The idea that my daughter would be born into care really haunted me.
I also feared that if I raised my baby in foster care, she would fall into the hands of the system. I think the foster care system will find any little excuse to remove a baby from a girl in care. When my older sister was in foster care, she permanently lost her parental rights to her first daughter and to this day she is unsure why that happened.
My older sister hasn’t seen her daughter in years, and her other children have never even met their sister. I’ve also met many other girls in care who have lost their children just like my sister. I didn’t want that to happen to me.
I Belonged at Home
Above all, I wanted my daughter to grow up with what I didn’t have—a family. Throughout the years that I lived in foster care, I felt I belonged in my mother’s house.
When I was little, visits with my mom made me feel relieved. My mom always did her best to hide her problems from us and she was a very high-spirited person. The only time I saw my mom cry was when visits were over. If my sister and I cried to her, she would cry with us. But she would always tell us, “Everything is going to be OK.”
I remember my mom coming through for me. One Christmas I told her I wanted an EasyBake Oven. I was sure that my mom wouldn’t get it for me because she wasn’t too financially fit, but to my surprise, she gave me exactly what I wanted. I was ecstatic. The toys at my foster home were always used or boring. Finally I had something that was new and all mine.
Safe from Abuse
As a teenager, I ran away from my foster homes over and over, returning to my mom’s house. By then, my mom was sober and my older siblings were living at home again. My older sister had signed herself out of care, and the court had discharged my brother to my mother. But her rights to my little sister and me were terminated.
I will always have a grudge against the system for not reuniting my sister and me with my mom after she got clean. I don’t really understand what happened. All I know is that my little sister’s dad was brainwashed into signing over his rights, and my mom lost her rights after that.
I was 12 the first time I ran away. I was fed up with getting abused and I knew that at home I would be safe. I was a little girl alone on the train alone in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t scared. When I arrived, my mother was very surprised. “Who brought you? Why do you have so many bags?” she said.
“Mommy, I want to be home with you and be happy,” I replied. My mom knew that she could get into trouble for keeping me, but she didn’t turn me down. When I went into my room, I felt relief. Finally, I would sleep here every night.
Stuck in Care
Living with my mom, I saw there was more to life than living in sorrow. My mom would buy us things and take us out to eat. She made me feel secure and positive that no one would hurt me. Most of all, she made me feel that no one else in the world mattered but us.
I ran away from my foster home off and on for two years. But when I was 14, I decided I needed to go back to care. I was tired of running away all the time and I knew I needed to be in school. By returning to foster care, I could receive financial help with college and subsidized housing. So I turned myself in.
From then on, I attended school regularly, made good grades and saved my allowance. My goals were to finish school and age out of care prepared for adulthood. But when I got pregnant at 18, I decided that raising my daughter safe with family was more important than financial security.
Home for Good
I figured that once I began to show, the agency would try their best to keep me in foster care. So when I was two months pregnant, I went to the agency office and told my caseworker, “I want to sign myself out.”
She asked me why and began to explain the benefits of staying in foster care. Without explaining myself, I insisted on leaving care. In June 2007, when I was six months pregnant, home I went.
When I first moved back to my own room in my mother’s Harlem apartment, everything was great. I graduated from high school with my belly and all. My mom and other relatives attended my graduation and we all went out to eat and celebrate.
When I gave birth to Jada, my mom was with me for the whole 27 hours I was in labor. She was my support when it finally came time to push.
My mom has also supported me as a mother, and she wants to do right by all her grandchildren, especially since she wasn’t much of a role model for us. My mother loves Jada dearly. She plays with Jada and always puts Jada on her lap while she is on the computer. Now Jada loves the computer and loves to type. In fact, for Christmas, my mom gave her a laptop for kids and she actually plays with it on her own for a whole 30 minutes.
I appreciate that my mom supports Jada and me and that she doesn’t really try to school me about my future. She knows I have a good head on my shoulders. I control myself pretty well and make smart decisions.
Still, living with my mom hasn’t exactly been how I thought it would be when I was younger. A couple of months after I gave birth we began to bump heads. All I know is that we can’t really handle one another’s attitude. Now I wish I had my own place and I plan to move out when I’m able to.
Even though we have our ups and downs, I love my mom deeply. I’m glad we’ve had this opportunity to get to know each other better, and I wouldn’t know what to do if I ever lost my mom again.
Protecting Our Future
With Jada, I know what it really feels like to be loved and feel loved. I feel so connected to her. At 16 months old, she is very smart and lovable. She is constantly hugging me, especially when she is sleepy, and it feels so good.
When I’m feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, I hug and play with Jada and that helps me get through whatever I am feeling. Jada likes to play with her many toys and I notice that she plays longer if I’m playing with her.
Spending time with Jada pushes me to keep moving on forward, to do my best in building a positive relationship with my mother, and to not let my past get the best of me. I’m determined to give my baby a good, safe life—the life I wish I had.
I took Jada’s first year off from working or going to school so I could focus on my motherly duties (my baby’s father helps me with money). Now my goals are to get into a college and begin a career as a nurse.
I also joined a training program at the Child Welfare Organizing Project, which trains parents to know their rights. (CWOP has helped my mother for many years.) I wanted to make sure I could protect Jada if the system ever got involved in my life again.