A true story, found on the Houston Chronicles…
The truth about her life arrived in a yellow envelope six years ago. It came in the form of 31 news articles.
Amy Woodard-Davis had been eagerly awaiting the package from the Kansas City, Kan., library. Amy then fed and bathed her 3-year-old daughter, Jailynn, before sending her off to play that February afternoon in 2006. She walked into her room, sat on her bed and calmly opened the envelope.
She took out photocopied newspaper clippings and began to read each article, slowly, without hesitating, until she had read them all. As her eyes scanned the stories, the same words jumped out over and over: “newborn,” “fire,” “abandoned,” “burned.”
The story chronicled in those clippings could easily have been any of the abused and neglected children Amy would help find homes for a year later when she become an adoptions caseworker at Child Protective Services.
To Amy, it read like an interesting novel, the protagonist “baby girl X,” as she was called, struggling to fight for her life, against the dire predictions of doctors. But reality would settle in after every few articles, reminding the 41-year-old of what she was reading.
“This is me,” she said. “This is about me.”
On March 26, 1971, Amy’s mother, at 16, gave birth to her in the bathroom of her Kansas City home. Amy was only alive a few hours when her grandfather pulled the newborn, wrapped in newspaper, from a burning pile of trash in their backyard.
He thought he heard a kitten’s cries, only to discover they were a baby’s whimpers. He grabbed the newborn from the trash, put her in a towel and called the fire department.
Third- and fourth-degree burns covered more than half of Amy’s tiny frame. Her injuries were so severe doctors at first could not determine her race.
It would be a few days before authorities discovered that Amy was most likely dumped in the trash barrel, in a fire that was apparently already burning, by her mother who found out she was pregnant only after she gave birth. The teen was never prosecuted in the case.
This truth about how she came into the world motivated Amy to learn more about her story.
A couple months after reading those articles, she stood on the doorstep of the home where it all happened, where she was born and burned, where her mother still lived, looking at the woman responsible for giving her life and suspected in her near death, asking for answers.
Amy was 5 when she found out she was adopted. It was the same time she got some explanation for how she received her burns.
Neighborhood kids bullied her one day about her scars, telling her that her mother had left her behind in a house fire. Confused, Amy asked her adoptive mother, Lena Woodard, why she let her burn and saved her three sisters.
“Oh Lord, I can’t believe this small child is asking me this,” Lena Woodard, 75, recalled. It was a conversation she had planned to have eventually, but not yet.
Lena worked as a burn technician at Shriners Burns Hospital in Galveston, where Amy came when she was 9 months old. Her biological mother’s parental rights were terminated shortly after she was born due to negligence, according to court records. Amy arrived wearing a white cap and sweater over layers of gauze wrapped around her small body.
Doctors in Kansas City had little hope Amy would survive. But even as a baby, she seemed determined to succeed. One of the first few times Lena saw Amy she remembers the baby trying to move and kick her tiny limbs. She would soon do all the things no one expected.
A few months later, Lena and her husband became Amy’s foster parents. A year passed, and they adopted her.
Though Amy was still young when she asked about her burns, Lena and her husband decided to tell the child so she would at least know it was not them who caused her harm. They explained in terms she could understand: You used to have a bad mama, and she burned you, now you have a good mama.
That was the only explanation Amy needed at the time and the truth she lived with for the next several years.
In March 2006, she spoke to her biological father. He was 19 and living in California when she was born. She was surprised to learn he had returned to Kansas City years later, married Amy’s mother, and the couple had two more children, who were raised in the house where Amy was born.
Amy had tracked down the family’s phone number from old fire department records. Her father didn’t know she existed until the phone call.
He was eager to learn everything about his daughter. So Amy told him a little. She told him about her education, how she was married, but in the middle of a divorce and that she had a beautiful daughter of her own.
But her father wanted more. He asked her to come meet him and their family, including her mother, in Kansas City.
By May, about a week before Mother’s Day, she was at their home. From the pictures on the wall, she could tell what the house looked like when her mother was a teenager. Very little changed. Most of the same furniture sat in the same place.
Amy stood on the porch and stared out into the backyard. Amy stood on the porch and stared out into the backyard. There were patio furniture, a large walnut tree, a small garden and a 1957 Packard car. She scanned the yard, visualizing where the trash barrel may have been, the one she had been dumped in 1971.
She tried to envision the route from the house to the trash fire that left her face discolored and her body disfigured, the fire that had caused her to have more than 200 surgeries and skin grafts over the course of her life.
The emotions didn’t overwhelm Amy, walking through the house, seeing the backyard. But the one place she didn’t want to step foot in was the bathroom.
“I didn’t want to face the fact that this is where I was born and nobody took my life seriously,” she said. “I was born in this bathroom, and the next thing you know I was burned up.”
Amy didn’t let her tragic beginnings become a handicap. Anytime she wanted to do something, she found a way. As a high school student, she joined the drill team and learned to sew. She continued her education, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
At 21, tired of going under the knife, she decided to stop having surgeries.
“I’m all right with myself,” she said. “At some time in your life you have to be at ease with your mind on how you’re going to look, and this is how I’m going to look.”
When she started working, she knew she wanted to be in social services.
“If you’re helping someone, you can’t hurt them,” she said.
Before joining CPS, Amy worked as a teacher and for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
Becoming an adoptions caseworker in 2007 meant she could keep other children from feeling abandoned, to find them families like her own who would love them no matter what. It gave her the chance to share her story with foster children, to let them know she had been in their shoes.
One of her motivations to work for CPS came after going to Kansas City the year before.
“I didn’t get the closure, but I would love for the other kids who came behind me to get the closure,” she said.
Amy didn’t meet her birth mother in person until the end of her first day visiting. They talked very little, exchanging a few simple pleasantries. They sat next to each other in near silence for about an hour looking straight ahead at a television.
Too nervous to look directly at her mother, Amy stole quick glances of her when she could, amazed at their physical similarities. They had the same head, same full lips and straight teeth. It was the first time, she said, she had seen what she might have looked like without the burns.
After that meeting, Amy asked her mother a few times about what happened the day she was born and how she ended up in a trash fire. But she had no answers. Her birth mother declined to comment for this story.
Amy isn’t consumed with hatred for her biological mother. She doesn’t believe her mother acted alone. She loves her and calls her mom.
“Just a respect thing, that’s who she is, that’s her role, she had me, can’t take it from her,” she said.
For now, Amy continues to live her life in Houston, raising her own daughter to be strong and independent like her, in a new relationship with a man who makes her feel beautiful every day and working to better the lives of children in the CPS system.
She has accepted the facts of her birth and settled with what she knows happened to her as explained by the 31 newspaper articles.
One thing she is certain about: “Whatever they tried to do, they didn’t succeed at it,” she said. “I’m still here.”
Wow, this IS a STRONG woman all right, she had a very BAD childhood, with her mother tossing her into the fires, trying to kill her, and, she survived, and now, she goes back to visit with them, and can say that she holds NOTHING against them, this must’ve taken years to achieve, or, maybe that this woman is just way too kind here…either way, she’d made it, to the TOP of her games, so, KUDOS to her!!!