Until the age of thirteen, we went back and forth from my parents to foster homes. We were sometimes placed together in the same home, but not always. I was in three other homes that I can remember. I lived in one of them for a year. While I was there I contracted lice and scabies. Once when I was sick with a stomach bug, I was forced to eat my dinner–otherwise I was going to be sent to my room. It was awful! In another foster home, I remember there being a strict policy of how much toilet paper, one or three squares, you could use depending on what you needed to do. It was the strangest thing ever for me, because even while in the projects with my biological parents we never did that. My mom somehow always had enough to provide for us girls and even helped others who were less fortunate.
We did not have extended family that would or could take us in. We only saw them on some occasions except for my uncle (my mother’s older brother). We couldn’t live with him because he was working full-time. However, he did bring us out every Saturday for bowling, or a movie, or the park, and he always brought us out to eat. I remember thinking he was crazy because he always told us jokes and I was not used to that. I was more used to the depression, dysfunction, and fighting in the house with us girls, mom and dad. I argued a lot with my mom and oldest sister. My sister and I fought because my mom would not set limits with me. I believe she was too sick to. My sister thought it would be better if I stayed home and not spend time with my friends. I didn’t want to be home because I didn’t want to see my parents sick. I just wanted to be a kid and have fun. She tried to be my mom, but I didn’t like it because I felt she was too controlling. It got so bad that we started fighting physically, so when my sister turned eighteen my mom made her leave and she went into a group home.
I felt like my mom was a broken record, repeating over and over what she had gone through as a child. She sometimes took her anger out on us with regards to this. She would talk to us kids as if we were her therapist, but we always felt bad because we couldn’t help her. She wasn’t getting the help she needed and was carrying the burden of raising children on her own. Because of my dad’s illness and shock treatments he became extremely introverted. My mom could not accept that about him. I stood up for him on numerous occasions when she kept nagging him to talk to her. I would say “Leave him alone!” I was very angry at her because of this and because of her being sick. She would try to explain her illness to me, but I just got madder.
She would say that I was so stubborn, that I never wanted to lose an argument and that I should be a lawyer because of it. Then I felt even worse when she would say that I was the “strong one,” that I could somehow handle things better than everyone else in the family. I felt that maybe she was right, but more than anything I felt that I couldn’t help but be strong because of the weaknesses I saw in the family. It’s like I carried the family “problems” on the weight of my shoulders, but wouldn’t allow myself to feel the hurt and pain that went along with it. I was afraid that I would just fall apart and end up in the hospital like both of them. During these times I don’t remember ever crying. I suppressed my feelings because my mother’s were so extreme at times, and I didn’t want to be like that. My older sister tried to keep the peace and was more passive like my dad. She got along with all of us and tried to mediate between us since we were arguing most of the time. My mom tried to get us all help with individual and family counseling, but it wasn’t enough to fix our problems. She really fought hard to keep us kids at home as much as she could.
In the midst of all of this I was teased by kids at school and in the projects about my looks and my mom being “crazy”. They thought I had a big nose so they called me Pinocchio and Gonzo. The saying of “sticks and may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is a lie! Whoever came up with that nonsense, anyway? These kids even started physical fights with me for no reason. I further withdrew into my shell and wanted to be invisible. I felt unpopular, unloved, and didn’t fit in, except among kids whose families were somewhat similar to mine. I found myself spending time with kids whose parents had a substance abuse problem and/or emotional problems. Somehow we never got around to talking about how awful it was. At least I don’t remember ever talking to anyone about it, including any teachers. It was like they didn’t even care. They were oblivious to the fact that I was thinking “If I got hit by a car and died tomorrow, would anyone miss me?” I felt so alone and abandoned. And I couldn’t voice this to my parents because I didn’t want to make things worse for them. I was even afraid to because I thought it would make them sicker. I didn’t want to over burden them with my problems, needs, and fears.
While all of this was going on, I didn’t have a healthy outlet. I found my escape in several things, including video games, movies, music, sports and finally, romance novels. These are the only things that got me through those awful times. I listened to songs by Mariah Carey including Can’t take that away…“They can say anything they want to say, try to bring me down, but I won’t face the ground,” and her song Hero, “It’s a long road when you face the world alone. No one reaches out a hand for you to hold. You can find love if you search within yourself and the emptiness you felt will disappear”. The romance novels taught me to fantasize about the perfect romance of a woman being swept off her feet with the notion of “happily ever after”. The more I read those books the more I got lost in them. And the more I read them the more those other things that used to help me get through weren’t as mesmerizing. Reading these somehow started to fill that void that I had in myself of needing to feel loved, accepted unconditionally, nurtured, and happy.
This then lead me down a destructive path of “looking for love in all of the wrong places”. I met a boy who knew my sister’s boyfriend. Our relationship started quickly and we were together for about a year. We didn’t get along very well at all. We were very young and immature. He was disrespectful to me and also called me Pinocchio. He spent more time with my older sister, to whom I felt inferior, because she was my mom’s favorite. She said that she wasn’t difficult like I was and that she was pretty and I was only attractive. My mom told me once that if a guy met me, and then my sister the guy would want her and not me. She even said maybe if I got a nose job I would look better. That I was too pale and that I should wear some makeup, especially blush.
I finally couldn’t take what I was going through with my boyfriend anymore, so I broke up with him. A few months after that I realized something was wrong when I still had not gotten my period. When I realized this it was the first time I had cried in a very long time. I was pregnant at the age of fourteen, right out of eighth grade. I never told anyone except her father and a close friend of ours. We didn’t tell our parents because we were afraid to. I also avoided the doctor. You are probably wondering how this could have happened. No one else knew? I was in denial. I felt like if I never said anything to anyone then it wasn’t really happening. Then I could just wish it away just like I had done with my parent’s mental illnesses, however unsuccessfully. I wore my older sister’s clothes, which were baggy on me. I slept upstairs in the living room on the loveseat because I felt too ashamed and guilty to sleep downstairs with my mom and older sister. I lied to people, including my best friend, when they asked me if I was pregnant. I said that I had never had sex and that I was just depressed from the break up, that I was eating more and gaining more because of it. Finally, my mom decided to make a doctor’s appointment for me, but I never showed up because I knew what they would find out. I told my mom that I forgot about the appointment.
My mom didn’t find out until I was in labor about two months after this. We didn’t know if I was in labor or having a miscarriage. My mom asked me if I preferred a boy or a girl. I told her, “If I have it then I want a girl”. I didn’t want people to know, because I was embarrassed, so I made sure we went to the hospital in a cab instead of an ambulance. When we got there, the person at the desk asked me, “Who is your doctor?” “I don’t have one,” I replied. “When was your last period?” “I don’t know”.
They then whisked me away in a wheelchair to the maternity ward. After they did an ultrasound, they found out that the baby was breach (feet first instead of head first) and that I would need a C-section. The nurse who did the ultrasound said she knew the sex of the baby, but she was not going to tell me because she wanted it to be a surprise. She also said that since I was not eating healthily and hadn’t gone to the doctor that I had toxemia (bacterial toxins, in the blood) and my blood pressure was so high that I could have had a stroke if I hadn’t made it to the hospital in time.
Several minutes later, my bed was wheeled away into the delivery room where my mom met me. She wore blue hospital scrubs from head to toe. She was there with me the whole time while they delivered my daughter in to my arms. She was a healthy full-term baby weighing six pounds, eleven and a half ounces. Since then we have called her our miracle baby. I had never baby-sat a child so I was totally clueless as to what to do with her. The only experience I had with kids was the summer before this when I worked at a camp with pre-school kids. I didn’t even know how to change a diaper, so my mom showed me. With the help of my mom and sisters I was able to slowly learn how to take care of her. Her father also moved in with us for a short time. We felt we should stay together for our daughter’s sake, but we still continued to argue so we broke up again.
I was a freshman in high school when I had my daughter. I like to say that I was fifteen when I had her, but she will tell you I was fourteen, ten months and fifteen days. I was out of school for two weeks, and then I was able to go back, because my mom took care of my daughter for a few months before she ended up in the hospital again. Thankfully, my older sister was eighteen at the time, so I did not have to go into another foster home. My mom was only at the hospital a few months, and while I went to school my daughter stayed with my best friend’s mother who owned a family daycare. From my sophomore to senior years I ended up bringing her to the day care that they had at school. I wasn’t the only teen mother there, so I am grateful that my school provided the daycare and a program for teen parents. I brought her to school on the bus with me, where I would get looks and snide remarks like, “You are just a baby having a baby,” and “Are you married?” With a curt reply I replied, “Yes, I know,” and “No way would I ever be married to him!”
My life was not the life of a fifteen year old. I went to classes on the days I decided I didn’t want to skip them, and then I went to work at the teen health center at the high school. I picked my daughter up from her aunt’s (on her father’s side) and then I went home. When that job ended I then worked at a jewelry store near where I lived. I don’t think I ever did much homework, but somehow I was still able to graduate. It was very difficult for me, but with the help of my mom, sisters and my sister’s boyfriend’s family, I was able to get through it. I don’t remember anything I learned, but I do remember graduating and that my daughter was three and a half at the time. More recently, I have come to realize just how common this part of my story is among foster children. On October 21, 2010 I went to a book signing for “Hope’s Boy” by Andrew Bridge, who is also a former foster child. He mentioned that statistically, girls who end up in foster homes are more than twice as likely to become teen mothers. When I heard him say this I started crying. I am one of these statistics!
I am currently a Board Member with Life Saver Ministries DBA My Father’s House is a non-denominational, faith-based, 501(c)3 non-profit organization that operates a residential parenting program, called My Father’s House, for homeless pregnant and parenting young women between the ages of 13 and 21 and their children. “We welcome young women regardless of their religious beliefs”.