A mother holding her daughter up on the beach


I Want Birth Stories To Evolve To Be More Inclusive For Adoptive Parents

Apr 6, 2021

A circle of 10 sweet wriggly babies rested on rainbow-coloured mats kicking their feet while staring up at the ceiling. In front of each one, a young mom sat cross legged, waiting their turn to speak.

Years ago, I was sitting in that circle with a group of new parents, like myself, when the leader of the baby gym class told everybody that it was time to share birth stories. The story of how your baby entered the world. It was the first time I’d had that feeling, the kick in the gut, followed by a fight or flight instinct that was drumming across my heart up into my ears.

"I wasn’t there for either one of the births of my kids, because we adopted."

One by one, they each wove stories of how their water broke and labour began. Typically, each went to the hospital quickly with their partner. Epidural or not? What was the speed of delivery? Touch points for their family origin story. It was a pretty homogenous group. Literally, the only time the story varied much was when one of the moms described her home birth experience. And then suddenly, it was my turn.

“What’s your birth story?”

I didn’t have a birth story. I wasn’t there at the birth of my daughter. I wasn’t there for either one of the births of my kids, because we adopted. The story for us, of our family, started the day they arrived in our home. Of course, for my kids the story began sooner than that, when they were born and handed to someone else — from biological parents, to nurse, to foster care provider, to social worker.

Interested in adoption? Paula has some advice about what she'd do differently now to make sure her kids have proper support in place.

There are roughly 2,000 children adopted each year in Canada. Sometimes adoptive parents might be at the birth, but it's rare. Adoption is complicated for all of the parties in the triad and we each have very different stories of the adoption experience, or the birth experience, so we have different ways of viewing family.

In that circle of new moms, I felt excluded, anxious and put on the spot. What to do? Should I lie and make something up? I thought to myself that it was really nobody else’s business whether we had adopted or not, and then I heard my name. My daughter looked up at me, our beautiful new baby, six months old at that time, who would not remember my words and yet she was hearing them and absorbing them all the time. A tiny sponge.

Here’s what I said and why

“I don’t have a birth story,” I said. “We adopted Payton.” And I launched into the story of how I got the call the night before surgery while I was in the hospital. It was a call we thought would never come and then it did and meeting our baby girl was magical, while also slightly terrifying.

"Up until that moment, when they asked for birth stories, I had felt pure joy at being a brand-new parent.
... That moment tainted it slightly by making me feel like an outsider."

Over the years, I have heard dozens of variations of this narrative in which moms are asked to share birth stories. And make no mistake: the ask is for "birth" stories. To be honest, I find this language jarring and it hits a little hard because by now, in 2021, families are formed a multitude of ways.

Grandparents raise grandchildren. Aunts and uncles, teachers, neighbours and even coaches sometimes have kinship care arrangements. Some kids are in foster care and, believe it or not, foster carers also take kids to classes, school and lessons. There are step-parents, surrogates, and easily a dozen different ways to make a family.

There is no singular notion of what a family looks like. So, I would like to see our stories and our narratives reflect that reality.

It’s not 1950 anymore. For all the parenting circles and sites soliciting and sharing birth stories, I'd like to see ones that celebrate how you became a family in a broader, more inclusive and realistic snapshot of family life.

Up until that moment, when they asked for birth stories, I had felt pure joy at being a brand-new parent. I’d enjoyed the class with my daughter, and it was a great bonding experience for both of us. That moment tainted it slightly by making me feel like an outsider. I felt defensive and a bit angry for my daughter as well. Did she not count?

Paula's adopted daughter has FASD — fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Learn what it's like for their family here.

For years after that initial episode there would be many similar scenarios and joking little comments afterwards like: “Oh, you did it the easy way!” Or: “You did it the smart way.” Either comment was wildly inaccurate.

"Perhaps we could give the whole experience a superhero connotation and instead ask about their origin story."

There’s nothing easy about illness, followed by years of trying to conceive, fertility treatment and finally months and months gathering references, filling out forms and agonizing over a checklist of potential disabilities. Could I support a child with cerebral palsy? A child with Down syndrome? Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder? Twins? Schizophrenia? School-aged siblings? A child who had been abused? Conceived after sexual assault? The list is gutting. Then getting a doctor to consent that we were fit candidates to parent. How were our finances? How was our home? Any potentially dangerous dogs? Smokers? Drugs?

Every so often, I used to put people on the spot when they asked intrusive questions. If they asked what doctor I had, “I didn’t.” Or if they asked the time of birth, “I wasn’t there actually, so I don’t know.” I'd wait as long as it took for their brow to furrow in complete confusion. Once I told someone: “She arrived after I had a hysterectomy.” Then I waited for them to connect the dots. Another time I laughed and clarified that we had adopted.

So, how can we make the stories of how families are made more inclusive? How can we make adoptees, and adoptive or blended families feel a little less alone?

I believe it can be as simple as changing the questions we ask. Perhaps we could give the whole experience a superhero connotation and instead ask about their origin story. Changing the script could also mean simply inserting a word or two: Tell me your birth or adoption story. Or maybe it can be even more inclusive. "Tell me the story of how you became a family." I quite like that.

Article Author Paula Schuck
Paula Schuck

Read more from Paula here.

My name is Paula Schuck and I have been writing professionally for over 20 years. I am a mother of two daughters, and I am a fierce advocate for several health issues. I am a yoga nut, skier and content coordinator for two London, Ontario, trade magazines. I have been published online and in traditional magazines and newspapers including: Today’s Parent, The Globe and Mail, Kitchener Record, London Free Press, trivago.ca, Ontario Parks blog and Food, Wine and Travel magazine.

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