From as far back as she can remember, Belinda Somers wanted to be a mother. For her, becoming a career woman was never a priority.
Although her heart broke after multiple miscarriages, that pain led her on a path to mother about 100 children -- so far.
The communications manager for Mid Georgia Ambulance began serving as a foster parent in hopes of filling her empty nest.
Costly private adoption was out of reach.
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“We knew that since my husband was a firefighter and I was an EMT, we couldn’t pay to adopt on our public safety salaries,” said Somers, who set out to adopt just one little girl. “That was not God’s plan.”
When adopting special needs children in foster care, most of the attorney fees are paid by the state.
After sharing their home with three sisters -- ages 1, 3, and 6 -- she and her then-husband adopted them in 2001.
On their first Easter together, the girls were decked out in dresses and hats for the service at Liberty Methodist Church on Houston Road.
“We had no idea how we were going to make ends meet, but we were crazy in love with these beautiful girls, and God has provided all along the way,” she said.
With their family complete with the addition of Alesa, Miranda and Olivia, they planned to leave the foster parent program.
But Alesa, their oldest, couldn’t bear the thought of it.
“Mama, I can’t believe you’re so selfish,” she told her. “There are so many children who need a daddy and a mommy, and you’re the best mommy out there.”
Once again, Somers answered the call.
Even after her 2004 divorce, she adopted a boy named Joshua and still finds room in her heart for dozens more.
It doesn’t matter their race or whether they have special needs or need medical care. The staff at Bibb County’s office of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services relies on her to embrace youngsters who have nowhere else to turn.
Somers, 39, will travel to a police station or hospital in the middle of the night to meet her new children.
Joshua came into her life as a foster baby weighing just 10 pounds when he was 10 months old.
She kept him for two years before he was returned to his birth family. When she got him back two years later, she couldn’t let him go.
It didn’t bother her that she was a single mother.
“I’m really not alone,” Somers said. “I have a huge support system and an awesome family.”
Before she takes on new foster children, she confers with her adopted children, who have final approval. Only once did they turn her down.
“I think that was only to test me to see if their opinion mattered,” she said.
At times she’s had up to nine children under her roof, which she admits was a crazy time.
“My rule is, I have to have a seat belt for each pair of butt cheeks, and now I have a Suburban that seats eight,” Somers said.
The Macon woman grew up as the middle of three children in an eight-bedroom house in the Bloomfield neighborhood that overflowed with extended family and friends.
Like all families, they had their share of heartache.
Somers’ mother died last year, leaving her to care for her father, who was shot in the chest during a home invasion at Christmastime in 2001.
But her greatest tragedy came with the 2008 death of her oldest child.
She found the Rutland High School cheerleader, who was a straight-A student, in bed with a belt around her neck.
Alesa was playing the “choking game,” a little-known practice at the time that provides a sense of euphoria before someone passes out, Somers said.
The medic took over and performed CPR on the girl’s lifeless body, even though her training told her it was useless. “As a mother, I had to try,” she said.
She struggled for weeks afterward. “I felt guilty. This was another woman’s child, and I had made a commitment to protect her,” Somers said. “If I had educated her about the game, she never would have done it.”
Somers launched an effort to teach other parents and appealed to her fellow church member, television personality Nancy Grace, to help spread the word.
Just as Somers refused to let Alesa’s death keep her from loving other foster children, she won’t let the children’s past experiences define who they are.
She tries to fill their lives with happy moments and enrolls her children in sports and other activities. Many of them take the field for the first time in their lives while in her care.
Angela Brown, who works at the Bibb County DFACS office, wishes she had more men and women willing to make a difference in the lives of children.
“Obviously there are those out there who have had a hard life, but they need somebody to stick with them,” Brown said.
Somers is not afraid to take on the more difficult cases and has no regrets. She came into the program with no parenting experience, yet she has flourished.
Prospective foster parents are trained in a 20-hour program before they are considered.
Bibb County hosts orientations the last Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the office on Oglethorpe Street.
Over the years, Somers has learned that living in bad circumstances does not necessarily equal bad children. Many of them are so appreciative of what other youngsters take for granted, she said.
“When they come into a house that is safe, no police coming to the door or gang bangers, that’s such a relief for these children,” Somers said. “They just want to be loved.”
For the older children, she explains that grown-ups can make bad choices and that a judge wants her to take care of them for a while.
Brown says Somers in unique because she strives to work with the birth families in hopes they can take the children back home.
“That’s the biggest thing that helps the kids is not being biased toward the birth family,” Brown said.
Somers knows she’s not perfect, but foster parents aren’t expected to be.
“Everyone is so willing to go to Third World countries (to adopt), but there are so many children out there,” Somers said.
Georgia has 7,700 youths currently in foster care.
“DNA doesn’t make a family,” Somers said. “You can grow in a heart just as easily or easier than in somebody’s belly.”