My name is Freida. I have two children. I tried to put them in foster care because I couldnt protect them. Hell, I couldnt protect myself.
This is my story.
I learned at a very early age…or let’s just say I was taught…that love meant sex…my grandfather and uncles molested me, beginning at the age of six. After the first time, I ran to my mother confident that she would put a stop to it and yell at them real good! But she wasn’t even surprised. She told me to just put up with it like my big sister, Robyn did. It happened all the time to all girls in every family. It had even happened to her.
“Freida,” she told me in a solemn tone, “My daddy gives us a place to live, food on the table and clothes on our backs without asking for anything in return. We would be on the streets without him. We gotta do what we gotta do. In this family, That’s what love is”.
When I was 10 years old, my grand-daddy starting arranging for me to “date” some of his friends. That lasted until I ran away at 15.
I also discovered DHR when I was 10, My sister, Robyn had gotten pregnant. She was only 14 years old and that was my first time meeting a social worker. Apparently, the school nurse called DHR when they discovered the pregnancy.
Blair, a DHR social worker, came to the school to investigate. When interviewed, my sister claimed that she had sex with some 14 year old boy, but didnt know his name or where he lived. She told them she snuck out of the house and met him at a neighborhood park one night and that my parents didnt know. The social worker talked to me as well and I lied to her too. I told her I had seen my sister sneaking out, but I never did. I just knew instinctively to lie. I could tell the social worker didnt believe me, but the whole family was pretty convincing with the same rehearsed tale. Even Robin’s teacher had to admit she did not have concerns about my parents because mom was always so responsive to the school and Robin was normally a quiet shy girl who kept to herself…not like the kids with behavior problems.
I have to hand it to Blair, she knew something was up, but couldnt prove it. She told my mom that she was going to open a case and monitor monthly to ensure Robyn got counseling and parenting due to her age. My mom assured her that she would care for the baby so Robyn could go on with her life and finish school.
The case was open for 6 months. Robyn completed therapy and prenatal care. For some reason, for the 6 months the case was opened, my family left me alone. Just for that, I was thankful to Blair. Once my nephew Pete was born, mom took care of him and the DHR case was closed.
And my lessons in love recommenced.
When I was 15, I found out I was pregnant by my boyfriend, Brian. He was 25 and a welder, so he had lots of money. We moved to New Orleans and lived with a friend of his. Life was good for a while. Then my daughter was born. I never knew I could love so much!! We got our own apartment and I was truly happy. For a little while. When Brittany was four years old, she came to me with a “scary secret”. She told me Brian had touched her. As she described what she meant, my stomach dropped. I sank to my knees and cried. She looked so dismayed and ashamed I quickly assured her I was not mad at her. We packed a bag that day and left. I called some friends that I had met at church and they agreed that we could stay with them for the night.
Overnight became weeks, as I looked for a job. I had only finished 9th grade, so my choices appeared limited. But at least we felt safe. We had been gone a month when I found out I was pregnant again. My church friends kindly arranged for me and Brittany to move into their garage apartment. In exchange, I cleaned their house and cooked for them. They were really good people.
Scared of the future with two children and no money, my world seemed bleak. Then, I met a man in church named John Evan’s. He was older than me by 15 years, but he was funny and nice and always had candy for Brittany. We started going out. I couldnt believe he would be interested in a big old pregnant girl. But he promised me that if I would have him, he would take care of me, Brittany and the baby as if they were his children. I didnt really love him, but I liked him. So, when my second daughter Caitlyn was born, he was right there with me at the hospital.
We got married a couple of months later in the same church where we had met. Life was finally going my way. He was an accountant and I was a stay home Mom taking care of my two beautiful little girls.
I will never forget the night my world crashed again. John and I had been married for 2 years. I was bathing Caitlyn one night with Brittany watching. She had been unusually quiet for the past few days. Everytime I questioned her about it she would deny any problems. I decided to give her some space until she was ready to open up. So when she spoke, she got my full attention.
Brittany said, “Mom are we gonna leave daddy John? ”
As I lifted Caitlyn out of the tub, swaddling her in a thick towel, I asked Brittany why she would say such things.
Quiet at first, she followed me into Caitlyn’s room and watch me dress the wiggling toddler. After putting Caitlyn in her bed, I turned back to Brittany and repeated the question.
Brittany looked down and said, “When Brian was touching me..we moved”.
I sat on the floor and lifted up her chin, explaining that we moved because what Brian did to her was wrong. She nodded, adding “what about what Daddy John is doing? ”
She proceeded to tell me that John, too, had begun molesting her. I grabbed her, held her tightly and promised her I would make it right. But in my head I was screaming.
I confronted John that night about Brittany’s truth. He denied it at first, and seemed so hurt that I wanted to believe him. But I remembered how convincing my own family could be so I kept at him. He eventually broke down and admitted that he was sick and begged me not to leave.
Having no where else to go, no money and too much shame to approach my church friends, I did the only thing I could do. I went home…Back to my grandfathers house. Despite his offer for the girls to have their own rooms, the kids and I slept in the same room. Fearful of the past repeating, I jammed a chair under the doorknob, essentially barracading us in. Even then, I could not sleep, instead I watched those two innocent angel’s all night long.
The next day I went to DHR and asked for Blair. I had remembered that she tried to help me and Robyn before. I was told, however, by an older lady at the front desk that Blair had left the agency. Unwilling to give up, I asked the lady at the front desk if I could talk to another social worker. She directed me to sit in the lobby as she dialed the phone. After about 20 minutes, a lady came to the lobby and called my name. Herding the children towards the door, we followed her into a small office.
Her name was Jasmine. She arranged for my children to go into the play room with another worker while we talked. I told her my whole story, without shedding a tear. It was like I was recounting a movie I had seen on TV. I expected Jasmine to be shocked, to look down on me…to judge me.
But she didnt. Even as she heard all of the things I had done, (even lying to Blair) her eyes remained kind and she listened to me. When I finished my tale, I looked right at her. As the next words came out of my mouth, the tears began to fall. “I need you to take my kids.” I began. “I need you to give them to someone who can keep them safe…because obviously I cant.”
Jasmine plucked some tissues from the box on her desk and handed them to me. The simple gesture brought on more tears. Jasmine remained quiet, allowing me to cry it out: the anger, the pain, the guilt and the shame. Jasmine walked over, gently placing her hand on my shoulder.
After several minutes, I wiped my eyes and blew my nose, then looked up at her. Jasmine returned to her chair silently, allowing me to take a deep breath.
“Ms. Evans,” she began. “It is obvious to me how much you love your children”
I only nodded, afraid if I spoke, I would break down again.
“You see yourself as hurting your children. But all I hear is how you are trying to protect them. Putting your children’s needs above your own is an indicator of protective capacities. Before we make any decisions, tell me more about what happened to you”.
We talked about my childhood. She listened and then she said something very strange.
“I am so sorry no one protected you when you needed it. What you went through was not your fault. You were only a child.”
The words resonated a truth that I had dared not believe before. We talked for about an hour, as she guided me through a plan for me to keep my children safe And keep them with me.
Jasmine referred my girls and I to a special shelter for families while she helped me locate a safe, affordable place to live. . She also set up Brittany with a nice therapist named Ms. Betty, who specialized in working with victims of sexual abuse. Jasmine convinced me to also see Ms. Betty as a child victim and as the parent of one. I learned that dealing with my own trauma helped me to help my daughter.
When Jasmine arranged for us to move into a subsidized apartment a month later, I cried again. For the first time in my entire life I felt like I could live on my own with my children and be a good parent. Jasmine worked with my family for a year, helping me to peel back the layers and to develop new skills to deal with issues that inevitably came with new insights. She set up day care for Caitlyn so that while Brittany was in school, I could go to cosmetology classes. I ended up getting a job as a hairdresser in a small shop. My life, no longer fragmented and scattered in chaos, had become whole.
So, that’s my story.
I almost gave my kids away…
Because I felt damaged.
Because I felt weak.
Because I could not protect them.
Jasmine, my social worker, showed me how to start the journey of breaking free from the trauma of my childhood. She showed me I could protect my girls. More than that, she showed me that I could take care of myself and that I deserved to be whole.