By My Van Loc
Everyday, I am amazed by the work done in the adoption and advocacy community. While I was given the option to be considered for adoption at the age of 14 (and by option, I mean, a family lawyer assigned to my case sat next to me blurting a few lines containing the scary words “adoption” that I couldn’t possibly fathom, let alone the drastic impact that it would have on my life). For myself and many of my peers and youth in foster care, that reality of a “forever home” rarely finds us. While adopting older children is becoming more common, the stigma remains; even the most highly trained professionals have difficulty with youth which become more difficult and start forming their own thoughts and behaviours in unvetted environments as they get older. But don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not worth adopting!
Over the years, I have learned about the effects of early childhood trauma, but I will never claim to fully understand it. Every child is different, and every scar, no matter how invisible in someone’s history, leaves a lasting mark. I don’t have a degree in psychology, but this, I know to be true: from behavioural to mental, every goodbye is a blow. This is just one layer on top of all of those reasons a child goes into care in the first place. Some blows are so traumatic that we erase them from our memory. And it is devastating and embarassing to say that I myself have huge chunks of events that only my younger sister, or other professionals that remember our case can recall.
I have lost count of how many adults have come into and left my life—often for their own health or damage caused by the heavy work. No matter how many people leave you, you can’t leave. You’re stuck where they’ve left you, and until you are able to take control of your own life, it is government mandated that more people come in and out of your life trying to fix it. Maybe this is a good time to tell you that I was the one to call the police on the domestic violence in my biological home. And maybe you can even sympathize with the guilt I felt that lasted years later, knowing that I was the one that put us in that place.
As an adult (a loose use of the term) looking back, every departure is an affirmation; I’m not worth it. No one loves me. I’m a waste of time. All over the world, people seem to agree, that children are most precious above all things. My genuine feeling during those years was that I was rarely, if ever, treated as precious, and it was very hard for me to understand this, as other children would be doted upon in public in front of my siblings, who were only allowed specific toys that had to be shared, cots to sleep on, hand-me-downs from donors of the charity, and doors kept open because “that’s the policy”.
I left a home which didn’t want me when I was 16, after a slew of others that I fought to get us out of. I worked really hard, and earned something close to stability with the help of my hand-made network and surrogate patchwork family. When I was verging on 19, I closed in on the possibility of extending this to my two siblings who remained in care, in another version of their own abusive reality. The anxiety of me enjoying my own freedom was sometimes suffocating. So I embarked on a journey to bring them under my roof. Our relationship was strained; I was nothing close to their mother, and I had selfishly abandoned them at 16, to make a life for myself.
Currently, I am 22; not travelling the world, not pursuing a degree at my dream school, not going on adventures. Being a parent to my siblings is one of the hardest learning curves I have ever gone through. We used to fight excessively, and those traumas would come out. I lost friends who couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go out at crazy times like we used to. I was still in school, still working, and wanted to pursue my career. I came very close to quitting a lot of things, several times. Every time I heard my friends tell stories of the life I thought I should be pursuing, I would ask myself: Why am I doing this?
One of the best of welfare workers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing (I’ve met a lot) assigned to my case would keep reminding me that yes, it was my decision. But the lasting damage that my departure would leave on these kids will never go away. My head kept shouting, But isn’t it my life!? Ultimately, the disappointment from his expression every time I told him I wanted out of the role, matched my own suspicion. That I would be no better that those adults that left me.
Of course there are still a lot of anxieties and the guilt monster visits me every so often, now less and less. But, as I’m applying for internships and jobs coming close to graduation, I sometimes think… The most important work of one’s life is not necessarily something tangible; and even though it’s the hardest job I think I’m going to have, doing my homestudy or getting foster-parent approved isn’t something I can put on my resume. Despite all the residual “what-ifs”, building permanency for a child is the greatest work I’m going to do in my lifetime!