Energetic Liam, 6 1/2, gets tickled by his parents Andrea (Andy)
Drouin and Hilary Bolton in their Halifax home. The same-sex couple and their
son are one of three Nova Scotia families featured in a new book Labours of
Love: Canadians Talk About Adoption.(ERIC WYNNE / Staff)
is an article about us! You may remember that we were interviewed as part of a book, Labours of Love last year. Our local feature reporter was doing a piece on the book and wanted to interview a local couple so the author asked if we would do it. I said "Sure! Why not!"
And here is the result:
Book examines complexities of adoptions in Canada but ultimately celebrates children, family connections
By LOIS LEGGE Features Writer
ANDREA Drouin knows what it’s like to be a "big secret."
So as the adoptive mother of six-year-old Liam, she tries to be as open as possible about her life as an adoptee and an adopter.
So much so that she’s among three Nova Scotia families featured in Ontario author Deborah Brennan’s recently released book Labours of Love: Canadians Talk About Adoption.
Brennan, who adopted her now-nine-year-old daughter Diana when the child was an infant, also hopes the book dispels misconceptions about a subject rife with stereotypes.
So-called open adoptions like Brennan’s and Drouin’s, which involve the birth parents having a role in the child’s life or the child at least knowing key information about the biological parents, are becoming more common.
But Brennan says openness is still lacking when it comes to adoptions, often because of fear and shame that lasts for decades.
Despite placing numerous ads and notices to gather stories for her book, Brennan still had a difficult time finding people willing to discuss their lives publicly.
She received lots of responses but many people backed away when they realized their real names and photographs would be used. Some felt they should wait until their adopted children were old enough to decide for themselves.
"To me that’s still saying there’s something wrong with it, something shameful," and that’s an attitude children often pick up on, Brennan says.
Some birth parents, many of whom chose adoption years ago with promises their identities would never be revealed, still feel the stigma today.
"My thing in writing this book is first and foremost the person that we need to think about in this equation is the adoptee. Let’s all get over our grief and let’s just try to get to the place where we acknowledge that there’s this child that needs to be taken care of."
Brennan believes being honest is the best way to take care of adoptees.
But some biological parents have resisted such moves, wanting what happened in the past to stay there.
Drouin encountered that situation with her own biological mother, a career woman who never married and gave birth to her when she was 40 and was already the mother of a seven-year-old child. Her adoptive parents told her everything they knew, but when she finally contacted her birth mother, old embarrassments and fears resurfaced.
"She had lived with the stigma in her mind of being a first parent and had never told anyone about me, not even her daughter who still lives at home, so I’m sort of that big secret so our contact is very limited," she says. "I can’t call there or email or sort of show up at the house because . . . she doesn’t want her to know about me.
"I understand her reasons for doing it; I mean, it’s a secret that she lived with for 30 years and was told at the time, you know, ‘Move on and forget, she’ll never find you and you don’t need to relive any of this.’ So to have 30 years later that myth shattered for her — that I would never find her — would be quite difficult.
"We’ve met a couple of times," adds the Halifax woman, who adopted her son with her same-sex partner Hilary Bolton. "She still lives in Ontario, where I grew up, so distance is also part of the issue. It’s almost like a clandestine affair, sometimes. I have to call when I know my sister’s not going to be home and arrange to meet when she’s going to be at work and meet in public places."
Drouin never wanted that kind of secrecy in her own parenting. So her son has met his birth mother, who has been in his life off and on. Drouin is open about her own sexual orientation and says she and her partner haven’t faced any prejudice as same-sex adoptive parents.
Brennan believes most adopted children want to know about their biological parents. But many provinces, including Nova Scotia, still refuse to give them unfettered access to records without the biological mother’s permission.
All the secrecy can be painful for the children, she says, and only adds to public misconceptions about adoption.
"Quite a few (people) are very misinformed about adoption and when they think of the word ‘adoption’ it becomes a negative connotation immediately. Well, something went wrong; a teenager had the baby; she had sex when she was too young; she was irresponsible. . . . There’s all these really big red flags that go up."
Adults often pass that along to their children, as Brennan found out one day when her daughter came home crying from school.
"Kids have said, ‘Your mother didn’t want you’ and things like that, but you see those things are far more common than people like to realize because people in the adoption community sort of keep it to themselves more. I look at adoption as kind of a layer of society that’s kind of hidden.
"The adoption records are opening up in June in Ontario and that’s going to create a lot of discussion because many birth mothers don’t want anything to do with their offspring. They have hidden this part of their lives for years and they don’t wish it to be revealed, and to me that’s simply wrong and all the secrecy around adoption has created this attitude, and it comes up at a very young age and kids get those messages from their parents. So I guess the parents need to be educated and then the kids will have a different perspective on what adoption means."
But adoption doesn’t mean things will be the same as having a biological child, says Brennan. She’s had both — 15-year-old biological son Daniel and adopted daughter Diana — and says adoptive parents face unique challenges even though "the love you feel for the child is the same."
Becoming an adoptive parent was the first obstacle for Brennan, who eventually found her child’s birth mother by placing ads in a college newspaper. But when she started trying to adopt domestically, being over 40 was a barrier and few resources existed to help her navigate the complicated and frustrating process. She hopes her book, which also includes information from professionals in the field, will serve as a guide to prospective parents while highlighting the rewards of adopting.
"They get to be parents, when they’ve wanted that for so long," says Brennan, whose book features a range of families: gay, straight; those who’ve adopted domestically and those who’ve adopted internationally.
"When people parent through adoption they feel doubly blessed."
© 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited