Under the Cover: Jane Byers on adoption and family in Small Courage
November 3, 2020
In 2009, Jane Byers and her partner, Amy Bohigian adopted fifteen-month-old twins through British Columbia's Ministry of Child and Family Development. As part of the adoption process, the couple had to live for two weeks with the foster parents of their twins, an Evangelical Christian family who believed homosexuality to be a sin. In her memoir
Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family (Caitlin Press), Jane recounts their adoption journey and how they created a loving family despite discrimination. Below, Jane tells us about their first day as a family and how they've grown since.
The real baptism-by-fire started when we arrived home with the twins, after a five-hour drive during which we kept looking behind us, stunned to see two faces gazing back at us from their car seats. Their eyes revealing a hint of shock, a hint of oblivion and a whole lot of exhausted. We learned the hard way, not to feed Franny a bottle of milk while driving. A pit stop in Grand Forks had us wiping her down and changing her clothes, as well as doing our best to wipe vomit from the upholstery and her new car seat while standing out in the February cold.
Within minutes of getting home, our attempts at childproofing were proven woefully inadequate. The kids were taking what seemed like one giant step for mankind from our kitchen down into our living room. Amy was outside in the snow, crawling under our shed, picking through scrap wood to find a piece of plywood that would span our three foot entry from kitchen to living room while I did my best to entertain the kids with anything but toddling up and down this exciting new step.
At first, we were strongly advised by the social workers to drastically limit who visited us and minimize our contact with the outside world. They suggested we do so for three or four months. When children are placed for adoption, they need to have their needs met by their new parents and we really needed to connect with our kids. They say newly adopted kids will be shopping for parents with anyone they see, so we did everything for them. We wanted them to know we were their people.
We let our friends know. It was uncomfortable for us to ask our support system not to come over when we needed their support. We yearned to share a meal and conversation and wanted them to get to know our children too. And we didn’t have our family around. It feels remarkably familiar now in the COVID-19 pandemic. The four of us and our dog in our bubble. Walking in the morning and hanging out together. Sure, the kids play by themselves now and we support them with online school but still it is a familiar bubble. When we had just adopted the twins, this bubble made sense on many levels, especially since we could explain nothing to them. It is difficult to overstate the sensory strangeness they must have encountered in a completely new home in new surroundings, without the only parents they had ever known, their foster parents. Since the pandemic, there has been some regression, or some checking in that we are meeting their needs. Whether because they can’t get social needs met by peers, or it reminds them of our early days together or because the pandemic has left them feeling anxious and unsure, they seem to really like this family bubble. If you asked them, they might deny it.
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Jane Byers has published two poetry collections: Acquired, Community (Dagger Editions, 2016), a 2017 Goldie Award Winner for Poetry; Steeling Effects (Caitlin Press, 2014); and a chapbook, ItHurt, That's All I Know. She has co-written two award-winning documentary films, Only In Nelson and Conceiving Family. She was the 2018 Writer-in-Residence for Simon Fraser University's Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT). She has had poems and essays published in anthologies and literary journals in Canada, the US and England, including Best Canadian Poetry 2014 (Tightrope Books).
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