Friday, November 18, 2011

ABIP 2011 - Tortoise Tales!

Heather from Production, Not Reproduction, did it again folks.

Adoption Blogger Interview Project 2011!

Basically, anyone who is connected to adoption and blogs about it, could sign up to be apart of the interview project.  Once everyone is signed up, they are randomly paired with another blogger.

I had the privileged to be paired up with Tortoise Mom from Tortoise Tales. We were given about a week to familiarize ourselves with each other's blogs and then write out thoughtful questions for the interview.

Toroise Mom lives in Australia and is planning to adopt through foster care. It was fascinating for me to read about foster care in another country - and Australia's system seems VERY different than ours here in the States. She has one beautiful daughter that she chose to have as a "Solo Mum by Choice" via IVF. Her daughter has some special needs, so she blogs a little about that as well. I really enjoyed reading and getting to ask her some questions - I hope you enjoy reading about them!

1. When did the idea of adoption first come to you?

I think the idea was always with me. I have a genetic condition that I never wanted to pass on so I never intended to have a biological child. I wasn’t really interested in having kids at all until my early twenties, and it was a slow realisation that this was really important to me. By my late twenties I was actively researching and planning how to become a mother and looking into intercountry adoption was my first step. There were only two intercountry adoption programs available in my state at the time. One was with India and you had to have Indian heritage to qualify (I didn’t). The other was Ethiopia and you had to be a committed Christian. I’m an atheist and I really didn’t want to lie about something so important so I decided not to pursue that. It was really important to me to do everything ethically and lying just seemed like bad juju. Not the right way to start a family for me.

Domestic adoption here is virtually non-existent in terms of children who are voluntarily relinquished. There are just a few of them each year and the authorities are quite open about their bias towards heterosexual couples for these adoptions. So that was me out on that count too.

I was very interested in foster to adoption but for a whole bunch of reasons I really felt at that time (in my late twenties/early thirties) that I didn’t have the capacity to negotiate the complex bureaucracy, fight and advocate for myself and any child/ren placed with me etc. The whole world of foster care seemed terrifying in terms of the power imbalance between foster parents and the child protection system and I had only ever read negative press and negative reports about the system. I didn’t know anyone on the inside who could support me through the process. So I chickened out.

2. I was reading some of your old posts, but skipped around a lot. Can you tell me a little about your plans to adopt from foster care and what has stopped you from moving forward?

As soon as my daughter was born I realised that she had inherited my genetic condition and that this would result in some health issues for her. What I didn’t know then was that she also was going to have live with a whole bunch of other health problems all of her very own which have made life tough for her. I also had a really difficult and disabling pregnancy. I knew that from a commonsense point of view it wouldn’t be a very good idea to go for another pregnancy and biological child (even though I have embryos in the freezer). I have always been very keen on foster to adoption and now at 40 I’m feeling relatively well equipped to navigate the system. I want to provide a happy, safe and loving home for a child who needs one and I want to parent another child and it’s of little significance to me if that child comes from my body or someone else’s.

But as you point out my plan to adopt from foster care is stalled. In myself I’m pretty much ready to go with it. But I’m in the middle of a PhD and my daughter has complex health needs and I’m a single parent and I work to pay the bills. So I’m already juggling a lot and although we manage, I think realistically I actually can’t do all that and take on the care of another child right now. My daughter’s particular health needs mean we don’t have any child care, so I can’t attend foster care training and I can’t accompany any foster child to access (which would be very important to me). I have been going backwards and forwards on this for a while but I think in the last couple of weeks I’ve come to terms with the idea of waiting about 2 years. I’ll have finished the PhD and my daughter will be in Kinder (school) so childcare won’t be an issue. I think her needs will be less intense and I’ll be a better position to take on a therapeutic placement (I tend to think that ALL foster care placements are therapeutic to some degree). Although the wait is hard now and will continue to be difficult, it feels like the right thing to do.

3. It seems like foster care in Australia is much different from the United States, especially adoption from foster care (which seems almost non-existent?). Do you know if adoption from FC  as more common in the past and what changed?

Yes foster to adoption is almost non-existent here. In Victoria there is a program called Permanent Care whereby kids who are on permanent orders are formally placed with forever families. That is the closest we have to adoption but it’s distinguished from adoption by the legal status of the children involved. The permanent care parents never have complete legal parenting rights in the same way adoptive parents do. In NSW there is technically adoption from foster care but it’s so hard to get approval and support for it that only a handful of adoptions from foster care happen each year.

Generally people who want to adopt from foster care end up with what are known as Long Term or Permanent Care placements which mean that they are still involved with the department on an ongoing basis and guardianship rests with the department (via the authority of the relevant government Minister). It makes life very difficult for parents who wish to make independent parenting decisions and for the kids who are in a kind of permanent legal limbo.

It was easier to adopt from foster care in the past. I was searching in my local library catalogue for books on adoption and came across a catalogue entry for a book called “Your guide to adopting from foster care in Tasmania” circa 1981. It was published by the department so it was clearly intended to provide information and encouragement for people seeking to adopt from foster care. These days if you ask about adoption you’re viewed very suspiciously. It is seen as a kind of red mark against your name if you are applying for foster care and you start talking about adoption.

I assume that attitudes towards adoption from foster care changed about 20-30 years ago when evidence about the damage done by closed adoptions and forced/coerced adoptions began to emerge. Official policies about adoption changed completely in a very short amount of time and we still have an anti-adoption culture in Australia.

4. Is Open Adoption a common concept or practice in Australia? What are your thoughts about it?

Well, we have very very few domestic adoptions in terms of women voluntarily relinquishing their children for adoption at or near birth. I’m talking about less than 100 per year in the whole country. But the adoptions we do have are open but perhaps not in the sense that open adoption operates in the U.S. As far as I know, relinquishing parents do not meet or interview prospective adoptive parents prior to the birth and don’t have that kind of vetting responsibility. Although they do get some say in the process but it’s mostly handled by the relevant agency.

All long term or permanent care foster care and adoptions from foster care are open in the sense that even if there is little or no access there is openness about the circumstances of the children coming into care and everything arising from that. And a commitment to facilitating access on a regular (often court ordered) basis (where appropriate) is part of the deal when you sign up for long term or permanent care and even in those few cases where people manage to formally adopt from foster care.

I’m very supportive of open adoption. In Australia we have a brutal and revolting history of child stealing from people who were considered “unsuitable” mothers. We’ve stolen babies from Aboriginal mothers, from single mothers, from poor mothers and from teen mothers. Babies and children that were white enough to “pass” for while were adopted into white families and the other kids ended up in work camps or various forms of juvenile detention, almost always run by religious organisations. When the British stole children from their “unsuitable” mothers, they sent the kids here where they were typically abused and enslaved in work camps. We have a lot of evidence about the deep wounds and damage caused by forced and coerced adoption and secrecy in adoption. In the last few years we’ve had formal apologies from Parliament to try to make amends for these terrible

5. I love the "Solo Mum by Choice" title - when did you decide that you would be a SMC? What advice would you give to women struggling to decide whether or not to become a parent without a significant other?

I can’t remember ever wanting to have children within a long term relationship or being particularly interested in the idea of marriage or long term monogamy (other than occasional adolescent daydreaming). It’s just not the way I want to live my life. But once I realised I wanted to have children I did a lot of thinking and research about the idea of having children a sole parent. I knew that the poor outcomes that are often associated with children raised in single parent households are actually due to the social circumstances that are often associated with single parent households: poverty, housing instability, unstable relationships with fathers, etc. These social circumstances are typically absent in SMC households and the research that we have about children living and growing up in SMC households is very positive. So I was very satisfied that having a child as a single
woman wasn’t a bad or selfish thing to do at all. In fact, all the evidence we have suggests that children born and raised in SMC households are generally happier and healthier than children in the general population.

I didn’t have any doubts about my own capacity to “cope” as a sole parent. Like many SMCs, I’m a confident, high achieving, educated and independent woman. I planned my family carefully and waited until I owned my own home, had an established career, good maternity leave provisions and a plan to produce income even if I reduced my working commitments after having a child. As it turned out, my own disability during pregnancy and my daughter’s unexpectedly serious health problems meant that I have relied very heavily on family and friends for support and that my career has taken a big backseat. This wasn’t expected but luckily I have been well supported and my plan was flexible enough to accommodate these circumstances. But as a woman who likes to be the helper not the
helpee, it was a shock and has been difficult at times.

Within the SMC community there are Plan A women and Plan B women. Plan A women are women who, like me, never wanted to have children within a nuclear family scenario and chose SMC as their first option. Plan B women usually say that they would have preferred to have a family within a relationship (either gay or straight) but that they didn’t find the right person in time and so they have started on their own as Plan B.

I know that lots of my fellow SMCs, particularly Plan B women, found books like Knock Yourself Up by Louise Sloan and Choosing Single Motherhood by Mikki Morrisette were very helpful resources. I didn’t feel like I needed those books because I knew what I wanted to do and didn’t have any doubts. But I did need the help of the amazing women in my online community, SMC Australia. I needed help to understand how I could access donor sperm, what my legal rights were, and every day parenting strategies suitable for SMCs. There are similar communities in the U.S. and I would urge every woman who is even considering becoming a solo mum by choice to join up the online community of your choice and talk to women who know the ropes. You won’t regret it.

Finally I would say that it’s commonplace amongst SMCs to say that no SMC ever regrets their choice, and most just wish they’d done it sooner. To that I would add that there are some very tough days and that doing it on your own can be difficult, without doubt. Just because something is the best thing you ever did and you don’t regret it for one second, doesn’t mean there won’t be bad days and you won’t have to make compromises that you never anticipated. If you are well prepared and have all your support and resources lined up, that preparation will go a long way when the inevitable bad days roll around. And then you’ll be free to revel in the wonderful times and enjoy the many pleasures that comes from doing it all on your own!

You can also head over to her blog and see the Interview she did with me here!


  1. Hello *waves*! I really enjoyed participating in this project and found the whole process challenging (in a good way).  Such a good opportunity to put myself in another person's shoes for a little while.  I keep coming back to this interview in my head and thinking about all the issues that make foster care and especially foster to adoption very different in Australia.

  2. I'm loving ABIP. It's really interesting to read about adoption in Australia in a more critical light. Too often I see it described by American's as the benchmark because of the Government oversight, no pre-birth matching and almost mandated 'openness'. As Tortoise Mum says, there are some significant problems within the systems. I wish her luck with her foster plans and wonder if she's considered monthly respite or a big sister program in the meantime.


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