Watch Simon and Sue share some of their experiences or read on below (the video amd written story are not the same).
“Are you sitting down?" Those four little words were to change our lives and take us on an exciting, scary and wonderful journey called parenthood. Our social worker had told us previously that if she used that line it would mean someone who was considering placing her child for adoption had selected our profile. We were shocked. It seemed too good to be true. Quickly we asked for some background and were even more amazed to discover our prospective daughter had been born five days earlier and was now in a foster home only five minutes from our home. We nervously agreed to meet up with the parents the next morning at the Child Youth and Family office in Christchurch.
Few people ever grow up thinking - One day I will get married and adopt children. Just as no one ever thinks - One day I will have a child and place it for adoption. There is a whole raft of circumstances, and often much grief and loss, behind the story of both adoptive parents and birth parents. Having attended the Child Youth and Family (CYF) adoption training sessions we were aware of the process of adoption but had no idea how we would cope meeting someone who was willing to give up their treasured child into our care. The enormity of her decision was on our minds as we went to the meeting.
Nicola, our daughter’s mother at that stage, was a remarkably together seventeen year old. She came to the meeting without family support but had with her the biological father of her child, who was in his early 20s. They were not in a relationship but had reconnected that week. He was obviously rather shocked about being told he was the father of her child, but was happy to be a part of the discussions. Ultimately he felt it was up to Nicola have the final say on what she wanted to happen to their baby. Every unexpected pregnancy is different. For Nicola she had been unaware that she was pregnant until four weeks before her due date. She hadn’t looked pregnant and had been carrying on her normal life at college and at work in a café.
Her decision to place her child for adoption was based on the fact that she was not living near her family and would have no family support if she chose to parent. She also acknowledged that, although she knew she could give love to her daughter, she wanted her to have a two parent, stable family life, with the opportunities and advantages she was not in a position to give. Nicola had been unaware that most adoptions in New Zealand are now ‘open’. She was delighted to find that she could choose the family she wanted to parent her daughter, and that she could have an ongoing relationship with them, and her daughter, if she wanted to. Nicola had looked at the books, called profiles, that CYF hold. These profiles, which had been put together by prospective adoptive parents, give the background of each family and outline what they have to offer a child. Like most mothers in this situation Nicola looked for a family that reflected her own background. Our profile had appealed to her because we are both from large families and we live in a semi-rural setting. She also wanted her daughter to be the eldest in a family. She had been the youngest and, perhaps like many youngest children, she felt that felt that being the eldest might be more advantageous.
The meeting went well and, as opposed to the nine months most parents have to prepare for bringing home a baby, we had less than nine days. For half of that time my husband, Simon, was away with his students on a field course. I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of decorating the nursery; buying nappies and baby clothes; getting a buggy and hiring a car seat, as well as visiting our precious wee girl each afternoon. Friends have said to us since it must have been a wonderful week preparing to bring her home. On the contrary it was the most emotionally challenging week of our lives. We had been told that 70% of mothers change their minds and decide to keep their child. Despite knowing this fact we felt we had to be prepared in case the adoption did go through. The actual day of the signing of consent, where Nicola and the birth father were to sign papers terminating their parental rights, was even more harrowing. Everything ran behind schedule by about four hours. We were waiting by the telephone for a call to say we could bring our daughter home and we had no idea why there was a delay. When we did finally bring Eleanor Courtney home she was overtired. She proceeded to scream for two hours. It was a relief when a friend, who had a young baby, came to help us calm her.
Our experience of adoption has been a wonderful one. We are now blessed with two beautiful children. Our son came to live with us two and a half years after Eleanor. We have the family we always dreamed of. We are aware that having a family through adoption is different to having biological children. Our love for them is no less but we have had our lives and hearts expanded by the inclusion of four birth families. To our way of thinking adoption is rather like marriage. When you love someone and decide to spend your life with them you take on not just them, but their background, history and family as well. This is the beauty of open adoption. For those who know only the older, closed system it can seem rather confusing and strange.
New Zealand has a history of being very accepting of adoption. The peak of adoptions occurred in 1968 when 2016 children were placed into families that were not related to their birth parents. At that time there was a stigma about being illegitimate and also it was frowned upon to be a single parent. De facto relationships were uncommon and contraception was less reliable. Abortion was also less accessible. The social work approach of the day was, “Take the baby home and pretend it has no past.” This was largely to do with trying to avoid dumping on the child the shame involved with illegitimacy. Society has changed so much since then. Shame is no longer a factor and it makes little sense to hide the truth from an adopted child. Besides it could be argued that it is a basic human right to understand ones heritage. It is also now widely accepted that a newborn baby is not a blank slate. The nine months in utero has a profound effect and attachment has already begun. Denying the loss a baby feels when separated from his or her mother is not healthy. Acknowledging the loss, and empathising with the grief of those concerned, is the compassionate approach to take.
The first year of any open adoption is a minefield for all the parties as emotionally raw people get to know each other. Once a mother places her child for adoption she is usually referred to as a birth mum. Legally she had irrevocably signed away the rights and responsibilities of parenting her child. Even if she is totally convinced it is the best decision she can make under the circumstances, she will still have to deal with the grief and loss. This is just a reality of loosing someone you love. However, international and local research has shown that birth mothers fair much better in terms of mental health in open adoption arrangements than they did under closed adoption. It has also been shown that women who place their child for adoption fair better in terms of mental health than those who choose to abort their babies (Fergusson D, Horwood L & Ridder M, 2006, Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 47:16-24). In terms of outcomes for the children a report in 1998 showed that “children who entered adoptive families were advantaged throughout childhood in a number of areas including childhood experiences, standard of health care, family material conditions, family stability and mother/child interaction.” (Fergusson D & Horwood L, 1998, Adoption and adjustment in adolescence. Adoption and Fostering 22:24-30)
Simon and I have had our lives enriched enormously by having the opportunity to parent through adoption. These precious children have also been a blessing to our parents and siblings. We believe that women facing unexpected pregnancies should seriously consider adoption, for all its challenges adoption is a precious gift of life.