If Not Me, Then Who?

If Not Me, Then Who?

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.  Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.

If Not Me, Then Who?

By Dawn Berger

In 2007, after a late-term miscarriage at less than thirty years old, I found out it was highly unlikely that I would be able to carry a pregnancy to term.  Worried about sluggish fertility and convinced that any subsequent pregnancies would send me into a world of anxious paranoia, I feared I would never be a mother.

To add insult to injury, the relationship in which I felt comfortable had come to an end.

Alone in the house I had purchased with my ex to accommodate a family, I truly considered foster care.  I have always been intrigued by foster care but thought you had to be married to qualify.  When I found out that a single woman can be a foster mother, I quickly began meeting with social workers, fixing up my home, and preparing for the baby boy I believed would be entrusted to my care.

I felt a strong inclination to take in a baby boy, but when I was asked to meet a two-year-old girl on April 17, 2008, I felt a profound calling to go ahead and see her.  The social worker told me that this little girl needed a permanent, stable foster home within forty-eight hours or she would be passed along to yet another transition home.  She had been removed from a home a year before, bounced around, and removed again from another home.

When I first walked into the room, welcome gift in hand, I saw this little “roughneck” girl who glared at me with an intimidation factor stronger than any adult I have ever met.  Since I am a gang specialist probation officer, this was no small feat.

I attempted to speak to her and she grunted at me.  The social worker informed me the child was not very verbal.  When it was time for me to leave, I asked her, “would you like to come to my house maybe?”

She ran away.

“Great,” I thought, “she hates me.” So much for that.

And then suddenly she ran back to me, her little shoes on the wrong feet.  She was ready to go home with me right then and there.  I struggled to keep myself emotionally intact.  I learned a couple of life lessons in that moment: 1. Don’t make assumptions.  2. Never ask a two-year old if they want to go someplace with you unless you intend to bring them with you immediately.

When I explained that she could come and see me in two more days, she did not understand why she was not coming now.  She cried “come with you!” and held onto my leg.  I said my goodbye, distracting her with the talking baby I had brought for her, and walked out the door.

“So, what do you think?” The social worker asked.  “Would you consider taking in a little girl?”

I immediately began crying. Really I cannot explain the flood of emotions, but I compare it to people’s accounts of being spoken to and reached out to by God.  I wiped tears from my face and nodded, “if not me, who?”

Two days later, my lonely house of one became a family home for two.

I took being a foster parent very seriously.  I struggled to maintain contact with her family and involved myself in the court process. Needless to say, I fell in deep, true, love for the very first time in my life.

One day, at a routinely-scheduled court appearance, the judge became quite vocal and upset by the persistent lack of involvement of this child’s biological mother.  He was fed up with the mother’s numerous absences from meetings, visits, and court appearances.

I will never forget that day in court.

I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary.  In fact, I was under the weather and wore sweat pants, sitting quietly in the back corner of the court room.  The judge’s voice boomed as he spoke of the biological family: “This behavior and ongoing neglect is egregious! There has been very little response from anyone in this beautiful little child’s biological family. I’ve had enough! The foster mother is here, without fail. She has done more in six months than anyone else has done for this child in two and a half years combined! This foster mother is her mother and with this foster mother she shall stay! I hereby terminate the parental rights……”

He said more, but I was caught up in not knowing what was happening.  He banged his gavel and everyone in the court room turned and looked at me.  Red-faced and confused, I said to the Guardian ad Litem, “What just happened? What does this mean?”

The social worker scurried to my side, “are you ready to adopt?”

I felt like Ed McMahon was standing at my door with an over-sized billion dollar check.  My voice was a whisper, “I get to?”

She nodded. “The judge is waiting to set a final adoption date upon your approval.”

Of course I wanted to adopt this child. She made my world go ‘round.  She was the reason I smiled and felt whole as a woman…as a human being.  “Yes, I want to adopt her!!!”

A few months later, it became official.  Zari had been my daughter from the day we met, but now it was all official and legal.  May 19, 2009, marks the most important day of my life.

Nearly four years ago, I met the love of my life.  There is nothing that birthing this child myself could have done to make our bond more incredible.  Genetics have nothing on us.  Contrary to popular belief, Zari is not the lucky one.

I am the lucky one.

We have a great relationship and Zari gave me the gift of being a mother.  Of all the things in life I am unsure of, I am absolutely positive I am a great mother…but it’s easy because I have a GREAT kid.  Adoption has created a family for two people who needed one, gave one little girl an environment that encouraged her creativity and education, and gave a single woman the title of mother.


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  • Lovely, lovely, story! Zari reminds me of my former foster daughter Nina, now 5 years old, who went back to her birth mother at 2 years of age after I raised her for 13 months. Like you, I immersed myself in the court process and maintained (and continue to maintain, since she is now reunified) contact with her birth family. Nina now comes to us every other weekend, and it is such joy and excitement every time she comes back to her "other home."

    Interesting that you mention feeling whole, as a human being, with Zari in your life. Through broken relationships (and even my current good one), I have never felt that the presence or absence of any man made me less than whole. But with the children (Nina and Lenny, my adopted son), there is definitely that feeling that I am not complete without them.

    You also have my full admiration for the work you do - what a remarkable woman you are!

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    You brought tears to my eyes. I absolutely LOVED reading this; so many of your emotions reminded me of my own. Thank you.

  • In reply to Merrin Donahue:

    What a beautiful story! I couldn't help but cry from happiness for both of you!

  • Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. In every sense of the word. Thank you for helping me choose hope on my own adoption path. I am so grateful.

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    I have dreams about becoming a foster parent. We're a young couple, but when we have both finished school and have a house. Children need people like you! I hope I can be someone like you, one day.

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    You are a wonderful, inspiring woman. Your walk in gratitude is inspiring.
    Happy you are my friend....

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    Tears are flowing here! Thanks for sharing your story. You and Zari are BOTH incredibly lucky to have found one another in the huge tumultuous sea that is our foster care system. From one adoptive Mom to another - congratulations!

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    Loved your article. We've been waiting to adopt for awhile now and are praying about foster care. We have 3 bio children and the truth is.....we are scared. The title of this writing totally got me.....yes. If not us, then who???

    Bless you and your daugher! What a wonderful story you have together.

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