My husband and I have a unique story. I met him when was dating someone else. Fast forward through the summer to our first year at high school. It was fall, school had just started, and I was single. Tyler was cute and funny and I thought he was interested in me. I figured I was right when he called our house at midnight one night waking up and annoying my dad who told him to try again another time at a more reasonable hour. The next day at school, I ran into Tyler and encouraged him to call me again. And he did, that night. Literally, since Sept. 14, 2000, we have been inseparable.
Tyler comes from a Mennonite family where big families with lots of kids are the norm (think 8, 10, 16 children). I kid you not. By our senior year, we had a pair of baby shoes bought from Zellers where I was a cashier supervisor hanging in our shared locker. We knew that we were going to graduate, get married, and start a family. The red Teddy brand shoes were a reminder of our goals. While I had always wanted four or six kids, Tyler wanted about three. Life has lots of twists and turns that we don’t expect, and our journey was no exception.
Tyler and I became engaged after my first year of college. My parents had requested that I be 20 and finished with college before we got married. On July 10th, 2004 (exactly six days after my 20th birthday), we were married in the North Peace Mennonite Brethren Church. Growing up, I had been fascinated with the idea of adopting. Tyler thought it would be hard to love someone else’s child. We prayed about how many children to have, but we didn’t think too much more about adoption.
I was well into my first pregnancy. I had no trouble getting pregnant, and I felt amazing. I felt slightly nauseous exactly once. That was the extent of my morning sickness. When my doctor recommended a routine gestational diabetes test, I decided to blow it off. I hated needles and didn’t see the point. Tyler was not impressed and all but insisted that I go for the appointment. I drank the syrup, had my blood drawn, and forgot all about it.
A few days later, I was recalled to the hospital for a 3-hour test. “Did you eat a bunch of sugar before your last test? Is there a history of diabetes in your family?” My answer was no to both questions. I drank the syrup again and had blood drawn a few more times. I went home hoping nothing came of it. Instead, I was scheduled to see a dietician, and my mom came with me to learn how to prick my fingers to find out my blood sugar levels.
As my pregnancy progressed, it was harder to control my sugars. After eating, I often had to go for a walk to help control spikes. After one particularly hard day where it didn’t seem to matter what I did, the sugars kept climbing. I went into labor a few weeks before my due date. My water broke, labor commenced, and nine hours later we had a baby boy. He was jaundiced and had a poor sucking reflex. This mama was stressed. Nursing was not going well, and we had an extended stay in the hospital. To be honest, not much was normal about our first few weeks at home. I had nurses visit me at home to help get him feeding well, and it never really did work out. Our first baby was put on a bottle after two months of stress and poor feeds that left me up all night pumping and trying every trick in the book to get him to latch. Little did I know all of this was simply preparing me for what was to come.
During my second pregnancy, I felt amazing again. I was expecting and ready to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes for a second time. Except, it didn’t happen. In the last months of my pregnancy, I was so tired I could hardly function even after taking long naps. I had neck pain that couldn’t be explained and slight swelling in my ankles. Nothing to be worried about I was assured. My mom wasn’t convinced as she watched Tyler try to peel my boots off my swollen ankles right before she and my dad left on an out-of-country trip. Not to worry I assured her, the baby will be born after you return. Just go have fun. Famous last words.
Right after both Tyler and my parents left Canada on separate trips, I went to the doctor for a routine prenatal appointment. I was confused when they asked me to lie on my left side and I grew concerned when they repeatedly took my blood pressure. I heard the doctor tell Tyler to go home and pack a bag. Apparently, the toxins in my body from preeclampsia had gotten so high that the doctor did not know how I wasn’t having seizures or why Tyler hadn’t come home to find me in a coma. I was taken by air ambulance out to a larger hospital and induced. Our baby’s heart kept stopping so a c-section was done and we welcomed a tiny daughter into the world, just three pounds and ten ounces. I heard a specialist tell Tyler that I shouldn’t have any more pregnancies. Then I heard another doctor tell him the same thing.
When our youngest was a year old, I was determined to have another baby. Tyler thought I was crazy. He was sure I didn’t remember how close to death I had been the last time. But I felt grief and sadness. I felt like there were more children for us. One day coming out of the pool, I saw an advertisement on the bulletin board looking for foster parents. My heart leaped. This was it, and I knew it.
I bustled around the kitchen knowing Tyler would be home soon, but not quite sure how to tell him. When he walked through the door, I practically ambushed him. “We need to talk! About foster care! I think we are being called to be foster parents!” I said in a rush. He blew out a breath of air and replied, “I’ve been thinking the same. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
It took about six months to become foster parents. We decided to take it slow and initially did respite care for other foster parents and short term placements. Our eyes were opened to a world of hurting children and families. I struggled with letting the kids go when it was time, and I found myself pondering what would happen to them. At about this time, adoption was placed on my heart again. Tyler, who as a teen had not been sure that he could love another person’s child as his own, had a total change of heart. It was so precious to see his love and care for the foster children in our home.
One day when I was making dinner, I got a call from our social worker. A baby girl had been born and there were no open foster homes to take her. Everyone was full. Could we take her even just for a couple of weeks? “YES!” I practically screamed. “And we will adopt her!” I said because after hearing her name I just knew. I knew that we were supposed to adopt her. “Well, that might not be possible,” the social worker explained. In this particular case, there were some obstacles that had to be overcome. Despite the fact that her birth mom had signed a Continuing Care Order at birth (meaning she was relinquishing her rights to parent). How Emma’s adoption came about is another whole story on its own. I cried many tears while rocking this cranky, fussy baby to sleep. I held her on my chest as she went through drug withdrawals and prayed over her and sang songs over her. My husband was steadfast in his belief that her adoption would go through. And he was right. When Emma was 18 months old, we signed her adoption papers.
It was Emma’s second birthday. We had recently come back from a whirlwind trip to Disneyland in celebration of Emma’s adoption. We were sitting on the lawn around a warm fire celebrating two years of life for Emma. I ran inside the house to grab something and heard my phone ring. I wanted to ignore it, but something made me answer it. It was our social worker asking if we could come to the hospital. A baby had been born under difficult circumstances. Could we come to the hospital and see? Could we meet the mom who had agreed to a voluntary care agreement so she could think about things? I pulled Tyler aside near our porch whispering fiercely in his ear as my brother-in-law gave us a curious glance. I explained it fast. We didn’t want to tell everyone just yet. Now I just wanted this party to be over! As the last guest left, I was itching and bursting at the seams. I practically barrelled the SUV down our rural driveway and sped to the hospital.
The birth mom took one look at me and laughed. She didn’t think I was old enough to care for a child. I let her know I already had three at home. She bantered some more and pushed my buttons. I pushed back. I remember thinking, if this turns into an adoption, this is one tough mama and she is going to be a whole lot to handle. Guess what? That turned out to be true! It also turns out that I love this birth mama immensely. Memphis was a sickly baby from the start and actually spent six and a half years on a feeding tube. Of course, we didn’t know how all of that would go and it didn’t matter anyway. After being our foster daughter for a few months, her mama walked up to me downtown and shook my hand, and said that she knew it was time to sign the papers. We were going to adopt Memphis!
Now we had four children aged five and under, the youngest being Memphis, and she was on a feeding tube. It was a challenging time, but also such a blessing. We knew that we were being pushed to the max with her surgeries and numerous hospital stays. So, we took a break from foster placements but continued with occasional respite. Over the years, we had chances here and there to possibly adopt again, but either things didn’t work out or it was clear that another route should be taken. By the time Memphis had turned 4, I was thinking that our family might not grow anymore. We were just coming to terms with that when on a Thursday night we got a life-changing phone call.
I had just returned from the riding arena and finished putting the horses away for the night when Tyler let me know that someone I went to junior high with called asking if we would adopt her baby. Truth be told, I didn’t even return the phone call immediately because I thought there was no way this could be happening! But it did. We welcomed our third adopted child by direct placement adoption (without the use of an agency or government ministry) in the fall of 2018. Tyler missed the birth because Clayton came into the world so fast but I was there for every moment and even got to cut the umbilical cord. It was humbling to be on the other side of the birthing and to feel so helpless while someone else does the laboring work of bringing life into this world. And it was humbling to accept this baby in my arms and watch her let him go. It was an experience I will never forget.
We often get asked, “Are you done adopting?” The answer is we have no idea. What I do know is that if the opportunity arises, we will know the answers at the right time. Our family has come to the adoption decision differently than others. Our early parenting experiences with difficult pregnancies, tiny babies, and hard to feed babies shaped our readiness to adopt special needs and neonatal abstinence children. We didn’t know it at the time, but all of it was working together to form our adoption decision. And it very well could happen again.