Saying Yes: The Atkinson family’s adoption story

Grief is a process of letting go. Letting go of what was, or what could have been, and accepting what is. After six years of blood tests, injections and procedures related to fertility treatment, my wife and I arrived at the end of the road. We had to let go of the dream of having our own biological children, and accept another future. At the time, the only emotion was immense sadness, but looking back this loss was the beginning of a new adventure we could never have imagined.

Several years before this, as we were journeying through infertility, my mind had already started to drift to other possibilities for our future, including adoption. But as ready as I was to explore other options, Phoebe, my wife, was not. Unfortunately, the immense grief that she was experiencing was not a solution for me to solve, but a journey we needed to walk together. It can be easy to romanticise what this was like in hindsight, but in reality, it was really hard to sit with someone grieving and just listen, rather than jumping to suggest options, possibilities or silver linings.

The road less travelled

A wise counsellor asked us earlier in our journey if we might consider, “What could be in God’s other hand?” At this point, we were only interested in the hand that held a conception. However, having arrived at the end of the road, we were willing to finally consider our other options. On a long drive one weekend we started to discuss the possibility of adoption and for the first time in six years, a glimmer of hope pierced through the darkness. As we began to discuss adoption with family and close friends, hope and excitement for our future finally started to return.

Of course, this excitement was also punctuated with fears of the ‘what ifs’. We reminded ourselves that parenthood is not about enhancing our lifestyle, but about having the opportunity to nurture an amazing little human being as they grow into all they can be. Are we perfect? No. Do we have what we need to give this baby what they need? Absolutely. So, with the support of friends and family, we approached Oranga Tamariki and put our names forward.

Another dreaded Mother’s Day rolled around, but this year – in light of our new direction – it didn’t feel so despairing. It came and went without so much thought but little did we know, Phoebe was already the mother of a darling little three-day-old boy. I was sitting at work when I got a phone call from our social worker, who said to me, “This is the phone call you have been waiting for.” Four days later Phoebe and I were driving home with our precious boy Harley in the car, and we were a family. From that moment, our story will feel quite familiar to any parent. We had to fake it until we made it. And we had to get to know this little human being, as any parent does. Here was a unique individual, like no other person in the world. And as parents, our focus was, and will always be; who do we need to be in order for Harley to flourish and realise his full potential? How can we provide a safe place of unconditional love, from which he can venture out into the world, and always return home?

Life in all its fullness

As we became parents, I saw Phoebe’s spark return. I marvel at her creativity, patience and love. She was born to be a mother. So much so that three years after Harley came home we were ready to grow our family again. At the time, Phoebe had been loaned the book The Lucky Few by a friend. It is a story of a young couple who, after several years of infertility, found themselves in the position of adopting a child with Down syndrome. Phoebe was quite moved by the book and asked me to also read it.

The book was inspirational, but also incredibly confronting. What would we do if we ever found ourselves in that position? What are our assumptions, biases and fears that we might need to re-examine? What should our family look like? What is our view of ‘the good life’? What is most important to us – control? Predictability? Ease of life? And if control is so important, what other possibilities might we be shutting out of our future? What space should we give to our fears? How loud should they be and how should they inform our decisions? What is life really all about?

Regarding adoption, the specific question for us was what should we say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to. To most this would be an abstract question, but for us there was a very specific box that we needed to decide whether to tick or not. In every adoption, you choose your matching criteria – essentially a list of questions you answer yes or no to. Questions including whether we would consider adopting a child with a disability.

Of course we needed to decide on our capacity as a couple and what we felt we could take on. But the other important perspective was from that of the child we were considering adopting. What was best for their life, and do Phoebe and I have the resources and capacity to be the parents that little life needs? After much soul searching we ticked ‘Yes’. We did so trusting that we would be okay. In fact, we had a suspicion that we might just find ourselves as part of those ‘Lucky Few’.

One year later, we found ourselves driving home with Kyla in our backseat, sitting beside her very excited and smitten big brother. Our life does not look anything like our original plan, and things won’t be easy for Kyla as she navigates her challenges. We ourselves have experienced many difficult days, and journeyed through some dark valleys together. But as I write this story, I remember the smile Kyla gave me as I headed out the door to work this morning, and I feel blessed beyond words. Kyla is a gift, a blessing to everyone she meets, and a reminder to me every day that every life is valuable and precious, despite what challenges a person might face.

We have two amazing children, and a wonderful relationship with their birth parents and wider whānau. In a world full of pain and disappointment, we have found a way to turn around, stare directly at it, and embrace the challenge. We know that this journey is not for everyone, but it was for us. And having lived it, I can tell you that it is far less dramatic than it might seem on paper. It was simply one big ‘Yes’ and then embracing everything that came afterwards.

First published in Kiwiparent, issue 297, September-October 2020.


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About Author

Dave Atkinson

Dave Atkinson is married to Phoebe and the proud father of Harley and Kyla. Dave has worked in a variety of roles at Parenting Place since 2006 and and now leads the organisation as CEO. In his spare time, you will find Dave playing with his kids, helping his wife in their garden, or travelling internationally as a humanitarian film maker.

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