“You know what you’re getting into when they took me!” – shouted adopted daughter

Four years ago, a pediatrician, Carolyn Roy-Bornstein and her husband took in a family of two sisters. About her experience she wrote for The New York Times.

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Caroline Roy-Bornstein

My younger stepdaughter ran out of the living room, where we argued.

“You know what you’re getting into when they took me,” she cried, slamming the front door and breaking my heart.

The truth is, I didn’t know what you’re getting into, becoming a foster mom. I and my husband Saul took Janine and her sister Mariah almost 4 years ago. I knew girls when they were very young. I was their pediatrician. I met with them that day, when their mother Linda without recording dragged them to my office. They were not my patients, and Linda said that Mariah was sick.

“She’s ill! – sobbed Linda. – You have to help her”.

Indeed, she was unwell. She had spiked a fever of 40 degrees, the girl shook was sweaty and pale. They have just been in the emergency room, where the girl took the blood, she was diagnosed with pneumonia and given a prescription for antibiotics. But instead of having to go to the pharmacy, Linda came into my office, demanding more.

Linda was an alcoholic and mentally ill, but her maternal instincts were spot on. I gave the girl an injection of potent antibiotics and hospitalized her. Of course, the next day the blood test came back positive. The girl had sepsis, and Linda knew it. At least she knew that Mariah needs more help.

As it turned out, serious help was needed both girls. Their father died of bladder cancer recurrence the next day after Mariah is 11 years old. Their mother started drinking heavily and cruelly behaved with the girls. The Department for work with children and families placed them in a foster family. The girls tried to cope with the fact that their world is falling apart, and both began the self-destructive behavior. Mariah began to cut myself, and Janine began anorexia.

Over the next 5 years, they have visited 11 different houses and programs. All this time I was trying to track their fate, but after Janine was put in for the third rehabilitation center, her social worker stopped calling me back. Through the special advocate Mariah, I learned that the girl was so unhappy in my last house that 3 weeks is not even unpacked.

I had to do something. As a doctor I knew a little bit about eating disorders and about teenagers who cut themselves. Perhaps I could provide the level of care and knowledge that they both needed. Maybe I could be their foster mom. Maybe I could give them something else.

I told the whole story to Saul.

“Empty-nest overvalued” – I joked, although I was not amused.

Some time our “nest” was empty. Our sons Dan and Neil were almost 30 by then. They both lived separately. Dan worked in the family restaurant business in Maine, Neal has a PhD in mathematics.

I asked whether they object. They both laughed and said, “And we-what?” But give them room – meant to cut them way back, even though they have not slept there for years.

First we gave Mariah. Her last foster mother called police when she returned home too late. She came to my office with his social worker in cold, dark January day. We moved her things into my car. Plastic basket full of folded clothes. Huge white folder with school tasks and notes, which were falling out. Two black torn garbage bag filled with who knows what.

She told me that recently got the rights. When we finished loading things in the car, I handed her the keys.

“Seriously?” she asked in a squeaky voice, eyes wide open.

“Sure,” I replied. I wanted to show her that I’m sure of it. Believe in it. I hope for her.

It will take another six months before we bring her sister home. We went to a family therapy session at the Center for treatment of eating disorders, where she lived, Janine, found out about her mental illness and how best to help. We have to take her home first for a few hours, then lunch, at night and at last all weekend.

Photo from Caroline Roy-Bornstein / carolynroybornstein.com

On one of our last family therapy session before discharge Janine her therapist Alex wrote, “I overcame…” on the sheet of paper and attached it to one of the walls in the office. He then asked Janine to write on coloured sheets of paper all the problems, injuries and obstacles through which she passed in her young life. The first piece of paper she wrote “my father’s Death”, the second “the Alcoholism of my mother”, the third “Life without my sisters.”

On the fourth Janine wrote “Fear of mistakes”.

“What does that mean?” – I asked.

“In the foster system, you always feel that if you do something wrong, you can be kicked out at any moment. To send live somewhere else.”

My heart was broken.

The idea that Alex was trying to convey by using drawing paper and markers, using a wall overcome obstacles that were in the attachment.

These girls were abandoned, one way or another, intentionally or not, almost everyone in their lives. But despite all their injuries and losses they were willing to give us another chance.

Up to this point I was really only thinking about your own game. I traded the quiet life waiting for pensions for the indefinite future with needy teenagers.

But I finally realized that these two girls, these brave beautiful girl, came into even greater adventure. At the risk of again pain and failure, they started all over again. After everything they’ve been through, they were still able to trust. Come to our house. Without any warranty to fall into our arms.

That day in the living room, Janine was wrong. We don’t know what we’re doing, when they took them home. But they did not know what you are agreeing to. We all played a game with each other. Double the bet on love. And hope for more.


Fund “Pravmir” opened the collection in a joint project of the Center for support of foster families “Find a family” and the foster parents Association of Saint-Petersburg called “Parental vacation”. In the framework of the “Parent vacations” parents are assisted in overcoming the crisis phenomena arising in foster families and work is also underway to prevent returns of adopted children.

Go to the page collection at the Foundation’s website

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