From Adoption

Love is a Choice: Adopting an Older Child

From the Editors: Writer Oceania Chase shares the real challenges of adopting an older child as a single woman. 

It’s a beautiful sunny day and I’m desperately trying to hold on to my composure. My daughter is lying on the ground; repeatedly screaming at the top of her lungs “It’s not fair!” Her arms and legs are flailing and she is turning scarlet with anger.

My inner voice is reminding me: this is good; she’s allowing herself to feel angry, she’s right it isn’t fair, deal with her at the age she’s acting; she’s acting like a toddler, treat her like a toddler. Watch her; keep her safe, she needs to feel the feeling.

My pride is telling me to grab her up off the floor and frog march her back to my car immediately; this is embarrassing. People are watching us. I can see them making snide comments to each other, casting judgment. Why am I allowing this? What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with me? Should they call the police?

So I sit, watching over her until she calms down naturally. Ready to help her when she’s ready. It feels like it has gone on for hours, if not days. In reality it was only about 5 minutes. She is 9years old and looks about 12.

I desperately wanted to shout out “it’s not my fault!”Whether intentional, or not, people can seem very judgmental. When I’m dealing with my 9-year-old daughter in public as you would a 3 year old – don’t judge her or me. You don’t know what she’s been through. You don’t know that she needs to have the developmental experiences of being 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. That she’s never had them, and despite being 9 now, that she still needs to be held like a toddler at times, that she doesn’t know how to play, how to interact with her peers, that she needs to be cued socially just like a toddler. When she’s lying and stealing – that it takes time for her to learn that attention-seeking behaviors that were ignored for the first 7-8 years of her life are no longer acceptable. That she really is only just learning better. Those are the times when I’m certainly no saint. When I want to scream “I’m not a bad parent, I didn’t do this!“ Instead I swallow my pride and get on with parenting my daughter, as she needs to be parented right now.

You might be wondering, why a single woman would adopt a nine-year old girl who needs this level of care?

Actually, the hardest part of adopting an older child is managing other people.

When people say that they couldn’t do it or that I’m a saint, I’m sure they mean well. When people ask questions such as what I would do if her ‘real’ mother took her back?, I get that it is out of ignorance of the adoption laws.

I’m no saint! I’m just a woman who didn’t adopt out of a belief that love would be enough but in the acknowledgement and understanding, based on years of working with children in a variety of ways, that it takes more than love, like a lot of hard work, to raise children to be healthy adults. That having been through a lot myself as a child, felt drawn to adopt an older child, who are often considered unadoptable, because they’re no longer a cute baby and easy to explain to friends and family.

It might surprise people to know that I struggle with feeling selfish. By adopting my daughter as a single parent, that I took away her chance to have both a mum and a dad. I know intellectually that the government matched me with her based on her needs but when she latches on to every man in our life as a potential Dad, I worry that I did her an injustice. Knowing that if I hadn’t been her match that she would have probably ended up in foster care, or a group-home, helps me deal with that but I still struggle with it.

Thankfully, I have a good support network in terms of people being there for me to talk to but it’s taken me most of the last 16 months to recognize that I also need time for myself for me to be a better parent for her. That it won’t hurt her to spend time with other people once in a while and that it doesn’t make me a bad person if I find people that can take care of her occasionally. Yet, I have to be very careful who takes care of her and that they understand why we have a strict routine and why it must be adhered to (She has anxiety which is very much helped by enforced routine). Interestingly, talking with other adoptive parents this discomfort with letting others take care of our children seems to be a common problem. It’s as though we fight so hard to get our children that once we have them we forget that we’re only human and just like all other parents aren’t superhuman!

When you adopt an older child, you grieve for the lost years. You think that there won’t be any sleepless nights as there are with a newborn; that you’ll have missed many of those first experiences. Some of which is true. I certainly didn’t get to change her diapers; however, I do get to deal with poopy panties and help her learn how to listen to her body and to go to the toilet appropriately.

Additionally, for my daughter, her past circumstances meant that she didn’t get to experience many of the ‘firsts’ that you’d usually expect a child her age to have had and as we work together towards her emotional health, I find that I still have those prized moments with her that I thought were lost in her babyhood. Just the other day she was cuddled up on my knee as I gently moved the rocking chair back and forth. ‘Our song’ is playing and the play therapist has moved so that she’s out of sight. The moment is simply ours. My daughter gently reaches up and mimicking something that I’ve now done with her for over a year, each and every bedtime, she gently reaches up with her hand and strokes my face and stares into my eyes.

Just days before I’d watched a newborn do the same thing – bonding with their mother. Other such moments are seeing her face light up when she saw fireworks for the first time, giving her her first children’s birthday party, taking her to see a kids’ movie, her face when she experienced her first visits from the tooth fairy and a note from Santa! Of the night she confessed her biggest secret –crying, snot running down her face, gulping air frantically, near hysteria and silently screaming inside, curled up in my arms and holding on to me so tightly, as she confessed what she’d never dared voice before – knowing that this meant that she finally felt safe and loved and therefore could trust me with her deepest darkest fears.

For months I dreaded putting her to bed. Not that I hated the bedtime routine – I loved it and still do – but that was when she’d start talking about her past experiences. It broke my heart so many times to hear her talk about her past life. Those were the nights that email and our social worker kept me sane. Thankfully she’s now coming to a place when she’ll talk about these things with me at other times and not just at bedtime.

My daughter was seven years old when she was placed with me and I already loved her. I’d prayed for her for years. I’d gone through multiple hoops and hurdles in two different countries before finally being blessed with her. Yet, once she came I found that I had to make a conscious choice each and every day to love her. It took many months to break through her barriers and find the real child behind all the pretense and barricades she’d created to keep herself safe. Yet, it was that moment when the walls came down and she let me really see her – warts and all –and started to really believe that she was now safe and that I wasn’t going to ever send her away or leave her – that I fell truly in love with this daughter of my heart.

Love is a choice and one I gladly continue to make each and every day.

Oceania Chase is a writer based in Northern Ontario, Canada. She writes in a variety of genres, including pieces based on her personal life experiences, and is currently completing the background research needed for her first novel. She can be contacted at oceaniachase@gmail.com

Adopting Motherhood

From the editors: this piece was submitted by Erin X. To continue the conversation with Erin, leave a comment!

I always wanted to be a mom. I was changing my siblings’ diapers and rocking them to sleep by the time I was nine, and it suited me. I have had friends who did not feel that way about children at all, but when it happened to them they said “oh yeah, I was meant to do this,” and I felt pangs of envy that became stronger in my mid-thirties.

When the idea of adoption entered my radar, I felt an internal struggle that I couldn’t quite explain. I had to challenge my own assumptions about marriage; I had just figured that it would happen for me someday, and then I could have children. In the span of a few months, random conversations about the possibility of adopting a child on my own started to creep into my consciousness. One of my high school students told me that she wished we could go back in time, and I could adopt her. Friends at a poker party mentioned some friends of theirs who had recently adopted a baby, and I found myself hungry to learn about the process. I began to yield to the possibility and believe that someone might give me a baby even though I was not a celebrity with lots of money, and that maybe I could raise a child by myself.

As I began to feel confidence in the idea, I noticed outside resistance from well-meaning friends and family. Some asked, how will you afford it? how can you do it alone? how will you ever find a boyfriend if you adopt a kid by yourself? Do you think you could love a baby that wasn’t really yours? It was hard to explain to them that I was not asking for their advice or blessing, I was just sharing my plans. In retrospect, I know that there were supportive voices as well, but all of the questions made me feel like I was not enough, but I wanted it so much that I moved forward in spite of my fears.

Little Big Man came to me through foster care weeks after he was born, and I had only been licensed for a month. I am grateful that I was so naïve about the complexity of “legal risk” because I may not have had the courage to adopt through foster care if I knew. Essentially, I was agreeing to raise him, but the courts could give him back to his biological parents at any time. In the first eighteen months of his life, I was able to live in the moment in a way that I have not done before or since. In my memory, our early months together are suspended in time. Not everyone likes the demands of a newborn, but I relished every moment. People often asked me how I could risk the loss of a baby that was not really mine, but I knew somewhere in my soul that he was worth it. Our life together had value no matter what would happen next. He and I talk now about how he did not grow in my tummy, but I was waiting to be his mama the whole time.

Although I experienced great joy with Little Big Man, I did find the challenge of caring for a baby who had been exposed to drugs in utero daunting. The frequent trips to the doctor’s office and occasional hospital stays took their toll in those early days. When he was almost 2-years-old, I started to imagine him having a sibling. I desperately wanted another baby, but a part of me wondered if it was fair to expect Little Big Man to go through the risky process with me. I thought about it for a long time, and it was watching the way he loved other children that made me willing to try. He was about to turn three at the time, and I told him that we might take care of a baby who needed our love. He was all for it. As much as everyone loved my sweet boy, many expressed wonder that I would risk my heart again to adopt another child, and many questioned my ability to “handle” two children. However, they stood by me when I had a baby placed with me only to be reunited with birth relatives a few months later. In my weakest moments Little Big Man provided solace that I never imagined such a tiny creature could contain, and I began to heal. In spite of the grief I experienced, my heart and my home were still open two years later when Baby came along.

The road has been rockier for me and Baby, and I am facing my demons about that. He joined our party when he was two, after time with his abusive biological family and a temporary foster home, and he is still not my legal child a year and a half later. I imagined that I would love my children the same, and although I am deeply connected to both of my boys, so much that I sometimes wonder where I end and they begin, the time that Baby and I were not able to share has made the bonding process slower and more unsure, but we are making progress. The sensation I had the other day when he told me, “I love you too much, Mama,” gave me such hope for our future. He has suffered so much at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect him, and I stand awed in the face of what he has survived.

In the car this afternoon Baby was talking about a stuffed animal his biological mother gave him at a recent court-mandated visit. He asked me, “Mama, why did my ‘new mother’ give me a stuffy?” Before I could answer with a catch in my throat, Little Big Man said, “No, that was your old mother. Erin is your new mother,” and I had trouble seeing the road through my tears. The truth is that I am not enough. It is in my lack, in my inadequacy, that I am reshaped by my children into the mother that they need me to be.
ErinErin holds a Master’s Degree in Communication from Northern Illinois University and has been teaching since 1995, including Northern Illinois University, Springfield Technical Community College, and Westfield State University. She is the mother of two energetic boys adopted through the Department of Children and Families.

 

 

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