Most people adopt in a similar way. They make the conscious choice to pursue adoption, and then, they follow a fairly standard route: criminal records checks, references, home study, waiting, waiting, waiting, matching process. Interestingly, in our three adoptions, we have never done things the “normal” way.
Our first two adoptions were from foster care. Both times, we brought home a newborn baby and fostered him or her for 18 and 17 months respectively before the girls were placed with us for adoption and our six-month adoption residency period, required by Canadian law, started. In both cases, we went into it loving the girls immediately, but not knowing how their cases would work out. We didn’t know if the birth parents would regain parental rights, if the birth family would step forward, or if another plan would be made. Truth be told, it was quite terrifying. Although the role of a foster parent IS to love and raise and cherish, later to let go and relinquish in most cases, we knew that both girls could very likely become adoptable. Almost anyone else I had ever talked to at that time was in the process of being matched with a child that was already legally available for adoption. I felt like we did our adoptions inside out—they came to us in a time of crisis and need; we loved them and couldn’t imagine life without them, watched the legal proceedings, and THEN inquired about adopting them. After we adopted our second child, we were up to four children in the home: two biological and two adopted. We decided to pray about adopting again as we were very open, but absolutely nothing happened.
We had started the formal process, two adoptions in, and we were actually just sort of learning the ropes as to how to sign up for a BCeID for the online adoption portal. Everything we had done before was paper and pen passed back and forth; this time, we applied for an eID, showed our identification at the local government office, and then were given access to the online adoption portal where we could upload our criminal records checks, reference information, and where we could see the list of things still to be done. Our Caring for First Nations Children training had been done in the past as had our Adoption Education training. We had to dig for the proof and request that these items be ticked off as completed. Once again, we were bucking the traditional and doing things somewhat out of order—not many people new to the adoption portal have already done the mandatory adoption training!
I am an organized person, and I am quite happy when I can tick boxes and get things done in a timely manner. I had heard that there was a two-year wait for adoption home studies in our area, so we dug in and prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Enough time went by that our youngest child turned 4. I was somewhat discouraged; we had never had a four-year gap between children before, and we sort of wanted them all to be close together in age. Our oldest, our only son, had really wanted a brother and was fairly impatient and vocal about it. We had not had to wait in the past. Our home was an open foster home, and the placements that turned into adoptions just came along. I was starting to think that another adoption was not going to happen for us.
One Thursday night, I was doing what I had been doing for years—taking one of my kids for their weekly riding lesson at a local barn. Time has erased my memory of which child I had with me that night, but I remember walking in the house and hearing Tyler say, “Someone called for you; someone would like us to adopt their baby when he is born this fall.” True to Tyler’s nature, he said this so absolutely calmly you would think he was asking me to add an item to our grocery list.
“WHAT?!” I yelled, practicing jumping from foot to foot. The details couldn’t come fast enough for me. It turned out that the auntie of one of our adopted girls had stumbled across an acquaintance that was seeking to find an adoptive family for her child, and she wanted a family that would do openness. Auntie knew that we had been very open with the birth families of our two girls. Because I wasn’t home, Tyler dutifully took down all the info. I called Auntie right away to talk more. I was a little bit in shock, and truthfully, I didn’t know if this would go anywhere. In eight years, I have had about seven parents ask me to take their children for varying reasons (including crisis situations), and in most of those other cases, the situation resolved in a way that care of their child was no longer required (and that is a blessing; it is wonderful to see family situations resolve in ways that keep primary attachments intact). In other cases, family has come forward, the other birth parent or some other stable solution.
I wasn’t skeptical. I could tell that the situation was real and serious; I just knew that these things do not always pan out and that I should wait and see how things went. Looking back, I made a strange decision that night. When Auntie gave me the phone number of the girl, I chose not to call it right away. In fact, I think I waited two days! Auntie actually got in touch with me again and sort of said, “Hey, this girl says you haven’t called…what is going on? Have you changed your mind?” Something in me lit up. I immediately called the number, and nothing has been the same since.
I laid out all the reasons she might not want us to adopt her son, who was due to be born in October. I told her that we homeschool; we have four kids; we have two special needs children; you name it. I wanted to lay it all out so there would be no surprises. I wanted her to see that we were not a perfect family. I wanted her to know the truth about our struggles with medical issues and behaviors and just the general craziness of a home with lots of littles. I even had names of other couples she could consider if she didn’t want us. I wanted her to know that she had options and that she was not stuck with us if that wasn’t what she really wanted. “You’re the ones. You’re perfect!” was all she said. I will never forget that moment at Tim Horton’s sharing donuts and talking—me nervously displaying all of our flaws, her making a decision for her son that can be labeled as nothing short of brave.
Two months later, in late August, it was hitting me that this would really happen. She had the beautiful suggestion of making a chart and having people guess when our little man would be born. Even better, she suggested that we post the chart on Facebook as a way to announce to all of our friends and family that we were adopting her son. Our own kids had found out already. The oldest became highly suspicious when we started shuffling rooms around again and vacated a room closest to ours. Once I had the cradle in there, he had us pegged. We hadn’t told many other people yet and neither had she. We bought poster board at the dollar store and used sharpie markers and a ruler to make a large calendar. Then, we spent some time calling and messaging her closest friends to see when they thought the baby would be born and added it to the calendar. How many adoptive parents have an opportunity like this? I can still see us sitting at the kitchen table on a hot August day working together. I can still remember what she was wearing and how our kids milled around the table, watching us work. I remember hitting “post” on Facebook and watching the comments roll in. We recorded people’s guesses for weight and date. The days both crawled and flew.
In those last weeks, I again had the most incredible experience. Not only did I have a copy of our baby’s ultrasound photos, an extremely rare thing for adoptive parents (particularly those who adopt from foster care), I was able to go to the weekly prenatal appointments in those last weeks. I would pick her up, and we would sit and visit and talk at the hospital prenatal clinic, reminiscing about junior high and all the people we knew at that time (she and I had attended the same school all those years ago and even spent a fair amount of time together when I was in grade 10 and she was in grade 8).
When the nurse would call her in, she would jump up on the exam table and just laugh and banter with the doctor about whether she could just have a C-section and get it over with. She is a tiny girl with a vibrant personality, and she was not afraid to tell people she was placing her son for adoption. Sometimes, the nurse would ask something, and she would say, “Ask her; she is the mom. She is adopting him.” That response would widen some eyes, but most times, the nurse would say, “Wow! That is amazing! Good for you guys!” It was clearly a very different situation than the staff were used to dealing with. I cherish these memories and will forever.
This birth mom has other children and knew what to expect. I remember her telling the prenatal staff that it wasn’t going to be long before the baby came two full weeks before her due date, and I remember them saying they weren’t so sure and to be ready to wait. I remember her asking me to take her in for another checkup as she was feeling very crampy. I remember the nurse saying, “Well, maybe a few more days,” and I remember her shaking her head. No, she seemed to say. It will be much sooner. A mother always knows.
Not long after that checkup, she texted me to say that her cousin was taking her to the hospital because she was having contractions that were just over two minutes apart. I was on a Skype call with a specialist for one of our other kids and sort of yelped when I saw the text scroll across my screen. I hastily ended the Skype with well wishes from the specialist who has known our family for years and knew about the planned adoption. I called Tyler, and he raced home to be with the kids and arrange for a babysitter. He wasn’t even in the door before I left for the hospital. We may have even passed each other at the bottom of the driveway, if I remember correctly. When I got to the hospital, time seemed to stop. I texted Tyler to say this is going to happen really, really soon. He had called our babysitter, my mentor and friend, but she was half an hour away from our house. I set my phone down. I knew things were about to get serious.
I remember my own labor and deliveries, and I remember the look on Tyler’s face: a look of wishing to help but not knowing what to do. There I was, in the exact same shoes. I held her hand and felt the crushing vice grip on each contraction. I heard the nurse saying, “Slow down honey. The doctor is not here yet.” I remember that her tears and her cries hurt me so badly. I remember thinking, “She is going to go through all of this and then she is going to let him go…” It felt heavy. I remember thinking to myself, “Don’t you cry! You are here for her. Don’t you cry. You can cry later, but you be strong for her now.” It was hard. I remember her tiny body curling up, and the doctor squealing into the room, last minute. I remember him, too, asking her to breathe and slow down, but she could not. Clayton came out totally blue and silent, and I could not shake the dread that he might not breathe. We waited for the blueberry-blue baby boy to breathe, the doctor vigorously rubbing him, and finally, he let out the littlest mew of a cry. The doctor, who had been the doctor for one of our other adopted girls we brought home at birth, asked me if I wanted to cut the cord, and again, I felt this strange sensation of finally being in another’s shoes. I cut the cord and sent a message to Tyler saying, “Seven pounds” with a photo. “He’s here already?! I missed it?!” he replied. The whole thing was 45 minutes long from start to finish. Tyler did indeed miss the birth. I was there for every moment, and I can still hardly believe it.
That night was hard for all the right reasons. She and I shared a room, and that was beautiful. I took the bedside cot traditionally saved for the father. Another’s shoes, again. What had it been like for Tyler to lie there after our children were born? Clayton, a name she and the birth father had chosen from someone we all went to school with but who had died in a tragic drowning accident, would cry in the night. She would wake, change him, and then hand him to me to feed. Two women, one baby. There was one common goal: to care for Clayton in the best way possible. Every single time she handed me that little bundle, the magnitude of it all hit me. Every single time I thought to myself, “She is having to let him go.” I could not get over that, and I lie away in the cot wondering what it would be like to live in her shoes this night.
This night…it was beautiful. But also incredibly hard. As night turned to day, I kept thinking, what could I possibly even say? How can I ease the pain only a mother knows when placing a child in someone else’s arms?
There are no words.
There is only the assurance that love abounds and that the child is loved by both. It is like the tearing of tiny threads, and I could feel it. The nurses started asking me what I thought, what I wanted, instead of her. She was no longer the patient with Clayton on the outside now. I felt like it was minimizing her input, minimizing her sacrifice. Finally, one last time, she set him in my arms. It was her time to go and my time to stay. Paperwork suspended all around us—me having commandeered the nurse’s station to fax and email our lawyer, Tyler ready to take her to the city commissioner to sign in order to grant us parental rights in just one more step of the complicated direct placement adoption process. In that moment, the shift was made: two women, one night, one baby—many, many lives forever changed.
This night, this type of night in the adoption world is a holy sort of night. In it, it feels like the world changes, like the threads of biology are unwound and wound anew, giving life and love to someone who waited while cutting away from the one who carried. It is not without pain but is done with great love. This night, never to be forgotten.
Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.