It's still dark outside, and I've been awake for an hour. I've had my first coffee, checked emails, and now I go to wake my six year-old daughter, my Sleeping Beauty.
I open her door and pause to listen to the peaceful breathing. She's a heavy sleeper, still needing eleven hours a night and slow to wake up. I smile; I was the same until I became a mother.
I crawl onto her bed and she stirs but doesn't waken.
Her face is a shining star, and I wonder how such a beauty and huge personality can be so serene in slumber.
It hits me hard, like it does sometimes; my joy (and sometimes frustration) at her place in my life, how it comes at a cost. The cost she and her birth mother paid and continue to pay. I worry the emotional expense will prove too much for her as she grows and becomes aware of the complications of what adoption. Already they are beginning - her longings for her biology, her own history, her own culture. I acknowledge her feelings - especially the sad, hard ones - when she expresses them. I correct her when she provocatively says "You're my only mommy!" and remind her that I am not. I assure her it's ok to accept she has TWO mommies who love her very much, even if one of them is not a part of her everyday life. I write about adoption without the rainbows and unicorns as much as I can to respect her reality.
I know that everything I do still won't be enough. I know she will carry an adoption legacy with her for the rest of her life, and my heart aches. For her, for her birth family, for their losses, for my guilt about being blessed to be her mother when another could not.
Lying beside her, I inhale her sweet scent. I warm my lips on her warm cheek. "Good morning, my darling, " I whisper, the way I always do, and tell her how much I love her.
She hasn't opened her eyes, hasn't spoken, but her arms - the ones that sometimes push me away - slowly travel from under covers to find their way around my neck and draw me closer, pulling me cheek to cheek with her. I smile.
This is our connection time. For a few stolen moments, we both forget about the hardships of her life and relish the simple bliss of little arms around my neck.
This is why I adopted. Call it selfish, call it whatever you like - when those precious wings of affection are around my neck and my cheek caresses hers, that is when I feel my calling. I feel complete.
My love will not answer all of her questions, and I am painfully aware of that truth. I have no naive expectations that it should. Yet, for those few morning moments, what we have now is all either of us needs.
I'm ashamed to admit I had almost forgotten about her.
Most likely I had merely compartmentalized her face - and how I had become familiar with her - because it was an unpleasant experience and I didn't really want it in my mind.
The face I now recall more clearly was cute. She was small-framed and plainly dressed, without makeup or much fuss given to her hair. She sat stoically at the back of the courtroom for the four days of the trial, except when she was sitting on the witness stand, and of course, when the verdict against the accused was read.
I could see her clearly from where I sat at the front of the courtroom every day - mandated by a judge enforcing my civic duty as a jury member. This was a rape trial - back in the mid-90's, they still called it that. Civic duty or not, I hadn't wanted to be chosen for this jury, but because I was a young woman in my mid-20's near the same age as the victim, I was an ideal juror for the prosecution, I suppose.
For four days, I listened and watched. I heard the circumstances which easily described many of my weekends at the time - a bar night out, lots of alcohol, ending at a house where the partying continued after the bar closed.
Except I had never been assaulted.
The girl at the back of the courtroom? She wasn't so lucky.
It wasn't a clear-cut case, and there were some thought-provoking points raised by both sides:
What happens when consent is never given verbally - only assumed by someone's physical action? What happens if the words "No!" or "Stop!" or "Don't!" are never uttered, even if the girl is too drunk to say them or even aware of what is happening? What happens if somebody less inebriated discovers the sexual encounter in progress and labels it before the victim does?
Sadly, there were even more important questions that never got asked:
What happens when a man is not expected to take responsibility for his actions because a girl was intoxicated? What moral obligation does a man have to say "No!", "Stop!" or "Don't!" to himself? Where do we draw the line on what questions are even relevant in an assault case trial?
Forgetting those four days surprised me. At the time and for many years after, I thought it would haunt me forever because I was a member of a jury who found a suspected rapist not-guilty.
I'm not proud of that.
I could explain that there were a number of legal reasons why we, the jury, found such a verdict.
I could tell you the jury may have struggled, after having been advised that we were to find the verdict of guilty only if we were sure beyond any reasonable doubt, and "doubt" can be a very subjective term, as I learned during the trial.
I could explain to you that much of what you see on TV and in movies about being on a jury is false. I could tell you we learned information after the verdict was read that might have made it easier for us to find a verdict. We were told that information was not relevant to us and was withheld to give the defendant a "fair trial."
I wonder if that girl thinks it was a fair trial. It was complicated and painful and heart-wrenching. And I was only a juror. What I know for sure - beyond any reasonable doubt - is this: the look on that girl's face and the tears of anguish the moment our verdict was read confirmed for me everything my gut had been telling me those four days.
That girl had been assaulted. And a jury of her peers - myself included - had let her down. We had called her a liar.
I hope she reads this and accepts my apology.
She was a victim, of sexual assault and now at trial.
I avoided her gaze in the courthouse hallway, Iand remember thinking if I was ever sexually assaulted, I would NEVER tell anyone. Why be subjected to the pain, humiliation, fear, disappointment, and disbelief I saw on that girl's face that day.
We can only combat this by talking, asking, learning.
Keep talking, in real-life and on social media. Somebody, somewhere is beginning to listen.
If you want to keep the conversation going, you can check out this post about how fear of sexual assault can affect your daughter's dreams, or this post about how the world may be changing.
Last year, I wrote about Adoption Awareness month in November and provided informative resources to help increase education and knowledge for anyone interested in adoption.
This year, I'm going in a different direction to spread adoption awareness: the personal stories. I am a blogger, after all, and in addition to some of my family's own adoption stories you can find here at my blog, there are many others on the interwebs that will open your eyes to aspects of adoption that you may not have ever considered. In addition, the adoption community at large has a growing interest in the perspective of adult adoptees, and have even started the #FlipTheScript on #NationalAdoptionMonth hashtags to denote commentary from their perspective.
A great place to find a variety of personal adoption stories is a blog post collection on the ChicagoNow.com site: Portrait of An Adoption. The site provides thirty adoption portraits, one on each day of this month, as well as an archive library for November 2011, 2012 and 2013. Some of these stories are not for the faint of heart, but then again - neither is adoption.
One of the biggest concerns of adult adoptees is that the average person only understands the adoptive parents' side of adoption. This is often where public focus lies, and adoption for the adoptive parents is a love story. "You were conceived in my heart", "we loved you before we ever met you" and "you made our family complete" are all common romanticized interpretations of adoption described by adoptive families, myself included. We all like a happy ending, and for the adoptive families, it generally is a story with a happy ending - a child gets adopted and the adoptive family is created or expanded.
The stories that have fewer happy endings are those of the birth mothers, birth families and adoptees themselves. We are pre-programmed to turn away from their sadness, both pre- and post-adoption, because we have been conditioned to believe that once an adoption is finalized, an adoptee will live "happily ever after" with their "forever family."
Except it's not that simple. Yes, a forever family is great and sometimes necessary. Love, nurture and necessities of life are mandatory to a child's existence, but society and the adoption community are only just starting to comprehend that adoption has many more requirements than simply placing a child in the arms of a family who wants one. A child who has been adopted generally has complex emotional needs that can only be met with understanding and support. Sadly, not all adoptive parents are adequately prepared for this and have no interest in increasing their own awareness, which leaves many adult adoptees with a painful legacy. Two of the most informative and often poignant sites to provide the perspectives of adoptees are The Lost Daughters and Adoptee Restoration.
Birth mothers and families fare no better. Not all birth mothers live peacefully forevermore knowing their child is being well cared for by the adoptive family. Nor do the extended families of these women live unaffected, as they also experience a loss when a child genetically related to them is no longer a part of their world. You can check out First Mother Forum to read posts by birth mothers.
An adoption has permanent effects on so many people, and it's important to understand all of the perspectives, both positive and negative. If you're truly interested in the realities of adoption - and you should be, considering adoption touches the lives of over seven million Canadians alone - have a read of some of the sites I've shared. You may cry, you may smile and you may disagree with some points of view, but when you're done, you definitely will have some adoption awareness, and that's what this month is really all about.
Thanks for reading my blog! You may want to find out how to help children in Canada who are waiting for families or read how one woman decided to interpret my adoption of my daughter.