Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Open Adoption: Harriet From "See Theo Run" Speaks

The other day, I came across Harriet's blog, See Theo Run. Harriet, her husband and their baby Theo live in Vancouver B.C. Canada. They are parents in an open adoption. They adopted Theo at birth. They maintain a strong relationship with Theo's birth family. Harriet writes about the adoption process and her journey to motherhood and beyond on her blog, See Theo Run.

I know virtually nothing about adoption, so I asked if Harriet might shed some light on the adoption process for me, and her personal journey to motherhood. Here's what she had to say:

1. What made you decide to adopt a baby?

We could not have a baby by birth confirmed by visits to a fertility clinic, and once we were sure of this, we immediately agreed that adoption was for us. We did not pursue IVF. It's a wonderful option for many but it did not feel right for us. We went with our gut and knew that adoption was our way. We are a mixed race couple living in a multicultural neighborhood and felt we could parent and support a child of almost any [cultural background]. It's worth noting that I had worked for a non-profit adoption organization in the past so I was well-versed in the process, and had always maintained an interest in adopting.

2. What steps did you take to adopt Theo?

The biggest and most important step was the decision to adopt with full commitment and faith in the journey. We contacted several adoption agencies (there are only six in BC and two in the Vancouver area). I was interested in adopting through the Ministry for Children and Families but my husband was not keen on that route. It was really important that we both be comfortable for our decision so we approached several agencies. We went with our gut on which agency to use. After meeting face-to-face with a social worker who we immediately took too - we loved the way she listened to us- we signed up with the agency. At this point, we were interested in intercountry adoption mistakenly believing we would never be successful locally. In local adoption, a birth mother or birth parents select you from hundreds of other profiles. Before any of that was to occur, we had a series of visits from a social worker to assess our fitness to adopt (the home study), which took about 6 months to be written up and signed off. We then registered to adopt from the tiny African kingdom of Lesotho, which didn't pan out. At this stage, we threw our profiles into the local adoption pool and immediately got a phone call saying a birth mother and her dad wanted to meet us. I have written about this extensively on my blog: the shock, the fear, the sheer awkwardness of the initial visit and the surreal nature of the second visit with the birth dad and birth grandmother and later visits with the birth parents including dinner and a movie. Two months after our initial visit, Theo was born and placed in our arms at the hospital with a room full of birth relatives, nurses and a social worker. The passing over of Theo to us was the most emotional and strange event of my life.

3. When Theo gets older, how will you address the adoption issue?

We are in an open adoption, and Theo does not look like us so he will figure out pretty quickly that he wasn't born to us. But that is not really the point. At this stage (7 months), we are introducing words, names and phrases to him so they register. We have regular visits with his birth family but he does not really understand who they are so we say things directly to him such as: "We're going to visit your birth mom today." "You are so cute; you look just like your birth dad: Kyle," or "You got your wild hair from your birth grandpa," or "I think you're going to be chatty like your birth grandma!" In terms of the story of his birth and adoption, we will piece it together for him as we go. We have hundreds of photos from the hospital and I have blogged about our feelings on that day. I do not think the penny will really drop for him until he's between 6 and 9 when the really hard questions will come. Our hope is that by nurturing an ongoing relationship with his extended birth family and supporting this with explanations and stories about adoption that his situation will simply be normal for him by the time he starts to seriously question his identity.

4. What advice would you offer to a couple or a person who wants to adopt a child?

You need to be 100% committed to adoption and it should be your number one choice for creating a family. This needs to be true in your heart and not just another option or last resort. You should tell everyone you know that you cannot have children by birth and that you are embarking on an adoption journey. If adoption is a secret for you, you might want to examine why that is. Tell family and friends that you do not know how long it will take but you are committed to this path and appreciate their support. You will be amazed at how many people get excited for you. You will also receive naive, hurtful or invasive comments. It's best to face those now rather than later. We also had family say "but you're still trying right?" when we had been told unequivocally that we could not have children. It can take family time to come round - they are still attached to replicating their gene pool. On the plus side, my father-in-law, who said those very words, is baby Theo's biggest fan and spends the most time with him outside of my husband and me.

One last thing, adoption can take a long time, be highly emotional, but with patience, perseverance and faith in the process, you will be successful.

To read more about Harriet's adventures in motherhood visit her blog See Theo Run.

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  1. IN-FLIPPIN-CREDIBLE!!! I want to be her!! Well, ok we are sort of different, but I want to adopt also. I really like what she said about if you adopt in secret. Chaim and his bros and sis are basically "secret" even though THEY are the ones cool with it. He does want to find his birth mom and any siblings. I told him I REALLY want to adopt but don't really want any more of my own kids. (My kids are great, but there are a million great kids out there. I don't need to make any more. I am totally happy with that and think I would love ANY child as my own just as much.) Anyway, his biggest issue is the money, which we do NOT have right now. :( But hopefully one day, or we can look into taking a foster child permanently (I heard it was cheaper...?) I know I can't even talk to his mom about it, but I don't really care what she thinks. I have to follow this blog, because she is amazing! Thanks Fader!!

  2. I would SO adopt, but hubby says he doesn't feel it would be fair to the child, that it wouldn't feel equal as our biological child(ren). I feel differnt but maybe he'll change his mind in the future.

  3. Cordy, I couldn't agree more! There are so many children out there that needs homes. Harriet is an inspiration to me. The fact that she was so dedicated to adopting. She pursued adoption with such fervor. I believe that we (as parents) can learn about empathy from her story. When she learned she couldn't have children biologically, rather than pursuing fertility treatments she choose to help a child in need. The fact that it is an open adoption makes me admire her more.

    I know what you mean about Chaim his siblings. I believe it is important to talk openly about adoption. I have friends who were adopted whose mothers chose to close off the topic. This made them feel alone and depressed. Harriet's idea to keep matters open is so healthy for Theo.

    Elisheva- Maybe he will change his mind. It's great that you are open to adopting!

  4. Props to her man, especially about the open-adoption part. I would be nervous to do that!! He is such an adorable baby and I absolutely love that the three of them are all different races, that is so awesome. Yasir and I really want to adopt one day - from wherever!

    I can see Sheva's husband's point though - after having Tahira I wonder if I could feel the same way about an adopted child because the process of "obtaining" them (is there a better word? obtaining sounds awkward!) is so different! Hmmm...but just thinking about adopting a kid makes me all emotional and want to cry so I'm pretty sure I'd love the heck out of them!!

  5. You know what's interesting? I got emotional when I was reading Harriet's answers! It's such a profound act to adopt. I think no matter where your child comes from, if he/she is loved that is what matters.

    You are such a great mama, Amanda, you would totally love the heck out of 'em.

  6. Sarah - Would I be able to post this to my blog?

  7. Hi JRomamma! I'm so happy you liked this post! You are welcome to reference it and post a LINK to it! You could even write your own opinion about how it make you feel. Thanks!

  8. Unfortunately, posting the full content would be a violation of my copyright. ;(. Sorry!


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