By Sharon Otteman
There is one thing I have always been sure of in my life. I have always wanted to be a Mom. I didn’t want to have one or two kids, I wanted a big family – like 6 kids. This dream was set aside much longer than I ever wanted because I never got married. Despite several relationships, it just never happened.
When my last relationship ended, I was 35 years old and I decided I didn’t want to wait to have children any longer. So, I started the process to have a child on my own. I found the doctors, I had the tests, everything, “looked great,” but after 3 years of trying, with fertility drugs that did a number on me, I still hadn’t become pregnant. The doctor called it “unexplained infertility.” I became terribly depressed.
In the following months, I had a pretty big pity party. Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine talked with me about becoming a foster parent. I was not terribly interested in going this route after all of the sadness I had just been through. How on earth could I give a child back to their parents after I had fallen in love with them? But, for whatever reason, I decided to go for it anyway. I had used up all my money on fertility and didn’t have any money left to adopt traditionally, so it was my last chance to become a mom.
I started the process of becoming a foster parent in June, 2011. I was nervous, and I had been told it would take about six months to become licensed, as I needed to take the PRIDE (Parents’ Resources for Information Development Education) course, have my fingerprints done and a number of other things required by the state. I didn’t waste any time, taking time off when needed in order to complete my tasks; and in just four months, I was a licensed foster parent. Interestingly enough, going through their class, I suddenly looked at this process in a different light. How could I become a mom by taking a child away from their birth mother, if there was anything I could do to help her get back on her feet? Now, instead of becoming a mom, I wanted to help other moms get their kids back.
Ok, so those thoughts were all well and good at the beginning, but the reality is being a foster parent is hard – really, really, hard, emotionally draining work… that I absolutely love. I found myself doing things that frankly terrified me and went against everything I believe. Putting my children (who are not really MY children) in cars with random strangers, while screaming and crying, telling them they’re going to have a great time (and hoping there’s even a bit of truth to that) was heart-wrenching. I would wait for 3pm to come, wondering if my children would return from a visit with a mohawk or pierced ears or number of things that I would never allow. And I didn’t know what state my child would come back in – happy, sad, despondent, or maybe just fine.
Somehow, despite those scary moments, it all worked out. Today, I am a mother to three amazingly beautiful children, whose adoptions were all finalized this year. There was nothing quick about the process. My oldest son came to me at 2 months old and his adoption was finalized when he was 4.5 years old; my middle son came to me at 3.5 months old and was adopted at 3.5 years old; my baby girl came to me as a newborn and her adoption was finalized at 2.5 years old. My youngest two are siblings and their cases were combined, making my daughter’s case move along “much” faster.
Yes, we are officially a family now, but still not without our challenges. I am a single, white adoptive mother of three African American children. You see a different side of this world when you have children of a different race. You understand what White Privilege really is and that it does exist. I have, for better or worse, always thought the best of people. I naively thought we had come a long way in this country when it came to people of color and racism. Sadly, I have found we haven’t.
Here’s just one example of what I mean… When you are a foster parent, your foster children qualify for WIC, which I took advantage of for getting my children formula. Formula is expensive and all three of my children were on a special, incredibly expensive, brand of formula that cost $25 for 2 days worth of formula. The WIC coupons were a huge help for me. However, I always got looks from people, as if to say, “look at the white girl with a black baby on government funds.” The looks only got worse with the addition of each child. One gentleman, and I use the term loosely, stopped me on the way out of the grocery store. He told me my purse was too nice, my phone was too expensive, my car was far too nice and I should sell it (this was in 2012 and my car was a 2004 4Runner with 175,000 miles on it – I take good care of my cars). I put my son in the car and explained that he was a foster child – 6mos old at the time – and had been through more heck in his short life than he likely had. I had a few other choice words with him as well.
This is only one of many experiences I have had throughout the past 5 years. I fear for my children. Now, people come up to me and tell me how adorable my kids are; (I agree, of course) however, there is always that uncomfortable feeling I get when they say it – like it’s forced; not real. As if people feel the need to just say SOMETHING. Right now my kids are little, but what will happen when my sons grow up and become “big, scary, black men?”
I think I am a pretty good mother. My kids are well fed, healthy, smart, participate in sports, watch a little bit of TV every week and have an hour of screen time each day – which generally has everything to do with dinosaurs, spelling words, or learning to read. However, my children also have a HUGE disadvantage because their mom is white. I don’t really know what it is to be a person of color in America, but I have learned quickly that I must teach my kids to be compliant 100% of the time because to be off just a bit, could get them killed, maybe because some idiot thinks their bag of skittles is a gun. These are hard lessons to teach and harder to learn. However, when I watch the news and see…17-year old Trayvon Martin, shot by a civilian for walking through his father’s condo complex with skittles; 12-year old Tamir Rice, killed by police for playing with a toy gun in a park; 17-year old Laquan McDonald, shot by police 16 times because he was walking away from police; and most recently, 19-year old Malik Bruce, run over by a Jeep Cherokee and driving it is a white supremacist, what choice do I have? I do have friends who are African American and I talk with them about this often. I have to have serious talks with my kids about things I never thought I would have to discuss…especially as they become tweens and teenagers.
Recently, a new twist on racism has come into my life in a very unexpected way. My kids had a baby brother born in 2015. DCFS has policy after policy stating the importance of siblings being placed together and stresses the importance of going to great lengths to keep siblings together. But right now, the system is failing my family. My kids’ baby brother was placed with another family, and when confronted, told me that other foster parents have been waiting, so it’s their turn.
Wait…WHAT? Yes, apparently, it’s all about, “you get a baby and you get a baby and you get a baby…,”and not about keeping siblings together. Yet I think, what if my kids were white and I was a white mom fighting to keep white siblings together? Would the story end differently? I can only speculate. It saddens me to even feel the need to think along these lines. This is the battle I’m currently fighting.
I love my kids with all of my heart and would give my life for them ten times over. They mean the world to me and I will fight with everything I have to do what is right for them. Like all parents say, my kids are smart, funny, loving, exasperating, fun, frustrating, and the biggest blessing I could have ever been given in my life. They make me a better person. I honestly never knew I could love someone as much as I do, and I do – times 3! I love watching them grow every single day and even on the tough days, at the end of the day, I always say, it was a great day…because it was. Foster to adopt certainly has its challenges and imperfections, to say the least; but for me, it was about putting the children first. And for that, I am grateful and I have the family I was always meant to have.