Sunday, September 03, 2006


One of the most beautiful things that I have seen and probably will ever see in my life is the adoptive process. I've had the privilege of seeing 3 babies adopted into families thus far, and every time my heart has been on the verge of imploding from sheer gladness.

My first time, I was volunteering at Children's Aid. I monitored parental visits, which is as sad and heartbreaking as it sounds. Kids are pretty amazing creatures; no matter how often their parents shit on them, they remain optimistic that next time will be different. That for 30 minutes every 2 weeks, mom or dad will love them. So of course it killed me to have to send mom or dad home when they showed up to visitation high, or drunk, or both. It killed me because the kid would assure me that next time mom or dad would show up with a toy, or some cookies, or at the very least...just show up. Unfortunately, a little more than half the time, they didn't show up at all.

It's hard when you study psychology, because you go in thinking you'll listen to some neurotic housewife and then charge her $120 an hour, but about half a semester in, you realize there are a lot more people in the world that need help, and most of them won't make it in to your plush office downtown. When you've spent some quality time in the gritty visitation room at Children's Aid, you begin to realize how much you are needed elsewhere, and that your heart will bear the burden of other people's pain for the rest of your life.

This is the kind of job that can get to you. I probably don't need to tell you how many times I was punched and slapped (and not by the kids, mind you)...but you may be surprised to know how many times I received a blow to the head from a snow boot, for example. And I'd still rather take blows to the head than give a deposition in court, or tell a kid that he can only take one toy to his new foster parent's home, or that his mother has disappeared, and he probably won't see her ever again.

If you were getting paid, you'd probably quit. But you're volunteering because they need you, because it's a shitty difference you're making, but at least it's a difference. So you go, and you see horrible things, and they keep you up at night.

And eventually you earn a "reward". Now, I've had some rewards before. I was always fond of the big cash ones myself. But no reward comes close to the way they reward you at Children's Aid: the chance to participate in an adoption story.

I think adoption is the single most emotional thing a person can go through. Some adoptive parents wait for long and painful years to find their baby, others receive a phone call and it seems to happen in a heartbeat. Either way, they're never prepared the way someone who has had a steady 9 months is prepared. Biological parents spend 9 months anticipating, bonding, fretting, boasting. Adoptive parents have the entire 9-month rollercoaster ride of an experience handed to them in one moment.

I think that sometimes god can't send you your baby by the most direct route, but that doesn't make it any less your baby. Three times now I have been astounded by the distinct feeling that these parents loved this baby, this virtual stranger, without ever setting eyes on her. Like the baby had been part of them all along. Like I was witnessing a family reunion rather than a first meeting.

As soon as the baby is placed in her mother's arms, the room is thick with joy, relief, love. Thick, like it compresses your chest a bit just to be around it.

The first adoptive mother I worked with, Joanne, was near fainting, overcome by the fact that 30 seconds ago she wasn't a mother, and then suddenly she was, and all she wanted was to get home and enjoy her instant family. Her husband Bill kept bursting into tears, already proud of his baby, already itching to introduce his daughter to the world.

The second family was already a large family: mom, dad, 5 kids. The 5 kids were all biological, but this family clearly didn't make that distinction. The youngest, a 3 year old boy, exclaimed upon meeting his new sister that she looked just like him, that he loved her already, that he would gladly share his favourite spaghetti with her any time.

The most recent adoption I witnessed was one I will never forget. When the new parents arrived home with the baby (this one not a newborn, he was 13 months or so), their entire family had gathered and a baby shower was in progress. This was their first child, and the first grand child on either side. The house was packed with relatives, many of them crying, most of them snapping pictures, all of them anxious to meet the latest addition to their family. There was a beautiful cake and gifts piled pretty much floor to ceiling, but the new mom had none of it. She sat in the same chair rocking her son the entire time. Grandmas came in for kisses, dad kept tickling his toes, but mom never gave him up, not once. She spent the next year on maternity leave just basking in him. It took her a long time to believe in her own happiness.

So I've been blessed. I've been part of the greatest moment in someone's life no less than three times. The only prior experience I'd had with adoption was when my mother tried to convince me that I myself had been adopted, or traded, rather, for a bucket of chicken from a Native tribe who sold us gas for cheap back in 80s. And now I'm addicted. Is there any greater high than seeing the ultimate in happiness? I haven't found one yet.


But there's something very exciting brewing in the percolator that is my life.
A small package, you might say.
The arrival date is September 21.

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