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March 10, 2009 permalink
A story from Hamilton Ontario shows that adoption can be a success as long as there is no secrecy.
Open adoption: Two moms to love
February 24, 2009, Carmelina Prete, The Hamilton Spectator
A new Ontario law will open sealed adoption files
Secure loving couple wishes to expand family through adoption. Confidentiality assured.
The pregnant teen nervously read the ad that her older sister found in Mohawk College's campus newspaper.
Advertising for a baby? Are these people crazy?
Artrina shoved the newspaper in a dresser drawer. Tried to forget about it.
But the swelling of her belly wouldn't let her forget. She knew she could never abort. But, at 17, she also knew she wasn't ready to raise a child.
That left adoption. But to give this baby away for good? To never know what the baby looked like, whether the baby was OK -- no, she didn't want that either.
A few weeks passed.
Then she asked her mom to make the call for her.
About two months later, on April 29, 1999, 44-year-old Deborah Brennan was nearly out the door of her Oakville home. Her five-year-old, Daniel, was anxious to get to a birthday party. Ring-ring-ring.
She heard the distinct ring reserved for the 1-800 number she had hooked up shortly before she placed her ad in 14 southwestern Ontario newspapers. Many of them refused to take her money.
People thought she was crazy to advertise for a baby. She didn't care. After giving birth at 38, she and her husband had tried to conceive again, desperately wanting a sibling for their son.
Fertility drugs failed. A miscarriage the year before nearly killed her. But she knew they had so much to offer another child.
Every call she received from the ads in the past two months had led nowhere. But this call proved different. This call changed the lives of them all.
Today, Artrina Heinbecker watches a nine-year-old girl named Diana at dance recitals.
She is there to celebrate Diana's birthday, and every Christmas.
Diana is her birth daughter. She is also Deborah Brennan's adopted daughter. Theirs is an open adoption arrangement where the adoptive family and birth family have direct contact with each other.
Artrina has had another child since Diana. At 22, she had a boy named Brandon, now four.
She contemplated placing Brandon for adoption with a family in Arizona. What stopped her was the notion that Diana might never know her half-brother.
Artrina even lived with the Brennans for a week when Brandon was a baby. Deborah helped with feedings and diaper changes.
Now, Artrina is a 26-year-old single mom making minimum wage in a full-time contract job in Hamilton. She picks up temporary second jobs on occasion to make ends meet. She is confident she made the best possible choice for Diana.
She parents Brandon. She does not parent Diana. "I am there for the good stuff. I don't discipline. I don't want to. Deb can do all that."
Diana calls her Artrina. She understands she has two mothers -- the one who grew her in her tummy and the one who raises her.
She's always known that. There was no big sit-down serious talk. Deborah first talked about it when Diana was a toddler. She would show Diana pictures of Artrina. Diana gained a gradual understanding of her life story. "She doesn't see Artrina as a cool aunt or anything like that. She sees her as her birth mother," said Deborah.
Diana once told her mom it was weird to have two mothers because she doesn't know which one to love the most. "We know you love us both and you don't have to love either one of us more than the other," Deborah told her.
They both know Diana will have questions. Artrina hopes the little girl doesn't resent her mothers. And Deborah expects times will get rocky as Diana gets older.
"It's OK when she's 12 and hates me and says 'I'm going to live with Artrina.' Artrina and I are both very focused on what's best for Diana," Deborah said.
Theirs in an unconventional family, but the arrangement is an increasingly popular one in both Canada and the United States in which adoptive parents and child have direct contact with the birth family.
Provincial law is moving toward providing more openness to adoptive children. A new Ontario law, effective June 1, will give adult adoptees and birth parents access to information that is currently sealed in their adoption records.
Each type of adoption has its pros and cons. Open adoption offers the child direct access to their biological history, eliminating the need to search for birth parents. The identity questions that plague many adoptive children -- Whom do I look like? Why was I placed for adoption? -- are answered.
Some argue it muddies the boundaries of family. Adoptive parents can feel threatened by birth parents or worry that a birth parent can create conflict. How does a child explain the relationship to peers? What about the potential for rejection if the birth family moves away or drops contact? What if the adoptive and birth families don't agree on the level of communication they want?
Deborah Brennan wanted it no other way. She wrote a book, Labours of Love (Dundurn Press, $29), because she felt there was a gap in available information about adoption. There were plenty of how-to technical books, but few that celebrated the adoptive journey post-placement.
Brennan chronicles the journey of 20 adoptive Canadian families, including the late accomplished musician Jeff Healey, whose birth family were wealthy Hamiltonians. Healey described tracking his birth mother, only to have her hang up on him. He died last year not knowing if his mother ever passed on his warning to his sister, whom he never met, to get tested for the gene that caused his pediatric eye cancer.
"I was never looking for another mother or another sister," Healey told Brennan. "But somewhere there is a lady that needs to know and her kids need to know. I've done what I can do."
From the early 20th century until the last decade or so, adoption was often characterized by secrecy and a lack of contact between adoptive and birth parents.
About 11 per cent, or 126 of the 1,080 adoptions in Ontario in 2007, fall into the domain of private agencies, where open adoptions are more likely to occur, although there is no statistical tracking.
A 2005 study, co-authored by McMaster sociology professor Charlene Miall, found that 77 per cent of us approve of the milder forms of open adoption where letters or cards are exchanged. The approval drops to 62 per cent when people consider ongoing contact such as the kind of relationship Deborah and Artrina share.
Artrina has no doubt open adoption has gained acceptance since she placed Diana nine years ago.
Back then, people looked at her strangely when she tried to describe her relationship with Diana and her adoptive family.
"People used to say I abandoned her," she recalls. But with the increasing publicity surrounding Ontario's decision to open adoption records, she believes her situation is far better understood today.
She recognizes it remains different from most other relationships mothers and daughters share.
"When she yells 'Mom!' I still look. But then I think, 'Oh, that's not for me,'" she admits. "Still, I wouldn't want it any other way."
Source: Hamilton Spectator