Born: April 22, 1924
The dozens of babies brought to her came without names, so Sarah Van Blaricum named them. Noel, Anita, Neil, Erica, Christopher and other strong names.
Some would be with her a few months, others a few years. Saying good-bye was always tough. But the Children’s Bureau, a century-old adoption and foster care agency, would always bring another baby after the last one was placed in a permanent home.
Sarah’s life as a foster mother in Indianapolis spanned 41 years. She provided care for more than 100 babies whose biological mothers had given up for adoption as soon as they were born. Most of the babies she parented were African American or bi-racial, a population which had a spike in adoptions in the 1950s and 60s. In 1993, the Children’s Bureau selected her for the Community Service Award in recognition of her service.
Why would she devote so much of her life to mothering children? “I just love children. It definitely was not the money,” said Sarah, now 89, who treasures photo albums she has kept for decades of all the children she parented.
Sarah was about 25 when she accepted the first child. She was single and living alone on the Southside of Indianapolis. The agency did a background check, including talking to her pastor at Woodruff Place Baptist Church, before delivering the first child. It was a baby boy. “I couldn’t tell you if that baby was black or white. It didn’t matter,” she said.
She was responsible for feeding and clothing the babies, making sure they had all of their vaccinations, taking them to doctor visits, giving them love. She had only one baby at a time, allowing her to devote full attention to that child. “Generally, they stayed with me until they started walking, even talking,” she said. “They were always healthy with me because I made sure they were well fed and taken care of.”
She kept her camera loaded with film, snapping photos of the cute things they would do. Sometimes she’d catch them in an “amazing” moment. “I remember one of my babies who wasn’t even three months old just sat up. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed that over the years, the babies were coming to me brighter and brighter.”
Sarah got married and her husband, Jesse, accepted her role as a foster parent without hesitation. “He loved children, too,” she said. They adopted a special needs boy, Dwight David, who she was told would never walk or talk. And to their surprise, she became pregnant a few years later, thinking she could never have a biological child. It was a boy, Joseph. The two brothers grew close and live together today. Dwight David became a healthy man who did learn to walk and talk. “The Lord had it all planned,” she said.
Sarah continued to take foster children over the next years, her own children helping. In photo albums are pictures of Sarah’s sons holding or feeding the babies. When the blended family was on outings, sometimes there would be stares as the Van Blaricums carried or pushed their black infants in strollers through stores and other public places. “No one ever said anything negative. They’d better not or they would get a piece of my mind.”
Her husband died in 1979 and she continued taking babies while still rearing her own sons. By the early 1990s, the agency began to contact her less often. “As I got older, they said I couldn’t keep taking them. But I could have done just as good as the young girls did,” she said. “They said it was my age.”
Sarah smiles when she thinks about the children. “Baby Clara was less than 4 pounds and she was two months premature. She had Down’s syndrome. But she left me plump and happy. Neil was mischievous. Friends of mine loved him. His mother had been raped and she gave him up because she felt she should for the baby’s sake. She didn’t know what she would do if the baby looked like the man who raped her. Erica used to ball up her fists all the time. Noel was sweet. Christopher is the one who sat up when he was an infant.”
Sarah said she had little contact with the mothers and none with the children after they were placed. Once an adoptive mother brought her a picture of one of the children, but she never heard from her again. Sometimes she’d see a face in the crowd that made her wonder if that person was one of the babies she had kept. The names she gave the infants were likely not retained after their adoptions, she said.
Sarah said she hopes that the plight many adopted children face when they desire to connect with their biological pasts would be somewhat lightened through her actions. “When the Children’s Bureau picked them up, I’d always send a big picture of them as a baby. I’d put it in their car seat, right behind their back.”
Of all the babies, she’d most like to see Neil. “He’s been on my mind a lot. He’d be around 50 now. I really loved him.”