“Axel Had Not Attached To His Bio Mom Or To Any Adult In His Life, Including His Wonderful Foster Mom.”

Story by Ashley McKitterick

“It’s funny, I see you becoming a mother to a baby – but not a newborn, and he will have big round blue eyes”  – Back in my early 20’s, I went to see a psychic. I am sceptic by nature, but this woman absolutely blew me away. How could she possibly know that I had dreamt of adopting as long as I’ve known I wanted to be a mother? Believing in psychics is a discussion for another day, but I nearly fell right out of my seat a few years later in 2015 when I saw my very first picture of Axel. A cherub round face of a gorgeous 6-month old, with the biggest blue eyes that stared right into my soul from the computer screen in that social worker’s office. 

I think I have always known my path to motherhood because I can’t remember otherwise. Adoption was my first choice. I did not know how or when I would, but I always knew I would. As I became a young adult, I started to set a concrete plan in place – graduate university, travel a bit, settle into a career, buy a home, start the adoption process, and with any luck, I would be a mom before I turned 30. My family was mostly supportive, although they had some reservations at first. I think a lot of people in my life did. Even some of the people in the adoption community questioned my intentions when I first started my path towards motherhood.  I was single, I was 27, and adoption was my first choice. I was told that “usually” it’s single women in their late 40’s who embark on this journey. It saddened me then and it saddens me now that adoption is an after-thought for a lot of people. I have been working hard on changing that perception to anyone who will listen. 

I was naïve and excited when I started the adoption process. I made a lot of calls and decided the right route for me was to adopt via foster care. I went to an information session with my mom and I walked out of there shaking. You know when you just feel it in your bones? That was me. I could not start the process fast enough and if we know anything about adoption, there is absolutely nothing fast about it. There was heaps of paperwork, home studies, 12 hours of a psychological assessment, 32 hours of in class sessions, homework, etc… and I loved every second of it. I took every course offered by the Children’s Aid Society, whether mandatory or not. I even took some courses twice! I felt so prepared, willing, and hopeful – I felt like I was prepared to tackle it all, but truly nothing could have prepared me for what was about to come. Like I said, I was naïve! 

I received the call about Axel in late October 2015. My adoption worker told me that my name came up as a perfect match for him. He was 5 months old and his case looked like it would go towards adoption, and while I was floating on cloud 9 – she reminded me that there are always risks involved with adopting from foster care. I acknowledged the risk and was so incredibly eager to learn more about him. I was told a bit about his background, why he was apprehended, where he was living now, and why the panel thought we would be a perfect fit. 

Axel had not attached to his bio mom or to any adult in his life, including his wonderful emergency foster mom. He had a blank look on his face, he slept in very short intervals with his eyes open, and he just overall was having a tough go of it. It was recommended by a specialist at the children’s hospital that he be moved into a stimulating environment to make up for what he lacked in his short life. I had taken quite a few courses offered by the Children’s Aid Society on attachment and because I was going to be afforded full parental leave immediately upon placement, they were cautiously optimistic that we would bond and he would attach to me. 

A couple of weeks later ( I didn’t sleep for two weeks solid, I swear!), I sat there in that social worker’s office hearing more about Axel, his bio family, when I saw that big blue-eyed picture. He was (and is) gorgeous. My heart was pounding before I saw the picture but staring right into those eyes for the first time is a feeling I will never ever forget. My mom had accompanied me to the meeting, although I made her wait in the waiting room. I was so overcome with emotion that the social worker asked if I’d like to get my mom to join the rest of the meeting.  I ran out into the hall and motioned for her to come in.  I don’t remember what was said in the poorly lit room, my eyes did not stray from that perfect photo of my son. Well, that is until I was snapped out of it with “Are you busy right now? Or would you like to go meet Axel?”

I have never been so nervous in my life. I wanted to cry, throw up, jump up and down! I walked up the stairs and there he was, sitting in a saucer, drooling. He was wearing a shirt that was too small for him. His delicious round belly peaking out. My adoption worker and the foster mother began talking and I just sat on the floor next to Axel, studying everything about him. His nose was so tiny, he was drooling everywhere. There were about three and half strands of hair on his head.  Did I mention his delicious belly? His foster mother encouraged me to pick him up. My arms felt like jello, but somehow, I managed not to screw it up. He did not react either way to my presence, which in hindsight should have been worrisome, but whatever magical baby spell he put on me was working, I was forever his. 

Over the course of the next month, Axel and I slowly integrated. I spent a lot of time in his foster home familiarizing myself with him. I got to know his foster mother, who has been a foster mother since 1982 and has had countless children in her home. She was wonderful and informative, I am so thankful that my son had her experienced and welcoming arms to hold him for those few months before I came along. 

December 10th, 2015 – Axel officially moves in. The first few months with Axel were NOT easy. Little dude did not sleep. He was playful, but not necessarily with me. Eye contact was minimal. If I approached him too quickly or if I cuddled him, he stiffened. We had a long road ahead of us, but I think we were both determined to make it work. I signed us up for swimming lessons. He didn’t react to the water, but he had to hold onto me while we were in it. We did some baby gymnastics, where again he relied on being in my arms or needing me to get him from point A to point B. Slowly, the work we were putting in was showing some results. 

After about 6 or so months, he would start to look for me in a crowded room. He tried to do silly things to make me laugh, and better than that – I could make him laugh. My adoption worker came over once and he was seated in his highchair. I was fixing him a snack and my adoption worker approached him, his instinct was to reach for me. She started smiling and said she wasn’t sure we would get to this point. She believed in us, but she wasn’t sure. My son was approached by a stranger and he sought my approval, my protection. He was attaching to me. 

After about 7 months of us putting our work in and bonding in our blissful bubble, there was actually a storm brewing outside of it. Unfortunately, there were some major mistakes done in Axel’s file, both before he was placed with me and afterwards.  

My first preoccupation was Axel’s well-being. He started splitting time between my house and another home. He regressed. His temperament changed; his sleep pattern got skewed. Then, Axel got quite sick. He had to see 5 different specialists, had well over 30 medical appointments, a few trips to the ER, and a couple of surgeries. To say that I was kind of smacked in the face with parenthood is putting it lightly. To say my son is resilient is a huge understatement.

There were so many court dates, I stopped counting. There were appeals at various levels. I missed a lot of work, missed even more sleep and my whole world was about making sure that no matter the outcome, I was giving Axel all of me for as long as he was in our home. After 2 years of indecision, there was a final 9-day trial.  Ultimately, no one could guarantee that removing Axel from his first attachment would not result in any lifelong negative effects. I felt that then and the older Axel gets, I know it even more. 

We are so lucky that Axel’s adoption is an open adoption. He will always know where he came from. He spends quality time with an aunt, including sleep overs and trips to the family cottage.  While I was hopeful that our relationship would develop this way, I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would be to this extent. 

Axel has brought so much joy to our family. My parents, who he affectionately refers to as Nonna & Grampy, became grandparents the moment I matched with Axel. They have been relentless in their love and support, I don’t know where either of us would be without them. I don’t think I could have come out whole after those years of uncertainty and protecting Axel as much as possible inside of our blissful bubble, if it weren’t for my family and a few very important friends in my life. 

Happily, we had our adoption day on October 10th, 2019. My mom, being a family-law lawyer was able to represent us and finalize the adoption. It felt surreal! I always imagined what that day would feel like and as I sat there with my son and his collection of dinosaurs in front of the judge, I realized it was nothing like how I imagined. I was happy of course, but it felt like a formality – Axel and I were family already.

Is adoption fast? No. Easy? HECK no. But Axel is my family and I would do it all over again 10 times if it meant keeping him safe. He is a happy, athletic boy, who thrills me every day with how smart and loving he is. Our story started long ago, and our adventures as mother and son are numerous and plenty. I am so excited for my little family and for what is to come for Axel. I know he is destined for great things; I don’t even need a psychic to confirm it!

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