Episode 23: Visiting with Vera Traver and her story, “Make A Wish”
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices—one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
MUSIC: intro music plays
JENETTE: Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast—where we come together to raise them voices and share stories. I’m your host Jenette Jurczyk, National Director, with me as always, my incredibly gorgeous co-host, Kerry Rossow, (laughing) one of the founders of…
KERRY: You’re just saying that because you can tell I showered!
JENETTE: You did! It’s a miracle that you did. In fact, I think we had to schedule a Zoom call just so you had a reason, right?
KERRY: That’s right. I mean, I showered. I put on makeup—I can see in my own reflection that I got a little carried away with the highlighter—but whatever.
JENETTE: You know, normally, we would, we would joke that, you know, podcast… radio. “I’ve got a good face for radio…”
KERRY: This is why!
JENETTE: We decided to go Zoom Land. We’ve decided to record a podcast on the Zoom this time around because you know, 2020 has got us like, you know what I’m saying—Everything went upside down. We had to cancel shows—we had to go virtual, and we got, you know, pushed out of the studio to record our podcast. So, you know, that’s not going to stop us. We’re going to find a way…
KERRY: And that is so fitting for today’s guest because that is like *snap* nothing going to stop her. She is on a path. Watch out!
Vera is a trailblazer in the She Said family because she appeared in the very first live production in a new community. As many of our listeners know, That’s What She Said was born in Champaign, Illinois. 2013 is when it all began, but in 2019, we did something really cool and branched out into a new community and had a live show on stage in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois and Vera Traver took a chance and appeared in that very first live show and she’s here with us in the Zoom studio. Hello. My dear, Vera.
VERA: Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello!
JENETTE: How have you been surviving 2020?
VERA: It has been very, very challenging. But like Kerry said, I have managed to been able to put one foot in front of the other and just repeat.
JENETTE: And you certainly showed off your perseverance in your story of your life—really, that you shared on stage with us. You and I spent a lot of time together developing your story and getting it ready for the stage. Would you share with our audience a little bit about what you chose to share that night and why it was so important to you?
VERA: Well, first of all, just preparing the story was so empowering and so life-changing and so, um…uh, I cannot even find the words of like, how that changed my life and how special that meant to me—those moments. I already love—like women and women empowerment—but it strengthened that love. So it’s just like, my connections with women just deepened and, oh my God, I am just like forever grateful to have it—an extended family, but I’ve always been like, kind of an open book anyway, but I would not have probably got like into the details of me losing my children and being on drugs and—that’s just not like not something that you just, like “Hey!” start a conversation off with somebody that you don’t know, you know, about your life because deep dark secrets and um, some things that like I kinda just want to just take that to my grave and not share with anyone but being able to share that in front of a packed house—huh!—I reached a level of freedom that I didn’t know exists.
So I was very, very grateful for the experience. That stuff don’t own me no more. So it just really separated, you know, from who I am today, and I think even at that time of sharing it, I was still carrying some of that with me, you know, because it’s just like, oh God, not one kid - not two - but you lost all six of your kids? You know, and so I was still wearing a little bit of that. And so, it was just sharing my story was like, that’s the final straw. You know, look—it is broken. You are free. It just took some chains off that I didn’t really realize still exist, so, like I can go on and on and on about what that meant to me.
JENETTE: I have so much to say about what you just shared and want to go through it with you, but let’s bring our audience in on the discussion by sharing the performance from your show so they can really enjoy this journey with us.
Vera really did go deep and go intimate and get incredibly vulnerable with the packed house at the Castle Theater in Bloomington that night and we would be doing you a disservice if we didn’t just stop right now and play it for you. So let’s all take a moment to enjoy this clip from the 2019 production of That’s What She Said in Bloomington Normal, Illinois—here is Vera Traver with her story, “Make a Wish.”
VERA: There was a time in my life when years went by in a dark blur. There was no sunlight, no season, no meaning. And if you would have asked me during that time if I had any kids, I probably would have told you no. But I did. I had five babies. Five babies that was taken because of my addiction—because of a disease that had kept me in bondage for so many years. My kids are my life. So it felt like my life had been shattered into five different pieces that I could never make whole again.
How does a person lose her kids? It’s a good question.
I always wanted to be a mom to give a child the love and nourishment that I felt like I missed out on from my parents. I never got a chance to meet my dad and this was a man whose name I carried for thirty-five years! I did get a chance to meet my mom ...once. I was raised by my grandmother and she did the best she could until she got sick and me and my sister was sent to foster care. So from place to place—a runaway child, group home, juvenile detention and the streets raised me. I was what you called a ward of the state until I aged out.
I felt so abandoned, lost and alone. I vowed I would be a much better parent. But this was not possible while stuck in the lifestyle: addicted to drugs, in and out of prison, unhealthy in abusive relationships. So by the time I had three babies and was pregnant with baby number four—hmm—let’s just say it was determined that I was an unfit parent and my babies was taken by DCFS. I tried to keep my fourth baby. I tried! I went to rehab but I relapsed and my addiction sucked me in like a vacuum cleaner. (deep breath exhale)
Baby number four was taken as well.
Baby number five.
By now I’m starting to think I must be fertile—really fertile. (audience laughing) I don’t know how this keep happening to me. (laughter) My fight was over. I didn’t want to get attached. The entire pregnancy I was in full-blown denial. For two days, I even denied the labor pains. I left the hospital right after birth because I could not stand to watch them take another baby from me. Mmhmm. It was one of the darkest places I have ever been. I had nothing to live for.
There was a house that I used to walk past while I was homeless, looking in the windows, weeping to God. Why can’t that be me and my babies inside that house snuggled together? Why am I all alone? Why have Thou forsaken me?
The hurt, the long yearning, the anguish—the painful pit I lived in day in and day out was unbelievable. I was broken in a million pieces—just shattered. I no longer felt human and I wanted to escape. I had to learn how to cut off my feelings and emotions concerning my kids. I had to be tough to survive living in the streets.
So after being in treatment countless of times, I went back to give it one last try. Plus I found I was pregnant again… three months—with baby number six. So with rehab, we took a group walk to the park and I saw a woman pushing her baby in a swing. I broke down crying. Something inside of me suddenly felt awoke. It was like, “hey, hey. Yeah, you! You a mom, too.”
I am a mom.
At that moment, I knew that I would go to any means to keep this baby and to find my other children. It felt—just felt like something that I hadn’t felt in so long. Some hope.
So I had a vision—that one day, hmmm, one day, me and all six of my kids would be together in the same room. Prayer became a part of my life again, and I trusted God with everything. I asked God to show me how. Now I knew that this would take a lot of perseverance and hard work, because I ain’t even know where my kids was at. When this baby come, I will pour all the love into her that I couldn’t give my other children.
I completed treatment in 2006 and I began my road to recovery. (Side note. I have been clean ever since.) (cheering, long applause) YES!
So life began to look brighter. I live with my boyfriend Willy and we began to make preparations for the baby bedroom. Willy asked me for my hand in marriage, and I said yes! (cheering) It felt like everything was finally going uphill. But after I had my baby, I was told I would not be able to keep this child either. That she would be taken from the hospital the following day.
I was six months clean. I was going to meetings. I was working the steps. I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing and they was still taking my kids from me! I started to feel that dark, painful, pit again. I thought I would never have a chance to be a mom—to see any of my six kids. That negative thinking and rock bottom feeling always meant ‘the end.’
Can somebody say, “But God?” (audience reply)
But God decided to make this my new beginning. Every other time I would leave the hospital before DCFS come—coming from a place of guilt and shame. I knew in my brokenness I had to make better decisions. This time I stayed at the hospital with my baby until the foster mom, Lisa, came to pick her up. When Lisa arrived, she handed me a picture of my oldest son. His name had changed, but he was the same son that I had made broken promises to. I was sad. I was confused. And I was happy to find out she had adopted him and he was alive and well. (applause)
I did not know how all of this will work out. But this gave me hope that maybe I can find my other four kids. I became highly motivated and surrounded myself in positivity. During the process of getting my new baby home, I would visit once a week and sometimes my oldest son could join us. I began to get to know him and we enjoyed our similarities. In four months, the courts found me fit. In 6 months, my baby was home and in eight months that case was closed. (audience cheering) Yes!
So my visits continued with my oldest son. His adopted mom, Lisa, became our extended family and in a few years passed, Lisa called to say if I can get the court’s approval, my son can move back home. I know she loved our son (pause) as her own and she wanted what was best for us.
I showed up to the courthouse every single day until I learned how to file for a court motion. I petitioned the court and he came home. (cheering)
So by this time I had learned that my other daughters and son was living in a small town nearby. I reached out to their adopted mom and she told me I would never see them again. She often reminded me of the damage I had caused and even the damage that was out of my control. Now this was hard for me to accept, but my sponsor and my support system told me this would happen only in God’s time. So I kept myself busy on positive things.
As the years passed, I got a message from my oldest daughter saying she is eighteen and wants to see me. That’s my Sheka Weaka. I knew I wasn’t supposed to see her but I wanted it so badly. I had a car. I had gas and I had a license. So I drove to her town thinking I’ll text her when I get there. This small town had no reception—like no reception—at all, so I begin to panic and then pray. I told God, I will knock on every single door in this town until I find her, but maybe you can save me some time? Just show me where the house at.
And as I was praying this I looked to my left and I seen one of my daughters sitting on the porch. I stopped my car in the middle of the street and I went and I hugged her and I told her she was beautiful. Then my daughter ran out of the house, jumped in my car and we took off. We went down the road to hug each other, embrace each other, in tears. She told me, you wasn’t supposed to know the address. I told her, blame it on God.
I developed a relationship with my daughter and eventually she moved home. Then my second daughter moved home—that’s my Shonny Bonny. (laugh) And by now, I had seen all—I had snuck and seen—all six of my kids—but not altogether. So my dream is to see them all together.
On June 26th, 2019, my son, Dajaun, turned 18 and for his birthday all six of my kids, my grandson, and my husband, was all in the same room. (applause) We went swimming—out to eat—chilled at my house. This is a dream of so many years come true. I felt so light like I thought I was floating. I guess I do believe in a natural high. I believe this day has helped me heal from a dark place I once lived. The sunlight, the sunlight feels good and the missing pieces to my puzzle have been very well put back together again. (applause and cheers)
JENETTE: Vera, I already see you getting a little misty-eyed over there. Every time, right? Every time I listen to your story I am right back there with you—feeling those feelings and connecting with you. Your story is so powerful and it’s so raw. You went through so much.
What I remembered about that year with you is that when you and I first met your wish to be all together with your six children had not yet come true, when we first met and talked about doing the show, and that actually happened in the months leading up to the show and became part of your story and that just made it so much more magical that you actually got to have that incredible happy ending. How are you doing today? I can see this coming over you—but how are you dealing with life and your family today?
VERA: Well, also, I think because of that night my family has developed traditions, so now Sundays is family dinner at Mom’s house and everybody comes over. We’ve had a few Sundays, well, that kids that live out of town makes it sometimes, and sometimes they don’t, but it is a tradition—rather, who all don’t show up, who all do show up, it is a Sunday dinner cooked at my house every Sunday. I always wanted to be the big mama at Big Mama’s House… you know, so I get to do that now and I’m a very busy person without this, you know, and the That’s What She Said show. I don’t know if I would have taken that responsibility and taken that tradition to do and COVID-19 has definitely helped support that too… like, how important, uh, family is—and that time, and that bonding, and I have a couple of kids that just love to snuggle and I’m like, ok, scoot over, you’re really adult now! But (laugh), but hey, it’s never too late to go back and still get some of those moments that I missed with the snuggling and they just love it and I just love it. And we’re doing good. We’re doing good.
KERRY: Well, one of the things someone said in another episode was it was time to change her channel. She realized she didn’t like what was happening and so she changed the channel on her life and that’s kinda what you’ve done…
VERA: Yeah. Exactly.
KERRY: I love… that all those things are so beautiful, but if we can just take a second and talk about, dang! Did you look good on that stage: Hello, Yellow!
JENETTE: Gorgeous. And wonderful!
KERRY: Can we just talk about that look for a second?
JENETTE: And powerful! So, we went through rehearsals for the show, obviously, and the night of the show, this woman showed up telling her stories—that we had never met before—and the other women in the show and I were talking—we’re like, Who is that? Who is that person in yellow? Vera showed up like she had never shown up before: with her voice, and her presence and her power—something about putting you in front of an audience and giving you a microphone turned something on inside you. It was so incredible to see just how you showed up that night and what that experience did for you personally.
VERA: Thank you very much.
KERRY: And seeing your cast—your group, I say this about every single group, but it’s so true—you all form this sort of sisterhood and bond and then when the speaker is speaking, one of my favorite things to do is watch the women behind because it impacts the audience in one way because they’re hearing it for the first time but the sisters behind you have seen this whole journey of you getting ready for that night and watching them watch you and support you and just go crazy for you was a total highlight of that night.
VERA: Well, I loved every… I just loved everything about it. You know, like everybody else’s story. It was just—it was so delicious to me. It was just so delicious—I was just like eating at my plate like, yes, yes, you know, you are up there, killing it.
So, it just empowers me to be a supporter of others, you know, that it is like my thing I love to do because I’ve been in some dark places where I felt like I had no support. So today, I just feel like it’s my responsibility to be a supporter of others. I was just fed all the way around the board.
JENETTE: You are and you continue to be an inspiration to others, Vera, for having come through what you’ve experienced, you know, you found what was on the other side of through. You found the love and the family and the sisterhood that so many people long for, and I think you hit the nail on the head because as women, as people, this experience is exactly what we crave. We crave that opportunity to feel that… that unconditional love, and support, to feel that human connection and raw human emotions—together—I’m such a Brené Brown junkie, but like this is the ultimate experience of vulnerability and I thank you so much for trusting us to, to go through this process and to share it—just some of the most raw and intimate moments of your life and we are so excited that we get to celebrate with you, your… the rest of your journey forever. We get to celebrate every single, you know, new wonderful experience that you get to have going forward. So thanks for joining us today and, and remembering that incredible night. Oh girl! (laughs) Gets you every time!
VERA: (laughs) It does…
JENETTE: We love that. I mean, we love to, to find those moments with women, absolutely and that’s why we do what we do. It’s about, you know, holding up a mirror for women and giving them the power to see the truth, feel the truth and speak the truth.
Let’s keep doing this! Let’s keep…
VERA: Let’s keep doing it!
JENETTE: Let’s keep doing this. I mean, we’re discovering new ways to do it—even with the COVID-19, but I know, without a doubt, that we’ll be live on stage again, very soon. And Vera, you are in The Sisterhood forever girl. It is our pleasure to have you here.
VERA: Well, I love you guys. I love you guys very, very much
JENETTE: And we love you! And we love our fans and our friends and everyone who has come out to support all the women who have been as bold and brave as Vera has—so thank you so much for the love and support and check out each and every episode with us on The She Said Project Podcast.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast, in partnership with Illinois Public Media.
All materials contained in the podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to shesaidproject (dot) com.
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management. Empowering women to live their best lives.
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In "Make A Wish," Vera Traver reveals a long and traumatic journey with addiction and loss. Through her recovery, she is reunited with all six of her children, and she is made whole again.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.