Share This: Unplanned Twiblings, a birth story of international adoption

It’s about to happen again, in Aisle 9, just as I successfully navigate the kids’ bulky side-by-side double-stroller, past the mountain of soup cans and stop in front of the supply of diapers. The stranger smiles at me and beams at the kids. Makes straight for us. And I know what she’s going to say before it comes out of her mouth, it’s what they always say: “Ooooh! They’re adorable! Are they twins?”

That’s the opening paragraph of the coming-to-motherhood story of one of the most amazing women in my real life, Evelyn Ackah, a Calgary business immigration lawyer. I met Evelyn when Ender was growing in my belly and when she was actively pursuing adoption as a single, black professional women. We were expecting together–and her “pregnancy” was much longer and emotionally much tougher than Ender’s merely biologically difficult gestation. I’ve been privileged to witness her story and as her babies turned two, we thought the world should really hear about her path to motherhood through international adoption, as a single, professional woman of colour. I reached out to one of my former editor at The Globe and Mail (that would be one of Canada’s national newspapers to my Yankee and global readers) who connected Evelyn with the fabulous Jane Gadd who edits The Globe‘s Facts & Arguments page. If you read The Globe, you would have seen Evelyn’s story featured on The Globe and Mail’s Facts & Arguments page  on the Wednesday, October 23, 2013 as Why my kids aren’t twins but twiblings.

Evelyn called the original version “Unplanned Twiblings,” and she’s graciously allowed me to share the full, unedited version here. Enjoy. May her story inspire you–and make you think.

Unplanned Twiblings

by Evelyn Ackah

It’s about to happen again, in Aisle 9, just as I successfully navigate the kids’ bulky side-by-side double-stroller, past the mountain of soup cans and stop in front of the supply of diapers. The stranger smiles at me and beams at the kids. Makes straight for us. And I know what she’s going to say before it comes out of her mouth, it’s what they always say: “Ooooh! They’re adorable! Are they twins?”

I do what I always do. I smile. Nod my head. And thus, effectively, lie. Because they’re not twins―they’re three-and-a-half months apart, actually. I call them my twiblings. My beautiful, unplanned twiblings. But that answer has a backstory that’s too long and complicated to get into with a stranger in a grocery store aisle or that other mother at a playground, who’s pushing a stroller with “real” twins or the people in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

They all ask. And, much of the time, when they ask―even though I usually do feel the question is intrusive―I am grateful, very grateful, that they do not ask, “Are they yours?”

Mine. They are mine, my children, my family. The end of my journey to become a mother, and the beginning of my parenting adventure.

I always knew I was going to be a mother. No question. The future held a child, maybe two. And when, in my late 30s, I had to accept that my body would not be the route to motherhood, my long-term boyfriend and I immediately looked to adoption. My vision of the future, in 2007 was clear at the time. We took the courses, underwent home studies and dealt with the copious amounts of paperwork becoming an adoptive family entails. I would be a mother. An adoptive mother. I was excited about the process. We planned to adopt from my native country of Ghana, West Africa.  Unfortunately, as Ghana is not a common destination for international adoptions, it was uncharted legal and procedural territory. Every step had to be discovered. And every step took much longer than anticipated.

In 2009, still unmatched in Ghana, I had to revise my vision of my future once again. My partner and I split up. I was 39, single, and with a very demanding career. What was I going to do? Pursue adoption as a single professional woman or give up the dream?  I had no illusions: I knew parenthood wasn’t all smiles and roses. I knew it was a lifetime commitment and incredibly hard work. Could I do it?

Could I afford to wait until I would not be alone?

In the end, I decided that my desire to be a mother was separate, or perhaps even greater, than my desire to be a wife. I was not going to put my adoption journey, already two years long, on hold and wait for the right man to enter my life before continuing. I would do it on my own.

It was, frankly, a difficult, terrifying decision.

But not nearly as difficult as what came after. Between early 2009 and the spring of 2011, I was matched with three children in Ghana. Each match fell through. Each one was heart-breaking and devastating. I was not sure how much I could endure.

I decided to look closer to home, at Canadian private adoptions. And I was shocked to find out how difficult it would be to be chosen to adopt in Canada as a single woman.

My continued research led me to the United States, where I found out certain states accept and encourage single parent adoptions. I settled on Florida as the best fit, both in terms of the legislative process and the fact that there were more children of colour available for adoption. I may have given up on adopting from Ghana… but I still wanted a child that looked like me.

Do you understand how important it is to me, when people see me and my children, that they don’t automatically make an assumption that they are “not really mine,” that they “must be adopted” because their skin, hair, eye colour is different? Think about that the next time you see a Caucasian dad with an Asian daughter, a white woman with a black baby. Don’t ask them, “Are they yours?” “Are they adopted?”  If you must say something, simply smile, and say, “What a beautiful baby or child.”

I was chosen by a family to adopt their fifth child within weeks of starting the application process. I was delirious. I skyped and talked on the phone with the family throughout the final few weeks of the pregnancy. The baby was born, a healthy baby girl. My mother and I had plane tickets booked to fly to Florida… and the day before we were to leave, the birth family parents changed their minds. They were going to keep the baby.

Another heartbreak.

I am a strong woman, truly. But this… I took to my bed. I could not work or think – nothing.

I booked a trip to Mexico for my mother and me to get me away. And again―the day before we were to leave for Mexico―the agency in Florida called. Another match.  A baby boy, born three days ago. The mother picked me, loved my application and album and was ready to sign all the papers immediately. Was I coming right away?


I can’t quite put into words what was happening to me―I was mourning that little girl that I thought I was going to adopt. I didn’t even have nay boys names picked out. I was in such pain, I could not be happy about this turn of events. I was terrified I would be heartbroken again.

My mother and I went to Mexico. It was supposed to be a week on the beach―we lasted four days. And then, we flew to Florida.

And I met my son.

I fell in love with him―immediately and repeatedly. My world spun, and changed. I was a mother. I was a mother! I was sleep-deprived and living in an apartment hotel in Florida, doing all the final paperwork required to take him home. My plate was full. So full.

So of course, that was when I got the call from Ghana. A little girl had been identified. Four months old. Was I interested?

No. Absolutely not. I wasn’t even going to go there. Neither for another heartbreak, or for parenting two children as a single mom. No. Absolutely not.

But after a couple of weeks and lots of family meetings and promises of support, I decided to go for it―somehow it felt like things were meant to be―things had come full-circle.

I would not meet my daughter for another 14 months. I am still both regretful and grateful for that year. I was able to take her out of the orphanage and place her with my extended family in Ghana, so she spent that year surrounded by lots of love and attention. Both she and my son spent the first year of their lives effectively as only children, first children, and I am grateful for that. And I talked and Skyped with her constantly. But yet―she was so far, far away. And was she real? I knew how intensely I loved my son, the impact of his physical presence on me. Could I love another child this much, ever?

I learned birth parents often feel this way when expecting their second―yet she was the oldest child! And when I finally met my daughter, when she was 18 months old, my heart leaped out of me and into her and she was mine, as much as my son was mine. We were a family.

And now, I push a stroller with my twiblings, who are both well into the terrible―er, terrific―twos. I don’t want to underplay it or sugarcoat it: life as a single mother of two little people is challenging. The path to motherhood for me was hard and full of heartbreak and disappointment, and the real journey, the one that begins when the children came into my home, into my life, is emotionally and physically exhausting. And yet so worth it. These are the children I was supposed to raise.

My twiblings.

Evelyn Ackah is a business immigration lawyer with Ackah Law, a Western Canadian boutique practice focused exclusively on business immigration law. Born in Ghana, raised and educated in Vancouver, the one-time Torontonian now lives in Calgary with her two beautiful children.


P.S. You can tell she’s fabulous just from this story, right? If you want a more detailed peek at her professional life, here’s a profile I wrote about her when she was “just” a source and not a friend.

P.P.S. Next week on Nothing By The Book, I think I’m going to tell you why I’m so tired of being an adult.

Before Ender

… or what the psychic said

The cards were laid out on the picnic table, and the psychic was looking at them pensively. “Interesting,” she said. “Well, I’d say you’re definitely going to have another child. A boy—but not at all like Cinder. Very artistic, very creative—I see him as an artist, a musician? And I see him as… well, this is an intrusive question, but did you lose a baby? Because I see him as someone who’s tried to be born to you before and it didn’t happen, and he’s trying again.”

Well. You know me. Smart-ass cynic, and psychic predications and tarot cards are a fun amusement, and nothing more. But I was a little shaken. It was the summer of 2008, and Janine Morigeau, neighbour, friend and Tarot card reader extraordinaire, was giving us short readings in the sunshine of the Common. I asked the question that had been pressing on me for some time, “Would Sean and I have more children?”

I’ve always wanted more—he not so much—but after our experience with the pregnancy that gave us Flora, we were loath to do it again. And ever since we lost our little baby that would have been born sometime in July 2004, we’ve intermittently talked about adoption. In the months immediately following the miscarriage, I was so shaken and broken and empty, I didn’t think I could face the risk of that again. And when Flora started to grow in me, the first months of the pregnancy were marred by an overwhelming fear that I would lose her… to be replaced, in the second half by the scary—fortunately, as it turned out, utterly erroneous—results of the ultrasound that I would lose her after she was born.

Throughout 2008, we talked and pondered and weighed. By the time Janine read my cards that summer, we had made a decision: no pregnancy, but more babies. Adoption. And for various reasons, we made the decision to adopt from “the system”—i.e., Alberta Children’s Services. We filled out the paperwork (there was a lot of it), took the pre-screening tests, and, in October and November 2008, took the intensive Adoptive Parents Preparation Course.

The first parts of the course had us—well, me anyway, I think Sean was more cautious from the start—fantasizing about our new, bigger family. We wouldn’t adopt just one child, but two. Why not? We had so much to give: so much love, a wonderful family-and-friends support system, a lifestyle absolutely suited to help children “with issues” thrive.

And then we got to the final day, a session focused entirely on FASD. Now, even going into the process, we were not nearly selfless enough to plan for an FASD child. We knew that even a very young child from the System would come with issues, with trauma, and would require extra love, work and effort… but we did not think we were equipped to deal with an FASD child. The seminar on FASD cemented that. To their credit, the Alberta Children’s Services people did not try to soft pedal the issue. “Strategies, Not Solutions” was the title and theme of the presentation. They discussed environments and structures that help FASD children and their families cope… but that was the language. “Cope.” “Manage.” “Support.” It was god-awful.

And then there was the statistic. 30 per cent of the children in the system are already diagnosed with FASD. 90 per cent come from homes in which maternal drinking is/was a factor. I couldn’t get passed those numbers. We wanted a young child—preferably a baby. But where FASD is involved, early intervention just doesn’t mean what you’d think it ought to mean.

I was shattered. It was funny, because entering the process, I was much more enthused about adoption than Sean—he had his two perfect babies and all was fine with his reproductive world. At the end of the seminars, he was more comfortable than I. We would be excellent adoptive parents, so good for one of these troubled children. He saw the FASD risk—but it didn’t paralyze him as it did me. It paralyzed me completely. The couple who led the seminar had three biological children and one adopted FASD daughter, the youngest child. They were in their 60s now, and she an adult—and they were still actively parenting her. And when they died, her siblings would have to parent her.

I couldn’t do that, and I couldn’t bequeath that to Cinder and Flora.

A part of me still regrets this decision: wishes I could have been more selfless, more giving. But, but. So it was, the decision was made.

But I very, very badly still wanted more children, and Sean very, very badly loved me and wanted to make me happy even if the idea of me pregnant again terrified him, and by January 2009, a little Ender was growing. Best as we can tell, he got made in beautiful Mazatlan, which would account for his sunny disposition.

The pregnancy was awful. I spent the first two months of it flat on my back or crawling on all fours as my ligaments loosened and my joints left their proper spots, and the last two months, between the slipped SI joints, dislocated pelvis, and pinched sciatic nerve—that left most of my right leg with no feeling in it—barely able to walk. The last five weeks of it, sleepless, exhausted, in prodromal labour. And in one incredible, amazing moment, it was all over, all forgotten, none of it mattered, and I’d do it again, again, again, if the end result was anything like this: my beautiful, beautiful, perfect Ender, my third most miraculous of miracles.

This is the story of his first year. This post was originally written as the introduction to The Story of E, our 2010 Family Christmas Book. To read about how Ender joined us, go to The Last Three Minutes.