Saturday, 16 June 2012

Slamming the Door on Adoption


In my experience, adoption is an acceptable way to “grow a family.” My youngest sister is adopted. The wife of one of my nephews is adopted and they, in turn, adopted an infant when they wanted to start their family. I know several families where all or most of the children are adopted. My friend,who was maid of honour at my wedding, was a member of one of these families.
I became interested in adoption as an option for me personally when I was in my late teens. It started when I read an article on singles adopting. I cut out the article and saved it, and this began my file on adoption. I later added to it an article on foreign adoption, and newsletters from organizations like International Children’s Care.
Eventually, when I married, I had no intention of having children of my own. It wasn’t until we decided to start a family and discovered how many hoops we had to jump through for adoption that we decided to go ahead and have a child by birth. I was thrilled with my daughter, but suffered post-partum depression and decided not to go that route again.
After we moved to BC, we decided to apply to adopt. We had been approved to have a home study and were just about to start the process when my husband was laid off and we moved to Saskatchewan. Adoption, in Canada, is a provincially regulated matter, so we had to start over again in our new province of residence. Once again, we had just begun the process when we moved back to Ontario. I don’t think we actually applied in Ontario. We had too many speed bumps – my mother’s death and a couple of marital separations, which are not good material for adoption.
After settling in Alberta, we decided to try again, choosing the foster route this time. We took all of the required training, but had said that we didn’t want a teenager. Well, guess what they gave us? A teen-aged boy! Our daughter was excited about the prospect, but a teen-aged boy, especially a troubled foster child, and a 9-year-old girl reared in a conservative Christian home, are not the best combination. He only lasted two days with us. After failing to come home from school one night and not informing us where he was, I decided that wasn’t a viable situation.
Finally, we decided to pursue foreign adoption. The aforementioned International Children’s Care was a Christian organization, run by members of our denomination (Seventh-day Adventist). I reasoned that at least the children would have been familiarized with our values and beliefs prior to placement in our home since they had already been in an Adventist “foster” home in their country of origin, so the adjustment process should be a little easier, in that regard at least. Guatemala was the country from which they were placing children.
We then went through the ENTIRE process. Training, home study, everything. And we paid for it ourselves because it was a private adoption. I even read the entire training manual onto cassette tapes so that my truck driver husband could listen to them while driving. All the paper work was submitted to the government (it probably had to go to both the Albertan and Canadian governments, but I don’t remember that part) and we were actually APPROVED. Then the Canadian government closed the doors on adoptions from Guatemala! Some irregularities in some adoptions there. I actually wrote a letter of appeal, stating that International Children’s Care was a reputable Christian organization that wouldn’t support any irregularities. No luck, but since we had been approved, we were welcome to try another country. However, International Children’s Care had been our organization of choice. We really had no desire to start again with another organization.
I now realize that all of those closed doors were divine providence. I don’t believe my husband’s heart was ever really in it. I don’t even know if he ever listened to all those tapes I recorded, since he was a good liar when he wanted to be. I was also in denial as to what kind of man he really was, but God knew. And God also knew that the marriage would eventually end in divorce. Divorce is challenging enough for birth children. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be for adopted children, who already have rejection and attachment issues. They certainly didn’t need that extra trauma in their lives. And I didn’t need the added burden of caring for the extra children when the marriage ended. Nor fighting with my ex-husband for child support. That did work out for the best.
My life has settled down post-divorce. I have a good job and own my own home. The thought of adopting has crossed my mind a few times, but I generally dismissed it. After all, we had always considered adopting toddlers and/or preschoolers and here I was in my late 40’s – much too old to be starting over with that age of child. And the reasoning is, the older the child, the more bad habits and behaviours have had a chance to establish themselves in the child’s life. So adopting older children or teenagers was not something we ever considered.
Then one day about a year ago, at the age of 51, I thought, “Why not?” Why not adopt a teenage girl or even a sibling group. After all, I own a 3+1 bedroom home with just the cats to share it. So, I began the process. At the time of my original application, I had to complete a form that stated what kind of conditions/diseases I was willing to consider in a potential child. One of the conditions that I said was not acceptable was Fetal Alcohol Spectrum (FAS). Way back when we were considering fostering, I took a course on FAS and decided that that was definitely not something I was prepared to deal with. I didn’t check off a whole lot of conditions. After all, I was willing to accept a teenager (hard to place) as well as a sibling group (also hard to place) and being single and working full time, I was not in a position to be dealing with a whole lot of physical issues in addition to all of the emotional and behavioural issues that I expected. However, the adoption worker said that they wouldn’t even look at my application unless I checked more things off as acceptable. So I did, feeling rather like I was being coerced into it. Just how much did they think a single woman who must work full time should be willing to accept? Wasn’t I already accepting a whole lot just by being willing to take on a teenager? Apparently not, according to them.
Then began the whole process again: paying for a Criminal Records Check, getting a child welfare check, obtaining references, filling out forms, getting a physical, and taking the training. The training: driving back and forth to the city (over an hour’s drive one way), two nights a week for 4 weeks during what turned out to be the worst weather of the winter. Each session ran from 6 to 10 p.m., so it was often midnight by the time I was home in bed. And I had to get up and work the next day. All that time, all that gas, all those late nights and the sleep lost. And then the home study. This was contracted out to another worker, not my adoption worker. The first appointment we booked I cancelled. I was in my last month of my last course towards my Bachelor’s degree and wanted to focus on my studies. The next appointment, the worker doing the home study cancelled because it was Mother’s Day (okay, both of us had neglected to notice that on the calendar). The following appointment, she cancelled again because “something had come up.” Fine, I needed to get the house cleaned before she came anyway and was more focused on getting ready for my convocation than on an adoption home study.
By this time, I had bought a trailer and was beginning to resent having to tie up my time with planning a home study when I could be out camping. We finally picked a day that I took off work so that we could get together. Again, I felt almost resentful of having to take time off work for a home study when I could be using that time for far more exciting things. I had lost my initial enthusiasm for adoption and was beginning to question and pray about whether or not this was really what I should be doing. My life had reached a pleasant equilibrium. After all I’d been through, I was finally living a relatively peaceful and contented life. That could all be turned upside down and inside out by adoption.
During the home study, I had to again pick what conditions/diseases/whatever that I would accept in a child. I gave in on even more conditions (emotional blackmail?), but once more refused FAS. I was also questioned on how much time I would take off if a child were placed in my home. I had already questioned one of the nurses I knew that had been on maternity leave to find out how much money I could expect to receive while on parental leave. Not much – only a fraction of what I normally make! With me being the only bread winner, I figured I could subsist on that for a month, but to take off longer than that would be financially irresponsible. Sure, I would love to take off more time to help the children and I adjust to each other, but it’s not like I would be adopting preschoolers. Any children I adopted would be in school all day anyway.
We finished most of the home study and she said that we only had about an hour and a half of interviewing left to do. Yesterday when I got home from work, there was a voice message from her. She wanted to arrange a time to complete the home study, but she also wanted to tell me that she’d talked to my adoption worker. The adoption worker wanted me to know that they work with a high risk population, so there was no guarantee that any child available for adoption would not have FAS. Also, that they recommended that the parent take off work for at least 6 months.
Well, I was more than just mildly annoyed. I made it very clear from Day 1 that I am not willing to accept a child with FAS. I’ve no doubt that conditions have not radically changed in the intervening year, so why wasn’t she up front with me a year ago about the FAS? Was she hoping that as time went by, I would get desperate and decide to accept an FAS child? And why didn’t she tell me a year ago that they expected me to take 6 months off and ask if I could afford to do that? I never hid the fact that I am single. I did not pretend to have a husband hiding somewhere who could support me on his income while I took 6 months off work. I am not independently wealthy. If she had been honest with me about these things when I first applied, I probably would not have proceeded with the application. I wouldn’t have wasted all that time and money and gas, endured the late nights, lost sleep and poor driving conditions during the training or the intrusive questioning during the home study.  I could have spent more time studying while I was still working towards my degree. Or camping now that I have my trailer.
So, I have left a message for both the adoption worker and the one doing the home study, stating that I will not take a child with FAS and I cannot afford to take 6 months off work and if those are the conditions of adopting, then we might as well not finish the home study.
I feel like the attitude is: if you are not willing to accept a child who is mentally, emotionally and physically an invalid and ready to sacrifice all of your time, energy, attention and interests for the sake of that child, without hope of reward or pleasure, then you are not worthy to be an adoptive parent. If that be the case, so be it: I am not worthy to be an adoptive parent. And if I’m being selfish, so be that as well. I spend my entire work day nursing. When I get home, I want to lay aside my nursing cap (if I even wore one...) and just be me. If I adopt, then I want to primarily be a parent in my relationship with my child(ren), not primarily a nurse.  And I want my parenting, like my nursing, to be rewarding, not just demanding. If not, why bother? I refuse to be a martyr to motherhood.
So, for me, this wasn’t just closing the door on adoption. What I perceive to be a lack of openness, honesty and integrity, and unrealistic expectations of a single career woman, plus a feeling of being coerced into accepting something I’m not willing to accept, slammed the door. I’m disappointed, and not without some degree of grief, but also with a certain sense of relief as well. I have pursued this as far as I am willing to take it. Now, I can move forward with my own life.
(Closing note: yes, there is still the question of how they will respond to my voice messages, and what I will do if they backpeddle and say that we could still proceed with the home study and see what transpires... But no, I really do believe that the door is closed. Even if the workers try to leave it open a crack, if God has closed it, it’s closed).