International adoption has a world of challenges

Jul 26, 2020

By Sarah Boettcher
Adoptive mom from B.C.

My husband and I adopted 18-month-old twin boys from Zambia.

I work as a nurse and I’d watched as colleagues who gave birth to their children were able to take a full year of maternity leave, with a union top-up. My income, as an adoptive mom on parental leave, was less than half of what I usually earn. Adoption leave does not qualify for the union top-up. This put my husband and I into a difficult position as we had the double-adoption expenses to cover, as well as our mortgage payments.

To complete the international adoption process — fostering, adopting, then applying for citizenship — we had been told to be prepared to live overseas for four to six months. For reasons outside our control, we ended up staying in Zambia for nine months.

Living in two places

My adoption leave of 35 weeks expired before we even got home, so I had to go without any pay until we could get back to Canada. We depleted the majority of our savings — we had saved more than $30,000 in the years leading up to the adoption — because I had to pay living expenses both in Canada and Zambia, on top of the adoption fees.

I did not give birth to my children, but adoption felt harder on me physically, emotionally and financially than had I birthed these children.

In order to foster attachment with our children, who had already experienced significant loss and trauma, my husband and I lifted and carried our children everywhere. Given that they already weighed more than 20 pounds each, and there were two of them, the wear and tear on my arms was significant. I ended up developing tendon issues in both wrists.

And knowing that the parental leave period was very limited added to the other stresses of being new parents, such as reduced sleep and our feelings of inadequacy, as we tried to meet our children’s high emotional needs.

We would have used more time to help our family acclimatize and transition back to Canada. Our children had left behind everything and everyone that was familiar in their lives. It would have been retraumatizing for them had I returned to work, when I was scheduled to do so, after 35 weeks.

Returning to Canada

The early months were extremely taxing and my husband and I both experienced difficulty returning to full function and life in Canada again. Our family doctor likened our experience to post-traumatic stress disorder as we had symptoms of depression, trouble socializing and other lasting effects that are only now beginning to ease now that our boys are three years old.

Adoptive families deserve equitable treatment from the Canadian government when it comes to parental leave. Perhaps you can’t understand what it’s like unless you’ve lived it. So I’m glad the #TimeToAttach team is advocating for us. Our children deserve that 1-on-1 time with their new parents to get their lives in a permanent family off to the best possible start.

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