Embracing a different life
Nestled in the base of the Rocky Mountains, the small mining town of Sparwood is best known as the home of the Terex Titan, a hulking green hauler that once held the title of “World’s Largest Truck.” It’s also home to one very special adoptive family, and a community of people who embrace and support them.
Dominique and her husband, Corey, have been married for seven years. In 2008, after struggling with infertility, they started looking into adoption and discovered the profiles of waiting children on MCFD’s online Adoption Bulletin.
“I can still remember when I got out of the truck and looked up and there he was,” says Dominique. “He had these big blue eyes and blonde hair and a big smile on his face, and he was bouncing around. I just looked up at my husband and said, “Life is going to be different from now on.”
Comfort and connection
Marcus had been in multiple foster homes, and he needed lots of time to adjust and transition. “He’d learned that showing affection would get him what he needed [in his previous placements], so he was very affectionate towards us,” says Dominique. “We fell in love with him right away, but it took eight months for me to notice him starting to attach to us.”
Marcus’ new parents had to draw on all their skills and resources to help their son attach and learn to manage his challenging behaviours. They kept new people at a distance at first and “kept him in a bubble,” says Dominique. They also made a point of taking him along on outings and trips, so that he could see they would always come home with him. They spent lots of time cuddling, reading books, and talking to help him connect.
Dominique recalls that one helpful approach was to start by talking about her own feelings, rather than asking Marcus about his. Listening to her talk often put Marcus at ease and allowed him to open up to her. “If we noticed he was scared we’d go up to him and tell him, ‘Hey, we love you, bud.” He’d look at us like, ‘I’m not in trouble?’” Dominique remembers.
Dominique recently learned she has ADHD, just like Marcus, and explains their shared diagnosis is something else that allows them to relate to each other. “He sees my coping skills and mimics me,” she says. She and Corey make a point of recognizing that they are not perfect and of acknowledging and apologizing for their mistakes.
Dominique describes now eight-year-old Marcus as a smart, empathetic, energetic little boy with a great heart. He loves to play outside and gravitates to a caretaking role with kids who are younger or hurting. He still has attachment and behavioural challenges and probably always will, but “when he’s comfortable and feeling connected, he does really well,” she says.
A second adoption
Dominique and Corey wanted to adopt again, and they thought it would be great for Marcus to have a sibling. This time, they were matched with Anthony. “When we looked at his profile, we knew right away that he was the one we wanted,” says Dominique. The more we got to know him, the more we wanted him. He’s a happy-go-lucky little boy with a contagious smile who loves to play.”
Due to brain damage from severe jaundice, Anthony has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and communicates through sign language, and has many other challenges. This didn’t phase Dominique, who has extensive experience with special needs, but she and Corey still spent a long time discussing the implications of adopting him. What if he needed diapers forever? What if he could never live anywhere but with them? They also researched programs in their community that would help to keep their new son active, engaged, and social.
Anthony moved into the Pinksens’ home at the age of four. His transition happened rapidly, and he experienced much fear and confusion. He also attached quickly to his new family. “He’s thriving and becoming very independent,” says Dominique. “He’ll always need support, but he helps me cook, he’s learning his alphabet, and he uses his iPad and signs to communicate. He can crawl, play on the floor, and scoot along the furniture. Everyone loves him; he’s a real celebrity in our town.”
The Pinksens are an active, outdoors-loving family, and they’ve found ways to integrate Anthony into all of their experiences. “He skis down a double black diamond through the sit-ski program,” says Dominique. “I hike to the top of mountains with him on my back. He has a full life and that’s what we wanted for him; he hasn’t slowed us down one bit.”
Strength through support
That’s not to say everything has been easy. Both boys qualify for respite and Anthony also receives in-home support, but their small town means the available support hours are limited, and there’s no school bus that’s capable of transporting Anthony. In addition to their various therapies for the boys, Dominique and Corey accessed family suppport services to help them work through communication and parenting issues as a couple. “We’ve been honest about our challenges, and we’ve been able to get supports right from the get-go,” she says.
At school, Dominique makes sure she’s kept in the loop every step of the way. She describes how she had to convince the school to work on academics with Anthony, and to cooperate with potty-training him. “I make it very obvious to the school that there are to be no discussions about my kid if I’m not there,” she says. “I make sure I’m at every meeting.”
In the community, Dominique has made an effort to help people understand the boys’ various needs. “The community was a lot more accepting with the kids that I thought they’d be and were so good with giving them compliments and boosting morale,” she says. “They’ve been our biggest support.” She’s also reached out (through safe channels) to both of her sons’ birthmothers to let them know the boys are loved, healthy, growing and thriving.
Dominique’s advocacy skills play a significant part in her family’s success. “You need to balance being an advocate and being a parent,” she advises. “When you walk into that doctor’s office you need to think like a professional. I grew up with dysphagia and learned advocacy skills through watching my mom speak up on my behalf in a professional way. Tell them what you need, and give them reasons backed up with research and facts, and then they can’t deny it. Once people know you’re not going to back down, you’ll start to see results.”
Making memories, celebrating milestones
Dominique also advises adoptive parents to remember that there are still many milestones ahead to celebrate, no matter how old your child is when they join your family. “Many mothers’ milestones are their baby’s first steps, or the first times they hear ‘mama.’ My milestones are the first time my son asked me to open his water bottle, and the first time he came up to me and told me he needed a diaper change, and the first time I could see in his eyes that he really does love me. No one can take those away from me.”
One day, Dominique and Corey hope to buy an acreage that will allow them to have a horse for the boys, who love participating in horse therapy. Eventually, they hope to build a two-level apartment where the boys will be able to live as adults (if they want). She envisions both of them will graduate from high school and possibly even old jobs.
But that’s not what matters the most. “Our main family goal for the kids is just for them to be happy and to accept people for who they are,” she says. “For themselves, and in society. Period.” They’re well on their way to accomplishing this–and much more.
To find out more about adopting a child with special needs in B.C., visit www.bcadoption.com/programs. Financial support via the Post Adoption Assistance Program may be available to families who adopt waiting children with special needs. Visit www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/adoption/paa.htm for more information.