To recap, first there was a roadblock, a miscarriage. Then came a red thread that led us to meet Madd-Fu and bring her home. And then life came full circle with the passing of my mom. Now our 6th and final episode: A Failed Adoption.

After adopting our daughter, we are a happy family of three. So…do we make it four?

Adopting from the US

We had our hands full with Maddi-Fu. She was so much fun but also exhausting. We liked the two-on-one defence. It was manageable. Did we want another child and move to one-on-one? After a couple years, we decided “yes”, we could do it. By that point, the China adoption program had slowed down to a trickle. We would be waiting 5, 6, 7 or more years. We started looking at other countries…maybe Kazakhstan. Then our neighbours referred us to their adoption agency down in San Antonio, Texas.

Our "This Is Us" Story: Episode 6 - A Failed Adoption by Colleen Kanna

Our family of three

Our adoption practitioner, the one who had helped us adopt Maddi, and later helped us through breast cancer, cautioned us about adopting from the U.S. The process in the U.S. is different from Canada. She had done a few and they had not gone smoothly. Even though we had been through it before, this time we would be dealing with a birth mother and possibly a birth father. Our practitioner wanted us to go into it with our eyes open. We were determined and forged ahead.

The adoption process

We attended an adoptive parenting course in Kingston, a requirement of the process. You have to have a specified number of hours of education to become a parent even if you’re already a parent. There were the usual introductions at the beginning of the class. We had to say where we were planning on adopting from. We were the only couple adopting from the U.S. Hmmm, in retrospect, probably not a good sign.

Once again there were a lot of documents to fill out. We had to let the adoption agency know what we were looking for, what we were willing to accept – race, ethnicity, gender, special needs, etc. Even writing that seems wrong somehow, like playing God. I carefully prepared a photo book of our family to be shown to prospective birth mothers. A bit like online dating, I suppose. Then it was a waiting game. Put your life on hold and wait.

Our "This Is Us" Story: Episode 6 - A Failed Adoption by Colleen Kanna

Our family photo book

We quickly found out that once you are chosen by a birth mother, that’s when the hard part begins – reviewing a prospective birth mother profile and making a decision. There is a lot of anguish in turning down a proposal. In one case, the birth mother was a smoker and the birth father was in jail. It felt awful to turn away. That baby needed a family too. We would always love and care for our baby no matter what. Life has no guarantees. You move forward. But, to knowingly go into a potentially difficult situation, to choose that ahead of time, we had to be honest with ourselves. We had to think of the daughter we already had and the impact our decisions would have on her.

Being chosen by a birth mother

Finally, a birth mother who had chosen us seemed like a good match. She was a young student in college studying music. The birth father, her boyfriend, was still in the picture but was giving up his parental rights and abiding by her wishes.

Because the birth parents were in San Antonio and we were up here in Ottawa, we could not meet in person. We met over the phone. First, our adoption practitioner spoke with their adoption practitioner. She had concerns. She felt their practitioner didn’t have a lot of experience, and didn’t seem to know how to answer some of her questions as in, “Does the birth mother seem attached to the baby?” Is she constantly rubbing her belly? Does she talk about the baby, refer to the baby by name?

We had a couple of telephone interviews with the birth mother and father and their adoption practitioner. It was very clear that they were interviewing us and not the other way around which I totally understand. However, our adoption practitioner was not even allowed on the calls because it might intimidate the birth parents. I felt like we had to jump through many hoops which, of course, we willingly did.

The baby is born

The birth mother went into labour early. The plan had been that as soon as she went into labour, we would be notified and then head down for the birth of the baby or as soon thereafter as possible. We had arranged for my mother-in-law to come with us so she could look after our young daughter. Well, by the time we were notified the birth mother had already given birth. Hmmm, births are unpredictable, it could have gone very quickly, but in retrospect, I think that was a sign. She wanted time with her baby before we came into the picture. Then she requested to take the baby home with her. Again, not a good sign. But, she kept insisting she was going to go through with the adoption.

We hopped on a plane as quickly as possible with our daughter in tow. It was a long flight, not much sleep, and we headed straight to the adoption agency. We walked into the room. The birth mother and birth father with baby and their adoption practitioner were seated around a boardroom table. I did a quick sweep of the room, no couch for my daughter to sit on and safely hold the baby with my help, of course.

Meeting baby and birth parents

The birth mother immediately plunked the baby in my arms. Well, Maddi, a tired 4 year old who had spent more than the first year of her life in an orphanage with no mom, was not ready. She needed to be eased into the process, not hit over the head as I’m sure it felt like to her. She had a meltdown and was hitting me and crying. It was the worst possible scenario. I had to hand the baby back and take Maddi outside. I spent an hour calming her down. My heart sank. She was inconsolable, rocked to the core of her being. She understood what I was saying to her but her emotions were overpowering.

My poor husband was left in the room by himself, holding the baby and trying to make small talk. We finally came back to the room and Maddi was able to hold herself together, bless her little soul. She was okay when the birth mother or father was holding the baby. She even went over and gently touched his head and asked them questions about the baby. It was very sweet, but I could tell the birth mom was freaked out and rightly so. She was attached to that baby and wanted to protect him. She started to cry and left the room.

No support

We felt this was when we, as the adopting family, could have used more support. Their adoption practitioner was young and inexperienced. She was an adoptee herself but had no experience with young children, particularly young internationally adopted children. She did not even attempt to try and smooth the situation over with our daughter. If she had been more experienced, she may have been able to see that Maddi needed to feel like she was part of the process, that she was not being replaced. Perhaps she could have suggested that Maddi hold the baby’s bottle, or even the baby with lots of adult supervision. I totally get why the birth mom was alarmed by Maddi’s outburst, her behaviour. It was alarming for me too, but I understood where it was coming from. I never felt so torn. It was so difficult, so heart wrenching.

The next day, I left Maddi and her dad at the hotel to do some swimming and went to meet with the birth mom and dad by myself. I held the baby and we talked for a couple of hours. I think I knew in my heart of hearts, it was not going to happen. The birth mom said she would make her decision and let the agency know.

The devastating news

The following day, we got the call. She had decided to keep her baby. I know it was meant to be, it was the best thing for her baby. Still, it didn’t make it any easier for us.

When we got the devastating news, I sent two emails: the first to my employer and the second to the adoptive moms in our Friday morning playgroup. Both rallied. My employer was awesome, giving me the time I needed, and checking with me on if and how I wanted to announce the unsuccessful adoption to the rest of the company.

My co-workers had given us a baby shower with lots of wonderful gifts. For me, the heartbreaking conundrum was, What do we do with all these baby gifts now? Do we give them back to everyone? How awkward would that be, not only for me but for them as well. Do I try to return them to the stores? That didn’t feel right either. I didn’t have the receipts and again how awkward would that be to ask my co-workers for receipts. At the end of day, my niece and one of my colleagues became pregnant shortly thereafter and I passed on all the baby gifts to them.

Once back home, I remember someone saying to me, “I didn’t think the birth mother was going to give up her baby. Let’s face it, you or I would not give up a baby we had just given birth to”. That may have been true but that was so not what I needed to hear at that moment. It made me feel so disheartened. No one was ever going to let us adopt their birth child. It was hopeless.

The loss

But, my adoptive mom friends came through. They hosted a potluck get together for me as soon as we arrived back home. It was exactly what I needed. Soft and understanding shoulders to cry on. They listened, they cried, and they understood what I was going through. I will always be appreciative of their support.

We worried about the impact on our young daughter. She blamed herself for the birth mom and dad not giving us the baby. A big weight for tiny 4 year old shoulders. We consulted our adoption practitioner. We wondered if Maddi should see someone, but she advised perhaps we shouldn’t draw attention to something that may not be a problem in the first place. She felt if we were okay with the failed adoption, then Maddi would be too. It was good advice.

We were encouraged by the adoption agency to hang in there, to keep trying. They assured us the right baby for our family would come along. The thing is they would send us profiles outside of what we had agreed to on paper. Each time, we had to agonize over whether or not to accept the proposal. Saying no to a prospective birth mother and her unborn child was awful. It got to be too much. The guilt was too great.

Moving on

We decided to stop putting our life on hold and to simply enjoy the child we already had and loved. We closed our file even though we had to forfeit the not so insignificant amount of money held in trust at the agency. It was a difficult decision to close that door, but in the end, the right one for us, for our family.

In reflecting back now, I know that little baby boy was not meant to be ours. He is where he should be, with his mother, and possibly his father too, and their family. I remember the birth mother had not told her parents about her pregnancy and her plan to give the baby up for adoption. That had made me feel a little unsettled. I felt she needed to confide in her parents, get their advice and their blessing. How sad would it have been for the grandparents to find out years later that they had a grandson out there in the world they had never met.

What does that mean?

For us, we had to dig deep and look at why we wanted to have another child. We loved Maddi-Fu beyond measure. She filled us up, in our hearts, in our minds, in our home, in all ways imaginable. For me though, I realized I couldn’t imagine life without my sisters, particularly when our mother was sick and then passed away. I wanted to give my daughter the same thing…a sibling.

But the truth is, having a sibling, does not guarantee you will be close or support one another in life. We know this. One of the other moms pointed out, “Even birth siblings don’t get along, never speak to each other, and are not close. If your daughter has never had a sibling, then she won’t know the difference. She will have other people in her life…cousins, good friends who will fill that void”. She will have her Chinese sisters, many of whom are only children too.

Our "This Is Us" Story: Episode 6 - A Failed Adoption by Colleen Kanna

Still a happy family of three

Being an only child

I know our daughter has, at times, been obsessed with her friends’ siblings, asking them a million questions about their younger or older sister or brother. You could tell her friends didn’t understand why she was so curious, why she wanted to know. She would often ask, “Do you like having a little brother?” To which they would emphatically reply, “No”.

I believe Maddi would have had a love/hate relationship with any sibling. She would have loved him or her wholeheartedly, loved to have someone to play with and boss around, and to share secrets with. At the same time, she would have hated sharing mom and dad’s attention. I believe that is the product of spending more than the first year of her life in an orphanage, constantly battling for her caregivers’ attention. Other children were competition. Now that she is older, I’m sure she would love to have someone else to confide in, to blame things on, to get out of the constant watchful eye of her parents.

Life as it should be

Recently, she bought a book from Chapter’s with a gift card she had received. It was called “Far From the Tree” by Robin Benway. She seemed to enjoy it telling me bits and pieces about the characters. I decided to read it once she was done and was surprised to find it was about three siblings, all with the same birth mother. Two had been adopted and one landed up in the foster care system.

Naturally being a concerned mom and reading way too much into this, I thought perhaps she had specifically sought out the book because of the storyline. No, that was not the case. She had simply picked it up off the shelf. I asked her if reading the book made her curious about her birth family and whether or not she had siblings out there somewhere in China. Again, no. And finally, I asked if she wished she had a sibling. Again, a resounding “no”. My conclusion: I think she will be fine as an only child.

What about you? Is anyone out there an only child? I would love to hear your thoughts on living life without siblings.

If you made it all the way to the end of this 6 part blog series, thank you for hanging in there and for coming along for the ride. I hope you enjoyed it.

Until next time,

~ Colleen

Colleen Kanna, Photo by Anna Epp Photography

Colleen Kanna is a recovering Chartered Accountant and Breast Cancer Champion turned Fashion Designer.

She is the creator of COKANNA Canadian made bamboo clothing for women that’s all about comfort and style.

Colleen supports Rethink Breast Cancer’s metastatic breast cancer support, education, and advocacy work.