Many have asked me what it was like growing up in foster care. During those years it was so difficult to give a clear answer, but now if I had to sum it up in one word it would be “deserted.”
Throughout foster care, I was placed in 16 homes from the ages of 3 to 18. Although I was surrounded by social workers, lawyers, GAL/ CASA workers and multiple foster parents and siblings, I still felt very alone, isolated, and frightened. So many lives had touched mine, yet no one could relate to what I was going through.
I longed to be known and understood. I was fully aware that I was unwanted. Of course, that is something to never talk about with anyone. I went through great lengths to hide my sorrow.
For instance, whenever I would move to a new school, as I often did, I would try to avoid sharing the fact that I lived in a foster home. I would make up elaborate stories about my life. On one move, I told my classmates that I was a runway model who traveled around. In another school I was a dancer trying out for a Broadway show. Living in the fantasy world helped me somewhat escape reality… until I reached middle school.
You see, the truth was too hard for me to accept. The feeling of being unwanted was too painful to comprehend. In fact, the emotional pain of knowing that no one wanted to adopt me, that I did not have a “real” family, that I could not count on staying in one place for long enough to make lasting friendships, that I did not trust people, especially adults who were supposed to protect me… all of this piled up and made the pain excruciating!
Over the years I had endured physical and sexual abuse, too. Abuse inflicts trauma, but neglect leaves unspoken, invisible scars.
I clearly remember the moment I heard that I was considered unadoptable now that I was 12 years old. On top of having my peers find out that I was just a poor foster kid with no family, hearing those words fractured my soul. I was broken. I did not know how to heal. I had no words for my suffering, and no one seemed to notice. I could not put myself back together.
My suffering drove me to do harmful things, both to myself and to others. I reverted to physical fighting, anorexia, drugs, many unhealthy habits, and getting involved in an abusive relationship with a much older man.
At the age of 15, I found myself pregnant, alone, and afraid. The nurse at the clinic had given me the choice to “help my situation.” I instantly ran from the clinic clinging to my stomach promising my unborn child that I would always love and protect him.
Caring for my son while going to high school then college full-time was not easy, but ironically, he gave me hope for a future: his and mine. I promised to break the cycle of foster care in my own biological family that went back several generations. Our bond was unbreakable and still is.
Being the first in my family of origin to graduate from college was a way for me to prove to myself that the terrible cycle had been broken. History was being rewritten for me, my son, and my future children and family.
My son and I grew up learning and discovering life together. My former case workers set up speaking engagements at conferences for me to share my story and encourage others along the path. Eventually, I was invited to help teach foster parenting classes.
I was beginning to see how my journey was helping others. The more I healed, the more I had to offer. I founded a non-profit called “Lean on Us” that brought together children in foster care once a month to participate in fun activities together. Additionally, I opened a Christian dance studio which gave children and youth creative expression for their differences, for their losses and for their sadness. The feeling of desertion had disappeared.
I ended up marrying my high school sweetheart and we had four more children together, including the youngest whom we recently adopted.
Today, I am now blessed to work as a Foster Care Family Recruiter for Lutheran Services Carolinas (LSC) where I can help others start their journey becoming foster parents. I can share with them my experience as a foster child, as a foster and adoptive mother, and as a child of God. My soul fractures healed through the genuine love I received from God. I truly believe He uses me to do this work. Through LSC I have an ever-growing family that has become part of my circle of people I get to do life with.
I encourage everyone reading this article to consider being a part of the foster care circle. You can help break the cycle of the lonely child in foster care who feels unwanted.
Whether it is to support them through prayer, respite care, contributions for their needs (ex. hygiene bags, clothes, school supplies) or to foster and/or adopt. Be a soul fracture healer today.
Contact me for more information at email@example.com or call 1-800-HELPING.
This column was writtren by LSC Foster Care Family Recruiter Genevieve Traversy and originally appeared in The Independent Tribune.