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A Sister At Last
Not Given Away
updated August 15, 2003
In the two years between first applying to adopt and meeting the child who would be welcomed into my home, my emotions were varied. It was a difficult time in many ways. There were times when I'd almost forget about adoption because I was busy and involved in other activities. There were days I'd wonder if I were doing the right thing, if I really had the qualities needed to raise a child successfully. When I'd get sick, I'd worry how I'd cope with a child. And there were lots of days I wished I could share with a child. I'd go swimming and think how much a child would enjoy this, or I'd walk by playground equipment and wish I had a child to take to play there. I'd play with my nephew and nieces and wish my own child were with us.
Years ago, when I had applied to adopt a child in another province, a wonderful social worker had listened to some of my doubts and had assured me that it would be the same if I were pregnant and waiting for my first birth child. It helped me to remember her words.
During this time I read a lot about adoption and parenting. Children's Aid gave me a reading list and I found many books at the library. This gave me something to do that was related to adoption. I was also told about a support group, SPA, which I joined. There I found others who were in a similar situation.
After I met my first daughter, my emotions were in turmoil. I was full of hope this lovely child would be my daughter, eagerly anticipating her arrival in my home, fantasizing about the things we'd do together. One social worker would speak as if it was decided she would come to me, another would ask, "Well, have you decided if you want to adopt her?"
It was very frustrating, this seeming non-communication between them. I would get upset and angry that 'the system' was taking so long. Some days I'd wonder if a child would ever be placed with me. All this interspersed with hopeful, eager excitement and growing love for a real child I'd actually hugged and talked with.
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I also wondered how this was affecting the child. Had she guessed I was to be her new mommy? Were her emotions also in turmoil? How would she act out her feelings? Then I'd imagine the worst. I'd worry she'd do something negative and the social workers would interpret that as her not wanting to come to me.
A friend who had already adopted three times was helpful and calming at this time. She said she and her husband had also been frustrated by the adoption process and she assured me everything would turn out right.
It did. The day finally came when Dee was placed in my home, and I was excited and joyful yet also a little fearful of the responsibility of loving and raising a real live child.
A Sister At Last
Not Given Away
From the time Dee came to live with me, she really wanted a sister. In her foster home, she'd had two sisters, one older and one younger. She pined for all the members of her family but these two sisters in particular.
Five years later, I adopted Em. Dee had been part of the process and I'd kept her informed of progress along the way to this second adoption.
Their first meeting didn't go smoothly. Em showed signs of jealousy right from the beginning even though we both tried to make her welcome. But on the way home from that first meeting, Dee said, "I still want her for a sister."
After a month of weekend visits, Em moved in. From the start, the girls were always in each other's way, seldom finding common ground for spending time together. But Em was soon copying the ways of Dee, 3 years her elder. Instead of flattering Dee, these behaviours only annoyed her.
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Many nights I got the complaint, "I know it's partly my fault because I wanted a sister, but I don't like Em. Can't you send her back?"
We would talk of her difficulties. I'd explain that even if she was with her birthmother and had a birthsister, she'd still have big arguments with her sister. I gave her examples from my own life, how I argued incessantly with my brother and didn't like to play the same things as my baby sister. She listened but wasn't convinced.
It was a very long adjustment. Life was really very different having a sister around all the time. Em wanted to meet all Dee's friends and they in turn were friendly to her. But this made Dee jealous. She accused Em of stealing her friends. When Em made new friends at school, she didn't want to share them with Dee. There were arguments about whose friend certain children were and who should be allowed to attend whose birthday party when invitations came.
Em learned how to play Barbies from Dee who is an expert at role playing with these dolls. But Dee was very critical and wouldn't play with her for long.
Em learned a lot of dances from Dee, too. But again, Dee was a very exacting teacher and Em would become angry or walk away from her teaching sessions.
Em tried swimming because Dee loved it so much. And she came a long way - from refusing to put her face in the water and scolding any child who splashed her, to being a good swimmer - but again, Dee could always do something she couldn't manage.
On occasions when the girls had played nicely together, I'd ask Dee, "Weren't you glad to have a sister today?" The answer was always no. Dee got in a rut of unacceptance.
Most days there were many disagreements and often there were physical fights. On two occasions, Dee pulled out chuncks of Em's hair.
As a family, we tried various sleeping arrangements, sometimes sleeping in separate rooms and sometimes in one room. The girls were in bunk beds, Em above Dee and I was in a bed beside them. There were several advantages for me when we were together. We could have a story time once we were all in bed, we could talk together about the day's events and if anyone needed me in the night, I didn't have to get up. I could simply answer that I was "right here".
Bedtime is very conducive to "heart" talk in our family so I still like to be together. I go to bed with the girls and get up early in the morning for my private time. When it's time to sleep, we all say our final goodnights.
After Em had been with us two years, Dee said one night, "Goodnight, Em. I love you." I didn't comment but heard this message with gratitude and joy.
Update 2003: In April we moved to a cute little house in the woods and each girl got her own bedroom. They love this arrangement and spend quite a lot of time organizing their rooms. Now, I try to read with each girl and have individual time before they go to sleep. The advantage to this is the separate time I get with each daughter (lovely!) but the disadvantage is the time it takes - with full lives, it hard to fit everything in.
A Sister At Last
Not Given Away
Adoption topics often come up in our home and sometimes new information is shared or concepts are redefined at a new level of understanding.
One night recently (spring 2002) one of the girls said, "I wish my birth mother hadn't given me away."
I said, "Neither of your birth mothers gave you away. There were circumstances in your families that made Children's Aid take you away."
This seemed to be a significant new understanding for both of them, but especially the younger one. She cupped her arms as if holding a baby and said, "You mean my mother didn't say here, take my baby?"
"Yes," I said, "your mother even fought to get you back."
She came for a hug. I shared as many details of this part of their lives as I know and felt that it was a very meaningful, spontaneous family time. They haven't shared how they felt but at the end of the conversation I felt totally drained, yet knew our own bonds were stronger.
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Copyright© 2002, 2003 by Martha Greenhow
Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada