Nobody knows better than Violet-Rose Pharoah that the road to belonging can be long and challenging.

In this personal essay, a former child in care describes her journey to a forever family.

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Someone once told me that the people who are meant to love you, will always find their way to you. As someone who spent over 15 years in foster care and who has been adopted twice, those words have become a tattoo of truth on my life. My life experiences have made me a firm believer that the people who are in our life are meant to be there for a reason – sometimes to help us grow, to teach us something, or to love us until we can learn to love ourselves.

I was three years old the first time I was adopted, too young to remember, but I have tiny mementos that share the story with me. A photocopy of the ad that was placed in the local newspaper notifying my birth parents, an ad that remained unanswered. A worn handwritten letter on yellow legal pad paper, written by my father behind bars in a tiny jail cell. The page is filled with words, yet there is only one line that I will read over and over: “The only drag is I’m not going to be out in time to get Rose.” An official Adoption Order, Court File No. A-57-82, a series of letters and numbers that hold the power of finalizing my new identity as someone who has been adopted. And finally, there is the photo of me. I am dressed in a light blue dress with a dainty lace collar, my hands perfectly placed, one on top of the other, and my sweet round innocent face smiling back at me. A smile coaxed by a photographer to create the image of a happy time – a time that I will not remember.

blue-dress-adoption-photoOver the next few years I would go through life knowing I was adopted, yet it isn’t something that I see or experience as having special meaning. All I know and hold onto is the fact that I have a family that provides a place to call home for me. This would all change though when I was nine years old. I was removed from my adopted home and placed back into foster care due to abuse I experienced. A couple of years later, unable to return to my adopted home, I was made a Crown ward, the government now serving the role of my parent. I’m not exactly sure what to call an adoption that hasn’t worked out – some people may refer to it as a failed adoption – yet I don’t see it that way. There was no failure. There were circumstances and reasons that made the adoption coming to an end an absolute necessity for my personal safety. Even to this day, I realize that the things I struggled with as I adjusted to life without my adopted family may seem trivial, yet they had a lasting impact on me. The lingering strangeness of knowing that not too far away there was a house with photo albums with me in them and a room that I use to play in and call my own – that I would never return to.

As I moved on in my new life as a Crown ward, I eventually found some sense of stability and normalcy when placed in a home where I remained for eight years. Over time I found myself back in the day-to-day rhythm of being a part of a family, but it was different this time. I carried the label of “foster child.”  A label that branded me as an outsider in my foster family and in the world, often carrying the stigma as someone who was damaged and troubled. There is no doubt that I had challenges as I struggled to make sense of the abrupt changes in my life and the impact of the trauma I had experienced. I also fully understood everything that was happening and had happened. I had been directly involved in the process of becoming a Crown ward, an experience that cemented the belief in me that I was somewhat on my own. This belief became a driving force in my life, even when I was given the opportunity to be adopted by my foster family.

I don’t recall there ever being any discussions about the possibility of my being adopted, so I was somewhat blindsided when my foster parents asked me. While I had considered myself part of their family, it had always been with the understanding that it was temporary; I would move on and be on my own once I aged out of the system when I was 21. I had also recently reconnected with my birth mother and siblings, which had created a confusing sense of loyalty, even though it too was a family I had never known. As hard as this may be to understand, I said “no” to being adopted. It wasn’t that I didn’t I want a family; I just wasn’t really sure what family meant to me anymore and honestly, it would be quite some time before I would. Although disappointed, my foster family supported and respected my decision. I remained in their care until I aged out and slowly, over time, I lost all contact with them.

I was 28 years old the second time I was adopted –  old enough to understand and wise enough to know that I not only deserved a family, but that I wanted to be a part of a family more than anything. After aging out of care, I had struggled, finding myself buried beneath the cold reality of trying to create a life for myself. Enmeshed in my own personal struggles with poverty, PTSD, and addiction, life brought me to my knees and to a place where I could only move forward if I surrendered. Slowly as I began to unpack the years of pain and confusion, my life began to move towards a place of healing – it was here that I would remember the memory of my foster family asking to adopt me. I knew that this time I was ready and worked up the courage to reconnect and ask if the offer still stood. I found my “forever family” right exactly where I had left them many years earlier, waiting with their hearts wide open.

Being adopted as an adult isn’t as common, so the process took some time and also required finding the right people – individuals who understood that adoption is far more then just paperwork and formalities, but a journey of joining hearts. Shortly after the adoption was finalized my new adopted family hosted a baby shower for me. Obviously, I wasn’t even close to being a baby, yet that event symbolized the welcoming of me to their family. As I sat there surrounded by people that I loved and I knew that loved me, I was reminded that love is not only what brings us home – but is what makes us family.adoption-cake

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