The path to motherhood began early for Karen P. Ezirim
The path to motherhood began early for Karen P. Ezirim, but that didn’t necessarily make it easier to navigate.
The first of four children, she became responsible for her siblings in her mother’s absence - which was often. She learned to be a caretaker and leader early, so when her stepfather and other men began to take advantage of her while her mother was away, Karen didn’t tell anyone of the abuse in an effort to remain strong.
Moving from Chicago to a Columbus suburb in grade school offered an opportunity to escape her abusers, she recalls, but it didn’t last long. The family moved to Detroit, where Karen’s mother’s neglect escalated. She and her friends would blow marijuana smoke in the faces of Karen and her young siblings and then laugh when they got high.
In spite of her mother’s actions, Karen adored her and would do anything to please her, she says. That included regularly cleaning the house so that it was spotless. When she was introduced to a drug called speed in middle school, she was quick to embrace it because of its energizing qualities that allowed her to complete household chores, care for her siblings and finish homework.
Hoping to escape the parental duties placed on her, Karen chose to stay with one of her friends’
families in Detroit when her family moved back to Columbus. She anticipated a better life without being exhausted by the pressures of caring for a family at such a young age, but the family she chose to live with also had expectations to meet.
Karen says she was told that in order to “earn her keep” she had to make money and she learned to sell her body. Although she was never comfortable with it, she felt it was necessary at the time. “I had to survive,” Karen says. When it was clear the alternative life she had imagined wasn’t going to come to fruition, Karen moved back to Columbus to be with her family. This time, however, she vowed not to enable her mother by cleaning the house and taking care of her siblings, so she moved in with her aunt.
It was during this time that she met at a party a Nigerian man who lived in Upper Arlington. He
swept Karen off her feet and she moved in with him immediately. She says she felt comfortable there and was living better than she ever lived. As usual, though, there was one caveat. The man told Karen “If you want to stay here with me, you have to marry me,” she remembers.
At just 14 years old, Karen had her mother sign legal documents to allow the marriage and she said “I do.” It didn’t take long after the nuptials for Karen to realize she was only being used. She stood in the background and watched as her husband brought other women into their home to sleep with. She says he would simply instruct her to go upstairs and tell her, “Don’t get into any trouble.” After six months, Karen left without looking back or seeking a divorce. She remains married today. On the move again, Karen found herself in Detroit and pregnant with her first child.
She walked the streets daily, counting the blocks on the side walk, dreaming of beating the
odds and not becoming a statistic. “I walked one hundred and fifty four blocks a day,” Karen recalls. Feeling as if she was finally given her second chance, Karen says she met a man who was a guardian angel to her. He was the first older man who did not want to sleep with her. “He was like a father to me,” she says. He looked after her child while the young mother of 15-years-old let loose and became enthralled in a night life that included drinking and drugs.
The party lifestyle was more than a phase, though, and at 19-years-old, Karen was pregnant with her second child and became addicted to crack cocaine. Having another child meant a
bigger Welfare check and more food stamps to trade for drugs, she says. Looking around the house filled with people using drugs, she realized that she had become an addict. Some of the faces she saw surrounding her were her mother, bothers and uncle. It was all a family affair. Karen began to wonder how she was in this lifestyle again. She knew that she was out of control, so crying out for help, she called Franklin County Children’s Services and asked if she could give temporary custody of her children to her boyfriend’s mother. Her request was granted and she refused to go back to that house, but Karen still had a long journey ahead of her to living the stable life she longed for.
Homeless, addicted and now pregnant again, Karen was picked up by a man who took care of
her basic needs and some of her wants. He trusted her and gave her his money because he didn’t know that she was an addict, Karen says. One day he gave her his pay check to take care of the bills and quickly found out the reality of her life, so he called children’s services and her third child was placed in the system. “All I could think to myself was ‘how can you be
so dumb?’” Karen says. Guilt and shame plaguing her constantly, Karen realized that she was pregnant yet again. Her involvement with the gangs that supplied her drugs landed her in prison, she gave birth to her fourth child.
Upon her release, she continued to live the lifestyle she was accustomed to. Between the ages
of 22 and 28, Karen lived on the streets, addicted and struggling. Karen says her life was out of focus and lacked clarity and purpose. No matter how hard she tried, she wasn’t able to create the picturesque existence that she would sometimes visualize. She gave birth to a baby girl who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and one who was born addicted to cocaine. Karen had a total of ten children during the course of her addiction, all of whom she lost custody of for a period of time.
She was shown unconditional love by the woman who was caring for her children and it was
then that Karen started to change. Karen sought assistance to curb her addiction and found herself painting a picture of hope for the people in the crack house where she frequently talked about God. As she progressed in her spiritual growth, she requested that her children remain in foster care so that she could build a circle of support and emerge healthier and more capable of being a good parent, she says.Karen went to school to get her GED and was introduced to Dot Erickson Anderson who took her under her wing and mentored her. Dot gave Karen speaking engagement opportunities so that she could educate case workers and foster parents.
In 2005 Karen was reunited with six of her children and she found her voice by communicating
with the welfare system about the needs of parents. She began to speak out about needing
respite services and financial assistance as well as a support system that can ease the stress of
managing a single-parent household.“Single parents need the same help that you offer to foster
parents,” she says. Karen is in the process of creating her own agency called Parent Pathways, which will assist parents whose children are placed with Franklin County Children’s Services with staying connected to their children and reconnecting in a healthy way.
As a motivational speaker and parent advocate, Karen says she uses the memories of her past to shine light on her mistakes and teach others how to avoid making them. “I want to show women that no matter how hard the struggle or where you are from, you can succeed. As long as we learn to believe in love and trust in almighty God, we can be successful,” She says. “It is important to share hope and let people know that God is real.”
-Phillis J. Hand