Sana L. Cotten for Seen Out Loud Podcast

Season 2 / Episode 3

In Search of Belonging with Sana L. Cotten, Part One

A woman's journey in uncovering her family history in search of identity and healing

Determined to discover where she came from, Sana L. Cotten recalls her ventures to uncover her past, face her family’s trauma, and reconnect with relatives who are part of her story. Hear from Sana how the process of learning about her birth family after adoption has helped her break generational cycles, shape her identity, and begin a journey to healing through empathy.

Trigger Warning: Descriptions of rape and sex trafficking 


Meet our newest guest, Sana L. Cotten, as she recants the discovery of how she and her twin brother entered the child welfare system because of harmful circumstances as a child through the reading of her case files. 


Sana paints a picture of life as a young child in Bridgeport, Connecticut living with her grandmother, mother, and uncle, all who had substance use disorder, as well as her time in foster care.  

“I remember that I stopped feeling like a little girl, because I’m 2 minutes older than my little brother. I felt this immense responsibility to make sure that he was okay…he would only talk to me…I became his mouthpiece” 


Sana describes the limited relationship she had with her mom as a result of being in foster care and her mother being incarcerated. 


Matt reflects on Sana’s story and how at the time she had an unmet need for relationships. Sana shares a memory of her mother’s attempt to visit Sana at her foster home, which was rejected by Sana’s foster mother. 


Matt asks Sana about her needs as a young child while in foster care experiencing the grief of not having a relationship with her mother. 

“I get it, there were systems put in place because of her actions, so I felt like it was a horrible situation and it’s one that I’ll never ever forget. I have often driven back to that house [her foster home] and sat outside of it while inside my car and just sobbed,” says Sana. 


Sana talks about her experience of being adopted, still yearning for a relationship with her mother, and beginning a journey to find her. 

“This is the thing, when you get into foster care and then you remember you were a foster child and you remember you were adopted, like those memories don’t just go away because a judge banged a gavel on the desk and says now you are this person,” says Sana. 


Sana learns that her birth mother, who was incarcerated, had been longing to connect with the twins. Sana’s adoptive mother agreed to open communication and drove 15-year-old Sana to meet her birth mother for the first time since her removal.

“I was so happy to see her sitting across from me and to look into a face that was so familiar to me, and it looked like my face,” says Sana. “I just remember just saying ‘I love you’ and ‘I miss you’ over and over.” 


Matt asks Sana about the opportunities she had to ask her mother about the details of her childhood. Sana recalls hanging onto light conversation instead because of a desire to be accepted and liked by her mother. 

“I was steering away from ‘Why did you allow me to be sexually abused and trafficked by men?’ Those weren’t questions that I was asking because I didn’t want to accept her. I didn’t want her to not want me,” says Sana. 


Sana shares her experience of developing a relationship with her mother once she was released from prison and why it was brought to a halt.


Sana recalls being 18 years old and pregnant and feeling an urge for her birth mother’s presence after being written off by her adoptive family.


Sana learns of her birth mother’s passing. She recalls being angry and feeling victimized because of the harmful events she endured as a young child.


Sana reflects on impact of the reunion she had with her uncle on her healing journey as she learned more about her family’s history and her mother’s regrets. 

The way I processed things were a little different. The questions I now asked were framed a little differently. It wasn’t ‘mom why did you do that to me’ it was ‘how could you do that to me’,” says Sana. “When I asked ‘how could you’ it required me to get to know who she was as a little girl, and what she experienced, and what her frame of mind was when she found out she was pregnant not only with one child but two children and not feeling like she was really the mom.”


Matt reflects on the nuanced conversation on framing experiences with ‘what happened to you’ versus ‘what’s wrong with you’ with guest Dr. Bruce Perry as it applies to Sana’s journey finding love for the inner child of her mother.



Matt asks Sana about what she’s releasing and carrying on her healing journey today.


Sana shares that she originally intended on learning more about her dad when she reunited with her uncle. On part two of our conversation with Sana we’ll hear more about her journey finding and connecting with her father.


Sana L. Cotten

Sana L. Cotten is the Founder and President of Unashamed Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which fosters emotional health in disadvantaged families that have experienced incarceration, foster care, and teen pregnancy. Sana has a passion for advocacy work and youth within the foster care system. She has worked alongside the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in various roles including as a QPI (Quality Parenting Initiative) Champion and as a speaker and for the Queen Esther Initiative. Sana is a published author whose mission is to liberate others to own their truth, find their voice and boldly live unashamed.