Adoption against all the odds

Author: 
Siobhan Rowe
Source: 
Focus on Adoption magazine

The following story is far from typical—most BC families that adopt from the US have a much easier experience. This story speaks to the immense strength of the desire to become parents. Despite the enormous difficulty of their journey, the couple we feature here persevered. That is a characteristic of many adoptive families—it is a quality that brings untold numbers of parents and children together.

Deciding to start a family took Jane Bartlett and Linda Coe (names have been changed) on one of the most difficult adoption journeys imaginable. It would test their relationship, their faith in humanity, and cause them great financial strain.

Originally Jane and Linda decided to try having a child through artificial insemination, using a known donor. When that didn’t work out, they enthusiastically determined on adoption. They realized that, as a lesbian couple, their options were limited and decided that adopting from the United States might be their best option.

While many BC parents do adopt from the US without problems, the adoption system in that country has features, such as prospective parents being expected to cover birth parent expenses, and lawyers being able to arrange adoptions, which can place adoptive parents in a vulnerable position.

Jane and Linda called several American agencies recommended by other BC adoptive families. None would work with them, either because they would not accept same sex couples, or because they were concerned about the Hague Convention on Adoption being signed before they had a placement. The couple were then put in touch with an American lawyer who told them that he had previously placed US children with BC families. They also knew a BC couple who had a good experience adopting a child through him. Although this lawyer’s fees were higher than Jane and Linda had anticipated paying, they felt they had few options and decided to work with him.

Rushed into decisions

Shortly after returning from the US, the lawyer called and told them that he had a birthmom that was interested in placing her child with them. They had 24 hours to decide whether they wanted to fly down to the US to meet with this birthmom. Though feeling rushed, they made the journey. As the birthmom seemed very positive and serious about the adoption, the thrilled couple decided to go ahead.

Over the next few weeks, they paid the birthmom $3,000 in expenses, which she said she needed for food, housing, and other necessities. However, this expectant mom wasn’t half so forthcoming when they asked for updated medical records about her pregnancy. Linda and Jane were to find out that, though she told them she had, she had not been for regular medical checkups.

There was a reason for that. She never intended to place the baby with Linda and Jane, or the three other families that she had duped into believing that they would parent her child. This birth mother was prosecuted for her heartless scam and ended up serving a prison sentence. “We were devastated. She was so believable; we detected nothing that indicated what she was up to. We really believed that it was going to happen. We’d even bought baby clothes,” says Linda. She also points out that they later discovered that the birthmom’s name was on a website called www.abcadoptions.com/scams.htm. A prospective adoptive couple had recently met with this birthmom and figured out that she was a scam artist, and had put warnings up on this site. If Linda and Jane had known about this site earlier, it may have saved them a lot of heartache and money.

Exercising caution

Despite this disaster, their lawyer advised the anxious couple that such situations are rare and that they should carry on. Over the next year Jane and Linda received five more proposals all of which didn’t work out, either because they felt that the birth mothers were not being honest about drug and alcohol use, the birthmoms changed their minds, or because Jane and Linda felt a sense of unease.

Finally, a chance came up that they decided to put their faith in. A birthmom had had her baby four weeks earlier, and she said she wanted to place the child with them. Again, everything was rushed. The lawyer stated that Linda and Jane needed to be at his office the next day to meet with this birth mother. When asked why so urgently, he said that he had flown the birth mother in from another state and felt it was too stressful for her to stay in a hotel for any length of time when she was ready to place the child.

Though the birthmom seemed highly agitated, and they didn’t like the way she treated the small daughter that she brought with her for their two day meeting, the couple fell in love with the baby. Linda also admits that they also wanted to get the baby away from its unstable mom. “She messed with our heads throughout the trip” says Jane, “One minute she said she wanted us to adopt, the next she said she didn’t think we were suitable parents.” But, just when they were about to sign the papers, it was discovered that the birth father’s name was on the child’s birth certificate. Though the birthmom insisted he wanted nothing to do with the child, he had to be notified about the pending adoption. Linda and Jane were advised that, though he could object, it was highly unlikely and, seeing as he couldn’t be reached, it would be safe for them to bring the baby back to Canada.

Losing the baby

Four days later, the couple received a call to tell them that the birth father wanted to parent his child and that the birth mother had placed the baby on his wedding day. He didn’t get the lawyer’s call about the baby because he was on his honeymoon. “The birthmom couldn’t care less about the child. It was all about revenge,” says Jane. “We went from being the happiest people in the world to being completely devastated.”

Jane and Linda had the baby in their home for two bitter-sweet months before everything was settled, and his birth father came to collect him.

At least the birth father was sympathetic. Since he left, when they have asked after the baby, he has sent photos. “After that experience, I really get how important it is for birth parents to get information and photographs of their child after an adoption,” says Linda. She also feels that, despite the personal trauma, somehow she and Jane had a part in enabling the baby to get away from its unstable and uncaring birth mother. She gets some comfort from that. “It is evident to us from the photos and emails that the child is well cared for and loved by his birth father.”

Understandably, this second failed adoption left the couple in a mess. “There was lots of crying and it was incredibly hard on our relationship,” says Linda. They both took time off work and attended counselling. Jane and Linda also struggled because they grieved very differently. Linda wanted to talk about their experience all the time; Jane didn’t. The counselling did help and, they agreed to have a moratorium on talking about adoption for several months.

Despite this disaster, the lawyer harassed the couple for payment of his fees. “We could not believe that he called us looking for money a few days after we first found out we might lose the baby.” In the end they paid $50,000 for two failed adoptions. “After the second failed adoption, we felt it was all about the money for him. We were unsure if we could financially recover,” says Linda. “At that point we didn’t feel that we could trust anything we were told to be true. It took a long time for the stress to actually leave our bodies,” explains Linda.

To make matters worse, when the first birth mother was on trial for her adoption scams, the local media picked up on the story. Though Jane and Linda didn’t mind sharing their experience, they were devastated with the inaccuracies in the news reports. Not only did the media suggest the couple flew the birthmom to Vancouver and lavished her with cards and letters, one report stated that Linda and Jane didn’t want their names used in the media because their colleagues didn’t know they were lesbian or adopting. “That was ridiculous,” says Jane. “We are actually open about everything.”

Trying a different route

Amazingly, after six months, the desire to become parents trumped the effect of all the couple’s negative experiences. They knew they could no longer afford or trust in the US adoption system. This time, they decided to consider adoption through the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), as well as posting a profile on Canada Adopts. They had been registered with their local adoption agency as well for two years, but did not have high expectations that their homestudy would be chosen.

They had just finished the MCFD adoption education program when their local agency called to say a birth family had chosen their homestudy. Miles was two years old and being placed directly by his birth family. “When we first found out about Miles, we didn’t know if it would really happen, but we were just so thrilled that his family was not only open to reading our homestudy but chose us!”

Jane and Linda met with the birth family and everyone decided that they felt comfortable to go ahead with the adoption. They began to feel hopeful. Despite that, the couple were anxious that something would go wrong.

Thankfully, Miles did become their son and the adoption has now been finalized. “Ironically, Miles was born the very day that we met the first birthmom who scammed us,” says Linda. “Looking back on it, we were on the right journey; we had just taken the wrong path. We were looking in another country, and he was right in our own backyard. When we were in our adoption nightmare, people often said to us that it was all happening for a reason. At the time, I hated it when they said that. Now, I realize it was probably true.”

Finally, Linda and Jane are thrilled parents. They have openness with Miles’ birth family, and life has settled down considerably for this committed couple. Jane states, “If someone told us at the start of our journey that our story would be like one you would see on a bad talk show, we would have jumped off right then and there. We could never have imagined we would make it through such a nightmare. But now we look at Miles, and the joy he brings us, and it somehow turned out perfect.” Linda adds, “If we did not go through all the difficulties of the first two failed adoptions, we may never have been open to adopting an older child like Miles. We were so lucky to have completed the MCFD workshop prior to Miles coming home—it did a good job of preparing us for his transition.

There is much to learn from this harrowing story. It speaks to the amazing strength of this couple’s desire to become parents—a desire that is shared by countless prospective adoptive parents and that propels them forward despite enormous adversity.

This story also confirms the wisdom upon which BC’s adoption system is founded. Parents adopting within BC can not pay birth parent expenses nor arrange an adoption with a lawyer. BC adoption agencies would also not normally permit a couple to take home a child without all the preliminary consents being signed; in normal circumstances, a child would be placed in temporary care until that was achieved.

Editor's note: The implementation of the Hague Convention by the United States changed the adoption of American children by Canadians. It has also brought in a system that is far less open to the sort of abuse that the couple in this story were exposed to.

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