Rachael Clark is a straight-A student graduating from the University of Maryland this year, getting married this summer, and making plans beyond that.
She is preparing to write book about adoption; to pursue a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy; to become a mom to at least four kids.
Not bad for a young woman who was tragically left in a dumpster, sealed in a dark garbage bag, on the day she was born in September 1989.
“Some days, it’s like it never happened,” Rachael told NBC's Today. “But some days, I really do struggle. I have such strong abandonment issues.”
Being tossed into a dumpster and left for dead with her umbilical cord and placenta still attached will do that - but Clark insists she is not bitter.
She said adoptive parents should not be shocked if children want to find their birth parents even after learning their birth parents mistreated them.
She said it’s normal for people to want to know the truth about their origins, and her parents have supported it because they know how much it means to her.
“I will always want to find (my birth parents),” Clark said. “I mean, I obviously think my birth mother did the wrong thing. I assume she was young."
"I just always try to keep a completely open mind in case I do meet them," which she has not yet. "I forgive her, and I’m not angry about it.”
Why try to find them after this? She says she can't fully explain it.
“I just want to be able to tell them that I forgive them,” she said.
More than anything else, Rachael said she’s grateful to the parents who adopted her and helped her in so many ways, against steep obstacles.
“I have such appreciation for them,” Rachael said. “They took in a little baby and they took such good care of me. They gave me such an awesome life.”
One that was minutes away from ending before it began.
Minutes before she ran out of oxygen, someone heard her cries from the dumpster and saved her. Her rescue in Temple Hills, Md., became national news.
Thomas Stephensongarbage behind his wife’s flower shop, paused in disbelief for a moment, ran back inside and told his wife to call for help.
Then he returned to the dumpster and retrieved the bag.
Inside was a beautiful baby girl, whose skull was fractured. She had hematomas, or poolings of blood, on both sides of her head. But she survived.
Dane and Jenifer Clark of Dunkirk, Md., had been waiting on their county’s adoption rolls for eight years when the dramatic rescue story broke.
The couple, who were in their early 40s at the time, watched the news anxiously and wondered whether this might be their future baby daughter.
Sure enough, the Clarks adopted the little girl just a few weeks after she was found. When they met her in person for the first time, they swooned.
Rachael's birth parents are still unknown.
As thrilled as the Clarks were to have her, and as ready as they felt to take care of her, nothing could have prepared them for the challenges ahead.
Rachael experienced night terrors for the first six years of her life. After waking herself up screaming, she’d eventually fall back asleep. Her mom would not.
“It was a new definition of tired,” said Jenifer, who somehow managed to keep working as an oceanographer despite years of sleep deprivation.
Other complications surfaced after Rachael, a highly verbal toddler, overheard baby sitters talking about the circumstances of her birth in graphic detail.
When the baby sitters left and her parents came home, Rachael blurted out, “Mommy, I was found in a dumpster and a man found me and took me home!”
Rachael’s mom thought fast.
“I said, ‘You know what happened then?’” Jenifer recalled. “‘We had prayed for you every night for eight years and God wanted us to have you!"
"Thousands of people wanted to adopt you.’”
On another occasion, Jenifer was giving Rachael a bath when the 2-year-old, always verbal for her age, asked, “Mommy, I growed in your tummy?”
“No, honey,” Jenifer responded quickly to the youngster.
“We adopted you and you grew in our heart.”