One of the first things you do as a prospective adoptive parent is fill out a lot of paperwork. Every aspect of your life is under scrutiny as your fitness to become a parent is judged by a barrage of social workers.
While your capabilities to potentially parent are being assessed, and sometimes I hope that your abilities to parent the kinds of children who are available for public adoption are taken under consideration as well (although, I’m not entirely sure on that one), there’s very little opportunity for prospective parents to assess what kind of kids they can parent.
Very early in the process we filled out ½ of one page that defined our “range of acceptance.” Simply a behaviour, characteristic, or challenge was listed and it was your job to select yes or no. Yes, I’m willing to take a child with X. Or no, I don’t want a child with X. Nowhere on the form are any details or further information on any these yes/no items to be found.
A prospective parent who is completing their range of acceptance may have a conversation like this:
Wifey #1: What’s the difference between FASD and FAE?
Wifey #2: Let me check on the internet. Oh, these are kids that have been exposed to alcohol in the womb to varying degrees.
Wifey #1: I suppose that might be okay. What the heck is this RAD thing?
Wifey #2: The internet says that’s Reactive Attachment Disorder. I quickly skimmed the page and can sum it up as a strong opposition to authority.
Wifey #1: Well I hate authority so bring that kid on!
And the list without a lexicon or further information continues on with things like fire starting, experienced sexual or emotional trauma, stealing, anger management issues, retarded (seriously, in this day and age the form actually used that word to describe children) and so on.
As a parent who now knows a lot of other parents who have adoptive children who face a huge range of challenges, I now have more clarity as to what issues I wouldn’t be able parent. At the time, however, there were only two boxes we checked ‘no’ on. Both ‘nos’ were related to things we were familiar with.
Wifey didn’t want a fire starter and I didn’t want a child who was ‘retarded.’
While I won’t copy the entire narrative I wrote to CAS scolding them about their use of the word ‘retarded’ and how I expected more from an organization that works with children, I knew I couldn’t raise a child who was experiencing global developmental delays.
I’m not a patient person. I’ve worked with kids for years. I’m also the older sibling to a brother who has a genetic disorder that has resulted in significant global developmental delays.
When my brother was born they told my mother he would never walk and never talk. Initially his diagnosis was Down Syndrome. About six months later it because clear that that diagnosis was incorrect but they weren’t quite sure what was wrong with by brother.
It wasn’t till my brother was seven or eight that my brother got a label that fit. Our family was finally connected to a doctor and a geneticist, the only in the world, who were working with this particular chromosomal mutation.
My brother is a phenomenal human being. He’s resilient, good hearted and indefatigable. He has poor social skills, experiences depression, has had major medical complications and setbacks. He’s surpassed every limitation he was told he’d have. He walks and talks. He even drives – it took him an extra 6 years to get his license but he did it!
My brother has never really had a true friend. His friends are primarily friends of the family. People forget his birthday all the time and he spends upwards of a month picking out a birthday gift for them. He dreams of finding a girl to date and marry. My brother will never financially be able to independently support himself and the amount of money afforded to him by social assistance would barely provide enough to pay rent, let alone food or transportation.
My brother also happens to be the most irritating person in the world to me. Because he is the brother of an impatient sister and he knows exactly which buttons to push, I’ve usually hit my upper threshold of tolerance within 10 to 30 minutes of being in the same room as him.
I’ve seen how challenging and self-sacrificing it has been for my Mom to mother him. She loves him unquestionably, but he consumes her. There is no end in sight because my brother will never move out of the family home. My mother has been parenting him for 30 years and will be his primary caregiver till she dies.
The cost has been high for my mother. Two marriages . Near financial devastation. Family vacations. Numerous career opportunities. Relationships with other family members and children. Unconditional love is costly, yet my mother wouldn’t change a thing.
Having witnessed my mother’s life, feeling constantly guilty about how I relate and react to my brother, gave me firsthand knowledge that I couldn’t parent a child with global delays. I will also become the primary caregiver to my brother when/if my mother dies and I knew I couldn’t handle two kids like my brother.
It’s the truth and it’s ugly. It’s something I hate about myself. But I couldn’t in good conscience check off that box with a ‘yes’ on the range of acceptance. With each checklist item, we were asked to dig deep about what we wanted and about what we could or could not handle.
This past weekend the Globe and Mail published an article on a new test that could assess the genetic health of unborn children. I read the article from beginning to end and handed it over to Wifey.
Given our ongoing discussions about the MaybeBaby, and my deep fear that I could somehow pass along the genetic disorder my brother has even though I know it’s not how this particular disorder works, I had to again confront an ugly truth. If we were to get pregnant and we find out that our fetus is compromised, I wouldn’t want to carry it to term.
I, like all other parents, want a healthy baby. My baby doesn’t need to be, and surely won’t be, perfect. But I don’t want to be an ugly person all the time. I would be a horrific parent to this child. I would be resentful and angry. I would feel guilty and awful. I would be the kind of parent that no one deserves.
When we make these kinds of decisions, it’s less about the kind of children we bring into the world. It’s about making sure that the kids I have do have the best parent possible. I want this for my kids. They’re entitled to and deserving of this. And so this truth - my truth - is messy, ugly and complicated.