On March 17th of this year I became Poppa to two wonderful little boys. One boy is four years old, and the other has just turned three. They're smart, healthy, active, wonderful little kids.
Getting to this point has been a long and difficult journey for my wife and me. Shortly after our marriage, my wife went back to school, and while she was there she suffered a serious injury which required emergency gastro-intestinal surgery. It forced us to abandon a long-planned Christmas vacation to Hawaii, and more importantly forced my wife to endure a drawn-out recovery process while trying to finish her school year.
We were assured at the time that the surgery was unlikely to affect our plans for starting a family, but with several factors working against us, not least of which was age, we were alarmed nonetheless at the necessity for further delay. When we finally were able to try, we suffered losses (a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy) that convinced us to waste no more time before moving to assisted reproductive technology (ART) for help.
Three years later, having tried almost every available ART option and having spent most of our savings with no positive results, we made the decision to move to adoption. We had one last 'double emergency' reserve of money with which to cover the expenses. While we completed our homestudy we looked carefully at our choices of domestic and international adoption. Domestic adoption was attractive because of the hope of getting a newborn, but far from guaranteed. We would find ourselves in competition with numerous other couples, often much younger than us, for the approval of a teenage mom. We didn't feel confident that we would be chosen, and so we opted for international adoption.
The children available for adoption are older, but once you've ponied up the fees you're pretty much guaranteed to get a child.
We picked an adoption agency with excellent references, who worked with a country which, while expensive, had a well-oiled process which usually moved pretty fast. Move fast it did -- we signed up with the agency in the fall of 2007, and signed up for a beginner's language course in the country's native tongue. Before we'd even finished the course, we had an adoption proposal from the agency, and were on our way in January 2008!
That the proposal was for two brothers was something of an accident. I'd asked quite casually about siblings in the homestudy process, and towards the end of that process our social worked asked if we'd like to seriously consider siblings. We talked about it and said yes, and modified our homestudy to seek approval for sibling adoption. The approval was given by our government's child services ministry, and soon thereafter we had a few pictures and a short medical history of two boys.
Whether to accept the proposal or not was a subject of much discussion for my wife and me. I was eager to proceed. During the ART process, I'd accepted that we would likely only ever have one child that way. Odds in ART strongly favour a girl, which was certainly fine for me, but I had mourned the likely loss of a son to play sports with in the back yard and to teach about the world of 'guy things'. Now that was suddenly a real possibility again. Further, the fact that the boys were already three and two (at the time) felt like a way to get back the "lost years" of ART. Missing soiled diapers, colic, and the entire baby phase was a happy thing for me. For my wife, though, it meant accepting the loss of those years, which were an important part of her family vision, as well as accepting that we wouldn't have a girl in our home. The boys' age was the biggest concern for her, but we agreed that the chance to get these two healthy kids was too big for us to pass up.
The country we adopted from has a 'two trip' system. You visit to meet the child(ren), and if you approve then you formally apply to adopt them. It takes a few months to get a court date, so unless you're one of the idle rich, you go back home to work and to await your court date. On our first visit we flew for a total of about 15 hours, and stayed in the host country for a week in total. The two boys we hoped to adopt were in two different orphanages, in the same city but not near to each other. We had only three non-travel days to visit, so we were limited to one visit per day to each orphanage, for just over one hour per day. Thus we'd seen the boys for about 4 hours each when we flew home after the first trip.
That's not much time to know someone before taking them into your family, but the boys had seemed as healthy and as smart as advertised, and we set to work readying our home for their arrival. In mid-February we were told that our court date was in early March, and on the last day of February we were in the airport to start our second and final trip.
We saw the boys once each before our court date. The court itself was almost surreal. Having seen the country's courts depicted in countless movies made the experience of sitting in one almost laughable, were it not for the seriousness of the proceedings. Over the course of a few hours, working mostly through a translator, we explained how we came to be pursuing adoption and how we planned to care for the boys. The court deliberated and approved our request, subject to a mandatory waiting period for possible objections from third parties.
While we waited two weeks for this period to end, the boys remained in the orphanages and we visited them daily, again for just over an hour each per day. As we got to know them better, we began to see more of their personality, not just the "best behaviour" we'd seen before but the real boys and their true personalities. We could see that we were in for some challenges -- healthy and smart, yes, but headstrong and willful too. We worried that they would clash when they were finally reunited, but when we were able to do so on the last day before our trip home, they got along well.
We'd been warned that the trip home would be the "flight from hell", even by parents who had travelled with a toddler or baby. In our case, we had two long flights, with a 36-hour stopover to get travel visas approved in the middle of it. Two flights, two nights in a small hotel room, and two fully mobile boys who barely knew us magnified the nightmare 100-fold. If it were not for the kindness of numerous strangers on the flights who helped to comfort and talk to the boys, I don't know how we could have made it home.
Still, we deplaned in Toronto exhausted and cranky. We more-or-less literally dragged two angry, exhausted, frightened, screaming children through miles of airport corridor and immigration booths, stopping occasionally to deal with tantrums and vomiting (from the kids, not us). Faced with the last desk to clear with our luggage before grabbing a cab home, we discovered that we'd lost our customs claim form. It may sound horrible, but there's a part of me that would have happily bailed out on the whole adventure right there. If there'd been a magic portal or even a big plastic tube that could have whisked the boys safely back to the orphanages, it would have been tempting to load them in. But of course there was not, so we searched until we found the form, and then summoned our last reserves of strength and went home.
The two boys were handfuls at first ... six handfuls at least, so we recruited family to help us out. All the adoption books recommended "nesting" with your new child before involving family, but with our kids this wasn't viable. After the first week, though, we were able to fully handle them by ourselves. We took them to the playground, the lake shore, the pool, and the zoo. Every day they grew a little more comfortable with us, beginning to settle in and to pick up some basic English.
Over the course of a few weeks we struggled to find ways to keep them amused and engaged, to discover what foods they liked. We learned how to get them to sit and eat when they didn't necessarily want to, and how to get them to bed when they definitely didn't want to! We suffered through the jet lag and the adjustment terrors, and we learned lots of new words in their language, including some unexpected profanities, as they began to learn ours. We have had our share of difficulties, with remarkable tantrums and language gaps, with undesirable behaviours such as biting and kicking, but I began to really bond with the children, and they with me. I began to see the trust blossom in their faces, their eagerness to run to show me something or to ask me for food or to tussle with them. I came to love them far more quickly and far more deeply than I had ever expected.
A wonderful and rewarding experience ... that is already over. At the end of April the boys left our home in the back seats of someone else's van. Our adoption has failed, for reasons that I can't easily explain here, and we had to place them with another family. Suffice it to say that this isn't what I wanted. Giving my boys up to a new family was extremely painful. My wife and I hope and trust that it was in the boys' best interest to do so, but it leaves us shattered.
We're considered "birth parents" in this process, and so we are able to ask for updates on the boys' progress. I've just seen the first such note from the new parents, with a few pictures of the boys in their new home. They seem happy and healthy, wearing unfamiliar clothes and playing with unfamiliar toys. They probably won't remember the 36 days that we had together -- but I always will. The experience of actually having a family came on like a whirlwind, and now it's gone almost as quickly as it began. The boys passed through my life with the violent energy of a tornado, and the hole that they leave in my life now that they are gone may be impossible to repair.
I have until later this week to withdraw my legal consent to the 'new' adoption. As much as I desperately want to, though, I know that the circumstances that led to it still pertain, and so I have to accept it. I look at the pictures of my boys in their new home and I think and I hope that I've done the best thing and the right thing for them, to make their lives all that they can and should be. What more can a parent do for beloved children than that?
Where, oh where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over
And thought I'd found true love.
You met another and pfft! you were gone!