Today was the first in our next step along the adoption path, day one of the ‘Ways to Care’ workshop. Scheduled from 9am-4:30pm, today’s focus was all around the children and the birth family, with day two (next weekend) concentrating on the adoptive or foster family, the organisation (government agency “Child, Youth & Family) and the process involved in adopting or fostering a child.
Although we ended up finishing a couple of hours early today I am absolutely shattered. While I went in there prepared for the session (our 2 hour info evening had given us insight into what to expect), I wasn’t entirely ready for either the level of pain I would feel for the many children out there needing care, nor the volume of emotion it would evoke about my own life – not only about our infertility journey but also about my childhood and the adoption process my own family went through so many moons ago.
It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear once again of the number of children in this country who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a horrible situation. We learned about a child’s development (both before and after birth), attachment theory, brain development, theory of mind – which all took me back to university and the child psychology I studied there. I made a vow to dig out all my old textbooks and relearn the things I’d filed away nearly a decade ago. We spent a great deal of the session trying to view things from the child’s perspective, discussing how they could be feeling, why they might be behaving the way they are, why things we see as positives could be seen as scary in the child’s eye.
It’s awful to think that there are so many children out there who have a less than ideal start to life and how things that happen before they’re even truly aware of them can affect their lives for good. Add into that the children who have had multiple foster placements and the picture seems very bleak. While we were there primarily for adoption, the fostering section was good to talk through and it certainly opened my mind up to the idea of fostering a child. I know right now that our heart is set on adoption but I’ve now begun to include fostering as a potential direction our future could take somewhere down the track.
So you’re sitting there and your heart is breaking for these kids and you can’t help but delve into your own life for comparisons. We’re asked to think about a significant person from our childhood and the qualities that made this person great – trust, reliability, unconditional love – qualities that most of these kids would never have experienced. We can’t help but assign an attachment type to ourselves and wonder at what made us like that. Now I’m not saying my childhood was perfect, I don’t think there is such a thing, but on the whole I had a happy one. It’s saddening to think that many of these children don’t even get a glimmer of that.
We switch our focus to the birth family and talk about how adoption has changed over the years. While the actual adoption legislation has remained the same since 1955, the way adoption is handled in this country has altered significantly. We listen to audio from people who went through the process the old “closed” way, where no contact was had between birth and adoptive parents. Many of the people on here we sent away to have their children in secret, humiliated by their relations for bringing shame to the family name. Other stories came from the children who had been adopted out. Some were told honestly and openly about their history but were most unaware that they were adopted until very late in life. The majority of both parents and children are negative on the closed process, suffering an acute feeling of loss and/or difference, a sense of lost identity and incompleteness, of not being whole.
My mind darts back, as it often does to my own family. How my mum must have felt all those years ago having to give my sister up for adoption, the thoughts my dad may have had not even being allowed to see her. I wonder at what my sister must feel and think about it all, as although reunited it’s not something we’ve ever really spoken about. From our experiences with her family (they are thankfully now our family too) she was one of the lucky ones, but I don’t, and possibly will never, know what she’s been through and how it affected her life. I make another promise to myself to break down the walls and talk to my family about it all. We’re a wonderful family but are not the best communicators, me especially!
So now the adoption process is different, open, where birth and adoptive parents communicate and contact is retained with the child. It becomes apparent during the question and answer section that this brings with it its own set of challenges. While ultimately better for the child, there is a fear among adoptive parents that the child may never truly be theirs, or that a communication breakdown with the birth parents could lead to more stress and harm. I’m not going to lie, these thoughts have crossed my mind too. On top of that I’m also a pretty shy person so worry that I may struggle to engage the birth parents and maintain a functioning relationship between us all. My worries are irrelevant though, I need to face them and move on, because what it all boils down to is what’s best for my child and I’m not going to stand in the way of that. We just need the luck and patience to find that child first. I have everything crossed.