Michelle McIntosh Harvey is a caregiver at heart. As a member of the Lion’s Club of Kingston for more than 20 years, she has always been active in her community and is continuously seeking ways to assist those in need.
In fact, each Christmas and Easter holiday she would open her heart and home to children from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) – a tradition she looked forward to every year. But when she was approached to foster a child fulltime, Mrs Harvey hesitated, thinking it was a challenge for which she wasn’t fully prepared.
“At the time, I was a caregiver for my mother, during the last few years of her life and I wasn’t sure I could take on the additional responsibility,” she said.
Although uncertain, the Director of Financial Management and Accounting Services at the CPFSA decided to invite the then three year-old, along with another child to her home for Christmas. That one chance encounter changed her life forever.
“I would say he came, he saw, and he conquered, because I took one look at him and it was love at first sight,” the beaming mom expressed. “He just came and stole our hearts.”
At the end of his stay, Mrs Harvey decided she could not part ways with Omar, whom she described as a very quiet and loving child. “I told myself I wasn’t sending him back. After that he just became my handbag, everywhere I went he was with me.”
She even designed his own little vest for the Lion’s Club, so they could attend meetings together.
“When I go anywhere with Omar, if I don’t tell people that he’s adopted they don’t know, because we look so much alike. There’s a baby picture of him that when I put it beside a picture of my sister’s son at that same age they look exactly alike,” she said.
It didn’t take long for Mrs Harvey to make the decision to formally adopt Omar. This involved going through all the necessary steps, including home visits from representatives of the CPFSA to the final court visit where a judge grants the legal order of adoption.
Though there have been challenges, Mrs Harvey admitted that being an adoptive mom has been a truly joyful and rewarding experience. “We connected from day one. I tend to be affectionate and he’s a very loving child…so we feed off each other,” she said.
She noted that the key is love and completely giving of oneself, adding that the power of this role supersedes biology and is ultimately one the greatest expressions of selfless love.
Mrs Harvey is being featured as part of The Jamaica National Group’s All That She Is movement, which is celebrating women who have taken a different route to motherhood.
“I recall when my mother passed a few years ago and I was sitting there and bawling. He came to me and asked, ‘mommy you crying for grandma again? Remember you have me you know.’ And those words just changed the whole picture. And I realised I needed to get myself together, because I have my son and the two of us can move forward together,” she said.
Mrs Harvey, who was a single mother for most of the journey, said she drew inspiration from the parents who make up her support system, including her close friends and siblings.
“If I have a concern, then I will speak to someone who has done it before. I have friends who have raised boys only and I will call and ask them for advice.”
And as the years roll by, Mrs Harvey reflects on the decision she made more than a decade ago and knows she would have done it all over again.
Though the years continue to bring them new adventures, triumphs and challenges – she’s now a newlywed and Omar is now almost 15-years-old – what has remained constant is the love and bond they share.
“He’s a happy, adventurous child, who keeps me on my toes, and I look forward to the rest of our lives.”