There are very few adoption memoirs/stories etc written by adoptees themselves, and not adoptive parents. There are even fewer written by adoptees who were adopted from foster care, as older children, having been taken away from their parents by the state. So when, a couple of years ago, I came across the book “Three Little Words” by Ashley Rhodes-Courter, a Florida woman who was taken away from her mother aged 3, then was bounced around in care for many years before being adopted aged 11, I bought it immediately.
I started it the same day, and finished it the next. I’m a fast reader…and this is an absolutely amazing book. I have re-read several times, and I want others to read it – especially anyone thinking about adopting a child aged 7+
Her memoir of her life up to her mid-teenage years is honestly the best adoption memoir I have ever read
I won’t tell you what the Three Words are – but they aren’t what you think!
“Sunshine, you’re my baby and I’m your only mother. You must mind the one taking care of you, but she’s not your mama.” Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent nine years of her life in fourteen different foster homes, living by those words. As her mother spirals out of control, Ashley is left clinging to an unpredictable, dissolving relationship, all the while getting pulled deeper and deeper into the foster care system.
Painful memories of being taken away from her home quickly become consumed by real-life horrors, where Ashley is juggled between caseworkers, shuffled from school to school, and forced to endure manipulative, humiliating treatment from a very abusive foster family. In this inspiring, unforgettable memoir, Ashley finds the courage to succeed – and in doing so, discovers the power of her own voice.
A bit about it
I was hooked from the first sentences
“I have had more than a dozen so-called mothers in my life. Lorraine Rhodes gave birth to me. Gay Courter adopted me. Then there are the fillers”
And when I finished I started passing it around. Rhea has a copy and says she thinks it’s amazing.
Ashley is an inspiring woman. She started her life completely powerless, and completely failed by the care system that instead of protecting her, cycled her between foster and care homes, some of which were overcrowded and/or abusive. Today she is a foster parent and advocate for children in care. In between, she has been to the courts (to sue her abusive former foster parents), to the White House, to the papers, to conferences….
Some more reasons to read it
The main reason, and this is also the reason I think this book is a must read for anyone thinking of adopting an older child aged 7+, is the way Ashley so clearly described her emotions and feelings – about her biological family, her adoptive family, foster care, being adopted. The feeling that nothing can ever last, and every home will end in disruption. This book is such a valuable insight for adoptive parents, and I have talked to Rhea about whether she felt some of the things Ashley describes – yes, she says. I never knew that. I cannot say how much I could have done with a book like this before adopting a 10 year old. I would have had more empathy and understanding for some of the things my own daugher did – especially testing boundaries by being cruel or doing stupid things. I would have understood more about the process of settling in, and forming attachments.
I think I’m just going to put a few quotes in – because they speak for themselves
First, a quote from a newspaper article she did, to set the scene when she was 11
“I saw my adoption as a business proposition,” Ashley said. “It wasn’t warm and fuzzy. I saw it as, here was a couple that was going to help me get to college and achieve the things I wanted to achieve.”
And from the book itself:
[during introductions with her adoptive parents, Phil and Gay]
“Phil’s brother, Dan, was a pastor. He and his wife, Linda, reminded me of the Merritts [former foster parents]. As I held their newborn granddaughter, I thought,They would never consider getting rid of her, but I could be sent back any time”
“I felt as if Phil and Gay were showing of their “good deed” and nobody realised I was overwhelmed and frightened”
[After moving in]
“In the back of my mind I kept wondering what I would have to do to wrong for the Courters to send me back…..I had found all sorts of ways to incite a quarrel between Phil and Gay, which gave me a perverse satisfaction – until Phil lost his usual cool and stormed out to his workshop. I never wanted to hurt his feelings; but I did love to see Gay crumble”
“Even if Gay really thought she loved me, I felt nothing. The Hudsons said they loved Luke [Ashley's brother] but that didn’t stop them from sending him back”
“I turned my cheek for the usual kiss. Gay said, “Someday maybe you’ll kiss me back”. I sat up and stared past her. “I told you I would never kiss you!”….Somewhere my mother was still out there. I would keep my promise to her even if she had not kept any of hers, and I would never love anyone else”
“As the adoption made me feel more secure, the tautness in my stomach relaxed, and I found that I was interested in new foods”
“I was furious when I found out that Gay and my mother had been writing letters behind my back. I felt that Gay had honed her way into my most private relationship without my permission”
[Finally, years after the adoption]
“Before, I had held something back so that when they discarded me, I would not be so wounded. But with my parents by my side, who had proven their love for me, I felt safe enough to allow sunlight to sweep the shadows from my life”
“Day after day, they were there for me ; until one day, I not only felt safe, I did not want to leave. Maybe that is one definition of love”
I hope you want to read the book now If you want another reason, this is being made into a movie, apparently starring Reese Witherspoon with Amanda Seyfried as Ashley’s biological mother…and who wants to see the movie without knowing the real story?
If you want to know more about Ashley Rhodes-Courter: