Artreese Basnight knew for years that she wanted to share her adoption story. The dilemma was always how.
As a child, she had entertained the idea of becoming a social worker to help children in foster care, like she had been years ago. But, her aunt dissuaded her from the path for an unexpected reason: she was too invested in the process.
“She said, ‘You’re going to get attached, and (social work) does something to you, emotionally… The first year, you’re going to take children out of their homes, and that’s going to be your job,’” Basnight remembers. “‘I think it would be great for you to write a book and tell your story.’”
So, flash forward to today, when, at 29 years old, Basnight has started a personal blog, with eventual plans to write a memoir about her adoption experience. She says it’s been a long time coming.
“It wasn’t a decision I made recently,” she remembers. “For everybody, they’re on the outside looking in, and they don’t know what it feels like to experience adoption. It stays with you your whole life; it doesn’t go away. If you are adopted — yes, which is this awesome thing — these things still did happen to you and they stick with you for the rest of your life.”
From Challenge to Opportunity
Basnight entered the Connecticut foster care system when she was 2 years old. For the next two years, she would be moved between several houses as her biological mother tried and failed to complete a reunification plan.
Although Basnight doesn’t remember the specifics, she says her case file details how her biological mother failed to attend required meetings with her children in the system. By the time she was 4, Basnight had called several different women “Mommy” before her biological mother’s rights were officially terminated.
Like many children in foster care, Basnight experienced many traumatic moments that she can still remember today. But, there are positive moments, too. She remembers two older girls she once shared a home with, whom she considered older sisters.
And, of course, there was the day she met her adoptive family.
“I remember that morning, I was eating cereal — I love cereal to this day,” she says. “They said, ‘Artreese, there’s someone at the door to meet you.’ They said that automatically, my face lit up, and I ran to their arms. And my adoptive mom, Debbie, said it just felt like I belonged to them. It was something in my eyes; I was made to be their daughter.”
Basnight’s adoption would end up being finalized on the anniversary of her parents’ marriage — another fact she takes as a sign she was meant to be with her adoptive family. She talks about her incredible bond with her parents — playing softball because her mom did, hearing her dad cheer her on from the stands. Her adoption was an open conversation in their household, and she always knew she was adopted.
“I have just the strongest bond with them. I’m thankful every day,” Basnight says. “My (biological) siblings tell me that, too: ‘You’re so lucky you don’t have to deal with what we had to deal with,’ because they still go through the troubling times with our (biological) mother.”
That’s not to say her childhood after adoption was always easy. Like many adoptees, especially children adopted from foster care, Basnight had to face her own complicated emotions growing up. She says she felt different from others around her, and she constantly wondered why her biological mother didn’t want her. Those difficulties resulted in her acting out to her parents and experiencing a period of depression.
“It was sometimes troubling as a kid. I always felt like something was missing,” she remembers. “I’m very blessed — I thank God for my adoptive parents — but I always felt like something was missing and I could never fill a hole.”
It would turn out that her biological family was closer than she could have ever imagined.
Finding the Missing Pieces
As Basnight was growing up, it happened to be that her biological half-sisters were living in the same city as her. Even though she didn’t know it at the time, she had seen her biological family several times prior to their official “first” meetings.
“Being a kid, you’re like, ‘Why do you look so much like me? Who are you?’” she remembers. “So, they had no choice but to tell us who we all were. We actually lived around the corner from each other.”
Their relationship with each other was similar to acquaintances, but Basnight started putting more effort into finding more biological family as she got older. Today, she keeps connecting with more biological family members on her father’s and mother’s sides, including a brother whom she talks to almost every single day. She says she is excited to meet as many biological family members as possible and help them in whatever way she can.
Unfortunately, Basnight discovered that her biological father has passed before she had the chance to meet him. But, she holds a special bond with him; her name is derived from his, which was Arthur.
Basnight still has one complicated biological family relationship: that with her biological mother. While she recognizes as an adult her mother’s impossible situation years ago, she says she wishes she had a better connection with this part of her history. While her mother lived in the same town Basnight did growing up, her mother continued to face difficult situations — substance abuse, homelessness and other factors that made an in-person relationship extremely complex. These situations, combined with the fact that Basnight’s adoption was closed, were why her parents denied her biological mother’s request to meet when she reached out during Basnight’s childhood.
Some adoptees may resent that decision but, as Basnight has tried to reach out to her biological mother at an older age and been disappointed, she says she appreciates her parents’ initial decision. A chance encounter is what she holds onto today.
“She actually came to my job, and I rang her out,” Basnight remembers. “I saw her name, and I said, ‘Oh, I know somebody else with that name,’ but it didn’t click. I saw her and had a whole conversation with her, but not once did she say, ‘Hey, I’m your mother.’ She just had a general conversation with me, and I just talked to her back.”
As she looks back on her adoption experience, there are a few things she wants others to know.
“If you have a foster or adopted child, treat them like your own,” Basnight says. “If you don’t like children, if you don’t want to have them around, don’t be a foster parent… Building a relationship with the child — that’s so important early on.
“As I get older, these things still stick with me as an adoptee,” she adds. “I have these feelings and these days when I can’t express it. Nevertheless, I still want to share my story and encourage others that this is a blessing.”