The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Weaving Our Own Safety Net
My Fiance and I Found the Advice and Support We Needed
Fatima Plummer

When I was 19, I became pregnant with my daughter Mia. I was terrified. The foster care system barely took care of me. I wondered how I would take care of both of us.

At the time, I was living with my fiancé’s family. Because I was an undocumented immigrant, the family court judge had required that my agency hold me in care until I turned 21, even though I went AWOL to my boyfriend’s house. My caseworker allowed me to stay there because I was being responsible and not getting into any drama.

But when I got pregnant, my caseworker thought I should move to a mother-child program. If I did, my fiancé would only be able to visit once a week. To me, that was a big problem. I believed my daughter should see her father every day. Otherwise, how could she bond with him? Children need their fathers as much as they need their mothers.

I lost my own father because he was murdered when I was 3 years old. Even though I never met him, I’ve always missed having a dad. I hope that he and my grandfather look down on me from heaven.

My fiancé and his father were close. Before his father died, they went out to family dinners and Little League games. I wanted my daughter to have that kind of relationship with her father. So my fiancé and I decided that I would continue living with him.

I remember sitting in a half-lit room, telling my caseworker that I was not going to a mother-child home. She kept saying, “You’re making the wrong decision.” She thought I was thinking only of myself, not my daughter, and warned me that my fiancé wouldn’t be there for me all the time. (She was wrong. Three years later, we still live together and have a great relationship.)

The day I went into labor I was so scared. I don’t remember, but my fiancé says that my mood was off the wall when we got to the hospital. I was cussing out the nurse whenever I felt the contractions. He tells this story all the time.

Once I gave birth, my fiancé and I felt so much joy we cried. When the nurses weighed Mia, my fiancé would not move from her side. At one point they had to take Mia out the room and he wanted to go too. I was amazed by how much we loved this little person that we’d just met.

Still, those first few weeks were exhausting and frustrating. I’d believed Mia would sleep through the night, but she woke up if there was any noise in the house. We couldn’t turn on the TV or radio, and still she woke up all the time.

I also didn’t realize how expensive babies are. I asked my caseworker for financial help when the Pampers started running out. She said that the foster care system would give me a stipend for Pampers and milk, but it never came. I was furious that the people who called themselves my guardians wouldn’t give me the help I needed. My fiancé and I were on our own.

Luckily, my doctor told me about the national WIC program, which helps new mothers pay for infant formula, milk, cheese, eggs, and cereal to provide the fiber, calcium, and vitamins children need to develop and grow strong. WIC also gives parenting classes. I felt good the first day I went. Everyone was nice, and some of them were pregnant or had small kids themselves, so they knew what we were going through.

I thought only young mothers would come to the WIC classes, but when I came in the door I noticed that there were more older moms than young moms. I realized then that it’s never too late to ask for help. Raising a child at any age is difficult. I learned a lot in that class, like when to start the baby on solid foods and how to keep from overfeeding her.

My fiancé was already working and as Mia got older, I found a job, too. I asked my case manager for help finding a babysitter. She told me that I could get ACD, a babysitting program run by New York’s foster care system.

At first, I loved the program. It found me a great babysitter named Ana. I felt safe leaving my daughter with her because she always had activities for the kids. Mia was not just sitting around, she was learning.

Soon I got a flyer telling parents that all ACD clients must attend parenting classes or lose their babysitting services. The first day I came straight from work to the class at an agency in my neighborhood. There was a big table with juice, coffee, snacks, and booklets for the parents. Because the neighborhood is mostly Dominican, all of the booklets were in Spanish.

Well, I am Latina, but I never learned to read Spanish. When I asked for a booklet in English, they didn’t have any. One lady even said, “You should know how to read Spanish, or you are not Dominican.” I felt like kicking the daylights out of her!

Then the teacher started teaching the class in Spanish. I didn’t understand everything she said, so I raised my hand and asked her to translate for my fiancé and me.

image by Jolie Prom

“You are Spanish,” she said. “You should understand.”

“Yes, I am of Spanish descent,” I told her. “However, I don’t understand some of the words you’re using.”

“You’re stopping the class from learning. I’ll find the information for you in English and mail it to you,” she promised.

I felt I was sitting there just for show. I started thinking to myself, “For all this, I could have gone home and spent some time with my family.”

The English booklet never came. When I asked for it at the next class, the teacher said, “You’ll have to deal with what we have.”

I felt very angry. My fiancé and I were trying to learn about raising our daughter, but it seemed like the agency that was supposed to help us only cared about getting paid. After that, I decided I’d be better off learning to parent on my own.

So my fiancé and I decided to build our own support system. We formed a support group with four of our older friends who already had kids. We all called each other when we needed advice. One friend in particular, Christine, helped me a lot.

On bad days, I would tell her, “I’m feeling so depressed and overwhelmed!” She would give me the keys to her apartment and let me stay there the whole day. Christine had a beautiful antique tub. She’d tell me, “Use my sea salts and get in the bath.” Being in her apartment, which was clean and quiet, relaxed me.

I also joined Voices of Youth (VOY), an advocacy organization for youth in the foster care system in New York City. At VOY, I became a pubic speaker and learned to train child welfare professionals to be sensitive to teens’ perspectives. I also learned that it’s easier to learn from peers who support each other than from an expert.

The VOY staff, who have all been in foster care, taught me to get my point across without cursing or getting violent. When my fiancé and I had disagreements over the best way to raise our child, we used to get upset with each other because neither one of us felt like we were heard and understood. I learned not to get into it at the moment, but to say, “Let’s talk about this later.” Then, after the baby was in bed and it was quiet in the house, we’d talk.

What helped the most was buying a parenting book, which offered information and advice about a baby’s stages from birth to age five. At first, when Mia was not feeling well, my fiancé and I would go crazy. We read the book to find out what to do.

One time Mia had a rash. I was going bananas until my fiancé and I looked in the book together. Her symptoms sounded just like eczema. The book listed questions to ask the doctor, so when we took our daughter to her check-up we were prepared. Luckily, it wasn’t a bad case. We just had to apply some hydrocortisone cream.

Another time my daughter was crying and pulling at her ear. I looked in the book’s index and found that she probably had an ear infection and I had to call the doctor. When I was feeling the most nervous as a mother, the book helped us ask the simple questions that allowed us to get the right answers.

Mia is now 3 years old. I still learn something new every day about being a parent. But our friends, my work at VOY, and the book allowed me to calm myself down a little bit. I believe that my fiancé and I are doing the right things to instill in her a positive frame of mind.

I’m so glad that my fiancé and I are raising our daughter together, and I’m sure that we made the right decision. My daughter and her father have a very different relationship than the one she has with me.

When she’s hurt or sad, Mia wants to be with me. When she wants to run wild and play, she goes to her daddy. With me, she gets in trouble. With her daddy she can do no wrong. If he does get mad, she always listens. “Didn’t your mother tell you to stop?” he’ll say. “OK, Da Da,” she says, and she’ll stop right away.

Looking back, I wish that the foster care system had support groups for mothers and fathers. Along with financial help or a roof over their heads, new moms and dads both need help learning to parent their children.

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