Today Sarah Zagorski is a happy, grateful young wife and mother living in New Orleans. But her life could have played out very differently had she not been given a chance to emerge from the chaos of her biological family and then foster care.
Zagorski will be one of the speakers at the National Review Institute’s foster-care forum on Thursday in Washington, D.C. More information, including how to RSVP, is here.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s your foster-care story?
Sarah Zagorski: I entered foster care for the first time at 16 months. My birth family was in chaos: Multiple abusers were living under one roof, we were starving from insufficient nutrition in a poverty-stricken area of New Orleans, and my birth mother was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
I was one of the youngest of my mother’s children and a target for physical and sexual abuse, both of which I experienced on a constant basis in my mother’s home. The state found out about abuse in the family, which ultimately led to my adoption nearly eight years later. However, I was not placed for adoption; my birth mother’s parental rights were terminated by the state of Louisiana. This was a lengthy process, and before it occurred, I was sent back home to live with my biological family, where I lived in terror.
Terror is really the only word I could use to describe the cocktail of depravity I watched and experienced on a regular basis. My mother’s husband was an addict, mentally ill, and abusive. Some of my older siblings were abusive, too. I needed rescuing.
My foster parents were told that foster care with me would be temporary, lasting only months, since my birth mother did not want to relinquish rights and I would eventually be reunited with my birth family. They were also told that taking in a child like myself would be risky since my birth mother was mentally ill and so were several of my siblings. They were committed to me regardless, and it is that commitment that resulted in my being sent back to them when I was placed in foster care again. I had the same foster family for most of my time in care but went back and forth several times. The foster family that first took me in, when I was 16 months old, later adopted me when I was nine years old.
Lopez: Who should be thinking about foster care?
Zagorski: Everyone should be thinking about foster care. For some, that could mean fostering a child of their own, while for others, it involves supporting foster-care families around them. One thing is for sure, we cannot stand idle while children are in danger; that is unacceptable.
Lopez: What do you say to people who have all kinds of apprehensions about foster care?
Zagorski: To those who are apprehensive about fostering, I would say, “That is normal. It is a big decision to bring a child into your home.” However, I would ask them to examine their concerns. Are they worried they won’t be good parents, or about their ability to provide? I can assure you, if you have a safe and loving home, you will be providing enough. I would also encourage them that if they are not in it for the long haul, and can’t love unconditionally, then reconsider fostering. My foster parents didn’t give up on me, despite countless voices in their ear telling them about the problems with my family.
For those who have other concerns, such as having young children of their own, there are plenty of other ways to support foster families in your community. You can sponsor a foster-care family, help them with after-school care, mentor a foster-care child, or donate to a local foster-care program.
Lopez: What is your gratitude for your birth mother like, and how is it different from your gratitude for foster parents and eventually adoptive parents? Or is there something similar about the kinds of love?
Zagorski: First, I want to say that my birth mother was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. She was a Hispanic woman, steeped in a cycle of poverty, and struggling with the realities of mental illness. She needed support, which foster care provided.
The abortionist encouraged my mother to leave me for dead, since I was already not breathing when I was born. She refused and fought for my life.
The gratitude I feel for my birth mother is similar to what I feel toward my adoptive mother in that both women rescued my life from death. I am alive because of my birth mother’s pro-life choice, and I am the person I am today because of my foster family’s commitment to my care.
My birth mother was referred to an abortionist when she was pregnant with me because his costs were low. He delivered me at 26 weeks. He encouraged my mother to leave me for dead, since I was already not breathing when I was born. She refused and fought for my life.
Her choice to choose life in that very moment, regardless of what brought her there, took tremendous courage, and I will always be thankful. I often ask myself: If I were in her shoes, would I make the same choice? To choose life, while grappling with illness, inadequate nutrition, and seven children who were already exposed to foster care took bravery, and she deserves my deepest appreciation.
My foster family, though, saved my life in a different way. I was alive when I made it to their loving arms, but I certainly was not well. I was sickly and starving. I even eventually contracted tuberculosis (TB), which is a lung disease, and I needed medical care. TB left untreated can be fatal. I received medical care through my foster family.
Also, my foster family saved me from a probable future of substance abuse and mental-health problems, all of which could have ended in my death. Most children who experience familial trauma and neglect in the way I have don’t make it out in one piece, such as some of my siblings. I am certain that the only reason I did was that I had a safe haven in my foster family and later adoptive family.
Those who disagree with one another on abortion can find common ground with foster care.
My birth mother’s loving choice to choose life in the end, and the choice of my adoptive family to protect life, certainly lives on today, not only through my life but also in the life of my son.
Lopez: Is foster care somewhere where there can be common ground in some of our fights between the Left and the Right, and between the pro-life and the pro-choice sides?
Zagorski: Adoption and foster care should be common ground, and I definitely think it cuts across Left–Right. I am unapologetically pro-life, and I understand how holistic pro-life commitment should be. At Louisiana Right to Life, I work alongside others to end abortion and advocate for adoption and foster care. Adoption and foster care are part and parcel of the pro-life cause.
Those who disagree with one another on abortion can find common ground with foster care. For example, in Louisiana, our former senator Mary Landrieu voted in a pro-abortion manner but did work to advance adoption and foster care. While I strongly opposed her support of abortion, I am thankful for her work to advocate for children in the foster-care system.
Lopez: How can something like a National Foster Care Month, which is happening now, mean something?
Zagorski: During this month, if someone is not actively fostering a child, he or she can still support foster families by supporting those who are in their community or church. One great example of this is churches having baby showers for foster moms and providing food for families fostering in the first weeks of having a foster child. The reality that there are over 400,000 children in the foster-care system in the United States shows us that there’s a social crisis in our country. We need to be paying attention and not only in the month of May.
Lopez: Have you seen people and churches take foster care seriously? What’s your advice to a community of faith doing an examination of conscience on this front?
Zagorski: In recent years, I have been greatly encouraged by the renewed support for foster-care and adoption initiatives and families in our communities of faith. To me, it’s pretty obvious from Scripture how seriously God takes caring for orphans: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
My advice to a community of faith doing an examination of conscience would be to remember that the command from God to protect and defend all life is referenced hundreds of times in religious texts. In faith communities especially, it is a top priority.
Lopez: What do you want everyone to know about foster care?
Zagorski: Foster parents can save lives. I don’t mean that in a figurative way or as a cliché, I mean it literally. In my birth family, I have seen what can happen when children don’t have safe homes. It leads to teenage overdoses, suicidal ideation, health problems, and the propagation of poverty and abuse cycles for future generations.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor- at-large of National Review Online.