My son Gabriel has been talking about tattoos since he was about 14 or 15. He has always talked about wanting the tattoos to have some meaning for him, as opposed to just being a picture he likes. His first tattoo, which he got at age 18, was of the Liberty bell. It was representative of where he was born (Philadelphia) and says “circa 1993,” which is his birth year.
At the beginning of our adoption, emotions were high, birth family visits were frequent, and roles were unclear. Well-meaning friends and family members suggested that it might just be “a whole lot easier if our adoption was closed.” We could bond with our baby without interference, and the birth parents could “get on with their lives.”
Our adoption journey started in 1998. We chose domestic adoption for a number of reasons, including wanting a newborn, and the possibility of openness with a birth family. We were prepared to wait, knowing we had no control over when, or even if, we would be chosen.
We did all the paperwork and education sessions, and by March 1999, our homestudy was ready. We jumped into the pool of waiting families and prepared to wait.
I can’t remember the first time I learned the term “waiting parent.” But somewhere along my journey of building a family, the term has become second nature. It was like a category was added to my identity. Some might have described me as a woman, wife, student, football fan, queer, Polish – but when all the paperwork was submitted – I was also a “waiting parent.”
I have always been anxious.
I didn’t recognize it until my mid 30s, when I went through full-blown, severe anxiety and depression. After months of hell, I saw the pain as the message it was: “you need to change.”
Mother’s Day brings to mind fresh flowers, blueberry pancakes and homemade cards. It’s a day to be spoiled and fêted by family. But for me, an adoptive mother, it’s never as simple as the Hallmark holiday it’s touted to be.
Don’t get me wrong: I feel deep joy in my role as mom to my two-and-a-half-year-old son, and I marvel at his giddy joie de vivre. But the way I arrived at motherhood will always be bittersweet. In order for me to become a mom, another mother had to lose a child.
My three-year-old son Callum had his first horseback ride today. He’s always been drawn to horses, and spends a large amount of his play time trying to “ride” almost anything he can straddle. So we knew he needed to ride a horse. But we were surprised to see the ease with which he rode, holding the horse’s mane in one hand and my hand in the other, as the horse (named Whinny) was led around the pasture by her owner: Callum’s birth mother, Lisa.*
As a mother of two adopted adult children, I had been going to the Forget Me Not Family Society (FMNFS) meetings in Cloverdale for over a year, and I thought I knew about Moms (birthmoms) and adoptees. My sister Bernadette was forced to give her baby to what society told her was a “better family” because she was given no support to keep her precious little newborn.
1. Adoption is different in person
As I prepared to adopt, I knew there was a “right” answer when it came to openness. Openness was good, and I needed to come across like I believed it. The truth was, openness scared me silly.
What I really hoped was that any child we adopted would have an unfortunate, yet complete, lack of background information, and that openness was something that I could favour without actually experiencing.