After two years of attending Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE) conferences and showing interest in adopting siblings, my husband and I were finally selected to adopt two boys, ages eight and nine years old. It felt like we had won the lottery! We are now in our 4th month since the placement date, but it feels like so much time has already gone by. We have been on a rollercoaster ride since our initial meeting with the boys. Does this sound familiar to you? Unlike many adoptive parents, my husband and I have been very fortunate to receive support and services during our transition period.
Being not only first-time parents and but first-time adoptive parents was both scary and exciting. Prior to meeting the kids, we contacted AdoptOntario to help us prepare ourselves for the journey. We borrowed books, such as Attaching in Adoption, Real Parents Real Children, and Adoption Parenting. Educating ourselves on attachment and parenting issues was a good start. But it had limited value at that time in that this knowledge would go unapplied until we knew what issues would crop up. Nevertheless we felt having more education rather than having no education on these matters would make us confident from the outset of our parental journey.
We started to spread the word amongst our friends and neighbours of our plans to adopt our two boys. This was a good move for us. Our network expanded with the introduction of other adoptive parents who were more than willing to share their experiences. We had a feeling building a network of contacts would be valuable to us in our future. That feeling turned out to be correct.
Children’s Aid and Treatment Centre
We met our two beautiful boys for the first time in May. They were full of life and energy. Their short life had multiple traumas, including two foster homes, and one disrupted adoption.
The first time we were together on a community visit, they asked if we were going to keep them and begged us not to return them to the foster home. You can imagine how those boys were scared of being rejected again. In spite of their fears, they felt hopeful. Children’s Aid was very supportive from the beginning. They desperately wanted to make things work out, especially after the previous disrupted adoption. Very early on, I started to investigate where to get trauma therapy in our home city. This was strongly recommended by Children’s Aid. I got us on the waiting list at a treatment centre which specialized in trauma therapy.
The honeymoon phase did not last for long during the pre-placement phase. The oldest one was acting out and we could see that the sibling relationship was toxic. We now knew the meaning of the phrase “maladaptive ways of coping” which puzzled us when we first read the boys’ ARE profiles. We had the boys in our home for eight consecutive days just a week prior to the placement day in June. This was a real test for us! Both boys were acting out but this week felt more intense, more real compared to our weekend visits. I was not ready for this. I felt discouraged, inadequate, and I was losing self-confidence. I recalled reading about post adoption depression (PAD) in the Adoption Parenting book and started to meet with a therapist from my work Employee Assistance Program. I needed to do something for myself and taking an anti-depressant didn’t seem like a permanent solution.
It was a blessing my husband was strong through this time. Without him, I don’t think I would have followed through. I wanted to be a strong parent but I was far from being one. We had to postpone the placement date. We were afraid that making the decision to delay would hurt the kids and make them more anxious and insecure about their future. Instead of revealing my emotional state to them we focused on the need to prepare our home before placement day.
Our Children’s Aid worker recommended us to meet a social worker from AdoptOntario to talk about the issues we were facing. Accessing a social worker who was dedicated to post adoption support turned out to be of invaluable importance. We felt understood, not judged, and began feeling hopeful we could be successful. The social worker put us in contact with Julie Despaties from Adopt4Life who had a similar experience with adoption. Being able to talk to someone following a similar path gave us hope. We also started to consult with a wonderful attachment therapist as a couple and individually. This was a blessing. She was helping me identify some personal triggers which were being set off by our two boys. She made me examine whether I should proceed with the adoption or not, whether I was emotionally ready, and how I would feel after a year had passed and the kids were still rejecting me.
A book that really change my perspective on understanding our boys’ challenging behaviors was The Promise Truth from the trenches of Adoption by Christen Shepherd and Lisa Highfield
The story is of a couple with two kids who chose to adopt four more children. The entire family was challenged, but they came out the other end feeling the journey was worth it. Every time I thought my life was a nightmare, I thought of this family and thought to myself “We can get through this!”
After the placement date in September, we were facing many issues, such as attachment, sibling rivalry, self-esteem issues, anxiety issues, and controlling behaviours especially exhibited by the oldest one. The kids were having therapy once a week with our attachment therapist. Children’s Aid assigned to us a family worker who would come to our home, observe the kids and coach us on handling their behaviors. Our home slowly became unsafe for each of us. The oldest one could not self-regulate and we had one major outburst which lasted for hours. Therapy was not progressing with the older one, because he could not handle any emotional “work”. He needed to be medicated and therefore needed thorough medical assessment. At this point we were still on a waiting list with the treatment centre. Our family doctor would not prescribe our son medication prior to a specialized assessment. This is where we thought that we should have looked to get a family physician way back in September. In a state of crisis, we made a phone call to the treatment centre pleading to have our boys assessed as soon as possible. We started the assessment in November and it is still in progress. We have a team of experts in trauma who are trying to figure out what is the most appropriate intervention for both boys. Without their professional help, we felt that our life was unstable and hopeless.
The oldest one had a really hard time adjusting at school. We found that teachers are not prepared to deal with kids with experienced trauma. They were looking for us to be the experts while we were in the process of getting to know the learning issues and learning ourselves about different therapeutic approaches. They offered us a social worker who came to the school once a month but we already had so many resources devoted to our family: treatment centre team, post-adoption family worker, and an attachment therapist. The challenge was to ensure that the services provided were not duplicated and not too overwhelming for the kids.
The major challenge in our current journey is keeping the communication between all the different team members, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working together.
Reaching out for support has been key to our survival. You can’t be alone in this journey. Building a network through Adopt4life that connects us with other adoptive parents has given us strength to move forward.
Ontario can do better in ensuring immediate and ongoing supports for families and their children. #Support4EveryFamily is a must if we are to provide the best outcomes for all of Ontario’s children.