Presented at Lanark Children's Aid Society, November 25, 2014
recognition of Adoption Awareness Month, I’ve been asked to speak today along
the theme of openness in adoption. Nine months ago my wife Sharon and I adopted
a beautiful one year old boy named Dominic – he is now 21 months old and he is
an absolute angel. We are so happy!
share a little about our adoption story.
story begins the day Sharon announced to me that she was ready to be a mom.
That was the day I started prematurely greying.
joking of course. That was the day I went bald.
I was scared of being a parent. I’ve seen it. It happened to my parents. It
happened to my siblings. I like peace. I’m an old, tired soul.
your wife tells you that she’s going to have a child – whether it’s happening
biologically or adoptively – as a husband, what do you do with that? Do I respond
out of love or out of fear? (And all else aside, I certainly know better than to
stand between a woman and her child!)
So soon we
found ourselves on the path to adoption, taking the PRIDE training (Parent
Resources for Information, Development and Education) – right here in this room
actually – at the Children’s Aid Society here in Perth.
PRIDE training is great, and necessary, but all throughout they have to warn you about every possible worst
case scenario. As if I wasn’t scared enough already. I think I was traumatized
before I even became a parent. Which is maybe a good thing – get some of the
worst trauma out of the way from the start, then the rest seems easier.
But they have to prepare potential
foster and adoptive families for some of the realities that they might face.
They don’t want anyone having any false expectations of parenthood! They know
what they’re doing – no false expectations.
truth is, I have only ever had one expectation of parenthood: that it will take
everything I’ve got. And in the end, this has proved true. But there’s also
that missing piece about parenthood, the part I couldn’t have foreseen: that it
fills me with infinitely more. That’s what love does. It takes everything
you’ve got and fills you with infinitely more.
home one night from one of the PRIDE training sessions, I remember talking to Sharon
about what I want, what I hope for, in our adoption. I know you can’t custom
order your adoption, you can’t always get everything you want, but I felt very deeply
that it was important to me personally to adopt a child whose birth
mother wanted her child to be
that there are circumstances when a child must be taken from their parents
against the parents’ wishes. I understand that sometimes this is necessary. But
if at all possible, I expressed to Sharon how I hoped that we would adopt a
child whose mother wants him to be with us. Instead of there being a mother out
there forever resenting us, she would be out there always sharing in our
end, that’s exactly what we got. I don’t know how these things happen but they
before Dominic was placed in our home, we had the opportunity to meet his birth
mother. It was a gift, a privilege. We weren’t required to meet her – she had
requested to meet us but it was our choice. For us, the choice was easy.
only imagine how difficult it must be to do what she did. Choosing adoption has
to be the hardest, most loving and courageous thing a person can do when it’s
in the best interests of their child. Life is messy. It takes a courageous
person to do what she did. And when I imagine myself into her position, I can
feel the pain of it. If I can do something to help ease that pain, I’ll do it!
So we arranged a meeting through Children's Aid and met. She is so lovely, mature, thoughtful, bright!
It was such an amazing experience to meet her. She also liked us! By the end of
our meeting she said to us, “You know, I was prepared to like whoever they
selected as his parents, even if we didn’t have much in common, but you guys
learned things from each other. Her early memories of Dominic. Our recent
experiences with him and just how insanely in love we are. Who looks like who.
She actually looks a lot like Sharon. I apparently look like the
paternal grandfather. “But much younger of course!!”
colours. How she had dressed Dominic up as Winnie the Pooh. (This year for Hallowe’en
we dressed him as Tigger.) Every detail, every story we share with each other
is a gift both ways.
workers were always saying that “the more people in a child’s life who love
them, the better.” And they’re absolutely right, can’t argue with that! The
more you’re loved, the richer you are.
foster mom is now his Nana. Another grandparent for him. (Another giver of
gifts!) He also gets to see the other foster kids who he spent many months
with, and they get to see him. The oldest foster kid, whenever he’s with
Dominic, he transforms into this amazing big brother towards Dominic,
it’s beautiful to see. They adore each other. Clearly this connectedness
doesn’t just benefit Dominic but the other children as well. Children connect very
quickly, and having continuity in connections is a big piece of our wellbeing.
were still in our PRIDE training, we attended an adoption event in Belleville. There
was a speaker there, a therapist working with children in the field of
adoption. He drew an analogy from his experience as a gardener. (I’m also a
gardener, I love gardening analogies!) He talked about transplantation. You can
dig up a flower and plant it in another garden and it is quite capable of
living a perfectly healthy life. But the key to transplantation is the roots.
If the roots are cut off or badly traumatized, the flower will struggle to take
root and grow even if you do everything else right. The most important thing in
transplantation – of plants or people – is keeping the roots as intact as
privileged that for us this is possible.
not always possible. Openness in adoption is not always possible. For any
number of reasons. And even our relationship with the birth parents is a
structured relationship – it’s not about being best buddies, it’s structured.
But that structured relationship is a joy and a privilege.
also something else. Outside of the interests of me and my wife and the birth
parents. First and foremost this is about Dominic.
because I adopted him doesn’t make him mine. Just because you give birth to
someone doesn’t make that person yours. Every person is sovereign.
is sovereign. My role as Father is to nurture and protect and support him. My
role as Daddy is to give him all the love in the world. His life is his own.
His story is his own. His history is his own. And it’s important for all of us
to be connected to our histories. For better or worse, they contain the truth
of who we are.
the cost of being disconnected from my history. Not disconnected from my family – in that I have continuity – but from so much of my past. I was born a girl, I’m a
transsexual. I’ve had an odd life. Lots of loss. Loss of community, loss of
connection, loss of identity, loss of belonging. Loss of people who can share a
memory with you. Or reignite old memories. Or bring you new memories – stories that you don’t remember. We learn a lot about
ourselves from people who have known us. (Wisdom comes from connectedness!)
my son to grow up with a maximum of connectedness.
he is the most loved boy in the world. Every single person who has known him
has loved him and loves him still. He is the richest person I know.
want him to love. As much as he can love. The more he loves, the healthier he’ll
be. (This is true for all of us.)
him to grow up with love for his birth parents. (And gratitude!) And I don’t want him to ever feel conflicted about
that anyone who has been adopted must wonder about their birth parents. It’s
natural to wonder. And I think that the hardest part must be not knowing. For
better or worse, we all just want to know
things. The same goes for birth parents – you just want to know that your child
is okay, that your child is happy, that your child is loved. You just want to know.
will never be denied answers to his questions, and I will never give him cause
to fear asking. And maybe one day he will want to meet his birth parents. If he
does, I want that bridge to be open to him.
birth parents aren’t just faces in a photograph, they are real people, good
people, building their individual lives while no doubt sending a loving thought
his way every single day. I don’t
want him to ever feel conflicted about loving them back. In no way does that
threaten or lessen his love for me. In no way does love for birth parents
betray love for adoptive parents. I am Dominic’s Daddy. Sharon is his Mama. Nothing
openness is one of the most important things in life. I had to learn that the
hard way, through the suffering that comes from secrecy and lies and shame and
all that awful stuff that grows in the dark.
believe in openness, in life and in adoption. To the extent that it is possible. As I said, if openness posed a
threat to my family, that’s another question entirely. Luckily for us, this is
not the case. But even if one day our openness were to pose a risk… well, I
feel like Children’s Aid has got our back. All
throughout this process they have only given me cause to trust them. They’ve
seen it all, they really do know what they’re doing, and they’ve got my back. I
feel secure. And anyway, instead of fearing what could happen down the road I
prefer to take life as it comes and cross each bridge as I get to it.
about openness in adoption, I remember a little girl I knew who had been
adopted as a baby. When she was a few years old, she asked her mother not to
tell anyone that she was adopted. When the mother shared this with me, I remember
feeling very conflicted. First and foremost I believe in honouring a child’s
wishes. It’s your life, your story. But if I imagine Dominic coming to me one
day and asking that his adoption be secret, I would feel very conflicted. I
would want to have a talk with him, find out why, what’s behind it.
a difference between not broadcasting something and keeping something secret. Hiding something, keeping something secret, not talking about something – to me
that implies that there’s something to be ashamed of, something to hide, something
to not talk about – as if there’s anything wrong with it.
hide my history or the truth about who I am – no secrets, no shame. There’s
nothing to hide about me being trans, there’s nothing to hide about how our
family came together. They’re just facts. Morally benign.
anyway, everyone in our family is adopted. I’m not actually adopted, nor is
Sharon, but we adopted each other. I
adopted her. She adopted me. And we have three pugs, each of which we adopted.
And a cat, adopted. We’re one big adoptive family – we all adopted each other!
me, these are just facts, morally benign. But it’s more than that. It’s truth.
And I’m telling you from experience, never fear truth, never hide from truth,
never escape truth – that’s a slippery slope!
I’m a big fan of openness in adoption. What
that looks like for my family is different from what it might look like for
your family. Every family is different, every situation is unique. Openness in
adoption isn’t about following a model. To me, it is the asking of the
question: How can this adoption result in a minimum of suffering and a maximum
of happiness for everyone involved?
that a question properly posed is nine tenths of the answer. That question has
certainly made my path clear. I don’t always know where it leads but I always
know which direction to take.
along the way, I’m finding that my old fears about parenthood and adoption are
one by one dropping away, revealing themselves as ridiculous. I’m still balding
and prematurely greying but no longer out of fear, now it’s just from spending
my days matching the energy level of a 21 month old. Well, it’s
that plus my genetic destiny. Which, luckily, Dominic doesn’t share. He has
beautiful, beautiful hair.