From The Heart: Marriage, From a Former Foster Care Child’s Perspective

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Thank you for giving me the space to share my experience of how different not only planning a wedding can be, but the vast and complicated process of finding that nurturing, compassionate and equal partner to share your life with in the first place.

Growing up in foster care generally does not give you a sense of belonging, nor a knowledge that ‘family’ works. Complicate that by understanding that for me, I believed that I did not deserve love, nor could believe in the concept of marriage, or even a consistent relationship.

For me, this came coupled with a deep sense of feeling unwanted: drugs chosen over me and my brothers by my mother, and constantly hearing from my mother how I was unwanted by my father having lost contact with him just before I turned 4-years old.  Family, in my eyes, was a fractured and painful concept.

Marriage, from a former foster care child's perspective.

Before my years in care, I grew up around a heroin addicted mother and a line of different men, each feeding her needs at the time whether through attention, drugs or a place in her bed. Consequently each of my siblings had a different dad. We had ‘stability’ for a while with a step-dad, the only man my mother married, though this ‘stability’ came with a cost, and he would beat us if we made noise before 12pm… 2pm…3pm… any noise that woke him from his slumber.

My elder-brother and I would whisper to each other from our bedrooms, and I would wait hours with a bladder full, too scared to use to bathroom for fear or waking him. To me, this was marriage, and I did not want that.One day my stepdad left with my baby brother after my mother’s behaviour became too much even for him. My baby brother, whom I had mothered since I was aged 9 because his parents were too ‘sleepy’, was taken away from me and I was heartbroken. It would take 10 years before I had proper contact with my brother again.

Marriage: a concept that steals away your children and separates siblings.

When in foster care I learnt that my foster parents were not married, but together. My foster mum previously married young, had a child, divorced, had two more children, with two different men, one of which was my foster dad. This was the normality of marriage: clearly there was little need for it.

Three days before my 16th birthday I received a very surprising phone call: my dad. For the past year, my foster parents had been searching the country for the man who had eluded my life for 12 years, a man I knew I had also given me a sibling since the last time we’d seen one another his partner had been pregnant with his child (my sister).

On that day we spoke, my heart healed. He had not abandoned me, my mother had lied. She had moved, changed her name, and hidden me from my father because their relationship had dissolved. Jealously, and spite over my father having a child with someone else, was too much for my mother, so she did what she could to hurt him. She stole his daughter, his first born.

My dad was still with my sister’s mum, and I had another brother too. For this first time in my life, I had a family of my own! At the naïve age of 16 I didn’t see the strains or unhappiness, I just saw something that was so much happier than my previous examples of family.

A year of contact, and my dad got a job in Ireland, a different country, and fear flooded my mind and body: abandoned again.

The job fell through, but not before my dad and his partner got married. My dad, being a rebel of the system, has never really been a man of marriage, but because of the move, they tied the knot.  It was a small affair, but aged 17, I loved it so very much. The flowers, balloons, pretty dresses, it was all so wonderful and all so new to me.

Going to visit my dad was my escape from the chaos of being in care; kids everywhere and always feeling like a stranger looking in. Visiting my ‘family’ gave me a sense of what could and should be.

I moved out of foster care aged 18 and into my own flat. I sadly still did not know what a healthy relationship was and so I spent the next 5 years of my life in relationships destined to fail: a pattern of guys who were hurt, needed fixing, were emotionally unavailable, and even abusive. In the back of my head always thinking: ‘they will do (I don’t deserve better)’.

During summer break of my first year at university, I received a call that shattered my heart. My dad and step mum were divorcing. At the time, I tried to find comfort in the emotionally unavailable guy I was with but he brushed off my upset. His parents were happily married and he didn’t have time for, nor understood, such emotional issues.

I took their break up personally. To me it compounded a feeling that I did not deserve love or a family. I took this out on my dad, and it took a while to heal the emotional wounds that I had self-inflicted by taking it as a personal act against me. Since then we have had an exceptional relationship.

My own romantic relationship came to an abrupt end shortly after this. To me it felt sudden as I had been under a vail of delusion that this man ‘loved me’ when in reality he had been emotionally distancing himself for over 6 months having found a new interest in a girl from work. Looking back now, all the signs were there, but I brushed them off: ‘I do not deserve better’.

This pattern continued, until my life course changed over a weekend. In my final term of university, I received a phone call to say that my baby brother’s dad was in hospital. Consequently, my now 13 year old brother needed picking up from school yet I was over 100 miles away.

The next emotionally unattached/abusive boyfriend I had once again settled with lived closer, and his mum and step dad picked up my brother for me. My brother’s dad died within a week of cancer, and I made the extremely challenging decision to take my brother in, for fear of him otherwise being lost in the care system.

My brother moved in with my boyfriend and I, as I switched to and from university to finish my degree. I wasn’t happy in this current relationship, but had been emotionally beaten down so much, I couldn’t leave. It wasn’t until he was cruel to my brother, and my brother began copying his behaviour towards me that I knew we had to get out. At that time I escaped to my ‘chosen’ family, I moved to a new city, I started a job, and at the same time, was looking after my brother.

Finally I started to look at relationships differently. Would I want this person around my brother, a vulnerable child? I may not have been able to apply compassion and respect to myself, but for him, it became a simpler choice. My actions now had greater consequences.

Working full time and parenting my brother meant I turned to internet dating. I found the experience strange, odd, and disgusting on more than one occasion with an onslaught of sexually graphic messages. I met a few people I exchanged messages with, but found quite quickly that they were again damaged and emotionally unavailable. I found I was acting desperately, and again ignoring the red flags, constantly repeating the belief: ‘I don’t deserve better’.

In my self-pity, after an emotionally hard ‘break away’ from a guy I was seeing, I went full-on ‘emotional girl’ and watched rom-com films in my already wretched state, though finally was beginning to pick out the messages for myself: ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’.

Yes, I really am saying my perspective changed through watching a rom-com. Though I hasten to add, I was finally getting there myself. I had started to recognize my patterns mostly through writing a blog of my experiences, and analysing the relationships I had spent time in. I had stopped ‘chasing’, but I was still choosing people to try help me feel whole, instead of working on myself first.

Enough! I thought, and decided to go back into the internet dating world with a different perspective.

I like to think of myself as a bit of a geek, and had put an odd comment about plans in a zombie apocalypse. *Ding* a message dropped into my inbox: a quirky message back about zombies… and no sexually explicit intent.

*Mark* I looked at his profile picture, and a voice in my head seemed to say ‘he’s your soul mate’.

We took things slow to start with, but wanted to speak and spend time together constantly and so within 4 months he had moved in with me and my younger brother. Our first year together was not an easy one as my brother struggled with mental health issues and grief, and so I spent days and nights on high alert. Trips to A&E with suicide attempts, visiting him as an in-patient for children’s mental health and hospitals became the norm. I was really struggling. But I pushed on, knowing I couldn’t break and trying to be the one to hold both myself and my brother above water.

Despite all the efforts, and all the trying, the mind and body can only be pushed so far and the inevitable happened. I remember sitting in a chair at Marks parents’ house, my brother having gone missing once again, and I felt sick, dark and broken. I whispered to Mark; “I need to go, I need to talk”. He took me to the woods, and I let my tears flood down my face. He held me close, as he did many times after this, and kept me safe.

He did what no other partner had done in the past. Finally I understood that this was a relationship. This was friendship. This was love.

It took me over a year to recover from the break-down. During that time, I know I was emotionally unattached and numb, but he stayed by my side, silently knowing and believing that I would come through the other side. My therapist helped me deal with, and dispel, the deep down issue that was still affecting me: ‘I do not deserve better’.  And slowly, my walls started to fall down.

Love was possible, I was loveable, and I deserved love.

I had finally found a relationship that was not about trying to fill a void, but instead about providing unconditional love, that provided me with space to heal the deep traumas within me.

Two and half years into the relationship, we got engaged. Mark had been planning for a long time, which I secretly know because unbeknown to him he had been telling me his plans in his sleep for over a year!

Being the independent soul that I am, we wanted to save for our wedding, which took a further 18 months. During this time we lived with Mark’s parents, which helped to teach me what a healthy and happy marriage should look like.

I struggled through the wedding planning. I felt like I had no guide, no mother to ask advice from.

At this point, I must give an abundance of credit to my mother in law. She stepped up like I could never have imagined. She helped to create the dream I had. She crocheted 100’s of love hearts and flowers for bunting, decorated 100’s of jars, helped me scour charity shops for vintage style cups and saucers, decorate the venue, and so much more. She filled some of the void, but it didn’t completely take away the pain of not having my birth mother there. I don’t think that small piece will ever heal.

I couldn’t turn to my birth mother for this support. I was struggling with the decision to even invite her or not. Mark has only met her once, where she was well behaved, but he knew it was emotionally difficult for me. I’d go through times where my hopes would improve, ‘she seems okay again’, but this would quickly slip back to her asking for money, or other emotionally manipulative behaviours.

A month before the wedding, she was hounding me with texts and calls about the details. When I did not reply, the emotionally manipulative messages flooded in: “you don’t care about me because you won’t tell me. I am leaving the country after the wedding, and I am ill so I will not be returning”. It might sound quite shocking to ignore her messages but I know this to be her way of control. Every Christmas while I was in care, she would attempt suicide and tell the hospital to call me, a child, whom she had put as next of kin. She was forever pushing for me to parent her. When I told her about the abuse inflected on me by one of her partners, her response was that it didn’t matter because her brother abused her, and that her facebook friend from China was having an online business meeting with her so she had to go. All lies or delusions. No responsibility of her actions, and the damage it had inflicted on me.

I decided ultimately not have her come to the wedding, blocking her from viewing my social media posts and ignoring her calls and texts. Whether this was the right thing or not, it kept me emotionally safe.

My chosen mum, (or just mum) Nicola was mum at the wedding. She calmed me down when I had a minor panic the day before the wedding as we were still decorating as people were turning up. She sat me down, hugged me tight, fed me prosecco through a straw and gave me a foot massage. She sat at the top table, gave me another foot massage after my feet cramped up after hours of standing and photos! Her daughters, my sisters, made over 300 miniature puddings… then decided there wasn’t enough on the morning, so spent all morning making more!

I was lucky to have many ‘mums’ and mum figures at my wedding, I have a knack for collecting wonderful woman around me. A few to mention, who have supported me over the years: Yasmin (Mother to my maid of honour), Karen (My foster mum), Hilly (My step mum), Susan (Mother in Law), Nicola (MUM!) and they all made sure my wedding day was full of love and fulfilment.

I am now very, very, happily married as Mrs H.

With Love and Hope for anyone else in this position,

Carrie H




The author of this feature would prefer to remain anonymous but is one of our lovely blog readers who has asked to contribute to ‘From The Heart’  – a series where we hand the blog back over to our readers on a Sunday to write about all matters of love and life. If you would like to contribute a From The Heart piece of your own, we would dearly love to hear from you. It doesn’t matter what it’s about and it doesn’t have to be related to weddings at all – we’re looking for honest, authentic, personal, sad, happy, family, relationship, marriage, health, light-hearted, serious, baby, trying for baby, children, career, simple, complicated – real life issues.  We just need you to write from your heart. Keep it upbeat and witty, or share your thoughts anonymously on a more challenging or emotional subject. Please drop me a line at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you, Annabel x

4 thoughts on “From The Heart: Marriage, From a Former Foster Care Child’s Perspective

  1. That was beautiful she should really think about writing a book or doing some training for social workers. Congratulations on your wedding xx

  2. Such a moving post, I hope that other people with similar experiences get to read this and realise a happy ending is possible with the right person. Thank you for sharing x

  3. Your story is both sad and wonderful. I am so glad you found your great love. Congratulations on your marriage and thank you for being so generous and sharing your story with us.

  4. Wow, I knew you frm a child, and you have grown into a beautiful young woman now beginning to make your own little family, you should be so very proud of yourself for how far you have come, I’m proud to call you a friend. Your amazing, beautiful and strong and deserve all the happiness in the world. Again congratulations

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