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Tammara Humbert | Searching for Family Roots After Being Adopted from Foster Care

Creating Futures 2023 Keynote Speaker, Tammara Humbert

I want to take you back.  Back to the feeling of a young 14yr old teenager looking to connect with her birth family & discover roots and where she came from. Back to the 90’s.  A time when the internet’s footprint was much smaller.  When Facebook didn’t exist.  A Time when TikTok and Instagram wasn’t a thing, and websites like AncestryDNA didn’t exist.  It wasn’t a thing to Google someone it wasn’t founded. 

When people who’d adopted or those that were adopted didn’t talk about adoption because it was taboo.  Back to a time, when I didn’t have any support being a member of the adoption triad.  How ashamed I was to be adopted.  How different I felt, & how isolated I was to not have someone to share my feelings with because nobody around me understood. Mostly because nobody talked about adoption.  The Adoption Network Cleveland aims to connect and empower individuals of the adoption triad.  Adoption Network Cleveland is what me and my family needed in 1997. 

At the age of 4, I was removed from my birth family, and I remained in foster care until the age of 14, when I was formally and officially adopted from Cuyahoga County.  My adopted family had received me as a young 6yr old kindergarten student who was shy but bright.  I’d lived in kinship care for a bit, and Metzenbaum Children’s center following a short stint with another foster family.  I’d moved more by the age of 6 than most people in their adult lives.  I had no idea, however, and neither did my adopted family at the time, that we’d be a part of each other’s story forever. 

Just prior to my adoption, I began the search for my birth family.  I searched the white pages that’d been delivered yearly to my home and alphabetically began calling everyone with the last name of ‘Lee’, the last name given to me at birth.  Do you have any idea how many Lees there were in the White Pages in Cleveland?  I explained my story to whoever on the other line would be interested in hearing it with the same spiel. I was searching for my family & I wondered if you might be related to me in any capacity.  My search continuously came up empty. 

The very first social worker I’d been given from the county constantly checked in on me.  She couldn’t follow me through the adoption process, as she dealt strictly with foster children and not those eligible for adoption in the county.  She called my home to speak to me shortly after adoption and I told her I’d been searching.  She’d kept my sibling’s grandmother’s phone number and gave it to me.  Shyly I called.  That’s when the flood gates opened for me.  At around age 17, I reconnected with my sister who at the time lived literally 2 streets over from where I grew up.  I went to visit her and my two newfound nephews. My adopted family invited my mother to a ceremony hosted by Cuyahoga County… The Rising Up & Moving On ceremony to honor children in foster care who’d beat the odds.  My amazing first social worker picked my birth mother up and brought her to the ceremony.  We then began a relationship; she looked exactly as I’d remembered.  She was extremely proud of how’d I turned out.  At this point, I was a high school graduate, and a college student at John Carroll.   

As fate would have it, my birth mother ran into my birth father on the RTA.  She had a photo of me in her wallet that I’d given her along with my phone number that she passed to him, & he reached out to me to connect.  After visiting me, he called his girlfriend from my landline.  Days later, the girlfriend called me back looking for him.  I explained that he was not there, and she told me that her kids were looking for him.  Kids?  What kids? 

She had 4 children by my birth father, all various ages including one older and 3 younger than I.  I made plans to visit her home for dinner.  I went and met all 4 of them, along with our oldest brother.  I heard stories of how we had even more siblings that weren’t there.  In total, there are 10 of us from my birth father.  It was amazing to meet people that I looked like.  We all share round faces, we’re all short, and almost all of us have a weird bunion on our left foot.   

Also, please don’t come up to me after this and ask to see my foot! 

In 2005, I lost my adoptive mother to cancer.  Because of the relationship I’d formed with my birth mother, she showed up to assist my adoptive father after my mother’s death.  She cleaned for him, cooked for him, did laundry for him.  Ultimately, my adoptive dad passed in May 2007, and a short time later in August of that same year, I lost my birth mother.  I always said my birth mother was grateful to my adopting parents for what they’d done for me, and to show her gratitude, she stepped in for my adoptive mother to care for my adopted father in his need. 

It would be many years later that I’d hear that the birth records for adopted individuals had been unsealed.  About 400K of Ohio adoptees were now able to find out about their history.  Made possible in part by the efforts of The Adoption Network Cleveland. 

I’m blessed that I was able to find out where I’d come from.  Imagine going almost your whole childhood without having any knowledge of how you got here.  Imagine the sheer emotion of not having anyone understand your need to know that information.  Not because my adopted parents weren’t amazing, because they most certainly were, but they didn’t understand my why.  My why of needing to know my history and background.  Imagine if my family had been connected to the Adoption Network Cleveland sooner. My birth mother could have received services that would have helped heal her.  My adopted family being able to receive group counseling with other adopting parents to help them further understand my thoughts & how to navigate our newfound family.  Think how I could have been introduced to a Youth Ombudsman - someone could have helped me be heard as a foster child and investigated problems that I’d personally encountered in the foster care system such as rape, and abuse.  The Adoption Network Cleveland joined the efforts of foster youth and foster alumni to support passing the law to allow this needed resource with the first Ombudsman in May 2022.  Thirty-five years after I entered the foster care system.  

I met Betsie through a position I held last year.  She invited me to learn about the organization and to be a member of the Board of Directors. Who would have thought that I’d one day be a member of this organization with the ability to impart change to those going through journeys that are like mine.  Imagine, if I’d been able to connect to The Adoption Network Cleveland sooner.  After speaking with her, I ordered my birth certificate from the state of Ohio.  I didn’t find any groundbreaking information, just where I was born and evidence that the people, I’d met were truly my birth parents. 

The support offered to individuals just like me is what THIS organization aims to do.  Peer support, setting realistic expectations surrounding searching for your birth family.  Handling the search in a way that is sensitive to all parties involved.  That’s Adoption Network Cleveland.  How wonderful is it that years later, a 14yr old adoptee from East Cleveland gets to be involved in an organization like this? 

An organization that became the lead organization of Adopt Cuyahoga’s Kid Initiative which centers around best practices surrounding recruitment of families for youth otherwise lingering in foster care with no family identified to adopt them.  Perhaps it wouldn’t have taken me so long to be adopted in the county. An organization that identifies and promotes effective practices around keeping siblings together, or at least in contact, through foster care and adoption.  Perhaps I would have been able to form a relationship with my sister that lived 2 streets over from me much sooner.   

Let’s help The Adoption Network Cleveland get the word out about all these wonderful services.  Whether your story is unlike mine or like it, The Adoption Network Cleveland supports and gives a voice to those who need it, it can connect us to our past, and do it in a meaningful and delicate way.  Whether it’s the opportunity to discuss and bounce ideas off or share your story with someone that may be going through the same things you are.  The Adoption Network has serviced 368 individual adoptees, birth parents, siblings, and people with DNA discoveries so far through August of this year with our search assistance and support services.   

Let’s help Adoption Network Cleveland, for families like mine.