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Volume 41. No. 2.
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One Big Happy family
Martha Evans '57 has heard all the jokes and endured all the suspicions, but this determined mother of 38 has no regrets.

By Rachel Stewart Johnson '96

“Where other people were afraid to go, I would tend to go.” Martha Evans ’57 is familiar with action. Her history bespeaks a matter-of-fact credo: If there is a need, fill it. If there is a hurdle, clear it. A problem, solve it.

Evans studied foreign languages while at Pomona and married during her college years. She and her husband had five children together, the second of whom was adopted. When their youngest child was still an infant, she and her husband parted, and Evans began her life as a young matriarch—making her own maps in an often cynical, disbelieving world.

Times were hard. With five youngsters under age 10 to care for, she worked wherever she could, often taking multiple jobs in a single day: substitute teacher, childcare worker, office staff member, Avon salesperson. “It was hard. It was extremely hard,” she says. “But, you know, it’s OK. You do what you have to. I’d never thought of going on any kind of aid. I didn’t know enough to do that. I’d always been taught that if you find it hard, get out, and brush off, and get to work. Get another job—do something. Don’t just sit there and say ‘Poor me.’ Get up and do it.”

Despite her own challenges, her gaze was shifted south of the border in an early sign of the magnanimity that has come to characterize her personal life. She began accompanying a friend on trips to a Tijuana orphanage. Children vastly outnumbered caregivers at the modest facility, and Evans was struck by their plight. When she met a desperate woman who intended to leave her four children at the orphanage, Evans pleaded with her to reconsider. Incredulous, the mother asked Evans: “Do you want them?”
Sure.

“You want all of them?”
The answer was yes. Indeed, the answer to similar questions has always been yes. Today, Evans is the mother of 38 children. They were often adopted in groups, as many as four at a time.

Many are now grown, with diverse careers from fisherman to physician, with nearly 30 grandchildren added to the family. Twelve young people, ranging in age from 6 to 21 years, still reside with Evans in a sprawling hacienda north of San Diego.
Evans’ experience of motherhood is calibrated differently than most: she drives a large van that has been known to seat as many as 20, her home has 10 bedrooms, she often has more than 60 people in her home on Christmas Eve, and at one time she had seven children in diapers.

Most of Evans’ adopted children were taken from difficult circumstances marked by poverty and, in many cases, illness, disability or abuse. “These were not the blond, blue-eyed babies that everyone wanted,” she says. A first-generation American with a Norwegian mother and an Irish father, Evans possesses the fair skin, light hair and Lutheran religion typical of her ancestry—all traits well removed from the Mexican roots shared by the majority of her brood. She came from a small family, with only a single sister. Her father was an eye surgeon, her mother a nutritionist.

She jokes that she is “Mexican by reverse adoption.” She is fluent in Spanish, having taught foreign languages at a San Diego County community college for more than 30 years, and has traveled widely in Mexico and Cuba. She has made a point of weaving both the linguistic and cultural traditions of Mexico and Cuba into the lives of her children. Each child has been encouraged to maintain fluency in Spanish, and their home is filled with the sounds of both English and their native tongue.

With such a large clan, the challenges have been myriad. One daughter is mentally impaired and struggles to learn the skills that will help her to be indepen¬dent. Another daughter suffered from a severe case of torticollis, a twisting of the neck that caused her chin to be tucked in near her shoulder. Evans massaged the child every day and patiently waited for improvement. Other children were ill with anemia and tuberculosis. Others have struggled to find their ways in life; Evans has taken in a granddaughter whose mother was ensnared in difficulty.

Through it all, Evans persists. “I’m a slow learner,” she jokes.
She has done it all on her own. For a while in years past, she employed one woman who helped care for the children while she was away at work. Otherwise, she alone has been breadwinner and caregiver, healer and counselor, teacher and cook. Her approach is moment by moment.

“There are lots of challenges. When you want to put them all to bed, you just start with one room and you get those ready, and then go to the next room. You can panic when you’ve got seven sets of diapers to change. You can think, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’ But you just take one at a time; that’s all it takes. Just one at a time. By the time you get through with seven, the first one needs it again, but that’s OK.”

She adds, laughing: “I got them out of diapers as quickly as I could. It gets expensive.”
Reactions to what Evans admits is “not the usual household” have been mixed. Some expressed concern that one woman could not possibly afford to care for so many children. Others have gone a step further: she has been investigated on suspicion of child trafficking and running a child pornography ring. Both the Internal Revenue Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have taken a closer look at her household. Evans recounts one memorable day when a son put a watch battery in his ear—“not that he needed more energy,” she laughs. Meanwhile an official from the state childcare licensing service arrived and asked to see her license. Evans explained that one does not need a license to care for one’s own children.

“I have been put through more things than you can imagine, just because I dare to be different,” she says.

Evans’ choices are motivated in part by her religious faith, which both inspires and sustains her. She also repeatedly invokes the influence of her immigrant father, who impressed upon his elder daughter not only a sharp work ethic, but also a firm belief in the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs.

Why so many children? “I never really thought about it, to be honest,” she explains. “It just was a matter of, this was something that came up. … There was a need.”

Evans says she plans to retire from her teaching career soon, and perhaps transition to a smaller home. A breast cancer survivor, she is grateful for these years. She continues to travel, leading a student group to Spain this spring and battling red tape in order to travel to Cuba with medicine and supplies. As always, she thrives on a household teeming with family. And as always, she will take what comes with aplomb and grit.

“I like a challenge,” she says. “If they say it can’t be done, that’s when I tackle it. That’s the story of my life.”

International Adoptions

According to the U.S. Department of State, there were 22,728 international adoptions by U.S. residents in 2005. Countries with the highest number of adoptions: China (7,906); Russia (4,639); Guatemala (3,783); and South Korea (1,630). Countries with fewer than 1,000 adoptions: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, India, Colombia, Bulgaria, Philippines and Haiti. Mexico, Poland, Thailand and Brazil had fewer than 100 adoptions.
 
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