I’ve wanted to be a mom my whole entire life. For years I was basically walking around with my legs open like, “Impregnate me!” [laughs] But I never got pregnant in any of my relationships, even when I wasn’t exactly practicing safe sex. I just thought it wasn’t God’s will for me.
When I got married [to filmmaker Erik Anders Lang in 2014], we did a lot of IVF, but I still had unexplained infertility. Eventually, we did get embryos, but then we also got a divorce, so I wasn’t able to use them. It was all very painful, and by the end of that relationship, I had suffered so much that it took lots of profound therapy for me to realize that I needed to take care of my own inner baby for a while.
So I took some time away. I spent three or four years basically in bed by myself, recovering from the trauma of my marriage. And then everything changed one day when I was watching a documentary about the foster care system. I learned the story of a 16-year-old boy [whom Sia prefers to keep anonymous to protect his identity] and instantly fell in love with him. Older children have a really hard time getting adopted, and when I saw him, I said to myself, “That’s my son.” I knew I wanted to help him. By the time I found him, he was 18 and aging out of the foster care system. I told him that I wanted to adopt him, and since he was an adult, he left with me that day. The only thing he asked was if he could also bring his cousin Che, who had lived with him in a group home. I had two spare bedrooms, so I said, “Sure!” And even though I’d never met Che before, he also moved in with me that evening. Later I found out that they weren’t really cousins, just friends. [laughs] But I didn’t care at all. I just felt so blessed to have them both with me. And I’ve realized over the past year that Che was meant to be my son too.
The day they came home with me, Maddie [Ziegler] was over, and since she’s like my daughter, we all had our first family dinner together. Sitting at the table, my sons said, “We’re allowed to use knives here?” In foster care, they hadn’t been allowed to use a metal knife to eat in years. And they’d never really eaten a vegetable either. I basically sat them down that day and said, “What has happened to you in your life was wrong. It never should’ve happened. But my job now is to protect you, and we’re going to get through everything together.” Both my boys had tears in their eyes, and from that moment on, I knew it was my duty to be the best mother I could be for them.
I could’ve been the kind of parent who said, “I’m a rich pop star. You guys can have a hundred grand each year for the rest of your life,” and then not really give them any attention. But that’s not the kind of person I am. I actually only give them an allowance for groceries. Of course, when I first adopted them, I bought them everything in the world. [laughs] But more importantly, I wanted to spend a lot of time with them to help reverse the conditioning they grew up with and guide them toward a meaningful life that they don’t ever have to be ashamed about.
For most kids in the foster system it’s a real hustle every day. My sons got $7 a week. If they couldn’t get transportation to school and were late, they’d receive a $5 penalty and end up with only $2 a week. You can’t even buy a Happy Meal with that. And so many foster children turn to dealing [drugs] because of it. The entire system is so underfunded and understaffed that there are not enough people to really monitor how the kids are being taken care of. And now my sons very much want to be a part of that change, so I am trying to give them the resources to do that.
Parenting has definitely been a roller coaster so far. After spending so much time alone, it has been fantastic to have this instant family. But as rewarding as it is, it can also be very worrying. Sometimes I get frightened because my sons are young Black men, and statistically, given their histories, they could both end up in trouble or in jail. They have been systemically led in that direction. I’ve realized that there are certain things we aren’t compatible with too, and that is really hard. Most of their lives they’ve been conditioned to lie and manipulate, so the past year has been all about teaching them how to become rigorously honest and live in the moment without using any substances. There has been a lot of heartache. There has been a lot of lost trust and then a lot of regained trust. But I do trust them both. And I’m proud because they’ve come a very long way.
This year has been tough for all of us, I think. And during the protests and racial unrest, I have really been listening to my sons. I basically handed over my social-media platforms to them because until I met them, I only had a notion of systemic racism. I did not understand how profound the problem was. I feel like my eyes have been truly opened now thanks to my boys. So instead of just feeling powerless about what is happening in the world, we’re trying to take action together and share information and experiences that will, hopefully, help others.
My son Che is living with me during the quarantine, and even though we’re all social distancing, I’m proud that he’s able to have a really full life. We have bonded a lot during this time, and we have so many shared idiosyncrasies. We’re both hyper-vigilant, we’re fast thinkers, and we love dogs—we’ve got lots of them now. We’ve been watching movies and TV together, and since my sons love to listen to music, we’ve been doing a lot of that too. It’s funny because both of them have come into my room with one of my songs playing and said, “Mama, you sing this song? You wrote this? Wow, I didn’t know that!” [laughs] It’s really sweet. Che came to a concert I did for the LGBTQ+ community and saw me sing live for the first time, and that was so meaningful to me. They haven’t seen my new film, Music, yet, but I want to bring them to the première with me because they’ve never done anything like that before.
The truth is becoming a mom has changed me in every way. I’ve learned how to be patient and compassionate. I’ve learned how to set strong boundaries. I’ve learned that as a single parent I need a great support system so I can ask questions about what’s normal and what’s not. I’ve learned what it means to unconditionally love another person. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that just because my sons didn’t come out of me 19 years ago doesn’t mean they’re not my children. I’ve already started thinking about adopting more kids. And I’ve realized that this is exactly the way that motherhood was supposed to happen for me.
As told to Jennifer Ferrise.
Sia will make her directorial début in the upcoming film Music.
For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download October 23rd.
InStyle November 2020
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