Electing to Love

I guess in many ways, Mr. Lady Breaks and I were lucky. Long before we found out we were infertile, we discussed our desire to adopt. We always said that we would like to have one or two “of our own” and then we would pursue adoption. Of course at the time we were completely ignorant of how difficult achieving either of those dreams would be for us.

But that just the thing, it was two dreams. Biological was separate and distinct from adopted. Not worse, or better, but not the same.  If we get this, we will do that.

Discovering that we were infertile started to break down this division in our hearts and minds. I remember sobbing one day thinking about the fact I would never see my husband’s eyes in a child, never see his curly mop bouncing away on a toddler. Never feel the gravity of a tiny foot pressing against my stomach, or feel the warm pressure of a newborn held tightly against my chest.

And this knowledge does still overwhelm me sometimes, but gradually I came to understand that experiencing these things does not make a child “your own.” Indeed, there are many biological parents that, for one reason or another, don’t experience some or any of those things (take fathers, for instance).

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No, parenting is about making daily choices to love and nurture. Choosing to envelop someone completely into your care. Biology doesn’t determine whether you do this or not – of course there are plenty of biological parents who have sadly chosen not to. And, obviously, there are plenty of non-biological step/ foster/ adoptive parents who have chosen to do this. So, all in all, I have to conclude that being blood-related really doesn’t determine whether you’re a real family or not.

Just as I chose a non-blood-related husband “of my own” to love, fight, eat and create a family with, I can also choose to love and create a family with a child who needs one.

Last week I met a man who put this concept so beautifully and eloquently to me that I just have to share it. He said: “Adoption is an act of election, an act of belonging. It’s about choosing to love and care for someone, committing to protect and nourish them, just as you would a husband or wife.”

By electing to love, I am choosing to remove the invisible barrier between biological and adopted, just as the sweet poem for adoptees by Fleur Conkling Heylinger shows:

Not flesh of my flesh,

Nor bone of my bone,

But still miraculously my own.

Never forget for a single minute,

You didn’t grow under my heart,

But in it.

x

 

How long does it take to adopt?

Last year I stumbled across a blog about an American family’s road to adoption. I can’t for the life of me remember their blog details but I took down some notes at the time to compare their journey to my own.

On their site they had a timeline that spanned just over a year (!). In June 2010 they felt they would like to pursue adoption, so they made a phone call and begun their assessment. By November 2011 they had their court date in Addis Ababa where the adoption of two Ethiopian children was finalised.

We also have a timeline for an Ethiopian adoption. It goes like this:

December 2007

After struggling with infertility for almost two years, Mr. Lady Breaks and I thought it was time to start pursuing adoption. The requirements at the time were that you had to have been married for over two years (check!) and over 25 years old. Well, we were only 22 and 23 years old but we knew the adoption process would take a few years and we would definitely be over 25 by the time the adoption was finalised.

Wrong! When I made the phone call to book in for the session I was aggressively told that I wasn’t allowed to attend. She said that I “should not even be considering adoption at my age” and to wait until I am “at least 30” to attend a session.

22nd June 2009

We attended our first information session and expressed our interest in pursuing an Ethiopian adoption.  I chose not to reveal that I was only 24.

At the time Ethiopia was the only African country that Australians could adopt from so despite our experience and knowledge of Kenyan culture, Ethiopia was the only real option for us.

It feels so stupid to look back on now, but at the time my best friend was pregnant with her first. I remember dreaming with her about how her unborn child should be around 4 by the time we adopted, and our child would be likely to be a toddler as well. We couldn’t wait!

Needless to say, her baby turned 4 a few months ago.

5th August 2009

Placed at number 254 on the ‘Confirmation of Expression of Interest’ form. This is not the waiting list – it is the waiting list to get on the waiting list.

19th October 2009

At number 224 on the ‘Confirmation of Expression of Interest’ list.

17th January 2010

Down to number 222.

1st March 2010

Number 214.

10th March 2010

Number 211.

Around this time a form was sent out saying that realistically only special needs children and older children would be able to be adopted. We had to fill out a form detailing all the various disabilities, deformities and diseases we would adopt. After this the list decreased dramatically.

9th July 2010

Number 61.

3rd December 2010

Number 54.

7th January 2011

Number 51.

10th November 2011

Number 28. Once we reach the top we will be able to start the Education sessions and actually get on The Waiting List.

28th June 2012

Ethiopia program closes.

So, after five years we weren’t at the place the American family was when they first enquired. This is why National Adoption Awareness Week is so important.

x

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Not Your Normal Family

I am SO incredibly excited today to share something special with you: It’s the very first Guest Post on Lady Breaks!

I am so inspired by this amazing woman and her family it’s not funny. Linda and Cam Bailey are about the funniest, warmest, giving and down-to-earth couples I know. Their personal struggle with infertility has only increased their capacity to love and love and love! It’s just amazing! I am honoured to be able to share Linda’s story with you today.

Thank you Linda, Cam and the rest of the family x

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“You look way too young to be a grandmother!”

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While I know this comment is meant to be a compliment – and as I am only 35 years of age, it is also very true – I can’t help but be reminded that people have a fixed idea of what family should look like.

A couple of children, two middle aged parents and a few grey haired grandparents thrown in; that’s what all families look like, right? Well, our “family” begs to differ.

Just last week I realised that my husband, Cameron, and I started trying to conceive nine years ago. We have not been successful in having children naturally but that does not mean our house is empty.

Seven years ago Joy joined our family. She was 13, in foster care and in need of a home to live.

Linda, Joy and Cam

Linda, Joy and Cam

My husband and I have always had the philosophy that we don’t open our home to foster children, we open up our family. Joy didn’t have a positive sense of what family really was and I think only now, as we help her raise her own child, does she understand what a healthy family means.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re by no means perfect! We just have a desire to help those in need. Sometimes we get it right and other times we just need to try again.

Joy became very independent when she turned 18, so we decided to extend our family a little further. Twelve months ago, two brothers – four and five years of age – joined us. These two boys have turned our lives upside down! They are so full of energy, laughter, cheekiness and questions. Every day brings new challenges but also new opportunities, as we help these young boys grow to the potential they were created for.

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Just when we thought we were at capacity, our family changed again. At the beginning of the year, Joy discovered she was pregnant, and with the father of the baby taking flight, we found ourselves as the support people for our daughter.

Her gorgeous son entered the world (and our family) one month ago and has brought forth more love than we thought possible.

I can confidently say, as a barren couple, our family is full! And my advice to everyone is to embrace your family, no matter what it looks like.

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While Cameron and I were childless we enjoyed taking holidays, throwing ourselves into our local church and providing cheap board for some young adult friends. As the kids have come along we’ve dedicated ourselves to be their advocate and to give them all the love and support a child should have. And now we’re grandparents we’ve enjoyed supporting our daughter while delighting in having a newborn in our house for the very first time.

None of this takes away the sting of being infertile, or the challenges that foster care brings, but I refuse to waste my life waiting for my “own” child when there are thousands on our doorstep needing the love and affection we have to give.

Linda Bailey.

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What a beautiful, amazing family! I’m so blessed to know them.

If you would like to hear more from Linda, she regularly writes about her life, faith and God on her own blog, Daily Devotional.

xo

What’s Wrong With Adoption in Australia?

I’m so overwhelmed by everyone’s feedback following my last post. It’s astounding to me that so many of you are actually making the time to read my ranty rants amongst your busy lives. It’s just so touching – I can’t really describe how supported it makes me feel. Thank you.

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As promised I am sticking to the topic of adoption this week as it is National Adoption Awareness Week here in Australia.

It would seem that I am quite a slow learner because I bothered to read the comments left on yesterday’s Herald Sun article featuring Deborra-Lee Furness. There is just so much negativity around adoption! I mean I definitely think an honest dialogue about adoption is absolutely necessary, but it just has to be constructive – adoption is not blanket “good” or blanket “bad”. Just as there are some biological families that don’t get it right, there are adoptive parents that don’t either, but this doesn’t make the whole concept wrong or evil.

The reality is that adoption always involves suffering. For an adoption to occur, there has to have been some form of breakage or separation first. This is, of course, not an ideal situation at all, but as we know we don’t live in an ideal world. Adoption, in my humble opinion, can be a beautiful pathway towards restoring what was lost, like healing a wound though the scar may remain. It’s for this reason I believe it should be embraced and celebrated.

To be honest I’ve re-written parts of this post so many times now, trying to balance directing my thoughts at the (very vocal) anti-adoption lobby, and just sharing my own honest feelings and experience. It’s hard because the whole topic is so complex; what goes for local adoption may not be relevant to intercountry and so on. But at the end of the day I think to most people it’s pretty obvious – every child deserves to grow up in a family.

In fact a rule of thumb is that for every three months a child resides in an orphanage, they lose one month of development. It is well documented that institutionalisation is detrimental to the physical, social, and psychological well-being of children. I am planning to talk more about my time in orphanages and my passion for family reunification and community-based solutions to orphan care later, but the bottom line is that we should be ensuring that children grow up within families. Adoption is one way to make this happen.

Except… The Australian government doesn’t seem too keen on this. Last year there was less than 150 inter-country adoptions for the whole of Australia, despite thousands of hopeful couples. This is not because there are no orphans in the world, but rather because we have an outdated and clunky system designed to discourage adoption at every turn, even local adoption.

Believe it or not, but you can’t be on both local and inter-country adoption lists at once, even though the process is likely to take years. And, in Victoria at least, you can’t do any reproductive treatments while waiting to adopt. All in all it makes for a very frustrating and heartbreaking situation where both children and potential parents miss out. There just has to be change soon.

Thank you Deborra-Lee and Hugh for your advocacy work 🙂

As Deborra-Lee says in the article: “The system is broken here. There are children who need families and we need a system that works.” It’s my hope that by sharing my personal journey, a greater awareness of the need for reform is gained.

x

Haters Gonna Hate

Image courtesy of Feministing.com

Image courtesy of Feministing.com

A few years ago, in a fit of rage, I slammed out this Facebook post for all my friends and family to see. The response I received was so overwhelmingly supportive that it ignited the idea to write this blog. Of course I was lazy and it took me a couple of winters and a healthy dose of unemployment to actually start, but to everyone who commented on this the first time around I can’t thank you enough. Your encouragement has helped me to press on despite every ounce of me wanting to give up on the whole stupid, impossible dream.

I’ve decided to share it again today because it still adequately reflects how I feel, and it helps to show some of the stigma surrounding adoption and ‘infertiles’ here in Australia.

I should also mention that since I first wrote this rant the Ethiopian adoption program in Australia that we had been waiting on has been shut down. Years of waiting down the drain, another door slammed shut in our faces…

June 2011
Adoption, Infertility and I’m ANGRY right now!

It’s late, and I know I should be going to bed right now and not rambling on facebook, but something has just got me shaking and I’m considering this as my way of expelling bad energy before sleep time.

For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Lady Breaks and I can’t have kids. As fifteen year olds, we used daydream and fantasise about our future children, naming them and imagining what they would look like. Fast forward to our first year of marriage five years later and we were ready to turn our dreams into reality. Except it didn’t happen. Sludge through another six seven years of appointments, IVF, and the looooong road to adoption, and you’ll get to where we are today.

Anyway, by and large, I’m excited about the future, and I feel like I’ve loved and longed for my future child for the best part of the last 12 13 years. Adoption is something we can’t wait to do, we research it constantly, and are making every effort to ensure that we are able to provide our child with all that she/he needs to develop a strong identity, with a powerful connection to their culture. We even already have a collection of children’s books about adoption.

books

But this journey certainly hasn’t been easy, in fact it has been incredibly unbelievably painful – but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, sometimes little things still catch me off guard, like someone complaining about having kids when I would do anything to have that problem, or the sheer length of adoption waiting times. So tonight I was having a little downer with myself in the car, asking God why on earth He made Mr. Lady Breaks and I infertile when we would love our kids so so much? What was the point to all this? It wasn’t fair, blah, blah, blah.

And then I got home.

Like any other good Gen Y-er I checked my facebook and I clicked through to this article about adoption in Australia.

And the article itself is really quite good and just what kind of information needs to get out there. But then I read the comments…*

Now, I know so many of you are amazingly supportive of our adoption journey and eagerly anticipate the day we adopt alongside us. In fact many of you are so supportive that you probably don’t realise there is a whole other side to the story that us ‘infertiles’ have to deal with. That stuff is thoughts like this:

  • It is time adoption was outlawed. Adoption requires the taking of a baby from its mother to satisfy the wants of adopters. It is a very selfish act. If you cannot have a baby of your own then you are not entitled to one from someone else.. It is time people looked at the history of adoption in Australia and come to realise that very few babies were willingly handed over to adopters. They were stolen. The majority of adoptions between 1950 – 1975 were illegal. It is time people realised this and accept that they cannot have a child and get on with it.
  • Adopters do not have the right to someone else’s infant. It is interesting that Mother’s rights are not mentioned in this article just the infertiles desire for a healthy fresh-out-of-the-womb infant.
  • It would be wonderful if people stopped referring to parents as birth parents of Bio parents. These titles are rubbish. You have one set of parents. The ones who created you, then you have adoptive parents. They are the ones who look after you when you are adopted but they are never ever your actual parents. It would be appreciated if people would stop calling mothers these names.

Anyway, that’s just a taster. If you want to see more, go to any adoption video on YouTube – most have comments on them saying that they have stolen a baby, bought a baby, ruined a life, etc., etc.

As many of you know, I have spent time in countries with an enormously high percentage of orphans – many of whom will grow up in institutions or worse. In Kenya alone it is estimated that 300 babies are abandoned every single day. I am not suggesting intercountry adoption is the only answer, far from it! Of course, a child’s indigenous culture will be the best answer for them. However, until adequate foster and orphan care systems are in place, intercountry adoption has to remain an option for the sake of the children.

I do believe very strongly in the absolute importance of ensuring the child’s culture is ingrained in their lives, and yes, I won’t be able to do it as well as their birth mother in their home country would. But the situation isn’t perfect, and no amount of telling me I’ll always be second best at it will change that. There are children whose parents simply cannot or do not want to raise them. There are children without parents at all. We are a couple who can. More than that, we love love them already, just as I imagine a mother expecting a baby would. Only our pregnancy has gone on for years and years.

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I acknowledge that some of you will read this and agree with what the commenters are saying, and you have every right to do that. You may believe that no matter which way I try and spin it, adoption will never be the same as “having your own” (<—HATE those words). All I can say to you is that for me and my husband, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. Our love for our future child is just as valid and as real as yours.

So, after a very long ramble that I’m not sure anyone will even read, I think I know why God made us infertile. And, what’s more I’m thankful for it. I, unlike many others, will get to say to my beautiful child, I longed for you with every fibre of my being for years and years and years. I knew how perfect you were before I met you and I conquered every obstacle placed before me to get to you. That’s how much you are worth to me.

x

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* Comments on article have since been removed

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The Adoption Option

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Generally speaking, after I’ve bored some poor stranger’s ear off about not being able to procreate, they will think for about 5 seconds and then casually say: ‘So why don’t you just adopt then?’ And we laugh and laugh and I will fill out some paperwork and 6 months later I’ll have a baby in my arms.

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Yep… Except this isn’t my dream world. This isn’t America either. And it’s not England or France or basically any other country in the world. It’s Australia, and in Australia adoption is a dirty word. In Australia you are dissuaded from adoption at every turn and treated like a criminal for even considering it. It’s costly, taxing on your emotions and relationships, and it takes years, and years, and years. And years.

Now, to be fair, we do have a fairly bad track record with adoption and care institutions for children here. You don’t have to be a history scholar to recognise the devastating injustice of the Stolen Generation and the British Child Migrant schemes. There are also horrific stories of children stolen from their impoverished families in developing countries and sold to wealthy families in the West. There were forced adoptions. There are stories of children growing up disconnected from their birth countries and identities. There are stories of children who are abused within their adoptive families. All in all it makes for a pretty bad case for adoption.

So, rightly so, a lot of red-tape and bureaucracy has been put in the way to mitigate these risks. I guess the thinking is that it will weed out the potential child abusers and only keep the desperadoes that are willing to wait up to ten years and spend their life savings. You are told adoption is a selfish, self-centred decision. You are told that there are no orphans in the world. You are branded incompetent parents at best, and criminal at worst. You are callously removed from lists you have waited years on because of a change of policy.

But this kind of thinking is so wrong. This kind of thinking means that children miss out on having families. Adoption can be a beautiful, life-changing, sacrificial, and wonderful thing – I’ve seen it in families who have adopted around me, and I’ve heard it from friends who are adopted themselves. There definitely should be a process, and checks and balances need to be in place, but it has to be done with more humanity than it currently is.

As potential adoptive parents we studied the history and culture of the place we intended to adopt from, we set up a nursery, we read books on adoption and attachment parenting, we bought toys and storybooks, we put safety locks on cupboards, I painted pictures for the room. We eagerly awaited and longed for our child’s arrival… And six years after my initial enquiry, we are no closer to adopting at all.

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Adoption is something that needs to be celebrated and embraced by Australia. We can do much much better than this. Next week is National Adoption Awareness Week and I will be sharing more of our journey towards adoption.

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Accepting IVF

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It may sound crazy to the fertile ear, but deciding to start reproductive treatment was a massive decision for us. Our first IVF cycle was a full three years after we sat hand-in-hand on the couch and decided to try and bring new life into the world.

It seems almost crazy to look back on. If you get diagnosed with practically any other disease you just suck it up and start treatment. But, as usual, infertility seems to work differently.

Of course there were massive financial connotations, but that wasn’t the major thing that held us back – having a child was worth more than money could buy. No, deciding to start treatment meant conceding that something was very, very wrong. Beginning IVF meant swallowing the thought that we weren’t special enough for a random, unexpected miracle, unlike your cousin’s neighbour’s cat’s friend who fell pregnant despite all the odds.

There were also moral issues. We desperately wanted Egg and Sperm to work things out and meet somewhere in the middle, but what if we ended up with 10 embryos shivering in storage?

How could something so precious and longed for suddenly become disposable? We asked around. Some people told us that IVF was a sin; others suggested that it was forcing God’s hand to do something unnatural. Others were beautifully and wholeheartedly supportive.

We were young, conflicted, tired and broken.

The doctors laughed at us when we asked to attempt the more ‘ethical’ GIFT program. GIFT will never work for you, they sneered. I counted nine friends who were first time preggars around me. It all felt like a cruel joke.

Eventually we came to what we thought was an ethical compromise: we would just get a few embryos made up at the one time and freeze the rest of the eggs. It seemed perfect; eggs are disposable, embryos are not. We settled on the number 6 because it left room for a reasonable amount of failure, but also an adequate likelihood of success.

The doctors responded to us like we were mental patients (probably because they foresaw us throwing a lot of money down the drain) but they eventually obliged. One Doctor told us that she couldn’t tell us what our chances were because there were no statistics for couples under 25. Another remarked that our chance of naturally conceiving was so low Woman’s Day would publish a story about it. We got used to being the youngest people in the waiting room.

The decision to fertilise only 6 eggs – if 6 were even collected – seemed so wise at the time, but in hindsight it was yet another decision made with rose-coloured, youthful, ignorant optimism.

For our first cycle they suctioned a massive 19 eggs out of me, and while my friends enjoyed an Australia Day BBQ, I, at 23 years old, lay in bed with hyper stimulation fears and unbridled hope in my heart.

Today is not the day to go into the nitty gritty of what happened for us and why it didn’t work, today I just wanted to show that it’s often not as easy as ‘just go and do IVF.’

There are financial, moral and relational issues to work through. You have to decide whether your workplace will be understanding or not – I had to quit my job to start treatment. You have to work out who to tell and who not to. There are needles and prodding and, quite possibly, pessaries. Your inconsolable and erratic baby hormones are exacerbated a hundred- fold. Friends will tell you that they accidentally fell pregnant after – wait for it – having sex! Sex will become associated with failure. Doctors will treat you like incompetent cattle. You will have to get a police check and counselling to be allowed to do something that heroin addicts can do thoughtlessly.

But…You will survive. You will get through it. You will become stronger. You may even be rewarded with a miraculous gift. Countless women have gone before you and survived. You will too.

X

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