It has been two months since we made the decision to end our adoption efforts. Things feel uneasy, unsteady. Putting down a heavy weight isn’t as easy as you’d think. You are used to the burden; nothing snaps back into place, accommodating a phantom mass.
There is a feeling of reluctant release; the end of dealing with a system that we ceased to have faith in. No more advocating, waiting, and frustration. The buzz of an iPhone no longer brings a rush of hope and a wave of anxiety. We are quietly relieved of duty.
Still, the void is always there. It’s an emptiness we have known for many years. When we moved into our house a decade ago, we saved a room for a child. A couple of years ago, we repainted it preparing for our homestudy. Late at night I made a video I could use as part of our child’s memory book. I spoke about how much we were hopeful, panning the room to show the stuffed animals, books, and toys.
I stumbled across that video recently. Watching it again made me want to reach through the glass, smack me across the face, shake me silly, and tell me what a fucking endless heartbreak we were setting ourselves up for.
The video, along with the photos of every child we were matched with and then declined, have been deleted from our computers. The room is empty.
We move about our day to day lives with that open and unused space. I’d like to say I’ve done something big and symbolic to reclaim the space, but no. It’s a place I rarely spend more than a few moments in. It just is.
“It looks like freedom / But it feels like death / It’s something in-between I guess” – Leonard Cohen
A few weeks after we made our decision, I sat in my office and felt beyond overwhelmed. I packed up my stuff and walked clear out of the building. I didn’t have a destination, but knew I needed out. I ended up at the Alex Colville exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. More specifically, I found myself sat in front of his painting “Horse and Train”. Colville depicts a majestic black horse galloping straight towards a train; both are moving on the same track and it is inevitable they will collide straight on.
I spent a lot of time looking at this painting. I know the horse is not going to survive against the train, yet it keeps running. It stays determined on the track even though there is an entire open field to either side. It is a haunting, striking, painting and it spoke to me on many levels. We couldn’t control the train heading straight towards us, but the horse isn’t forced to follow the track.
I used to believe that everything happens for a reason. This faith was my touchstone for every set back and challenge.
I no longer believe this. In fact, it makes me chuckle with cynicism.
We’ll never look back on this experience and say, “we learnt so much from this”. I’m very confident making this statement. This didn’t make us better or stronger people. A family was never created. There’s a child stuck in foster care who will never be matched with us and will never know they were wanted. It was a complete and utter waste of love and hope.
It’s easy to say we should just keep waiting and trying. I would pose the question: could you really build your family within a system that you have no trust in? It wasn’t impatience that made us stop. It was an inability to believe decisions were being made in children’s best interest. How can we be a part of that? (Could you?)
So what’s in the future for us? For one thing, we can stop running and begin to heal. We desperately wish the adoption system would be different, but we are getting older and it won’t change in time for us.
We are gradually coming back to the surface, exploring other ways to contribute to youth. I’m thinking about returning to my roots and volunteer teach English-As-a-Second Language. Big Brothers and Sisters are an organisation we hope we can get involved with. We want to travel, renovate the house, spend time together.
The blog will likely stay quiet, but I am grateful to everyone who read, supported us, and shared their experiences. Thank you.
Through the marvels of modern technology, I am able to take the bus to work while playing a “Learn Lithuanian” app on my iPad. So far, I know my numbers and colours, basic greetings and vocabulary, plus some random phrases like, “where’s my luggage?” All a good start, but since the toddler we will adopt likely won’t speak a word of English, I can’t help but think I should have a few key sentences in my back pocket like, “What’s that smell?”, “Did you really swallow that?”, and, “No seriously, where did my child go?!?!”
It’s incredibly daunting to imagine what it will be like to have a child we first won’t understand, and who will most likely have endured some form, if not multiple instances, of trauma.
But forget about us.
Imagine you have your friends and caregivers, familiar sounds, smells, and foods, around you. But all that changes. Suddenly, a couple of strangers show up with goofy smiles and weird words. They start playing with you and in a matter of a few weeks, they seatbelt you into a plane, you play a bit, have some warm food, take a little nap, and WHAM! you wake up away from everything you ever knew.
Oh yes, I have no doubts that our child is going to really hate on us for a good length of time.
International adoption can be an ethical landmine, one that can be difficult to navigate without a few explosions of conscience. I have been kept awake many nights thinking about whether it is right to remove a child from their culture, even if it means a much safer and better quality of life. Or is that a better quality of life by only our standards? And will our child feel stolen from their culture? These are tough, tough, decisions.
We have sought to adopt domestically. We attended the last Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE) where potential adoptees are presented in the form of 90 second videos – one after another, heartbreaking story after story. Did I forget to mention that adoption isn’t for the faint of heart? At the time of ARE, we hadn’t completed our homestudy and could not apply. Once our application is finalised with the Ontario Ministry (soon, soon, soon!), we will place our profile with CAS and hope for a match.
There are no guarantees and for a few private reasons, we are sadly not optimistic. This is why we have considered an international match as an option.
The first step towards international adoption (IA) is selecting a country. Not all countries perform IAs. Likewise, Canada honours the Hague Adoption Convention, so the pool of countries you may adopt from is limited (this is a good thing, as it is meant to prevent child trafficking and ensure high standards of infant/child care).
So, now you have a refined menu to choose from…. not so fast Angelina and Brad! Each country has their own, very specific rules and regulations, about who they consider eligible to adopt their children. This can be anything from religion, age difference between you and the child, health (including BMI), length of your marriage, proof of infertility, or even the profession you work in. It can feel harsh, but these countries are looking to ensure the best possible lives for their children.
Okay, you found a few countries that you eligible for – congratulations! Well, not really. Some programmes for countries may already be full (such as Ethiopia, which was a country we seriously considered), or the waiting lists are exceptionally long (7 years for China). And don’t forget, you can select one country, and one country only.
Given my Polish heritage and Martin’s German background, we decided to look into Eastern Europe simply because of geographical proximity.
It was our social worker who suggested Lithuania. After a lot of research, meeting with an adoption liaison, using our social network to connect with anyone with Lithuanian backgrounds, we decided that it would be a good match for a few reasons:
- Where I lived in Poland is only a few hundred kilometers away from Lithuania (which is a bit of a freak coincidence….). Whilst different countries, there are some similarities in lifestyle and culture.
- We visit Germany frequently and we could easily travel to Lithuania, keeping cultural ties.
- There is a strong community of Lithuanians in Toronto.
Do we still have a lot of questions, fears, and doubts? Absolutely. Nothing about this process is obvious. You are deciding a fate for a child you haven’t even met yet, but that you already love like mad.
So that’s the story of how we became Team Lithuania.
Until further notice, I keep on learning….labas nakties! (good night!).