SIDS And The Adopted Child
A personal account written by Liz Casey
The Specialists called it ‘one-child infertility’. What a contradiction of terms!
My first child had been conceived, carried and was born without a problem.
There was no doubt in my mind as to my fertility — merely in carrying the pregnancy past 6 weeks.
No reason could be given to me.
“Keep trying”, they said.
“Stop trying so hard”, they said.
“No apparent reason”, they said.
“It’s nature’s selection process”, they said.
I heard them all but to no avail. Adoption seemed a viable alternative to the heartbreak of miscarriages, which now numbered seven in five years, and the idea of special needs adoption greatly appealed to me.
If every prospective parent, prior to conceiving, had to go through the ordeal required of adoptive parents, I believe we would reach not only zero population growth rapidly, but maybe even run into the negative side of the scale.
It was not the years and years of waiting lists that are so often reported as that is not the case for “special needs”, but it was more the stripping of one’s identity by bureaucracy.
There are the obvious requirements to be considered in the selection and matching of parents and children.
The number of interviews required to establish this were incredible and the degree of information required left no part of the physical or emotional being personal.
Every thought, every principle, every nook and cranny were explored, together with our reasons for so thinking or feeling.
I came home from these interviews (a.k.a. interrogations) in despair. Was it really all worth it and why were we doing this to ourselves when we had the option of simply being a one-child family?
After all, we did have one child, which was more than some couples, but something kept us pushing and pushing.
I was not going to let them beat us. Whether we were accepted or not, I was determined to see it through to the end.
September 1982 — a phone call — “Congratulations! You have met all the requirements for ‘special needs adoption’ and we will notify you as soon as we have a suitable match. This should not be more than a couple of months.”
We picked our new son up when he was just eight weeks old, on January 15th, 1983.
What an easy baby he was — and what a joy!
What is it in the human make-up that makes people so inquisitive? Proudly I would show off my new baby boy only to be left dumbfounded at the most impertinent questions put to me.
- “How old is his mother?” (I’m 31 — so what!)
- “What’s wrong with him?”
- “Why didn’t his mother want him?”
Of course we had been given all that information, but not only was it no one else’s business — it was not even ours — entrusted to us for him in later life.
A few sharp retorts soon let the world know how we felt but the intrusive nature of people regarding adopted childrens’ background is amazing: the world seems to always remember that the child is “not really yours” and cannot fathom the reaction of adoptive parents to such comments.
When Timothy was 3 months old, I had to take him to a doctor, one I had not previously been to. As a new patient, all the usual forms were given to me — family history, genetic problems etc.
Without a second thought I filled them in, saw the doctor, went to the chemist and returned home. It was several hours later that it struck me that those forms were of no use regarding Timothy, as he was not my genetic child.
With much embarrassment (but a lot of pride) I had to call the doctor and explain that I had forgotten that my son was adopted — feeling quite idiotic in one respect, but very warm and comfortable with the realisation of what had truly happened.
People would even comment how much alike my two sons were, when no attempt had been made to match physical similarities but more so the needs of the child with capabilities of family.
Special needs adoption often takes longer to legalise in order to give the family every opportunity to be sure what they are doing. So it was not until July 31st, 1984 that Timothy James was legally ours. What a celebration!
Our family was happy and complete and we were no longer answerable to social workers regarding his welfare but only to our parental conscience. He had been mine from the day he came home but now the world admitted it.
I was waiting anxiously each day for the mail to bring his new birth certificate.
But before that could happen, on September 3, 1984, our precious Timmy died.
On September 4, his new birth certificate arrived in the mail.
At that time we discovered that many people did still not accept that Timmy was “ours”. The trauma associated with SIDS is bad enough, but when compounded by people who assume they know better as to what is best for you, the whole situation becomes a nightmare.
For most of his short life, the adoption agency had been his legal guardian, but not at his death. We were legally and emotionally his parents. Yet the social workers decided there was no need for the help and counseling that’s so readily available to SIDS parents, because he was adopted!
Were we different in some way? As the social worker summed it up, “We won’t bother calling the SIDS Foundation. It’s not your fault because after all, he wasn’t really your son”.
Society seems to have dictated that forever adopted children shall always be different in some way. Whether it be the form their birth certificate takes or in the legalities of inheritance.
Fortunately most of these things are changing for the better, but people’s attitudes are harder to change than legislation.
The adoptive parents of a SIDS child can have a burden to carry that is unique and fraught with extra problems. They have gone through so much to get their child (far more than society realises).
They’ve faced up to the horror of infertility, childlessness, and loneliness, then confronted the hierarchy with their intrusive questionnaires and probings.
They’ve cried tears of frustration and anger during the selection procedure, envied every pregnant women they see, looked longingly at every baby, waited, cried, waited, and waited and cried some more.
And finally, sometimes after many, many years, they have their baby. They do not need the impersonal and callous comments of an uninformed society.
If the parent can forget that their precious child is adopted, why cannot the world and so treat them as any other parent?
I am in no way belittling the grief of genetic parents. But some bereavement organisations seem to categorise people into separate groups.
Whether it be by age of the deceased, cause of death etc. But if the child is adopted, you seem to be alone in your own little group.
This attitude needs to change. A child has died and his parents are grieving. But also acknowledgement needs to be made of the unique bond between an adopted child and its parents.
To deny his adoption was not the answer. By doing that we would have been denying his birthright. But, at the time, I was in no state to be assertive as to what was needed. To assert oneself whilst grieving for a child is very difficult.
A fairly normal feeling after a SIDS death is to want another child. But in the case of the adopted child, this poses a very real problem. The couple that can conceive naturally and easily may, in months to come, decide to have another child.
But what do the infertile couple do?
But what if it happens again?
We did consider going to the agency again. But it was the social workers that wanted to decide when we were fit to be parents again — not us!
As things turned out, the decision was made for us. I conceived and carried successfully within 12 months of Timothy’s death.
But if that had not happened, I doubt we could have faced the adoption procedure again.
As a community we need to remove the stigmas that still exist with adoption. We need to recognise the adoptive parent is a very special person. A person who, when they lose their child, may need different counseling.
SIDS shows no racial or economic preference, nor does it show a preference for genetic or adopted children.
Just as the grief of the Greek mother is equal to that of the Australian one, so it is for the adoptive parent who has lost her very special child.