By Katherine Mortimer, A Canadian Adoptive Parent
My husband and I adopted our daughter from China, in September 2005, when she was 12 months old. At the time, we both worked as journalists at the same newspaper. The plan was for me to take parental leave, while my husband would take two weeks of vacation leave for our trip to China.
We had spent years doing fertility tests and treatment and had experienced the stillbirth of our beautiful baby boy, after the miracle of actually getting pregnant through IVF. We had been to hell and back to become parents, and so when we began our long adoption journey, I was horrified to learn that I would not be given the same leave as parents of biological children. I felt then, as I do now, that adoptive parents were discriminated against by the federal government. When I complained about this to someone at the Employment Insurance office, I was told, “Well, I guess if you’ve been through all of the stress of pregnancy, you deserve more time off.” That did not sit well with me.
I knew that when we finally held our daughter in our arms, I would want to spend as much time with her as I could. Luckily my supervisor agreed to my request for 15 more weeks of leave without hesitation. I was not paid for those weeks, but we made it work by cutting back on things.
Attachment is such a crucial part of parenting and with adoptive parenting, I believe it is even more important. Our daughter was abandoned and found when she was six days old, then she spent her first year in an orphanage in China. She was very attached to her nanny there, and we were very aware that we were taking our baby away from the woman who was, for all intents and purposes, her mama.
We looked different; we smelled different; we spoke very little Mandarin. And we took our daughter away from the orphanage—the only home she’d known—to a hotel where everything was different, very soon after we all met. I can’t imagine how scary it was for her.
When we returned home, we enrolled in the infant development program at the North Okanagan Neurological Association, where our amazing infant development therapist helped us through those first few critical months. We learned so much about attachment and were in fact taught to treat our one-year-old baby like a newborn, not letting other people hold her and not leaving her with a babysitter, to allow the attachment process to take place. It was exhausting at times of course, but luckily it worked.
When our daughter turned two, I had to return to work, and she began going to daycare. We were lucky to find a wonderful family daycare run by a loving and kind woman. But those first few days of daycare were very difficult for our little one. I frequently heard from well-meaning parents who insisted on telling me, “It’s much harder on you than on her.” That annoyed me because for me it was a bit of a novelty to have a couple of hours to myself but I know it was very hard on her, with her early history of loss. We introduced her to daycare very gradually, and I constantly reassured her: “Mommy will be back. Mommy always comes back.” Luckily, she finally settled in.
It was so lovely to know that I had the extra 15 weeks to spend with our precious daughter. We have friends who made that same trip to China as us whose employers were not so understanding and generous with leave time.
I absolutely believe that having the extra weeks at that critical time has been integral to our daughter becoming the happy, joyful and well-adjusted child she is today. She is 14 years old, a straight-A student in Grade 9 and very involved in her performance dance group. But more importantly, she is loving, kind, funny and empathetic, and we have been blessed beyond measure to be her parents.
People often say, “She is so lucky,” in reference to our daughter. And as all adoptive parents do in that situation, we respond, “We are the lucky ones.” I know we’re both lucky to have our amazing daughter and lucky that she was given enough time to attach. It’s such an important thing for families formed through adoption, and it shouldn’t come down to luck. Every child deserves the best start.
The opinions expressed in blogs posted reflect their author and do not represent any official stance of Adopt4Life. We respect the diversity of opinions within the adoption, kinship and customary care community and hope that these blog posts will stimulate meaningful conversations.
We're ramping up our #timetoattach campaign until April 2019, for 15 more weeks of parental leave for adoptive parents and kin and customary caregivers. To really make an impact on our mission to Ottawa, we'd like to share your experiences of what it was like helping your child to settle in and bond. Find out how to share your story.