Spare room of shattered dreams

A few years ago, after we were fed up with getting nowhere on the Ethiopian waiting-but-not-really-waiting list, we decided to try and pursue local adoption.

We chose local adoption over Permanent Care because for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was important for us to legally be parents rather than “guardians” to our child. It also meant something to us that our child would have been relinquished by his/ her parents rather than removed. Finally we also could see ourselves spending periods of time overseas due to work commitments and didn’t know how this would fit in with access visits and DHS regulations.

Now, in hindsight, I can’t be sure if this was the right decision to make – after all, as we heard last week, Permanent Care can definitely be a beautiful and healing option for all involved. In fact, had we pursued Permanent Care we probably would have a family by now, but we weren’t to know that back then. As with every stage along this journey you just have to keep knocking on doors until one finally opens. Unfortunately so far we have just had a lot slammed in our faces.

So anyway, I digress. A few years ago we decided to pursue local adoption. Actually we first went to an information session about it back in 2008 but then decided to knock on the intercountry and IVF doors until our knuckles bled. After attending an information and training session you write a life story that covers the most personal and deepest aspects of your life – from your childhood, to your finances, to your relationship and fertility, and even your sex life. We spent ages trying to make our Life Story stand out from the crowd of crappy word documents. We sent it in to DHS in July 2011 along with references from family and friends.

A blurred up sample of some of our Life Story xo

A blurred up sample of some of our Life Story xo

Then we waited.

A year went by and then we received a phone call saying that they would like to begin our assessment. We were overjoyed and hopeful and nervous for the first time in years! We scrubbed our house from top-to-bottom and prepared for the first interview. We were interviewed twice as a couple and once individually. It was nerve-wracking and exciting and deeply intrusive but we didn’t care. Something was finally happening and we felt closer than ever before.

Before the final safety inspection on our house Mr. Lady Breaks went around affixing safety locks to every cupboard and corner in our house. He put together the Boori cot my mum had bought us during our IVF days. We called together some family and neighbours to lay some soil in the backyard of our newly built house. We wanted to show: WE ARE READY. WE WERE BORN READY.

After this our lovely social worker wrote up her report on us and recommended us for adoption. We sat with her before a panel of DHS staff who grilled us on everything from our intentions to our religion. A few hours later we received the call to say we had been officially approved for local adoption! It was September 2012.

Our social worker said that our chances were quite good. After all we were young, probably one of the youngest couples waiting, and our file stood out. It could actually happen before the end of the year even. I was so distracted. I couldn’t focus on the thesis I was supposed to be writing, or on my work. My heart leapt at every phone call.

Unfortunately our social worker moved on from her role and we were handballed to someone else whom we didn’t know at all. We didn’t feel like she “got” us, and we certainly aren’t a priority. I think I have received about two touch-base phone calls over the past year. Not to demonise her at all – these social workers have so much to balance and so little time that facilitating adoptions often gets the last priority. Making sure that kids are safe is of course always going to come first.

So here we are… We were removed from the intercountry list when we were approved for local adoption, and I guess now I’m just waiting for this door to slam shut like all the others. Mid-way through next year we will have to get reassessed because our approval is only valid for two years.

Last weekend Mr. Lady Breaks dismantled the cot and hid all of our baby items away in a cupboard. Even though we could in theory get a phone call any day, reality begs to differ, and it’s too painful to have a shattered dream set up in your spare room.

Instead, Mr. Lady Breaks is setting up an art space for me – a place where I can start dream again. Thank you Mr. Lady Breaks, I couldn’t have walked this without you.

xo

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.

boys 2

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

The Adoption Option

naaw
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.

mitch and cam

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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