I attended a West African Drum and Dance retreat this weekend. I danced. I drummed. I sang. On the second night, as I lay in bed, body exhausted from a full day of movement and learning, I listened. Listened to the sound of the distant drumming. The doundounba and its solid constant bass rhythm, the kenkeni holding everything in time, the sangban connecting the three doundouns together in a perfect pulse. I could here the djembes playing accompanying parts while a Djembe-fola told a story of his people. I could even hear the foot steps of barefoot dancers. I heard each part of the rhythm on its own and all of them together. I opened the window of my cabin in the woods to hear better, to let the music wash over me and my family as we slept. It was then that I realized there was no drumming – everyone had gone to bed. The rhythm was in my head, in my body, in my breath, in my heart beat.
When you are immersed in something, it starts to feel like you are breathing what you are studying. That’s how I felt at the dance and drum retreat, and it is how I have felt during our adoption home-study process.
We are at the end of our home-study process. We’ve had about 8 visits with a social worker who I’ll call Ms. Purple – she always had at least 3 purples on her – purple earrings, pants, scarves, shoes, sweaters, pens, binders, bags – lots and lots of purple. And not the various shades of purple like lavender, eggplant, mauve or dark pink – just straight up colour-wheel purple. I like purple.
Without writing a thesis about the home-study (we already had to do that for our home-study preparation documents), here are ten things I learned in the homestudy about adoption.
10. Adoption is complex. It is about children. It is about every child deserving a forever family. It is about children having ‘tummy-mummy’s’ and ‘heart-moms’. It is about parents and parenting. It is about poverty. It is about systemic social injustice. It is about choice and lack of choice. It is about endless unconditional love. It is about sadness, trauma, fear, joy, happiness, hope and healing all at once.
9. Adoption involves grief and loss. No matter how you look at it, there is grief and loss in adoption. A child who loses their birth parents. Parents who lose their birth children. Adoptive parents who lose the experience of being pregnant and raising a child from conception and birth. Children who lose their cultural identities.
8. Grief and loss are normal and healthy. Our job as adoptive parents is not to take away grief and loss from our children, but to provide an environment of support, compassion, and love in which our children can comfortably and safely grieve – all throughout their lives.
7. Just like in pregnancy and birth, anything can happen. You can hope, pray, ask and do everything the ‘experts’ tell you to do, and surprises still happen. Developmental delays. Malnourishment. Slow attachment and bonding. Post-placement depression. Adoption interruptions and complications. And, just like in pregnancy and birth…MOST of the time the story has a happy ending. Knowing what all the possible risks are helps prepare us to be ready for whatever…and whoever…comes into our lives.
6. Openness in adoption is ideal. Helping children connect to their roots, their culture, their birth place, and birth family can help children develop a healthy solid identity. Throughout their lives, adopted children may want varying degrees of openness, and it is important to let them know that you support them as they develop their self-awareness and write their life-story.
5. I am a white privileged descendant of European colonizers. To be a mom to children of Metis and African descent means to understand my role as a white descendant of the colonizers who oppressed indigenous people on my home continent and the home continent of my adopted child. It means decolonizing my mind and exploring and reflecting on how systemic racism and white-privilege will impact my children, my family, and our individual and collective identities. That might just end up becoming a whole blog post sooner or later.
4. I need you. Bringing a child home from another country will have many similarities to bringing a child into the world through birth. I will need to be ready to ask for support from our friends and family to help my family adjust and transition. Sir Riel will be adjusting to being a big brother. Mom and Dad will be adjusting to being parents of TWO demanding little people. The biggest difference is that our adopted child will not have been bonded with us since birth. We will be starting the bonding process after our child has potentially experienced weeks, months or even years of not having their basic needs for nourishment, physical affection or love met. We’ll need lots of time to focus on bonding our little family together and we’ll need the support and love of our community during this time.
3. Sir Riel is awesome. Okay, so this isn’t really related to the homestudy. But how can I not fit in a little blurb about our perfect little wizard munchkin? And it is kind of related. Talking about our parenting philosophy, our plans for helping Sir Riel adjust to being a big brother, and all other manner of parenting talk with our home-study social worker, has really confirmed how much I love parenting – MOTHERING – already. And specifically mothering Sir Riel. He is a fiery little person who is either exploding with happiness or screaming in frustration and there’s not much in between except for when he’s sleeping (not sure where he got his flare for drama…). And while this is completely exhausting and mind-boggling, it is also incredibly life-affirming. So much zest in such a little body!
2. There is ancestral wisdom. Okay, so I got this from that course I recently posted about ‘Creative Goal Setting’. We talked about how life is energy and people are energy. We talked about how people pass energy onto other people through our DNA and also through stories, interactions, magic, and memory. In that course, I had the pleasure of meeting a beautiful adopted woman who told me that while her adoptive parents are devout catholics, she found herself drawn to the ancient wisdom of the Goddess from a young age. When, as an adult, she met her birth-parents she discovered where this ‘ancestral wisdom’ came from! She is ‘just like’ her birth father. For me this is a reminder that both my adopted child and my biological child more than just ‘my children’ – they are a complex manifestation of all that has come before them, as am I.
1. I want to adopt. After nearly three months of ‘studying’ all the potential challenges, risks and responsibilities of adoption, I only feel more committed to this journey. Just like I can hear the music in my breathing and my heart beat – I feel the need to be an adoptive mother in the deepest parts of my self. That deep place is the same place from which I felt the need to conceive and give birth to Sir Riel. The same place from which all my dreams, passions, and visions have come from. The yearning to adopt is part of who I am. Adoption is part of my wholeness.
Mrs. Purple says she has no doubt our home-study report will be approved and we’ll move on to the next stage of adoption. We have a long way to go. We need to develop our adoption ‘dossier’. We need to choose the country from which we’ll adopt. We need to send our dossier to that country. And then we need to wait. I may not experience pregnancy again, but this will be a very long gestation period.