Tuesday, 17 February 2015

When we feel our children's pain

It's been almost 7 years since we adopted the love of our life.  She will be 8 years old next week.

I don't really remember her as a baby.  I remember bits and pieces of experiences, but when I look at her, I forget that she was once an infant.  Then I look at pictures, and am reminded that she was once a baby.  And a toddler.  And a school aged child.  And now, she's almost 8.  Sometimes I have more vivid pictures of what she might be like at 18 than the way she was at 3.

Then photos and videos surface.  I see them and delight in seeing how my baby girl has grown.

For years (7, to be exact), I have hoped that someone in our adoption group had captured our 1st moments with our daughter.  The person who was videotaping our magical moment accidentally pressed the button on our video camera twice, thereby starting and immediately stopping the recording before the important moment happened.  She was devastated when she realized this, and she felt so bad, we couldn't possibly be mad at her...  Surely, someone else might have caught it.

Seven years later, it arrived.  Another family in our group had indeed captured this moment and provided us with the video.

I watched it.  And bawled my eyes out.

I got hubby to watch it, and he got pretty emotional too.

Then we asked our daughter if she wanted to see it and she said yes.  We'd told her the story many, many times, about how unhappy she was when she was placed in our arms.  How she screamed and pushed us away.  And how we patiently let her, knowing that this was likely a "good" thing in the long term.  It meant that she had formed attachments to her caregivers, therefore meaning an increased likelihood of her being able to form an attachment to us.  All these years, we focused on how difficult it had been for us to be rejected in this way by this little girl we had been waiting for forever, but being proud of how strong we were to get through this together as a family.

Our daughter watched it and thought it was cool.  It matched the story we had told her over and over again.  She even asked to watch it again before she went to bed tonight.  How lucky we felt we were to have found this piece of our daughter's life puzzle.

Then I watched it again, and worked really hard at analyzing the sounds in the video, trying to commit every detail to memory.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks....

I've always known that our happiness in becoming a family came to the detriment of our daughter's linkage to her 1st family,  Adoption is only possible because a child has experienced loss.  Tragic loss.  Horrible, painful loss.  Loss of their 1st family.  Loss of their orphanage caregivers.  Loss of their foster parents.  Foster siblings.  Crib mates.  Culture.  Language.  Familiar smells. Familiar voices.  Ethnic heritage.  Racial connection....

In the video, the nanny comes out with a beautiful baby girl. Our girl is calm, content.  She seems happy. They say her name,  Then they say our names.   We move forward, and I hear my husband crying.  I can't see my face in the video, only the back of me.  But I know I am crying too. Then I hear her cry.  A lot.  Hysterically.  She cries louder.  My husband tried to soothe her, as she is in his arms.  I try to soother her too.  She is un-con-so-le-a-ble.  The video ends.

But I remember what happened after that.  She continued to cry hysterically. She kicked.  She screamed.  She pushed away from us as hard as she could.  She whipped her little head back to try to distance herself further than her little arms could.  She kicked us so hard, we had bruises on our bellies (it took a while before we realized that if we took off the cute little shoes they put on her, it wouldn't hurt so bad),  I remember her lying on the floor and us just protecting her so that she wouldn't hurt herself as she flailed. I remember the other parents coming into the room, one by one, and reminding us that this was a good thing.  It meant she would eventually attach.  I remember the orphanage staff eventually coming over to tell us that it was time to go, so we had to do our family photo.  The photo that would end up on our adoption certificate.  It has us smiling and our daughter miserably sobbing.

I remember her finally falling asleep on my husband's shoulder.   Her face was haughty. Her eyes and nose dripping.  But she fell asleep, exhausted.

Photo op:  Dad holding sleeping daughter.  Thumbs up.

We got on the bus to the hotel.  In the bus, she woke up.  She looked at us with a look of horror.  It was a "you're still here?  WTF???"  and she started crying again.

When we got back to the hotel, she eventually stopped crying.  We sat on a blanket on the floor with her with some toys.  I took off her pants, to make sure she had a diaper on.  Check. Then I started taking off her sweater.  One arm,,, then she grabbed on to the sweater and got upset again.  So I let her keep it on.  We have photos of her lying on her belly, with half a sweater on.  She looks so sad in those pictures.

I remember the next day, she was standing in her crib next to me.  Still sad, she called out "Mama!".  But that wasn't me.  She wanted her Mama.  She was asking me to find her Mama.  To get her Mama for her.  Her foster mom, who she obviously had considered to be her forever mom.  She was calling out to the one person she knew to be able to find comfort with.  And although I had longed to be her Mama and she had been my daughter since the day we saw her photo for the first time, I was nothing to her.  Surprisingly, I wasn't hurt by this.  I knew this would be "good" in the long run.

Fast forward to today.

My daughter and I love each other more than anything in the world.  We have this cute thing where she tells me I'm her favourite mom.  And I tell her she's my favourite daughter (I have no other children at this point).  Every few times, I remind her that this is not fair to her other moms (which she knows to be her birth mother and her foster mother) because she doesn't remember them and that it's ok for her to love them too, even though she doesn't remember them.

She does this thing where she sets the scene ("Mommy, I need to talk to you about something very important.  Something I've been wanting to talk to you about for a long time") and then "pops" the question ("Will you be my mom forever?") I pretend to cry like I'm being proposed to, and then I assure her that no matter what, I will always be her mom and that I will love her forever. Sometimes I "propose" to her.  She's been doing it about once a day, lately.  It is our way of helping her feel like she has a bit more control over the choices that grown ups have made on her behalf.

Our daughter is a perfectly well-adjusted kid.  She's also been a relatively easy kid to raise.  I can count on one hand the number of times she has had tantrums.  When she's had them, they've been doozys.  But she does not show very much emotion, so when tantrums happen, they are always with very good reason.

The day we met her was one of those times.  She was hysterical.  Knowing her like we know her now, we know how much it takes for her to show any emotion.  The day we met her, we figured, "well, babies cry,  She's just a normal kid".  We were wrong.

This child trusted the people who cared for her. She was a happy, healthy, trusting baby.  On the day we met her, our "magical moment" was one of the most traumatizing thing she had ever had to live through.  This was the beginning of our life as a family.  But it had to come to the detriment of her connection to everything she had ever known.  She was ripped away by strangers,  She was the answer to our prayers. We were her worst nightmare,

In the end, she has accepted us.  She loves us more than life itself,  She doesn't know or remember any other parents than us.  Even though she knows there are people out there who are a part of her, she can't picture them,  And that makes my heart break.   As she grows older, I know her need to know who they are will likely grow.  And I hate the fact that due to the nature of Chinese adoptions, we'll likely never be able to find them.

When I heard her crying in the video I received today, I recognized that cry.  It was the hysterical cry of a child who was frightened and needed her Mama.  And that wasn't me.   That day was hard for us as parents.  We often talk about our own experience on that day and how it felt to be in our shoes.   But that's nothing - NOTHING- compared to what she has had to live though...  Today, I felt it.  I felt her anxiety, her sadness, her fear.  I felt it like a pit in my stomach. It hurt.  A lot.  Because seeing my child in pain hurts me so vehemently.  I wish I could have protected her against this pain.

Our daughter doesn't remember that day.  She's not overly concerned about what she saw in that video.  But that's the way she is.  She see the good in everyone and everything.  She is an optimist at heart and doesn't let emotions stand in her way.  But someday, she will recognize what this video represents and she will feel the pain that I felt today.  I could hide the video away and shield her from it, but it is not my right to do so. This is a part of her history.  It's a piece of the puzzle that is her past.  All I can do is be there for her if/when she needs me...  And cry with her when she needs me to...

Monday, 2 February 2015

Stop! It's Winter!


Stop complaining.

Stop complaining about the weather!

If you live in almost any part of Canada, whether you were born here or moved here later on in life, you are living in a country where we have winter.  Winter is cold.  Winter is icy. Winter is snowy.

Come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure why I am bothering to address the fine people in this country who immigrated here.  They’re not the ones complaining...    
So if a person can come from much, much warmer climates such as India, southern China, and all of Africa can get through their days without complaining about the weather, why-oh, why- can’t people born and raised here?

I believe life is all about choices.  We can’t control the things that happen to us (such as weather systems).  Those things are not choices.  But how we react to each and every thing that happens to us in life is a choice (Note: I am not oblivious to the fact that there are many mental and physical conditions that affect some people’s moods and ability to make proper choices.  Individuals affected by these conditions obviously are in a very different situation.  I am talking about people who are healthy physically and emotionally, but just grumpy about winter....)

Winter is awesome.  And, I say this as a woman who has severe osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, meaning I have to be doubly cautious in icy weather. And as both a driver and a public transit user , meaning I have to deal with the weather conditions whether regardless of how I travel. And as a mom, who has to make sure the child is snowsuited and properly accessorized for the winter.  And as an employee in an industry where I can’t work from home.

Granted, Winter can be tough at times.  I’m not thrilled with having to put on a coat and boots before I go out, even for just a quick jaunt to the corner store.  I don’t take particular pleasure in having to take the snow off my car before I drive away, or having to sit there while the car defrosts, making me late on a regular basis.  I get nervous driving on icy or snowy roads in my little Honda Civic.  I’m not thrilled with that either.

But please take a moment to look at the cool things we get to do because of we live in a place full of WINTER:

Winter Sports
Whether its skiing (cross-country or downhill), snowboarding, skating, ice-fishing, snow-shoeing, playing hockey or ringette, sliding down a hill on a toboggan or other kind of sled, you can’t do it in a warm climate (with the exception of Summer hockey or ringette, which only exist because they are so  popular in the winter).  Ergo, without winter, you can’t do any of these things!

Fun transportation
Many communities in Canada have places where you can take advantage of Sleigh rides or dog sledding.  How cool is it that we are able to spend time appreciating the beautiful animals that have been placed on this earth to team up with us in making transportation more fun and exciting!

Winter “crafts”
Ice or snow plus food colouring =amazingly beautiful igloos and lawn ornaments!  What a bummer than people to the will never experience this!  Snow forts!  Snowball fights!  Again-only available in Winter climates!

Eating a Beavertail  used to be only possible for us Ottawa folks, but now Beavertails are available elsewhere too.  Here’s the thing: if you’ve had a Beavertail in the Summer and one in the Winter, you know that Winter Beavertails are a million times more deliciouser than Summer Beavertails (And if you’re planning on commenting that “deliciouser” isn’t a real word, you have obviously never tasted a word-inventingly-amazing treat like a Winter Beavertail)

Winter accessories
Cute hats, beautiful warm cozy scarves, funny or original mittens, leg warmers, head bands, Oh my!  How amazing that we can take a mandatory but usually boring piece of clothing (a coat) and change it up every day with cute accessories!  The variety is mind-blowing!  I have about 15 magic scarves that I cycle through, matching with either my boots, my mittens, my regular clothes, etc.  It’s fun and exciting to figure out “what shall we wear today?”.  Winter accessories are sooooo much fun!!!! 

Warm drinks
I don’t enjoy warm drinks.  I spent the first 40 years of my life avoiding them.
Then, this year, I got all excited about teas.  I started drinking a lot of it.  And hot chocolate.  And hot apple cider.  And unfortunately, coffee...  But I realized that I don’t enjoy these drinks unless I am cold.  So we’ve adjusted the temperature in our home so that it is cooler (which not only is free, it also saves us money in the winter!)  Warm drinks are yet another amazing bonus of living in a wonderful country that has cold weather.  Embrace this!!!

Cozy blankets and pyjamas
Seriously, need I say more???

An excuse to cuddle up and watch a movie
Seriously, how awesome is getting snuggled up with a big bowl of popcorn, watching a movie?  There are lots of things to do in the Summer instead of watching movies.  So in the winter, after a big day outside,

Attending Winter themed festivals
WinterludeJack FrostFestival! Carnaval de Qu├ębec!  So many opportunities to see ice sculptures, do fun outdoor activities and spend time with friends and family being goofy and having fun.

Maple Syrup
Although more of a Spring activity and product than a winter one, it only is available as a result of having had the Winter.  Sap needs regular frosts and thaws in order to flow.  And seriously, you can consume many maple products but none is as delicious and amazing as Maple taffy on snow.  And for snow, you need....  Winter!  :-)  Ok, ok, you can make snow in other ways, but a) it’s not the same and b) you still need the winter weather for the sap to flow to make the Maple taffy!

And, of course, Christmas just isn’t the same without snow....   

So yes, it’s cold.  And snowy.  And windy.  And icy.

And you have the choice to bellyache about it or embrace the wonderfulness of it.  We are so, so lucky to have 4 seasons.  Why do you choose to be so grumpy during this one?  Huh?


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Why choose IVF over adoption

This is a long post.  I’m sorry, but today, I have a lot to say.

I read a post on a website today, where this question (along with potential answers) was explored: 

Why are some people seemingly obsessed with having a biological child? They will spend literally thousands of dollars, be willing to endure miscarriages, be poked and prodded, etc in the name of having a baby that has their own DNA.As an adoptee, I have to tell you, IT HURTS. It hurts to see that people are literally willing to move mountains, go into huge debt, risk their health…..and some won’t even consider adoption. … or to them, it’s a “last resort”… I’ve just always wondered why for some, adoption is no biggie and for others, it feels like they’d rather be childless than ever adopt.

Here is my answer and it is one that we have wept over, cried out in exasperation over, and, if we were violent people, would probably have punched a wall or two over (as in, the frustration that has built up over this and has festered has evoked such a strong emotional response likely similar to the ones that make violent people "lose it").

We always knew we would not likely be able to conceive.  My Dr told me that very early in my PCOS diagnosis.  If it was to happen, it would not be easy.

From a young age, I had wanted to adopt.  My husband and I never dreamed of having a mini-us.  Adoption was chosen as an option (by no means a “last resort”) as it made sense to us.  We wanted children.  There are millions of children in the world needing families.  To us it was just one of those "everything in the world balances out" types of things.

We tried some hormone therapy, but not to any great extent, as we knew the possibilities were slim.  It was with easy acceptance of this that we decided that adoption was the direction in which we wished to head.

In 2002, we were approached by a colleague who was also an adoption agent.  He had been approached by a birth mother, and, having just started his adoption agency practice, did not yet have a large clientele base, and knew that this was something we had started looking into.  He proposed us and 2 other couples to the birth family, and they chose to meet with us. After an in person meeting, they chose us.  We had to rush to complete our homestudy and all of the other required documents, and embraced every moment of it, as this was us, finally building our family. Several months later, the baby was born, and the agent advised us.  We had a son.  We named him.  We announced the birth to all of our friends and family because the birth mother was unwavering right from the start.  With everything in place to bring our new son home (diaper bag packed, formula in fridge, carrier in the car etc. etc), we waited.  Then the call came: The birth father was having second thoughts.   Over the course of the next few weeks, the birthparents went back and forth on their decision, eventually choosing to parent the child.  We were heartbroken but supported their decision.  It was their decision to make and we trusted that they had not made it lightly.  We grieved.  A lot.  We felt this was our son (who was even born on my deceased's mother's birthday).  It was the hardest thing we've ever gone through. 

Many months later, we felt that we were ready to start a new adoption process.  We decided to go through public adoptions.  Our private homestudy was used by the new social worker, but she needed to update it as the requirements for public adoptions are different.  Although we were considered perfect for a private adoption, the "requirements" made us less appropriate for a public one. Firstly, the social worker felt we did not properly grieve the child that would ever grow in my belly.  The fact is that that child never existed.  I did not feel a sense of loss in terms of this fictitious child.  I had, however, felt grief over the failed adoption.   I had lost my mother less than a year before, with whom I was extremely close. Didn't any of that count? No.  Apparently, that was not real grief, and I would never be able to identify with my child's sense of grief over losing their birthparents.  Ok.

But there was more.  Our home was a story and a half, with a master bedroom upstairs and the second bedroom downstairs (although no further than 25 feet from each other).  Not appropriate.  “What if the child has night terrors?”  Apparently, we would not be able to be there quickly enough (which, since now understanding night terrors and having dealt with a child with night terrors, seems like a ridiculous argument).

We then turned our mind to adopting from China, thereby returning to our private social worker.  While we were in the homestudy process, we sold our house and moved into an apartment, waiting for our new home to be built.  While we were in that process, I decided to quit a job in a very toxic work environment, and start my own law practice.  So there were big changes in our lives, because we were in the process of developing a more stable and flexible life for ourselves and for our eventual child.  Bad move.  Change in residence and employment=lack of stability.  Apparently, it doesn’t matter if you are working towards something better.  So, our file was put on hold.

By 2005, we were finally able to restart the process. In our province, all international adoptions have to go though the provincial Family services authority.  So we needed to seek the approval of the very people who had denied us for a public adoption.  This approval did not come easily (although at this point, they did try to convince us to adopt a newly available sibling group they were having difficulty placing, while trying to discourage us from adopting internationally because people adopting internationally “are just trying to avoid the red tape”.  Uhm-what???).  We decided to carry on with our international adoption, and held our breath while they made their decision.  Their decision came half-heartedly (“we still don’t feel this is appropriate but we won’t go against the advice of your private social worker”).  Talk about a bittersweet feeling.  When we should have been celebrating, we had to do so while swallowing the insulting pill that had just been dealt.

In time, we got over the nastiness and started jubilating about the wonderful addition to come in our family.  By 2008, we finally had a referral for a beautiful 10 month old girl.  Our life changed.  We were so elated at the thought that we had a daughter!  But this came with its emotional challenges as well.  Remember 2002?  We were so close.  But then it got ripped away from us.  What if this did too?

We prepared for travel, being nervous at every little glitch.  And plenty of them came (I'm sure those will be the subject of another blog at some point).

On our adoption day, I remember standing in the room at the location where we were meeting the kids, and thinking: this is as far as we’ve ever gotten.  But until she is in our arms, it can all be taken away (what if they give us the wrong kid, what if she is ill, what if they say there’s been a mistake, what if they decide our file is incomplete? What if, what if, what if….)

Then, our daughter was placed in our arms.  And we cried.  And she cried. Then she yelled.  Then she kicked and shouted and pushed us away.  But I knew she was ours and we were hers.  No matter what she did, she was our daughter and we would go through whatever was necessary to make sure that she was as healthy, happy and comfortable as possible.  The road ahead wouldn’t be easy, but this was what we had signed up for.  100%.

Once our daughter reached the age of about  2, we decided we wanted to adopt again.  At this point, we didn’t have the same financial resources as we did when we started our first adoption process. We had additional debt, a mortgage, a business which suffered along with the crash in the property market.  We lived frugally, but our daughter never wanted for anything.  We couldn’t buy the most expensive gadgets, clothes and diapers, but our daughter had everything she needed, diapers on her bum and clean clothes that fit at all times.  We couldn’t afford big Christmas presents, but we showed her the importance of family and traditions around the holidays.  We bought our clothes and hers in thrift shops, and we saved up to do cool things as a family.  We couldn’t afford the filet mignon, but we could do wonders with ground or stewing beef and discovered the benefits of finding a good butcher, growing our own vegetables and buying in bulk.  We budgeted and made a game out of seeing how much we could save on our grocery bills each week while still getting everything we needed. We ate at home more instead of eating out.  We turned the heat down and wore big sweaters, and flannels to bed.  We played cards or games instead of watching tv, and used 2 for 1 coupons to go to the movies.

Then we decided to move back to our (much larger) hometown, to make a better life for ourselves and our family.  Our hometown was much more culturally diverse than where we’d been living, and that was really important to us in raising our daughter.  I got a well paying job, so we packed up and moved, before our daughter started school, so that she could start in her new city.   Less than a year and a half later, I got laid off.   So I had to start over.  We struggled but got ourselves back on top.  I got a better job, my husband did too.  We moved about every 2 years within the city, to try to move up to bigger places gradually.

Here we are today.  I am in a secure job that I love.  My husband has found the job of his dreams.  Our daughter is happy, healthy, well-adjusted, awesome kid.  We have an incredible connection to the Chinese community here, and our daughter attends Chinese School every Saturday in addition to participating in two different Chinese dance programs.  We are a strong family.  But we have a lot of debt. We make a fair amount, but still live frugally, because we’d rather pay off our debt than go bankrupt, if at all possible.  And there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So now, ask me why parents choose to go through IVF instead of adoption.

My answer is this.  Look at our background and history.  We have had to fight for every single part of our 1st adoption process, and now, we’re having to fight for our second.  We are still considered  “unstable” because of changes in employment and another recent move (from a 2 to a 3 bedroom, to accommodate a future child).  We have a lot of debt.  My inlaws, who adore our daughter, were difficult to convince that an international or domestic private adoption was the right option for us.  How challenging is it going to be to convince them that we are making the right decision about a public adoption? 

When the social worker comes over to start her new homestudy, will she notice that the dog smell left by the former tenants in our house?  Will she feel that our house is too small to bring in another child?  She will question whether we have the means to raise this child.   She will wonder which one of us will be taking parental leave.  She will pry into our personal lives, our relationship.  The questions we’ve already had to answer on the questionnaire were so invasive.   But we’ve done it before and accept that it is what it is.

But we worry.  We worry that we won’t be good enough.  We worry that we won’t be strong enough, healthy enough, financially stable enough.

We embark on this process, knowing what we might expect.  We also know that even though we have hundreds of hours of education already under our belt (including excellent parenting experience), we still have to attend a total of another 40 or so hours of training (most of which we’ve already done in another province.  But that, apparently, doesn’t count.)

And when our new province’s family services are going through their screening process, they’ll be calling our former province’s family services branch.  You  know, the ones who tried to stop us from parenting the first time?

So if I knew that there was a chance IVF might work, I would be doing it in a heartbeat.  I would do it to avoid having to justify my parenting skills, financial situation, residence, choices, relationship, etc.

It frustrates me when I see parents who are blessed with children and who mistreat them, neglect them, or make them feel like a burden.  I cringe when I see kids with soaking wet diapers, dirty clothes, hungry mouths and resolvable but unresolved health issues, in the care of their biological parents, with no consideration of whether they are good parents or not. 

As a family law mediator, I see parents using their kids as pawns.  I see parents who put their own needs ahead of their kids and are more concerned with getting even with the other parent than providing what’s in their kids’ best interest.   They never had to justify to anyone why they should be able to parent their kids.

I have friends who receive social assistance.  They have been welfare recipients for as long as I have known them.  They have 3 children.  They didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to get pregnant.  They didn’t have to think about what to say to person x or person y to make sure their pregnancy could continue advancing.    They didn’t have to worry and be careful to not say the wrong thing to so and so at the risk of that person saying that they would have to wait before having their baby.  I have no problem, at all with my friends having this luxury.  As a matter of fact, I am thrilled that they don’t have to go through what we’d have to go though, as they could lose their right to become parent, and that wouldn’t be fair.

I see ads all the time on posting websites, by single moms who are pregnant and are having to “start over”.  They are asking for everything, from pots and pans to beds and clothes.  No one tells them that maybe this isn’t the right time for them to be starting a family (or at least, no one who can impose this on them).

Yet, even with an excellent track record (our kid is pretty awesome, and if we could use her as a reference, we would!) of positive parenting, of beating the odds and not falling into a depression when most people would have, of not going bankrupt and choosing instead to cut our expenses so that we could repay our creditors, of allllll of these things, we still need to justify our ability to parent before we are able to be matched to another child.   

Parenting is seen as a right.  You can only have your right to parent taken away from you 1) if you abuse it; 2) if you are severely unwell; or  3) if you choose to give that right up. Well, if you are a biological parent (including a parent by IVF), that is.

If you are not a biological parent, let's be clear-you do not have a right to be a parent.  Someone has to allow you to do it.  You have to justify that you’re financially stable. You have to justify that you are mentally capable.  You have to justify that you live in the right kind of accommodations (often determined by a very subjective or blindly objective set of criteria). You have to justify that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure your child will be safe, happy, and healthy.  You have to plead your case to people who are not impartial by any stretch of the imagination, and you have to be prepared to be evaluated, watched, assessed, checked up on and researched even though you have never, ever, ever done anything in your life to hurt so much of a hair on a child (in other words, if CAS has been called on you in the past, I can understand why they may need to do these things, but where there is no such history, and, actually a strong indication that everything is peachy, it sucks to be on the receiving end of this scrutiny).

To be fair, I get it. I understand why it is so important to make sure that adoptive families are appropriate.  So many horror stories have happened before (and I’m sure even a few since) these measures were put in place.  Same goes for the training. I get it.

But when someone asks why families would choose IVF over adoption, my story is all I can offer.  For me, it has nothing to do with wanting a child who is my flesh and blood.  It has nothing to do with having a child who is half me and half my husband (as a matter of fact, our choice would be to do IVF with both sperm and donor eggs of people of chinese descent but apparently, that’s frowned upon because we’re caucasian).  I know that these are factors for other families, but our family’s reality is very different. 

So to a child (or adult adoptee) who feels unwanted because parents have chosen to have a baby grow in their belly instead of adopting them, you don’t need to tell us how much it hurts you to feel unwanted or less desirable than a birthchild.  We know.  In an obviously very different way, we feel it.  We feel it everytime we’re told that we are less desirable.  Not less desirable than couple A or couple B.  Less desirable than any other couple (there’s a difference between birthparents choosing another couple to parent their child because they have a different life than you do, and a social worker telling you that you can’t be chosen by anyone because you don’t even make the list).  Less desirable than birthparents, who obviously are the best option if at all possible.  Less desirable than a parent who has alcohol or drug dependancies, but is getting the help they need.  Less desirable than a parent who beat the crap out of their child but is taking Anger Management classes.  Less desirable than a parent who spent all their money on cigarettes and ipods for themselves, but accepts the help of food vouchers and food banks.  No one would want US as parents because we’ve moved more than once in the last 5 years. It stings for us too. And when you question why YOU would be less desirable, I weep.  Because you would be my first choice, and it saddens me that you can’t even know that.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The pressure of parenting in a family formed by adoption

(I wrote most of this over a year ago, but had never finished it.  A lot of things have changed since then, but I thought I would publish it anyway because it poses some important questions and food for thought.  Thanks for reading.)

Lately, I've seen numerous articles talking about how we need forget about the myth of "what makes a good mother" and embrace our fallible, often mistaking, self-embarrassing mothering selves.  One of those examples is here.

It always makes me ponder about the differences between parenting a biological child vs. parenting a child who was adopted.

As an adoptive mom, do I come more under scrutiny?  Or does it just feel that way???

I feel the need to constantly display good parenting skills (and even justifying them, if necessary) when in public.  This is a common feeling amongst mothers.  However, when I go through this, it is more than "I hope they don't think I'm a bad mother".  There is the added dimension of "I hope they don't wonder why I was allowed to adopt".

I doubt most bio moms think "I hope they don't wonder why I was blessed with this child".  Perhaps most of them never even realized how blessed they were to have that child.  When you've had to spend years of energy, money and sanity proving that you are going to be a fit parent, your child becomes a bit of a prize. It's like an NHL Team who has worked their butts off and finally wins the Stanley Cup.  There is always an expectation, the following season, that they will come out with a bang.  If they don't people wonder what happened.  What went wrong, what changes did they make, would they have won it if they had made those changes the year before?

Or think of beauty competitions-the winner has a reign for a year, and if it is discovered that she does something or has done something in the past that is less than respectable, she is shunned and sometimes, her crown is even stripped away.

Let's say I win an Apple Pie Baking contest at my local fair.  If I am seen buying pies at my local store a few weeks later, won't people wonder if I bought the one that won?

All those things seem fair to me.  So when I look at all we did to be able to adopt our amazing, perfect, wonderful daughter, she feels like a prize sometimes.  We worked so hard to grow our family, and we were rewarded for our heartache and hard work with this amazing kid.  (Alright adoptive parents-stop judging me.  I know this is not about me, its about her.  She is not a prize or a possession.  She is a human being who has suffered loss and tragedy and when I talk about her in this way, I trivialize that.  I know.  YOU can stop judging me too).

So it's clear I feel judged.  When I hobble off the bus with my daughter, I feel people are judging me for wanting to parent a child when I am having so many mobility issues myself.  When I take her to McDonald's I think they're judging me because I am overweight and she is so skinny ("for now", I think they must say).  When she asks me a question that I find embarrassing, I think that they're judging me for the way I raise her.
But I also feel judged by the adoption community.  I feel judged when I wish someone a happy "Gotcha Day" because even though we don't use that expression, some people do, and others feel it is inappropriate.  I feel judged when I even take the bus because "shouldn't I have enough money for a car if I adopted internationally?" (For the record, we do own a car, but in our city, buses are way more convenient).  I feel judged when I talk about our family dynamics, about our finances or about our values, because they may not match other people's.  I feel judged when I talk about our daughter and the fact that our family was formed by adoption, always afraid of using the wrong adoption-friendly language, because it may appear that I am stupid or that I don't care.  I feel judged when I try to correct my mother-in-law's inappropriate adoption language and she thinks I'm overreacting.  I feel judged when I talk about adopting again because my physical health is not the greatest and I'm afraid people will not feel that I can be a good mom even with debilitating arthritis (my mom sure was!).

So WHY do I feel so judged?

Regrettably, I think it is because I am a very judgmental person myself.  But interestingly, I think I am only judgmental when it comes to parenting.  Especially when I see people who would, quite universally, be seen as "bad" parents.  Woman comes on to the bus with a large stroller carrying a young child.  The child has a messy shirt, chocolate all over the lower half of his face, and is screaming like a banshee, rocking his stroller back and forth, clearly looking for attention.  Mom is busy texting someone on her cel phone.  When the child reaches for the cel-phone, she shouts at him, maybe even grabbing his hand, pushing it back towards him and telling him to sit back, and shut up and that she is busy.  I judge.  I wonder why God would bless her with a biological (presumably-because if she had adopted she would surely be a better parent-how snooty of me...) child and not me?  It seems I feel I am so much better than this stranger about whom I know nothing.  I have made a judgment exclusively on what I saw of this person in 10-15 minutes.  I never even spoke to her.

I hate that I am so judgmental.  Maybe that's why I think I'm being judged all the time.  I hate that feeling, and wonder, if I became less judgmental, would I feel less judged?

The games people play

Boys: listen up.

Women like to find a deal.  What I mean is that when we go out looking for something, and we find the exact thing we were looking for on sale 40%, 50%, or 75% off, we get a feeling inside that is very difficult to describe.  It is a feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, amazement and excitement all in one.  It makes us feel like a winner.  I think it must be close to the feeling of winning the Stanley Cup or Wimbledon.  It is thrilling beyond explanation.

A little game we like to play is the "let me show you how awesome I am" game.  This involves asking you how much you think we paid for the item (alternatively phrased as "how much would you think is a good price to pay for this item").  Here's the thing:  if you love your lady, you must play along.

In the event where your lady feels you may not be familiar with how much these items usually go for, she might help you out.  She may suggest to you what she's paid for this type of thing in the past.  Or she may tell you what the regular price is for this item at another store.  

Then, when she asks you the magical question, kindly remember that you are to aim high.  For God's sake!  AIM HIGH!!!!!  If you don't, mark my words, you WILL piss her off!!!  

So when your lady says: Baby these cake mixes are usually 3.99 each!  And these cookies are usually $4.99 each!  I know how much you love cookies and cakes, so I got these for you and stocked up!  How much do you think these 5 cake mixes and 8 boxes of cookies cost?  C'mon!  How much???

The answer, in this particular scenario, is not: "Uh-I don't know, 12 bucks?"


That is most definitely NOT the correct answer.

Because suddenly, I (uh, I mean she) feel(s)  that the $60 worth of food I (she) just bought was not really a good deal at $15.  And that is Bullshit.

Another trip to China we took in 2014

How strange that I took a hiatus of exactly one year before returning to blogging.  My last post was a year ago tomorrow...

In the mean time, we've had another awesome trip to China!  In January of this year, J and I embarked on another Chinese adventure.  My very good friend, X, was getting married in Tianjin, which is just a few hours east of Beijing.  We were invited to come up for the wedding and to stay with X's family, who didn't speak English (although her father did speak it a bit, but in a very, very limited way-we certainly could not have a conversation).  We were in China for two weeks (including the 4 days we took a little trip into Beijing) and were there for Chinese New Year.  It was a wonderful adventure, during which we got to the Great Wall again (but this time at Mutianyu instead of Badaling, which we found to be less esthetically pleasing but wayyyyy more fun!) and to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was a cool adventure, mostly because of the fact that the last time I went there, in 2008, we didn't want to be there.  We just went because it was on the same day as Tiananmen Square, and we wanted to see the Square (in the end, we had ended up missing it because we thought it would be at the end of the tour and ended up being at the beginning as a result of the new rules about entering only at the South entrance-but that is a blog for another day).  This time, we researched it, had a map of it on my tablet, and made conscious decisions about what we were going to take time to look at.  As a lawyer, seeing where historically the court used to be held was quite thrilling for me (and for J) and J developped a new obsession with Empresses (leading to an Empress-themed birthday party upon our return in February).  and all my research about the potential scams was very useful in not getting caught in them!

Chinese New Year in Tianjin is all about the firecrackers.  They are everywhere and they went off pretty much the whole time we were there, with the peak being from 10pm on New Year's Eve until about 1 am on New Year's day.  And if the air quality wasn't bad enough before then, ohhhhhh boy, did it ever get nasty around that time!  Speaking of which, this was the first time that I travelled with a pollution mask and with a preventative puffer for my asthma, and it was awesome.  Healthiest trip to China so far, despite the air quality being worse this year than pretty much ever.  That is, until a few days before we came home when J and I both came down with a cold.  We were very feverish for a couple of days, so we were worried that we may not be able to board the plane home, but it all worked out.

Our Hotel in Beijing was a neat little spot where we paid $27 per night for a basic room with two single beds, a desk, a kettle, a tv and  a private bathroom.  It was the Jade International Youth Hotel and Hostel (meaning they had hotel and hostel/dorm type rooms).  Although it was $27 per night, we had 2 $25 hotel vouchers from Flight Network (who, btw, were awesome, including matching a very very low price of a competitor after their price went up substantially and I wanted to add my daughter to my flight), so the room was basically almost free for 2 of our 3 nights there.   It was right amongst the hutongs just a couple of blocks outside the Forbidden City. I couldn't believe how lucky we were to have found this little gem.  It was a disaster to find geographically, fairly far from the subway, and getting a cab to come to the hotel to pick us up was pretty much impossible, but we had the best walks and the neighbourhood was ridiculously cool.  There were lots of stores and restaurants nearby and when we were in our room or in the lobby, we were comfortable.  I would highly recommend it (but be careful as there are some other similarly named hotels that are often confused for this one, especially by taxi drivers).

One of the coolest things I got to do while in Beijing was spend some time at the New Day Foster Home just south of Beijing.  New day is an exceptionally well-run foster home, caring for children who have special needs and who are referred to them when others (including some orphanages) cannot care for them.  They raise funds to pay for life-saving surgeries and have excellent rehabilitation programs and staff to provide excellent care to the children in the home. I had been following them on Facebook for a couple of years, and I was so very excited to go visit them.  Before I went, I had just regained some of my mobility in my hands, so I started knitting again.  I decided I would make scarves for the children in the home.  As I progressed, i realized I might need help.  So I appealed to friends and fellow church goers for funds to pay for some medical supplies for the home as well as for knitters to help me knit scarves for the children, and for the nannies too.  The outpouring of generosity was amazing!  We raised hundreds of dollars for medical supplies, and brought over a hundred items of warm clothing (hats, scarves, mittens, etc) as well as toys for the children, costumes, clothing, etc.  Our donations took up an entire large suitcase and a second bag.

I had hoped to volunteer at the home for a couple of days, but once I decided to take J with me, that was the end of that, as outside children under 12 are not permitted in the home.  I nevertheless had a great opportunity to spend time there and fell in love with Lucy and Melinda (now named Cora-Jo), and was fortunate enough to witness the mischievous escapades of Brandon and Daniel (now named Lucas).  It was so great to also meet kids like Esther and Austin, whose progress makes me so happy to support such a wonderful cause.

It was nice to experience another part of China, although it was much less meaningful for us than our previous trip to the south of China.  I did, however, find it easier to communicate because I have been taught by Northern (Beijing) Mandarin teachers (a fact which had made Guangzhou quite difficult to navigate at times).   We were also spoiled by my friend's family who cooked elaborate meals for us, gave us gifts and patiently listened to me blubber away in my broken Mandarin complimenting me on how well I was doing (even though we were all painfully aware that I wasn't, lol!)

I also learned that in addition to dialect differences, one of the differences in language between communities can be something as simple as tone of voice and expression.  For example, everyone laughed when I claimed that I felt people were mad at me in Tianjin stores.  Turns out that when Tianjin people talk, they speak very roughly and in a loud and forceful manner.  It's got nothing to do with how they feel.  It's just the way they speak.

There was one day when I was a bit frustrated at my hosts, but it's a difficult thing because I was upset with them being "too" nice to us.  When I travel, i like to take matters into my own hands.  I am a very independent and sometimes adventurous (although generally safe) traveler.  I enjoy planning out an itinerary and figuring out how to use public transit.  Sometimes, I get lost.  But because, especially in China, I tend to stay in very populated areas, getting lost is no big deal as there are always people around who can help me find my way, even when they don't speak English.  I love the feeling of finding my way after being lost!  It is so exhilarating!  and I spend a lot of time doing research before I travel so that if I do get lost, I have numerous points of reference, for example, on maps.  I always print out out (or ave on my tablet or phone) maps of the area in which I will be wandering so that I can point to it if I am lost.  And my basic Mandarin is enough for me to be able to communicate if I do get lost, to at least get myself to a familiar spot (especially when I've brushed up on it, which I always do before every trip).

So on this particular day, I had spent hours researching the area in which I was going to be shopping and mastering the key words I needed to find a particular item I was looking for.  I had maps and instructions from the front door of the building I was staying at to the location I wanted to get to, to another location, and back to our building.  It was all laid out on individual cue cards, with alternatives if I decided to change the order, etc, etc.

When I got to the breakfast table, I was told that the family I was staying with had made arrangements for us to be accompanied by the daughter of a friend of the family, who was studying English at University.  We would be driven wherever we wished to go and she would be with us the whole day.  Ugh!    Nooooooooo!!!!!!  I wanted some alone-time with my daughter!  At this point we had been with other people for a week and a half, except our 4 days in Beijing, and I really, really wanted to experience Tianjin on my own with J!  But arrangements had been made.  So we went out with this delightful young lady who was fantastic.  Although I felt we did not do what we had wanted to do, she was great at helping us with whatever we were looking for and really did what she had been asked to do by our host family.  Unfortunately, I don't think I showed enough gratitude towards her.  I was visibly upset and I wish I had been more appreciative towards her.  She was a very sweet and wonderful young lady, with awesome prospects ahead of her, based on her great command of English.  I hope I will get to meet her again someday, to tell her how much I really did appreciate her help finding my daughter some elusive red Chinese dance shoes....

We are so thankful to have had all of the opportunities we have had this time around.  For years, I thought that I had left a part of my heart in China and that's why I had to go back.  Now I see that I just get more and more smitten with it every time I go.

We're planning another trip to China, this time with hubby!  It will be in late 2015 or early 2016.  This time, we will go back to our daughter's birth city (Guigang), explore more of her province of Guangxi (especially Guilin, which everyone keeps telling us we are fools for having missed) and a visit to our former exchange student in Hong Kong.  We're already planning that one, and that is what will keep me same until we get there again :-)

Have I mentioned how much I love China?

Just checking....

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The life and times of adopting internationally

J had a playdate with a friend from her Summer Chinese School.  On the last day of Summer School, I had sent letters through J, to the parents of 2 of her classmates, who she played with all the time.  We’ll call them, Sally and Jodie.  In the note, I told both that J had such a great time with their daughters and that I’d like to plan some playdates.  In included my email address, telephone number, Canadian name and Chinese name (as I always do when dealing with Chinese people-why have the name if I can’t use it?).  Both sets of parents replied, and so I organized something for today.  Sally was able to make it, Jodie was not.

Sally and her Father arrived before we did.  Given we were a couple of minutes late, my husband dropped J and I off and went to park.  When we arrived, I looked around and did not see Sally.  J said she could see Sally’s Father, so I asked where, and we approached him.  I introduced myself (which, in hindsight, I probably should have done in Mandarin, but chickened out as I usually do).   I asked if he was planning on staying or going, as we didn’t mind supervising the girls for a couple of hours.  He seemed confused, so I reiterated to him that we had our laptops and planned to stay, so if he had things to do, we were fine with staying.  Then my husband arrived.  There was brief small talk, and then he indicated he would leave but seemed a bit reluctant (understandably so, as he really did not know us) and confused.  Then he said: “I just had never met you before.  I thought you were Chinese.” 


He followed it up with: “You have a Chinese name.”  So I explained that I have been taking Mandarin lessons for a few years and one of my teachers had named me.  He chuckled a bit and said: “Oh, you take lessons.”

He left to do some shopping, and Hubby and I watched in wonder as Sally and J played, laughed, had fun and enjoyed each other’s company.

When dad returned, he was not overly friendly.  I tried to make conversation.  I told him his daughter said they went to New York for her birthday and saw the Lion King.  He said there were a lot of people in New York, compared to our city.   So (speaking of lots of people), I talked about our trip to China last November. He seemed surprised that we went to China.  So we talked about the fact that we went to Julia’s birth city.  He asked, in amazement: “She had a family in China???” I explained that she was adopted when she was 1 year old, and we only knew what city she was from.  A few times, while we chatted, he would let out this weird, laugh, that I felt was really condescending.  I can’t even explain it.  I'm skipping many details, because I don't even know how to describe them.

All that matters is that it wasn’t until later, when I post-mortemed the interaction and tried to figure out why it felt so awkward and uncomfortable.

That’s when it occurred to me. 

I interact with Chinese people.  A lot.  It is no secret that I am in love with China and its people.  Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I jump in there and chat with them, sometimes in Mandarin, sometimes in English or French.  And when the conversation manages to work itself around family and children, they are always excited to hear that I have this beautiful, smart, endearing, loving daughter from China.  We talk about where she is from, and how old she was when she came to us and more often than not, they say that she is a lucky girl to have parents like us, to which my standard response is: “no-we are the lucky ones to have this amazing child”.  I hate being hailed as a hero.  I am not.  This was a selfish act, not a rescue mission.

The problem is that I have been keeping a close eye on the reports of child trafficking scandals in China.  Everytime I read about yet another one being uncovered, I freak out a little and hope that this is not what happened to bring my daughter into the adoption process.  This is a personal emotional struggle I have never talked about until today.  Not even with my husband.

But today was the first time that I felt there was any inkling of those thoughts about my child by someone else.  Could I be wrong about this?  Could it be that this was nowhere near Sally’s dad’s mind in his interactions with me (especially his vehement question about J’s family before we adopted her)?  Yes.  I may be over analyzing.   But it has made me think.  And it made me want to write about this very touchy subject.

When we received our referral for J’s adoption, we were told that she was found less than 24 hours after her birth, in a vacant rental space near a school.  We are not oblivious to the fact that this may or may not be her real story.  Frankly, it seems a few children (at least J and 2 others) have this same story (and exact same generally described location).  It is possible that it is just a popular place to leave a child, in the hopes that she (or he) will be found quickly.  The fact that when we were in our daughter’s birth city in November, our guide questioned the locals and found out that a child had been found nearby about a year ago lends credence to the fact that it may, in fact, just be a good spot. 

Even at 6, J understands that we don’t know if this is the truth or not.  For now, we have made a conscious decision to accept this story as our truth.  We’ve also been clear with J that we will be taking her lead on this.  If she chooses to believe it, so will we.  And if she decides it doesn’t feel right and that it is not her story, we will support her as well.  The same goes for the “finding clothes” we were provided, allegedly coming from J’s file at the orphanage.  Well, kinda.  In that case, we’ve decided, led by J’s feeling, that they are probably not authentic.  We’ve taught her to always follow her gut.  And we have made it clear that whatever she believes as her story, is what we will believe as well.

I have to come to terms with the fact that the story we’ve been given may be a cover up for something more sinister.  And if I ever find out that this is the case, I’m not sure how I will stomach it.  The thought of this amazing child being taken away from her birth family illegally, by force, by intimidation or by trickery freaks me out.  I guess I’ve convinced myself that in a situation where deeply entrenched societal values force you to look upon a female birth as a curse and where only a male child is acceptable, abandoning an infant child in a society where girls have a chance at a real life in China or elsewhere, I feel abandonment would have been the lesser of the evils (the more evil being leaving her to die or ending her life).  So when people say: “Isn’t it a shame how they just abandon their girls?” I usually respond with: “At least, their daughters have a chance at a life where they will be loved and cherished.  It is better than being left to die.”   Regrettably, not all of them find a loving home.  I wish they did.  But they have a better chance at it than if they were to die.

Would these children be better to be raised in their birth family?  I’m going out on a limb, here, in a very controversial area.  Here’s how I see it: If they would not be loved and, rather, would be resented for not allowing the family to have a boy (as a result of the one child policy), then no.  They would not necessarily be better off. The fact is this: this is not about whether or not the child would be better with a birth family or an adoptive family (because, let’s face it, there are way too many children who do not get adopted and age out in orphanages of varying quality).  This is about the impact that the one child policy has on a society where a preference for boys has persisted and grown from thousands of years.  It is about forcing families to choose between raising their children at an unreasonably huge financial cost (fines are usually about a year’s worth of wages) or teaching women that a child is not a child until it is born a boy (i.e. don’t get attached to a foetus, as you don’t know if you’ll get to keep it).

There is another aspect to this.  Let’s say Sally’s Dad did have this on his mind.  Why?  What if he has a family member who went through the loss of a child by illegal means?  What if he and his wife did?  How would they feel upon meeting us?  After all, adoptive families are often seen, rightly or wrongly, as being the ones to blame for creating this market for child trafficking.  If this was the case for him or someone close to him, and you were in his shoes, how would you react?

So there are so many issues here.  And if you’ve adopted internationally or are planning to, you must be prepared for the comments, insinuations, difficult conversations, and emotional confusion and pain all of this will cause in your life and your child’s life.  I chose to do this, knowing the risks (well, partially-it’s always so much clearer once you’re living it).  But my child didn’t choose this.  What about when she’s old enough for people to choose to discuss these things with her?  How much does this risk hurting her?  She didn’t choose this…  But the social protective bubble I bought doesn’t fit.  That means that I’ll have to protect her the old-fashioned way: with age-appropriate education, frank discussion and unrelenting and unconditional support.  Here I go….