Keeping with the adoption theme - one couple's adoption story
James and I were married in 2006 and we knew even before we were married that we wanted to have a family. We have always been very involved in our nieces and nephews lives and couldn’t wait for the day when we would have a family of our own. We didn’t expect to encounter any problems, my sisters have children and fertility was never a problem for them, but it just wasn’t happening for us. I asked my doctor for a referral to Heartland and when we did finally see the specialist, he didn’t just tell us it would be hard for me to get pregnant. He flat out said it wasn’t going to happen and that we should look into either adoption or surrogacy. He told us it would be a waste of time and money to continue trying to conceive. I appreciated his honesty but it was hard to hear.
I have said it before, but some people are born to be doctors, or firemen, or they have a clear idea of what direction they want to take in their lives, but the only thing I have ever really known that I wanted was to be a mother. When I heard that I would never be pregnant, I would never experience holding my brand new babies in my arms, I would never look into their eyes and see myself or James, I felt a loss like I have never felt before. I think the heartache could have killed me.
So many people trying to be helpful, including friends and family, said things to me like ‘just stop thinking about it and it will happen’ or ‘you haven’t been trying very long, just give it time’ or ‘have you tried standing on your head after sex?’ and other wise little tips… or when we started talking about the possibility of adoption, ‘you’re going to adopt and then get pregnant!’ And every time I heard someone say something like that to me, I wanted to punch them… seriously. In the face. My friends were getting pregnant and starting these beautiful little families and I couldn’t bring myself to be happy for them. I felt angry and jealous of their good fortune. It was so hard to see these people getting everything I wanted and I really struggled with it.
In the spring of 2007 I wanted to start the adoption application process but James just wasn’t ‘there’ yet. I knew though, that he would to do whatever he could to help me move past what I was going through so to appease me we agreed that it couldn’t hurt to put in an application. In September 2007 we had our first class through CFS. I remember sitting in the hotel conference room looking at all the other couples and thinking of them as the competition. I could not have been more wrong! We met a lot of wonderful people throughout our journey and have become incredibly good friends with a couple we met that day. We began to spend time together and it was very therapeutic to have someone to talk to who was feeling the same things I was. We promised each other that we would be happy for one another when/if we adopted, and we wouldn’t fantasize about punching each other, and it was just so nice to have someone in my life who understood.
As time went by and we continued with the Adoption Education series, I learned that I wasn’t alone in my feelings surrounding my infertility. It is a loss that needs to be grieved just like any other, so instead of being angry, I began to allow myself to feel that grief and more importantly, I began to heal. The more we learned about adoption, the more James got onboard. Like me, he had always envisioned having a child of his own that looked like him or I and adoption, at first, seemed to be something less than that. We heard from adoptive parents and realized that they loved their children just as much as they ever would have loved any biological kids. It gave us hope. We finished filling out our paperwork, obtained our criminal record checks and child abuse registry checks and provided our medical and financial records. Believe me, the irony that we had to jump through all these hoops while any person, capable or not, could have a baby the traditional way, did not escape us. We each had to write a mini biography detailing our family histories and significant events in our lives, I think James’ was 5 or 6 pages and mine was 15; and by the time our home study rolled around, we were excited about the possibilities. When we began the process we wanted a baby, but as we learned more and explored our limits a bit, we realized that we were far more open than we had thought.
The home study was a good experience for us. It gave us a chance to share some of our lives with our social worker. She was able to get to know us and see where/how we live. By the end of it, I felt like there wasn’t a single stone unturned! On our last home visit, a week or so before Christmas 2009, (yes… it took over two years to get to this point) our social worker presented us with the file of two young boys, brothers, aged 7 and 8. They had been in care for approximately two years. Ohhh my, they were such beautiful boys! This was out of the age range we had agreed on but they really seemed like they would be a good fit for our family. We met with their foster parents and their psychologist and learned as much as we could about them. They had lived with their birthmom until they were removed and placed in care, they knew her and they missed her. We talked to our families and they were all so excited for us. But there was something that kept holding me back. James went to covertly watch the boys play a game of hockey, but I couldn’t bring myself to see them in person, even if only from a distance. The older boy missed his birth mom… a lot. So here I was, faced with the opportunity to become a mother, something I have always wanted, something I have waited for so long to happen, and I couldn’t say yes. I felt like a failure. James was so excited, he was so ready to parent these boys and make them a part of our family. But I just couldn’t believe that I would ever be their mom. In their minds, I thought, they already HAD a mom. I knew they would love me, and I them, but I would never be their mom.
James and I had said from the beginning that if either of us were ever not 100% sure, then the answer would have to be no. So when I told him I couldn’t say yes, he was very understanding and supportive, but I felt like I was cheating him out of a family. I felt so much guilt. Christmas wasn’t a happy time that year; it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, and even though I never met them and they never even knew I existed, I felt like I was letting them down. I think about them from time to time and I will always have a little place in my heart for them. We have since learned that their birth mom got the help she needed and they were reunited with her (which is extremely rare once a child has been made a permanent ward) and doing very well living with her. I can’t help but feel like it was meant to be.
The months following that were tough, I felt so anxious just waiting to hear from our worker. We did have another referral for a newborn that we were not chosen for. James and I were having a difficult time staying connected to one another. I felt like I was going crazy. So in late spring I made the decision to stop thinking about the process so much. It was not productive at all and I wasn’t having fun. We started enjoying ourselves again, we went camping, we went out with friends, we saw family and life was good again. One Friday in June I was at work having my morning coffee and I joked to my coworkers that it would be nice to adopt soon so I could have the summer off. Later that day I made plans with friends to go for a beer after work, and as an added bonus someone had brought cake to have for afternoon coffee. What a great day I thought! Then the phone rang… it was a social worker we knew from our classes, and she was also our friends’ adoption worker. I wondered why she was calling me and my first thought was that she was calling to tell me that our friends had adopted. Then I thought, why would SHE be telling me? Why is she calling me? WHY IS SHE CALLING ME? She said, ‘We have a little girl…’ and the rest is a blur. I started crying, everyone was staring at me, and so I went to the only quiet, private place I could think of, the morgue! So there I stood in the creepiest place in the whole hospital as she told me about this little baby that needed a family. She said we could meet later that day to look at her file so I immediately called James; he was out with a client and I was yelling and crying that ugly snot bubble cry into the phone and he could hardly understand what I was saying except that he had to come get me because we were about to become parents!
This beautiful 11 week old baby girl was living in a children’s shelter. She’d had a rough start. She had a stroke and subsequently a seizure shortly after her birth and was on some anti seizure meds. We were told that she may have developmental problems and she may have some paralysis on one side of her body from the stroke. Her birth mother was a young lady who just wasn’t ready to parent and made the decision to place her in care so she could be adopted. There wasn’t a question in my mind as to whether or not we wanted her. I knew from the very first moment the social worker called me. We were told we had to take the weekend to think about it, and that we could go meet her on Monday if we wanted. So we thought about it by buying a crib, a dresser, painting her room and telling our family and friends that we were welcoming a new member into the family.
Monday morning came and I will never forget the first time I saw her. She was sleeping in a swing and I asked her caregiver if I could pick her up. She said ‘Of course you can, you’re her Mommy!’ Christie Jean Louise came home with us the next day. Honestly, it was like an adoption fairytale, it all went so perfectly and I felt bonded to her immediately. We signed the papers on June 16, 2010 (which happened to be one of my nephews’ birthday). Life with Christie was wonderful. She was so perfect. When we met her she was SO small… she had been very well cared for in the shelter she was living in, but it was almost as though she knew she was home because within two weeks, she was putting on weight, she was smiley and her cheeks filled out and they were so rosy. She was an easy, happy baby. She fit so perfectly into our family and it made me wonder how I had ever enjoyed life before her.
In all the excitement, I had one phone call to make that I was dreading, our friends who were also waiting anxiously to adopt. I called and we had a short conversation and she congratulated me and then we hung up. I thought I would leave her alone for awhile because I knew it would have been hard to hear, even if she was happy for us. About seven days later she called to tell me that they had been chosen to be the parents of a sibling group with a four year old boy, a one year old girl and a 15 day old baby girl. I could not have been happier for them! Since then they have added another little girl to the mix and they are the proud parents of four of the most beautiful and bright kids I know!
After Christie had been home with us for a year, we decided we would go back on the adoption registry to try to adopt again. We filled out all our paperwork again, and had sort of a condensed home study, and by the time she was two, we were on the list once more. The way it works, is they normally want to keep the birth order as is, so we knew we would be adopting a child younger than Christie.
Our families and friends were very excited for us, asking for updates and wanting to know if we had heard anything. But we knew from experience that it was best not to dwell on it. It would happen when it was meant to happen. It was the middle of July and I was enjoying a day off with Christie, we had been to the pool and she was sleeping in her carseat as I drove home. My phone rang and it was our social worker and she told me I should pull over because she needed to talk to me. I pulled into the closest parking lot, which happened to be a strip club (what is with these crazy places that I find out about my kids in??) and Dayna told me… ‘there’s a little girl…’ I think my heart stopped and I felt tears in my eyes as she told me a bit about 13 month old Erin. I called James immediately and he was thrilled and we went the next day to read her file and learn as much as we could about her.
Erin had an older half sister who had previously been removed from her mother’s care and placed with her great aunt. Both of Erin’s birth parents struggle with addiction and mental illness and there was just no way either of them could parent her or her older sister. Her great aunt really struggled with the fact that Erin was living in a foster home, but being in her 60s, she felt taking on a young child AND a baby was beyond her capabilities. It was her hope though, that she would be able to have some sort of relationship with Erin and her adoptive family if they were open to it.
Erin had been in the same foster home since she left the hospital a few days after she was born. Birth mom had supervised visits with her in the beginning but they were eventually suspended. Birth mom had used meth and methadone during her pregnancy and there was a possibility she had consumed alcohol as well. In addition, we were told both of Erin’s birth parents have been diagnosed as schizophrenic so we needed to consider the possibility that this was something Erin would face down the road (children who have two parents with schizophrenia are 40% more likely to develop it).
There was a lot of information to take in, but James and I both knew what our answer was going to be. Then we got to see a picture of her… oh my heart just melted. She had beautiful dark hair and she was so pretty, and she looked so serious in the picture. I wanted so badly to just jump right into the picture and pick her up. Unfortunately, because of circumstances beyond our control, it would be five whole weeks until we could meet her. So over that five weeks, we started renovations on our basement so we could have more room in our house (they are still ongoing by the way!), I read as much as I could about meth use inutero, schizophrenia, FASD, and I will admit, I was scared. I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. I was afraid how it would all affect Christie, I was afraid for what the future might hold for Erin and would I be strong enough to help her through it? James and I talked about this at great length, we never considered not bringing Erin into our family, but I needed to talk about my fears. I knew that Erin’s birth father had come from a very loving and supportive family and they couldn’t make his problems go away, how would we manage? My dad probably answered that question best when he said ‘forewarned is forearmed’. We know this is a possibility. We know what signs to look for. It isn’t fair for Erin to grow up with this stigma hanging over her head but if she needs us, we will be there. That really helped to put me at ease, knowing that it wasn’t James and I alone that would face these issues should they ever arise. I knew that Erin would be every bit as loved by our families as Christie was.
Finally the five weeks passed and the day we got to meet Erin had arrived. We went to her foster home early in the morning with our social worker and her social worker and when we went inside we were met by this happy smiling little face. She was so sweet and came to me almost immediately. It felt so good to hold her! We had visits in their home for the rest of that week, coming at different times of the day so we could get to know her routines and so that she would be used to seeing our faces. We took her for walks around their neighbourhood and to the park, and after a couple of days, we took Christie along for a visit so she could meet Erin.
Since finding out about Erin, we had talked to Christie about her new sister almost constantly. We told her she was going to be a big sister and that Erin would be coming home soon and she would be sleeping in the crib. Christie got a new ‘big girl’ bed and we tried to get her as prepared for the changes as we could. When she first met Erin, she was a little nervous. She didn’t like sharing either of us with this new little girl, nor did she like sharing her toys!
Erin's welcome home party, we signed the adoption papers and Christie 'signed' a big sister pledge.
On August 27, 2012 (my mom’s birthday), Erin came home and we signed the papers and she was ours and we were all hers. It wasn’t long before Christie and Erin were just as I remembered my sisters and I being when we were young. Playing together, hugging one minute and fighting over a toy or book the next. For the first three months we kept Christie in daycare so that I could have time to spend with Erin, but the first two months were very difficult. The first two or three weeks in particular were hard because Erin seemed to be struggling being with us. She was generally happy and easy going but she also had periods where the only way I could describe her was depressed. I knew she was missing her foster parents and foster sisters. She had been the baby there too and they had absolutely doted on her. We went to visit them in a neutral location so she wouldn’t be confused about going back to their home and seeing them seemed to help her a bit. She gradually began to settle in and I could see a real attachment forming between Erin and Christie and especially with James. Erin became attached to James very quickly. Our social worker had told us that attaching to the new dad first was common for children who had a strong bond with a mother figure, which Erin had with her foster mom. But I felt a little like an outsider when it came to Erin. As much as I loved her, I honestly felt like I was a babysitter. This was such a different experience for me compared to the one we had with Christie where it seemed there was an immediate bond. I worried a lot that missing her first year would really affect her attachment to me. We tried to limit contact with the outside world and didn’t have many visitors for awhile just so she could get used to us first, and even though I was caring for her full time, she just didn’t seem to want me. That was hard but our social worker was very supportive and kept reminding me that this was perfectly normal. Between her and our friends who had adopted supporting us and sharing their experiences, I started to feel like I could do this. Then, in the middle of November, it was like a switch turned on. Instead of watching her cuddle with James, she wanted to cuddle with me. She would follow me when I went from one room to another. She wanted to be with me constantly, and I’m not going to lie… I loved it! She really started to settle in and at this point, I can hardly remember what it was like without her here.
Around the end of November we were able to meet Erin’s birth sister and great aunt and uncle. They are wonderful people and we have actually gotten to know them quite well. Audrey calls both Erin and Christie her sisters, and we are Auntie and Uncle to her. They have become a part of our extended family and attend events and Audrey comes for sleepovers at our house and camping with us and spends time with us nearly every week.
It is really important to us that both girls know about their adoptions and we try to let them know as much as possible, in an age appropriate way, where they came from and how they came to be with us. We do have pictures of Christie’s birth mom and both of Erin’s birth parents and we share them with the girls regularly. They are still too young to understand much about adoption but we want the dialogue to be open so that if/when they do have questions, they will be comfortable asking us. I never want it to be something they feel uncomfortable talking about and I have met and talked with a lot of adoptive parents as well as people who have been adopted about their experiences because I want to be as knowledgeable as possible. One thing they will know for sure though… is that their mom and dad love them more than anything!
We were recently asked by a woman in an adoption education class if people ask us about the adoption a lot (yes they do) and if we ever get sick of talking about it. She wanted to know if we would sometimes just like to say they are ours and leave it at that. No, we never want to NOT talk about where they came from. To me that implies that adoption is somehow shameful or less than having a bio child and it isn’t. Most parents I know love talking about their birth story and their labour and how their kids came into the world and so do I. They ARE our babies and just because I didn’t carry them in my belly for nine months doesn’t mean they are somehow less mine. They didn’t grow under my heart, they grew in it.
This is not my story, but that of someone very close to me. They share their story regularly at adoption classes and like to share the stories of how their family was formed.