April 6, 2009 was a date we had all been anticipating with growing impatience for nearly a year. Now that our “gotcha date” had finally arrived, we returned home to Edmonton with our daughter. While calling her my daughter is now completely natural, at that time it would have felt strange to call her that. We understandably needed some time to adjust to our new status as a family. The move may have been physically complete, but we were still Aunty Kyla and Uncle Dylan, in the process of becoming Mom and Dad. Tapanga was still a sweet and precocious little girl, in the process of becoming our daughter.
Fortunately, the transition was natural and relatively easy. We had spent so long forming a bond and becoming accustomed to each other that any hiccups were incredibly minor and easy to work through. Becoming a family really was like a dream come true. Perhaps it was the “honeymoon phase”, perhaps it was the prior preparation, but we were so very blissful.
Home at last! Some memories from Tapanga's first weeks at home. April 2009
We were happy but you know how they say the only thing constant is change? Well, we were about to discover how very true that is. We were about halfway through my leave of absence, and had hardly any time to adjust to our new status as a family, when we received yet another fateful phone call.
An Edmonton social worker, newly assigned to Justice’s case, was reviewing her history and saw that she had an older sister who had just been placed in a permanent home, pre-adoption. The Edmonton worker then phoned our social worker and asked if she could have our contact information. Remember how I said it felt as though the children’s services system was against us? Well, this is a perfect example of the difference between perception and reality. The reality was that the system, and Tapanga’s worker, were not against us. Not at all. They were absolutely, 100% for Tapanga. Mine and Dylan’s feelings were not their concern, Tapanga’s well-being was. The children’s services system was doing it’s absolute best to protect Tapanga through every step of the process. Now that she was in our home, her worker went to bat for Tapanga yet again.
When I received the phone call from Justice’s Edmonton-based social worker, she very carefully told me about Justice, and her PGO status. She informed me that she had spoken with our social worker, who had played the role of a protective mama-bear, guarding our little family. Our social worker had indicated quite clearly that the Edmonton worker was to IN NO WAY pressure us to take Justice into our home. The conversation with the Edmonton worker was quite interesting, and reassuring. I loved hearing how our worker was protective of our new little family. Nothing was going to break apart what we had all worked so hard to build. Not on her watch. The Edmonton worker asked if she could meet up with me, “No pressure at all” to tell me about Justice. While I was sure that we could not take on another child, it felt necessary to at least meet with her. I agreed, and we set a date. Since the meeting was in the middle of the day, Dylan was at work. We weren’t too concerned that he wasn’t there, after all, we were probably just going to say no.
The worker came over and, true to her word, she did not pressure me at all. Justice was described as an absolutely adorable, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, twenty-two month old; healthy and typical in every way. Justice had come under a PGO over six months prior, and she was the perfect age to be adopted. However, despite being a match for seventeen prospective families, her case was forgotten about. Her case sat untouched until she was assigned to a new worker, right around the time we got Tapanga. Justice should already have been adopted, or at least placed with a forever family, and yet she wasn’t. Whether I realized it then or not, it was as if she had been waiting for us.
Justice visiting in our home, June 2009.
In our no-pressure visit the worker assured me repeatedly that we did not need to say yes to Justice, she would be adopted regardless of our answer. In addition, if we did not choose to take her into our family, an open adoption could be arranged so the girls could still grow up knowing each other. No pressure at all!
Although the case worker was extraordinarily careful to not influence us into taking Justice, she still wanted to ensure we had all the information needed to make our decision. She felt she needed to discuss the financial implications of taking on a second adoptive child. It turns out we were in for another surprise.
When Tapanga first moved in we began to receive kinship care funding. This monthly payment was about half of what a foster placement received at that time. In addition to the monthly support any counselling, medical care, or dental needs she had were covered by the Alberta government. We could be reimbursed for recreation expenses (up to a yearly maximum), and we could be reimbursed for some vacation expenses (again to a yearly maximum).
When we chose welcome Tapanga into our family, finances were not a part of the decision. We felt we could afford a child, and she was right in front of us, needing our love. In addition, the pre-placement questions about our finances had led us to believe that the financial burden of child-rearing would fall entirely on us once the adoption was finalized. We were perfectly fine with that.
However, the Edmonton adoption worker gave me detailed information on the Supports for Permanency Program. Basically, we would continue to receive the same monthly support, up to 10 counselling sessions per year, a recreation fund, and respite funding. This came as a surprise to me. The adoption worker then explained that because these children have been through traumatic situations, it is understood that they may have higher needs than children who have not been through a trauma. Families are provided with these financial supports to ensure financial challenges will not hinder the adoption placement, and that any extraordinary needs the child has will be met. Typical needs like medical and dental would of course fall to the adoptive family.
While I assured her finances were the least of our concerns, she assured me they needed to be discussed. Sure, we probably could afford these two girls, but what if down the road one or both of the girls had greater needs than we had originally anticipated? What if we decided to have more children, would our decision to adopt mean we could not afford biological children? It was important to her that we understand the whole picture so that finances would not be the deciding factor.
While she talked, the thought that circled my mind repeatedly was: but we know and love Tapanga, we don’t know this girl. So, when the time was right I shared this thought with her. We had spent time with Tapanga, we grew to know and love her. How could we say yes to someone we didn’t know, someone we had only seen once as an infant? How could we possibly know if she would be a fit, if we would love her as we loved Tapanga? Could we meet her?
She explained that prospective families were not allowed to meet the child this early in the process. When a family is matched with a child they must go through a series of steps where they are given information on the child, and they then say yes or no. Families are given progressively more information at each stage, with information about the child’s challenges being given very early in the process. Eventually, the family is given a picture. Meeting the child is far from the first step of the process. Children’s services wants to ensure the prospective family doesn’t fall in love with an adorable face and then become completely deaf to the child’s inherent challenges. So, I was initially told no, we could not meet Justice before we decided.
Justice was undoubtedly meant to be in our family, but at the time we needed some assurance of that. Dylan and I did not have the conviction that it was meant to be. Fortunately, her adoption case worker had a great idea! Tapanga was placed with us, and she was Justice’s sibling. Periodically children’s services arranges sibling visits, perhaps now was a good time to arrange a visit between Tapanga and Justice!
My first Mother's Day, my only Mother's Day as a mom of one. 2009
So in early May 2009, in the Edmonton home of her foster parents, we met our second daughter. All doubts and fears faded. We didn’t know her, and she didn’t know us, there was a growing sense that she was meant to be our girl. All of us, including her foster parents, felt it. At the time of the visit we were planning and preparing for our wedding reception (we wanted to celebrate our marriage with those who weren’t in Mexico). While we were out shopping for supplies with both sets of parents, we told them how the visit went. When we told our parents we were thinking of saying yes, they were immediately supportive.
It’s funny, one of the things the Edmonton worker said, to reassure us that we did not need to adopt Justice, increased in us the conviction that we did need to adopt her.
“You could have an open adoption, the girls could grow up knowing each other even if they are in different families.”
We could not imagine only knowing Justice that well, could not imagine Tapanga having a distant-cousin type relationship with her. What would it be like for Justice and Tapanga to grow up only close enough to be continually reminded of each other’s existence? We could not imagine visiting a few times a year, or even monthly, only to say good-bye time and again. We could not imagine what that would be like for them, what grief they might experience. How could we force them to be raised apart when we had the chance to raise them together?
So, we said yes. Yes to her future, yes to our future family; yes to Tapanga and Justice being together.
I thank the God we didn’t know then, for Justice. I thank Him for the divine intervention that kept our Justice in a safe and loving foster home until we were there, ready and waiting, with Tapanga.
Thank God for His timing, and His plan for our family.