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.