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Challenge: What Makes a Family?

Not your "normal" family...

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noun fam·i·ly \ ˈfam-lē , ˈfa-mə- \

The dictionary would lead you to believe that family is exclusive to blood relatives or typically consisting of child(ren) and parents. Family for me is not that at all but so much more. The meaning of family to me has continued to grow and evolve over the years. It has such a deep and profound meaning. Sadly I learned at a young age that although you are born into a family and you might think that birth comes with privileges and benefits or a undying loyalty and trust- it DOESN'T! Being bounced around from a young age taught me that. My birth mother is to this day one of the two people who have hurt me the most in my short twenty-six years of life. I grew up with two biological grandfathers who didn't recognize me in the street if/when they saw me. For the short time I did live with my mother I was reminded how much of a burden I was and that my father wasn't involved in my life. Luckily after my mother trying to send me to a juvenile detention facility at the age of 13 my maternal grandmother and her third husband said, "ENOUGH" and took me in. My step-grandfather and I do not share blood, but he was the one who sat me down and shared his love for me and how devastated he would've been had I crashed when I was caught for drinking and driving at seventeen, he was the one who taught me about managing my finances, my grandmother and him were the ones who raised me as their own and loved me unconditionally, even past the resistance they received from a hurt young child. That love, that compassion, that dedication and diligence, that is what FAMILY is about and that is the foundation that started what that word has evolved into for me!

Thirteen years later I have started my own family. I am a single mother of two little boys who are my WORLD! I love them, I encourage them, I build them up, I teach them, I care for them, and I lead them by example, they are my family!

The couple that I was a surrogate for two years ago. They have been more kind, generous, thoughtful, compassionate and appreciative of me than the people I share blood with. I always wanted to be a surrogate, much as I always wanted to be a mother. You see it's funny how we all handle trauma in our lives. When I was young being left unattended by my mother, put down by her, or when I watched my friends parents sit together at sporting events cheering on their child proud, while I had no one in the crowds to watch myself- I knew then something wasn't right. I had my struggles, but ultimately I knew I was meant to love and be loved. I knew becoming a parent would fulfill that as would being a surrogate. I am the kind of person who if a loved one is sick, I will randomly drive an hour to take them a "get well" basket of goodies, just because. So for someone who loves to give- what better gift to give someone than a child, a chance to have their own family. That was my thought when I met a surrogate at the age of thirteen when I got my first job. Eleven years later I found the perfect couple to embark on that journey with. Two years after that I am about to help them add one more addition to their family- Yes I said it, I'm actually going to be a surrogate for the second time. You see family is selfless- it's putting others before yourself, it's wanting to do everything (within reason) that is within your power to be there for one another, to show love, to give, to receive, to love, and to be loved. I love the couple I was a surrogate for and their current son as my own family & they love me back- they even asked me to be their child's God Mother and invited me cross country to attend his christening. That is family. So of course when their second journey was initially unsuccessful and they asked if I would be open to another surrogacy journey with them I gladly agreed. They are my family and I want to help them achieve their dreams.

Simultaneously I am adding to my family. Those grandparents of mine I told you about who were crazy enough to take me in as a hormonal, rebelious teen- well, they also were foster parents trying to give back and leave their print on other troubled youth. Without knowing it they were steadily adding one brick at a time and sealing it in for what would be my foundation, my view of what the world should be, who I would be in it and what family would mean for me. Single mom, twenty six, soldier... I'm now adding "foster parent" to the list of terms that describe me. I have a particular child in mind I would like to adopt, but I want to foster just as much. You see I could have more children, I could continue being a surrogate for other couples, but no. I'm tired of seeing all the children who are without a family, who don't have a sense of safety, who are just looking for love. Family to me is inclusive, it is monumental- what better way to express that than by keeping alive what my grandparents showed me and putting my own stamp on someone else's live. I am over a month into this process and I'm so very anxious to invite someone else into my family.

The last story that altered or rather contributed to what my vast definition of family is has to do with my time as a soldier and suicide. I met "my person" nine years ago at my first unit in the Army Reserves. He was charismatic, confident, funny, assertive, helpful, caring, a true leader who simply wanted to help and have fun doing it. That man became my best friend, my family. I talked to him more than anyone- any other friend, any family member, anyone. He brought me out of some tough times, he challenged me and he helped reassure me of my worth. Sadly this beautiful person, this soldier took his life at the age of twenty-nine just last year. Talk about devastation. My foundation, my "safe place" and what I thought was my future... it took a hit and some of those walls came tumbling down. Through it my family grew. My best friend left behind a lot of loved ones, children, parents and siblings. He was his mother's firstborn. Since his loss she's "adopted" me and I have her. We are part of an exclusive club-the kind that no one wants to get into, EVER! We are survivors of suicide- the loved ones left behind. It's tough, it's been tough and it might always be tough, but we've found strength in one another. His mother has done more for me in the last year than my own mother who gave birth to me has. I don't mean financially I don't mean physically... more than that. She has been there for me mentally and emotionally. She opened up what broken heart she had and let me in as did I. You see family is a place it's a "thing"- but it doesn't have a curfew, it doesn't close it's doors, it doesn't ask for qualifications or a background check. Family just is. It just is-family is everlasting it doesn't see color, size, sex, gender, religion. Family is nondiscriminatory, family isn't always agreeing it isn't always pretty and roses and daisies, but it's being there for one another to wipe the tears it's saying, "Hey I whole-heartedly disagree with you, but that doesn't change how much I love and respect you". Family isn't giving one another the silent treatment because they didn't get you the best gift for Christmas or weren't able to make a special event. Family is calling them when they aren't in attendance not to reprimand them for not being there for you, but to ask them if they are okay and if there is anything you can do for them. Family is considerate, it truly is the calm in the storm and it restores my faith in humanity when I turn on the news and see all the hate there is today. My family cannot be defined in words-even this novel is not enough to express what family is and how much it means to me. Family is more than me, bigger than me in so many ways and it is my ear to ear smile. That my friends is my family and I hope if I'm ever asked this question again down the road I will only have more to add:)

-Rachel D.

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