Adopting bi-racial twins from within the foster system was an intense experience for Jane Byers and her partner Amy Bohigian. The foster family who’d had the 14 month old twins since birth were fundamentalist Christians, and were “dead set against a same-sex couple adopting the twins,” says Byers.
This made for an interesting dynamic, especially as their social worker insisted they pretty much live with the family for two weeks in order to learn about the twins’ routines. (They didn’t sleep there, but were there before the babies woke and left after they went to bed.) “At one point the foster mom said, “How does it feel knowing that you’re going to hell because of your lifestyle?” My response, after complete shock, was, “I think we need to focus on the kids, I don’t want to get into a conversation like that,” says Byers.
After that comment the social worker stepped in and managed to refocus the foster parents’ energies on the process, which worked out well in the end. “Now, what’s interesting is that they’ve maintained a connection with our kids, and us, and they’ve really turned around with their beliefs. They’ve told us, “You’re awesome parents, and the best parents for these kids.” We challenged their ideas about the world. It was two weeks of hell, but now we’re actually friends,” explains Byers, “We put aside our differences and genuinely have a lot of common ground. If people like us and from that kind of background can come together, it gives me hope for the world.”
The fact that Bohigian was shooting a documentary, called Conceiving Family, on gay and lesbian couples journey to parenthood as they went through the process certainly added to the intensity. “It was challenging. I swore afterwards that I’d learn to operate the camera so that I’d never need to be in front of it again,” says Byers, “She was pulling out the camera at moments that were very emotional, but we got used to it.”
We wanted to know more about that important story that Byers helped tell in the documentary (which she co-wrote), and her experiences as an adoptive mom, to find out more about the purpose that she has in her life.
Why document your experiences like that?
We realized that this was an important story and we had to tell it. Our first experience in asking the Ministry for the adoption package over the phone was that they asked me my name, and right afterwards they asked me my husband’s name, so it wasn’t great.
It is funny though because what was once considered discrimination in our past has helped us deal with the stuff that came our way because we adopted kids in the foster system. We’re used to being on the margins, so it has been interesting to watch heterosexual friends who’ve adopted who have never ever had the experience of being looked at sideways and didn’t know how to deal with it.
Our kids are brown and we live in a super white town, it’s very progressive here and diverse in thought, but we’ve had a whole level of awareness about that. People make all kinds of assumptions, and say things like, “Oh where are your kids from?” and we say, “Kelowna.” It just hit me over the head, that assumption that if you’re brown you’re not Canadian and you must be from somewhere else.
How was the film received?
It was very well received. We had full house screenings in Vancouver and here in Nelson, and it was very highly publicized in the LGBT community. Amy sold it to the Ministry of Child and Family Development out here in British Columbia because they wanted to use it as a tool to educate social workers. She marketed it to all kinds of schools and educational institutions, and it sold very well and is used in curriculums across North America.
What’s been hardest about what you do?
We went from knowing zero kids to having twin 14 month olds running in different directions. We’d just stare at each other bleary eyed when our kids were little, surviving on coffee. As the kids have got older, there have been other challenges too.
We’d been told that our kids had the best story possible. They had one family that really attached and bonded to them, and then they moved into our house. That’s a pretty good story compared to what can happen to some kids in the foster system. And yet, they still have all this trauma and loss. To deal with all that loss was an eye-opener. It is hard to talk about that grief and loss with our kids when they don’t really know what is going on but they are clearly grieving.
How do you deal with that as a parent?
It does require a lot of support. So, we do talk to other adoptive families, and because our geographic area is so large and sparsely populated a lot of that happens over the phone. Then there’s that whole piece about attachment with kids who’ve had that history. I took two years off work when we adopted them, then my partner took a year off. They really needed to bond with us, and that was super intense. We needed that assurance from other people who had gone through it. It was like, “Okay they’re freaking out because they’re getting more connected to you, and you’re doing alright.” I needed to hear that from other parents who had gone through foster care adoptions.
What other moms do you admire?
I admire my partner as a mom very much because she is much more able to use humour as a tool in those parenting moments that are super frustrating. She is really a good mentor for me in terms of fun. I’m not that great at playing and just being a kid, but she used to run a kids’ camp and is way better at that. That might be a corny answer, but I really admire those qualities in my partner.
Parenting twins is no doubt challenging, but how do you try and bring balance to your lives?
We moved from Toronto to Nelson in BC seeking that balance. We both had big jobs and worked too much, and wanted access to the outdoors. We didn’t want to live that life of commuting and farming the kids out to daycare, and getting in the door at 7pm and making dinner. So we had a connection here, kept coming back, and decided that we’d move here. I think that to live a life in the city that is balanced is inaccessible, because the cost of housing is so high and work is front and foremost in people’s lives because of that.
Here it just isn’t the case. There’s much more focus on being balanced here, and we wanted to raise our kids in a place that we could walk everywhere. We live right in the middle of town but can walk the kids to school. We can drive for three minutes and hit a really amazing hiking trail. We can see the lake from our front window. We have all that stuff that really matters to us.
I’m guessing this summer wasn’t that great in Nelson though?
No, I guess this year the irony is that everything we moved here for is inaccessible when we are under siege of forest fire smoke. It was so bad here that we couldn’t even go outside. I’m borderline asthmatic, so it really bothers me, but it was so bad that everybody felt it in their throat and had headaches. People with COPD or asthma or heart problems were complete shut-ins.
Luckily we weren’t under an evacuation order, but if we were, all the access routes in and out of here go through forested areas, so that is worrisome. I feel like we are less at-risk because we live in the middle of town high up the mountain, but we started putting together an evacuation kit this year and we’ve never done that before.
What I hope is that people are going to start connecting the dots about why all these things are happening. It isn’t random. Sure, fires and hurricanes happen every year but they are becoming more severe because of climate change and humans’ role in that. People have to stop sticking their heads in the sand about that.
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.