Adoptive and birth parents work together for child

Shannon McDonald, 24, sits at a table in Deerfoot Mall, sipping a cup of coffee and showing off pictures of Nicola-Lynn Essington on her iPhone.

The baby whose photos she giggles over is her birth daughter, whom she gave up for adoption in 2011. Now, less than a year after Aimee and Trevor Essington adopted little Nicola, McDonald has become an advocate for open adoption.

Open adoptions have been in Alberta since only 1989. Prior to that, adoptions were handled through the government and, once completed, the files were sealed. With open adoptions, birth mothers choose the adoptive family. The birth mother has an open line of communication with the prospective adoptive family, and together they decide what they want their relationship to be like following the birth of the child.

McDonald says that going through this process has made her realize how many people know very little about adoption.

“In school I’ve realized that really all we got taught were the two options: either keep [the baby] or abort,” she says. “We didn’t really get into the adoption process, and I think that is why people are so scared of it.”

McDonald wants to work towards changing the stigmas people have about adoption, and she’s beginning to do this by sharing her story.

The adoption process

McDonald met Aimee and Trevor Essington for the first time in December 2010. Trevor Essington (left) and his wife, Aimee (right), visit Shannon McDonald and their new daughter on June 17, 2011. The Essingtons and McDonald have had a close relationship ever since they went through the adoption process together.
Photo courtesy of Aimee and Trevor Essington
Aimee was the cousin of one of McDonald’s work colleagues, who connected the two because she thought the Essingtons might be interested in adopting McDonald’s unborn child.

At this time, Aimee and her husband had been going through the adoption process for nearly eight years. A failed international adoption and their agency going bankrupt had kept them from extending their family. Going into their first meeting with McDonald, Aimee says that she and Trevor had tried to not get their hopes up. However, the couple and McDonald connected immediately.

“After that dinner, she felt like theirs instantly,” McDonald says of her unborn child.

Aimee had recommended to McDonald that she go through the agency Adoptions By Choice Ltd., or ABC.

Aimee says that their case was an unusual one for the agency, as most birth mothers don’t approach them with a prospective adoptive family already.

To ensure that McDonald was secure in her decision, Aimee says that the agency had McDonald go through the proper adoption process. During this time Aimee and McDonald texted and emailed on a weekly basis. Then, in April, McDonald asked Aimee and Trevor to a dinner where she told them that she wanted them to be the parents of her unborn child.

When sharing the sex of the unborn child with the new parents, McDonald says Aimee asked her if she would like to have a say in picking the name.

“I was like, ‘I don’t really care, she’s your baby, you pick the name. But if you really wanted to, my middle name is Lynn,’” McDonald says. “And Aimee just says ‘wow.’ She says, ‘Ever since I was little, I always wanted my baby’s name be Nicola-Lynn.’”

Nicola-Lynn Essington was born June 17, 2011. Following her birth, McDonald requested that the doctors not weigh or measure her until her parents could be in the room. This meant a lot to the couple, as people are not commonly let in to see the mother until after she is back in the maternity ward.

“That was people telling her what she could and couldn’t do, and she had to stand up to those people,” Trevor says. “She had her idea of what the day was going to look like and it was just so special to actually come up there.”

“Her decision to include us in that way really cemented in my mind and Trevor’s mind that we’re a family now,” Aimee adds. “And that family includes Shannon, and it always will.”

While McDonald says adoption was not initially on her radar when she found out she was pregnant, she has no regrets about her decision.

“I wasn’t ready to be a single parent and I just knew that I would be taking away so much from her as a single parent too,” she says.

“I have a really close relationship with my father. When you have a kid, what you want is at least what you had or more, and it would have just killed me to know that she wouldn’t have had a dad and she wouldn’t have had that relationship with a father that I do. This was kind of my way of being able to give this to her.”

Close contact

Aimee says that the couple initially chose international adoption because they did not want the influence of a birth mother or father in their lives. Trevor says that this decision was based on the ignorant stereotypes that they had of birth mothers. Common perception had them believing that many birth mothers were immature teenagers struggling with drug addictions, Aimee says. However, since going through the process of adopting Nicola, the couple has a drastically different opinion.

Aimee says that she feels that it’s important that McDonald step out and act as an advocate for open adoption, because she feels that many people are scared of the idea.

She says that she thinks many people only hear the negative open adoption stories, and having McDonald step forward and tell their story might encourage people to open their minds to the possibilities.

On April 28, McDonald will be speaking along with the Essingtons at a workshop at ABC for those signed up with the agency. The three will be acting as the family example to those just beginning the adoption process. They hope that their story will inspire others.

dsemrau@cjournal.ca