Adoption Awareness and Developmental Trauma
Developmental Trauma (DT) can lead to profound brain and body changes that put people at risk over time. The brain and body change in order to adapt to the stress that a person is living and experiencing. At the time, it is the brain and body’s way of responding and surviving—through adaptations—the adverse stressful experiences.
Developmental trauma impacts little ones deep within, it prevents them from growing up with curiosity, with a heart open and ready to embrace the world. The journey through adoptive parenting is complex and at time so very challenging. But when we sit still for a moment, and look at how far our children have come in order to develop trust (through their exhausting testing), we are reminded that, healing is possible
Let’s dance. That is what we do, my son and I. We dance. We dance around so many things in our lives. It is a dance learned from the extreme trauma and loss my son experienced in his early life. It is a dance I learned instinctively in what I now know to be therapeutic parenting. It is a dance for our survival, individually and together.
Today my son’s fish died, and for the first time in 5 years, after spending time in attachment therapy, learning therapeutic parenting, taking courses and hours of research, my son was able to identify his real emotions. Thanks to Mr. Fish for giving my son the opportunity to learn from this.
Adopting a child was something I'd always thought would happen at some point in my future, but I certainly never set out to adopt a child with special needs or Down syndrome, let alone as a single parent. But alas, this is my story—our story—and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Adopt4Life Community Celebration 2018
Reflecting on why I do what I do—I think of my daughter. It was her experience and allowing me to share in her joy of knowing that she isn’t the only one, that I now get it; Adopt4Life is for our children as much as it is for us parents. Adopt4Life is about community! This is my why!
Adopt4Life isn’t just an organization, it isn’t just a group of families trying to support one another through access to resources, advocacy and support. Its about belonging, acceptance. Its about giving, and receiving. Its knowing where to go when you are having a hard time, and sharing in a success that only a certain few would really get. It’s having someone on the other end of the phone who truly gets it, and who can not only help you though it, but go though it with you
Our intention was to grow our family by 1 or 2, when in actuality it has grown by at least 100 or more... it truly does take a community, for us as parents and in turn our children benefit as well. I know sometimes it is human nature to attempt to be independent and do things on our own, but there is strength in numbers, and we are #StrongerTogether
Adopt4Life provides essential resources and support for adoptive families across the province and it is very rewarding to be able to help others with their adoption journey. My role as a Regional Parent Liaison in Toronto also allows me to regularly learn about new local resources and supports that may not only benefit the Adopt4Life community, but also myself and my family.
FASD Awareness 2018
In honour of the Adopt4Life FASD Campaign, I decided to ask my daughter some questions about FASD so we can have a voice of a youth.
A brief history of the development of the Fetal Alcohol Resource Program (FARP).
Four stories about the importance of Peer Support Groups
I remember sitting there around a table full of professionals, all staring at me, quiet and empathetic. Out of the silence I was asked, “How do you feel?” and my answer… I felt heard.
My thoughts and feelings about FASD basically can be summed up like this: recall the saying, “a person who wears many hats”—well that's how my son appears.
A letter to my dear son living with FASD
So that is the truth from the trenches… and where I am at on this journey with advocating. This is a tough journey… really only understood by those living it day in and day out. I hope that maybe, just maybe by next September, we will see communities and agencies planning events for families and really helping families celebrate how AMAZING they are!
Although the diagnosis caused me to experience deep feelings of grief and sadness, along with fear and trepidation, the diagnosis also brought me great relief. I finally understood the why of so many issues we have faced over the years
Breastfeeding Awareness 2018
We both shared the experience of attachment that occurs during feeding, and our daughter could connect closely with both of us as she came to view us both as people who could be depended on to care for and comfort her when she needs it most.
The beauty is in a mother’s desire to give her baby the best she can give, and that goes way beyond the ways we choose to feed our babies.
Leading up to World Breastfeeding Week 2018, Adopt4Life had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Alyssa Schnell, MS, IBCLC, author of Breastfeeding Without Birthing: A Breastfeeding Guide for Mothers Through Adoption, Surrogacy, and Other Special Circumstances and co-host of the Breastfeeding Outside the Box podcast. We could not be more thrilled to share the blog she wrote for Ontario’s Adoptive Parent Community on ‘Debunking Common Myths about Adoptive Breastfeeding’ in support of Adopt4Life’s World Breastfeeding Week Awareness campaign.
My advice to mother’s to be, both adoptive and biological, if I may, is to embrace who you are, just as you are and to put the Breastfeeding debate aside, choose what is right for you and for your infant. Choose to nourish your child(ren) with love, laughter and light, as you breast or bottle feed and I can attest to the fact that will be just fine!
So, to all the moms and dads out there who have made the decision to bottle feed—for whatever reason, please know that you are not alone. May our babies be fed, loved and nourished.
Mental Health Awareness with PCMH
It's ok to make mistakes, it's ok that you sometimes need to spend more time with your other child. We may not understand it as children, but we will, and we know your love for all of us surpasses any diagnoses.
To the anxious, judgmental mom beside me.
I’ve learned that my sense of humour helps me to survive those rather difficult situations (among many other parenting moments!) and that the best I can do is to educate, advocate and support.
These words which I will never forget were etched into the wooden bathroom cupboards by our teenage daughter who had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
We felt isolated and misunderstood as parents, because we wouldn’t just ‘make’ her do things, go places or see people. I finally found an organization called Parents for Children’s Mental Health (PCMH) that offered support and a listening ear. Talking with other parents who were experiencing the same things as me drastically reduced my feelings of isolation and shame.
Black History Month 2018
We are a trans-racial and trans-cultural family. In contemplating what to write for a blog post on this topic, I invited my 7 year-old daughter to share her perspective, and she was interested in the opportunity to contribute. Here are her thoughts:
In that moment, I knew that I would take on the task of moving her from a birth into captivity and introducing her to the freedom of choice that the human spirit longs for… that kids born into health here in Canada take for granted.
Attachment in Adoption February 2018
It doesn’t work to force your vision of a happy family on a child, we all know this in theory. This piece may only relate to teens, but I think it takes some trial and error and work-shopping to figure out the attachment piece; not every child needs the same thing.
My experience of being an adoptive parent for 18 years has been many things, not the least of which, a journey of self-reflection, humility and objectivity. It has required me to look through the lens of my daughter’s eyes, in situations from the mundane to the complex, in an attempt to imagine how she feels about it all. I can never know.
At the beginning of our adoption journey, we had a very specific idea of what our family would look like, and how we would handle parenting challenges.
For the first 2 years of my son being home, I thought we had dodged the whole, “attachment issues” bullet. It seems that I was wrong…
Whether or not to breastfeed is a very personal decision for both biological and adoptive mothers. In my opinion the feelings of both the mother and child need to be respected in making a decision either way.
At the beginning of our adoption journey, we had a very specific idea of what our family would look like, and how we would handle parenting challenges. What we have discovered is that our son has taught us how to adapt to circumstances and make connections that we never would have thought possible.
Read, learn, experience, try things out and put aside anything that isn’t working for you. You will figure it out and become a stronger family for discovering your own best ways of doing things together.
We protected ourselves so much, but we built walls. All these things unfortunately delayed our bond and attachment to our child.
Attachment takes work. Playing, attuning, and connecting in moments of good behaviour is easy. Staying connected in moments of undesirable behaviour—not so much. In fact, without compassion, I find it nearly impossible.
In private adoption, a potential birthmother has a month after her baby's birth to consider this most monumental decision of her life.
When we were matched with our children, we were informed that they had continued openness with their siblings. We were nervous (mostly because we didn’t know much) yet excited. Our children, from the day we met them, they were so excited to share that they had brothers.
Ultimately, weaving valued connections into the fabric of family creates a more textured and interesting life, and contributes to our children's identities and sense of belonging in the world.
A quote about supporting heritage, from an A4L Community Member.
Never did we imagine the level of openness we have but now we couldn’t imagine it any other way.
While we unfortunately are not able to have openness with our children’s birth parents at this time, we are fortunate to have a beautiful relationship with the person who raised them over quite a long period of time. She made the transition home seamless, teaching us how to follow the kids’ lead and emotions, and helping us learn routines.
People ask us things like, “Is it hard for you, seeing his biological family?” No, not at all. For me, personally, it has never been weird or difficult, and maybe I have been lucky in that regard. But, does it really matter if it was? We have this relationship for Cooper, so in my opinion, my personal feelings are really quite irrelevant.
Adopting parents must be prepared to make similarly difficult choices. They must risk devastating emotional disappointment by preparing for a single child’s arrival in their lives.
I am so grateful for Adopt4Life and I'm trusting that what its members tell me is true. In the long run this will benefit our kids and I've even been told we will love our third family and all they offer eventually. For now, its hard, its awkward but I’m getting there.
FASD Awareness + FARP
I would recommend to anyone raising children with FASD and without to expose them to lots of people with various disabilities. Have honest conversations about why the rules and expectations may differ from child to child. Get the siblings involved in awareness initiatives. Foster a respect and curiosity about the brain. It turns out, brains are really, really cool.
As more and more information becomes available about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, it is sometimes hard to understand what type of impact FASD can have on a person. However, I can tell you from my own children, it is not a scary diagnosis, it is just part of who they are.
Fast forward to today, and I find myself thinking of that old wooden coaster more often than you’d think. Together with my husband, we’re raising three children by adoption, including two young boys who live with FASD (as well as developmental trauma and a myriad of co-existing diagnoses). And with that, we all live with FASD and the roller coaster feelings that it brings to our lives.
And if I were in a movie, I wouldn’t be a person anyway. I’d be a cat--that cat that sits on your keyboard when you’re trying to work. Or the one that tries to jump on the counter, and just ends up knocking stuff off instead... I have FASD and here’s a day in my life.
I feel like I am making a significant difference in the lives of those also affected by FASD by speaking up and not trying to repress it. Knowledge should be shared to combat stigma. Society should be open to understanding differences and realize behaviours are symptoms of a needed environmental change.
Being in care is the best and the worst possible thing that could happen to someone in the LGBTQ+ community.
For our children, adoption has altered their lives in the best way possible. We strongly believe that older children need to be given more rights and a stronger voice in their families of origin prior to apprehension and later within the public system. As a family, we will continue to advocate for the revolutionary changes needed.
It is 2017 and there should be no more stigma or fear of what is beyond your control, including who you choose to love or make family.
“But having a Mom and Dad is more natural, isn’t it?” There it was, the dreaded “N Word”...Ask yourself the question—roses are normally red but does that make the blue rose any less beautiful or worthy of a place to bloom?
Family Month Youth Stories
Now, for most adopted youth this idea is ironic, it was ironic even for me. The state of lasting unchanged, indefinitely. It must be a joke because only "normal" kids get that.
We are capable of changing the world; we just need people who believe in us.
Unfortunately this work isn’t something I can put on my resume, but despite all the residual “what-ifs”, building permanency for a child is the greatest work I’m going to do in my lifetime!
Not everyone is lucky, not everyone gets a forever family, and the unconditional love that comes along with it; and for those who never do, they wait and wait until it finally sinks in that it is never happening.
Support 4 Every Family
Adoptive parents and families need support. We need to be able to access these supports in the moment. Professionals can help in many ways but they go home at night. We are living this.
La longue attente avant de devenir une famille adoptive en bonne et due forme est l’un des défis les plus durs que nous ayons eu à relever. On se fait à l’idée de n’avoir personne à qui parler ou à qui demander de l’aide. Nous n’aurions jamais pu nous en sortir sans l’aide de la communauté d’Adopt4Life. Ils nous ont épaulés à chaque étape – pendant l’attente, le choix de notre enfant, la phase de transition et finalement comme parents.
En tant que nouveaux parents adoptifs, nous nous sommes souvent sentis indignes. Nous avons affronté tellement de problèmes qui nous ont tant éloignés de notre zone de confort. Nous avons même dit des paroles méchantes même si nous sommes pourtant des gens aimables. Nous nous sommes souvent demandé si nous étions de bons parents. Adopt4Life a diminué notre anxiété et nous a redonné confiance. Nous avons enfin pu rire en constatant que plein d’autres parents avaient vécu la même chose. Connaître les méthodes qui fonctionnent pour les autres a été la meilleure partie de cette expérience. L’aide des autres parents est cruciale.
J’aurais tellement aimé savoir qu’Adopt4Life existe lorsque nous avons suivi notre cours PRIDE. Le temps qui s’écoule entre l’approbation et l’arrivée d’un enfant à la maison est bien difficile. Cette communauté nous a fait réaliser que nous ne sommes pas seuls à vivre ces émotions. Maintenant nous avons deux enfants avec nous à la maison et nous poursuivons le processus d’adoption et je m’aperçois que je fais appel à Adopt4Life de plus en plus souvent.
J’ai toujours cru que « la question n’était pas de savoir si ça peut être fait, mais plutôt COMMENT ce doit être fait ». En tant que nouveaux parents, nous avons pu nous tourner en tout temps vers le réseau de soutien d’Adpot4Life. Grâce à eux, nous avons pu exprimer nos préoccupations et par ricochet apporter du soutien aux autres. Merci pour toute l’aide fournie pour accueillir le nouveau membre de notre famille!
Voices From Care
A Home 4 Every Kid
We need more support networks like this one in order to assist awaiting parents and adoptive parents become the best parents they can be to children who deserve nothing but the best.
To any person who is reading this, no matter where you are in the process, please know, that no matter what, do not stop fighting. And that yes, there will be days where you will want to throw in the towel. Don’t. Just, don’t. You have to get up and try again. Why? Because that's what us parents do!
This isn’t about blame. This is about recognizing the many ways our processes could be improved so that we get kids out of care and into permanent homes in a timely more effective manner.
Ontario knows how to do it right! Adoption is a long process – the completion of the process shouldn’t be the only requirement allowed in order to be consider a family. Too often, we overlook what is right – A family in the process of becoming AdoptReady could be the perfect match!
Riding the foster system is scary and very alone. You feel as though you are in a very dark place and you never know if tomorrow is the last as a family. There were so many court dates that never amounted to anything. 2 trials came and went. Then at age 4, she became a crown ward. Nearly 2 years later at almost 6 years old she still has no permanency. We still wait for the adoption to be finalized.
I often feel guilty for wanting something that comes from someone else’s loss. It seems strange to want something so badly, and that in order for it to happen, another person has to go through pain, grief and even a crisis. Adoption is as excruciating as it is beautiful. It is love and it is loss. I feel guilty and I feel desperate. I have to keep thinking that things do unfold as they should, and people are brought into your life for a very special and specific reason - if they are meant to.
We have decided that this ARE (Adoption Resource Exchange) will be our last. We desperately wanted to give our youngest daughter a sibling for her to grow up with and for us to love, but we can’t go on waiting for a placement phone call that only seems to happen when we have finally reached the point of taking up our lives again.
Five months later (post ARE), Ashley and Joe are resigned to the fact that they are not being considered for any of the sibling groups. They never received any response.
A year ago, Jennifer and Michael shared their experiences as awaiting parents. They were told by the children’s aid that they would be “dinosaurs” before they would adopt a child. They are happy to report that a few months ago, they were selected and transitioned 2 beautiful children into their home.
But only days before the boys were to come to their home for the first time, they were blindsided by a call from their worker — the boys’ current foster parents, who were also extended family members, had changed their minds about permanency. They had filed a CFSRB complaint asking that the agency allow them to keep the boys in foster care, rather than placing them in a permanent adoptive family.
For those who are self-employed, we have no compensated way to take a parental leave. Some just can’t take any time off without substantial financial repercussions.
For reasons of equality, fairness, and the best interests of children, parental leave policies for adoptive families need to be changed.
I strongly urge the federal government to do the same with parental leave. For the sake of our children, please provide the same supports and benefits to ALL families in Canada. Our families – most importantly, our children – deserve to be treated equally.
Equal rights for adoptive parents’ parental leave is necessary to nurture and foster relationships in adoptive families. I am a strong advocate for equal rights for adoptive parents to today’s changing world so that we can build for the future.
Sadly our situation is not unique and is something faced by all adoptive families. Ultimately the children in these situations need more time to adjust to their new lives. Time that could make all of the difference for them and their families futures. Time these children deserve.
The least we can do is give adoptive parents some time away from work so they can soldier on, so they can help their new children heal, and create the family every child deserves.
Tracy discusses how time that is afforded to biological families is just as needed for adoptive families who often face challenges like complex histories, early childhood loss, and trauma among many others accompanied by children coming from the child welfare system.
Regardless of birth history, adoptive families deserve equal time to bond with your family.
Heather addresses parental leave for adoptive families in comparison to maternity leave that bioglical families receive. She speaks about the challenges for adoptive families that hinder the necessary bonding and attachment process.
We strongly believe that time, as a result of parental leave, is the determinant of the mental and physical health of adoptees. This is time that is not divided but that is 100% directed to the adoptee. Only then, will our children become full, contributing members of society.
As a parent I am passionate about, and dedicated to, facilitating an open culture that allows for my child’s cultural heritage and history to be instilled in him throughout his life. I want to make sure that my son has a strong sense of self and of cultural identity. This is an important and critical aspect of our family life which we remain dedicated to.
I want to make sure that any family adopting a First Nation, Métis or Inuit child feels supported. That they feel like they can attend the powwow and cultural events and feel welcome. For this reasons I attend powwows, ceremonies and other cultural activities with the families.
Although I had learned in PRIDE training about the importance of providing cultural food, music, experiences, and role models, I had never heard anyone talk about how you have to learn about racism to parent a child of another race.
There’s the scary question that I’ve been asking myself since PRIDE, where we were all made to consider our cultures and how they may differ from our adopted children.
If asked what aboriginal children and youth in care need from a foster or adoptive family, I would have to say they need a family that is loving and compassionate... A family that can give them a sense of belonging while at the same time a sense of identity by making sure they have people in their life who can help them learn the teachings and ceremonies and who they are as the original people.