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It's about to happen again, in aisle 9, just as I successfully navigate the kids' side-by-side double stroller past a mountain of soup cans and stop in front of the diapers. A stranger smiles at me and beams at the kids. I know what she's going to say before it comes out of her mouth: "Ooooh! They're adorable! Are they twins?"
I do what I always do. I smile, nod, and thus effectively lie. They're not twins – they're 3 1/2 months apart. I call them my twiblings. My beautiful, unplanned twiblings. But that answer has a back story too complicated to go into with a stranger in a grocery store, or another mother at a playground or the people in the doctor's waiting room. They all ask. And much of the time, though I do feel the question is intrusive, I am grateful that they don't ask: "Are they yours?"
Mine. They are mine, my children, my family. The end of my journey to becoming a mother.
I always knew my future included 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 looked to adoption. My vision of the future was clear in 2007. We took the courses, underwent home studies and dealt with the copious amounts of paperwork that becoming an adoptive family entails.
We planned to adopt from my native country of Ghana. Unfortunately, it's not a common destination for international adoptions, so it was uncharted legal and procedural territory. Every step had to be discovered, and each took much longer than anticipated.
In 2009, still unmatched in Ghana, I had to revise my vision of my future again. My partner and I split up. I was 39, single and had a demanding career. What was I going to do? Pursue adoption as a single professional woman, wait until I was not alone, or give up the dream?
I decided my desire to be a mother was separate, and perhaps even greater, than my desire to be a wife. I would do it on my own. It was a difficult, terrifying decision.
But not as difficult as what came after. Between early 2009 and the spring of 2011, I was matched with three children in Ghana. Each adoption fell through. Each one devastating.
I decided to look closer to home, at Canadian private adoptions, but learned it would be difficult to be chosen as a single woman. I researched the U.S., and found certain states look favourably on single-parent adoptions. Florida was the best fit, both in legal process and the availability of more children of colour for adoption. I may have given up on Ghana, but I still wanted a child who looked like me.
Do you understand how important it is to me, when people see me and my children, that they won't assume they are "not really mine" because their skin and hair colour is different? Please think about that the next time you see a Caucasian dad with an Asian daughter or a white woman with a black baby.
I was quickly chosen by a family to adopt their fifth child. I was delirious. I spoke with the family throughout the final few weeks of the pregnancy. The baby was born, a healthy girl. My mother and I had plane tickets booked. But the day before we were to leave, the birth parents changed their minds.
Another heartbreak. I am a strong woman, but this … I took to my bed, could not work or think.
I booked a trip to Mexico with my mother to get me away. The day before we left, the agency in Florida called. Another match: a boy, born three days ago. Could I come right away?
No. I was mourning that little girl I'd thought I was going to adopt. I was terrified of being disappointed again.
We went to Mexico. It was supposed to be a week on the beach, but we lasted four days before flying to Florida, where I met my son.
I fell in love with him – immediately and repeatedly. My world changed. Sleep-deprived and living in an apartment hotel while finalizing the paperwork, my plate was full. So, of course, that was when I got a 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, nor for parenting two children as a single mom. 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 it was meant to be.
It was 14 months before I met my daughter. I am both regretful and grateful for that time. 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 love and attention. But she was so far away. Was she real? I knew how intensely I loved my son, the impact of his physical presence. Could I love another child this much? I learned that birth parents often feel this way when expecting their second.
When I finally met my daughter, my heart leaped out of me and into her. 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. Yes, life as a single mother of two little people is challenging. My path to motherhood was hard and full of heartbreak, and the real journey of parenthood is exhausting.
And yet it's so worth it. These are the children I was supposed to raise. My twiblings.