05/15/2014 12:43 EDT | Updated 07/15/2014 05:59 EDT

I Could Never Have Imagined 32-Year-Old Me Adopting Two Adolescent Girls

Today is International Day of Families -- and I'm about to have one. At the age of 32, I'm preparing to adopt two adolescent girls through the Children's Aid Society. This isn't something I would have pictured for myself as a child. But as the adult I've grown to become, I can't imagine it any other way. As I've lived, changed and travelled, I've learned that families are both critical and very, very different.

I grew up in a very traditional "nuclear" family. My parents are married, and I have a brother a few years younger. My mom stayed at home and my dad worked. We lived in a bungalow in a midsized town, and were a middle-class family. Most of my friends grew up in families like this, and for most of my childhood, this is what I thought it meant to be part of a family.

As a kid, I never really thought about having my own family. I was very career-driven as a young girl. I wanted to be a ballerina, an astronaut and a "baby doctor". In my twenties, I decided that I wanted to adopt a child who needed a parent, and I really hoped this would be in my future. But I was also flexible on this, as I planned to get married, and not every adult wants to go this route. And that was okay! I just knew that I wanted kids, and would be thrilled to be a mom no matter how it would come about.

Life turns painful

Life definitely has turned out much differently than I thought it would. I have been through some incredibly tough times including a very difficult divorce. In my late twenties, I married someone I thought would be my partner for life. Three years later, a friend came to me with the truth about my husband. My marriage was a sham. He left. With that, all of my plans, everything I thought I knew about family, went up in smoke.

Throughout my divorce, even though I was devastated about losing my marriage, I also knew that I was now free to pursue adopting the children I always wanted. After selling the townhouse I had with my husband, I bought a three-bedroom home, knowing that I wanted to fill these rooms with kids.

After taking time to recover emotionally and spiritually from my divorce I started the adoption process with Children's Aid Society. I knew that I wanted to adopt two children. And since I wanted two, why not siblings? I pictured so many different scenarios: little kids, older kids, boys or girls. I imagined what they'd be like, and what my house would sound like with lots of noise and laughter (at times it's so quiet you can hear a pin drop). I imagined how I'd deal with more mess, homework and juggling their activities. I worried too about what it means to be a single mom.

Deciding to say "yes"

Very shortly after finding out I was approved to adopt, my adoption worker came to my home to tell me about two amazing adolescent sisters: Charity and Emily. The kids had given her the description of the type of new family they wanted to end up with, and the workers thought we'd be a great match.

I sat at my kitchen table for the rest of the night, staring straight ahead like a deer in the headlights, thinking about everything the worker had asked me to consider. I needed to decide if these were my kids, and let her know. She told me: "take your time to think about it -- but not too long".

I called my parents to tell them about the girls, thinking they'd be able to help me come to a decision but they were no help at all! They stayed entirely neutral. The very next day, I decided to say "yes". These were my kids. (Of course, my parents were, and are, thrilled. It turns out they'd been hoping all along that Emily and Charity would be my kids.)

Lessons from Sophie

I think that most parents feel like they loved their children before they met them. That's certainly how I felt about my girls. And I come by this pretty honestly. I've had quite a few years loving a child I've never -- and will probably never -- meet in person. I sponsor a child through World Vision, Sophie in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and she's been in my life for eight years. In her letters and photos, I've watched Sophie grow, change and get ready for her future. Her picture is on my fridge, and I told Charity and Emily about Sophie the first time I met them.

I got another glimpse of how sponsorship can extend families when I travelled to Brazil in my work at World Vision, with Jet and Dave from Amazing Race Canada. I watched with tears in my eyes as Dave reunited with his sponsored child Ana. I could see that she was family to him. Having a sponsored child teaches you that you can have a family member in another part of the world.

My definition of family has certainly changed over the years, and especially over the past month! It has expanded and grown to reach way beyond those with whom I share DNA. That's the thing about love. If you let it, it grows, and multiplies and compounds in a miraculous way to include people you've never met - but somehow, always loved.

By Sarah Bartley, World Vision Canada


Where Do Canadians Adopt From?