It had seemed like an idea that couldn’t help but have a happy ending. Melissa Costa-Lac and her husband, Hong Lac, who came to Canada from Vietnam with his family when he was five, started proceedings to adopt a baby from Vietnam.
“We always wanted a family and after four miscarriages, we decided to adopt. We both had second jobs and had done fundraisers so we could go to Vietnam, and had invested a lot of money. Then adoptions from Vietnam were stopped suddenly because of baby trafficking. It was heart-breaking,” said Costa-Lac.
They started over with three jobs each, Lac as a chef, massage therapist and farm worker, and Costa-Lac as a nanny, in catering and as a dental hygienist. They decided to go with an African American adoption and went to Utah to receive the child from the 15-year-old mother as soon as it was born.
“I felt like the Cinderella of motherhood when they put him in my arms and said, ‘Here’s your son,’” said Costa-Lac. They had paid the mother’s expenses during her pregnancy, everything seemed in order and they were ready to come home. Then they got a call from the adoption agency that the birth mother had changed her mind and now wanted $10,000 more.
“I really can’t remember much about it, I was so devastated,” said Costa-Lac. She later saw a TV program that explained how this type of agency worked. In Utah, the birth mother has only 48 hours to change her mind (in Canada it can be as long as four months) but the women and the agencies know they can often make more money by threatening the adoptive parents with keeping the child. Even if the father of a child wants to keep it, they sometimes don’t know where the mother is and it is too late when they find out what has taken place.
The couple moved to the Okanagan to make a fresh start, finding peace in their Buddhist faith and trying to accept what had happened. They were overjoyed when Costa-Lac was able to get pregnant with fertility treatment.
“It was a huge deal,” she said. “We had a blog, videos, pictures. I did everything I was supposed to and the pregnancy was pretty uneventful. It was getting near the due date when I felt something was wrong. I went to the hospital and was dismissed. I went back and they did a test to track the baby and sent me home. That’s the night I think my son died. I was at an outdoor movie at Polson Park and I looked up at the hospital and wanted to be there.”
She went to the doctor for a test but was not told the results. She was admitted to the hospital where she was sure something was wrong because the nurses helping her were crying.
“I think it’s unfortunate that people don’t listen to mothers. We know our bodies. There had been an accident with the umbilical cord. Our son was still born July 22, 2010. He was perfect. He looked like every other baby in the hospital. It was incredible agony. We named him Xakai Van Lac. We spent a lot of time with him and had photos taken and imprints of his hands and feet. I wish I had spent more time looking at him.”
When she got out of the hospital, they had to go and pick up the baby’s ashes.
“We didn’t know what to do. We took his ashes to our house on Vancouver Island and spread them in the ocean. Sometimes we get a little toy and put a note in it in the ocean for him. It’s like he will go around the world.”
Costa-Lac and her husband had a Tibetan monk do a prayer chant for their son and renewed their wedding vows with a Tibetan Buddhist ceremony.
“Our friends and family have been supportive but most people don’t know what to say about the experience. I like to talk about my son. I’m proud to be a mom but people don’t see me as a mother,” she said. “The hardest part for me now is the sunrise when I do yoga and meditation. I talk to my son then.
“My husband and I have grown closer together. We’re more awake and alive and loving every moment of life. As Buddhists, we look for the enlightenment that comes through experience.”
Costa-Lac found out that she had an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder that may have contributed to the umbilical cord complications. With appropriate treatment at the fertility clinic, she was able to get pregnant again but recently had a miscarriage.
“We have one more shot before we’re back to zero. I don’t know what we’ll do then. I think there are so many more people than we ever know who have had the experience of losing an unborn child or losing a child at birth. We have to acknowledge that and that’s where the Walk to Remember and the Pregnancy Loss Support Group are so important,” she said.
After their loss, she and her husband were in the Tranquility Room at VJH, which is supported by the walk. The specially furnished private room allows families who have lost a child or a pregnancy to have their privacy.
“We will be at the walk. There’s not much talking there but there’s an unspoken understanding that you have all been through similar experiences,” she said. “Releasing the balloons is nice, it’s a sense of being able to send something to your child. I will never forget him. Sometimes there’s a scent in the wind like when I held him, and a connection that’s pretty magical.”
The Pregnancy and Infant Loss A Walk to Remember was organized in 2005 by Jennifer Patrick after she lost her first child at 29 weeks gestation.
“Whether a baby lived only in the womb, or a few days after birth, its life deserves to be recognized and a family has the right to grieve that loss,” she said.
The walk takes place Oct. 1 starting at 1 p.m. in Polson Park. For more information, pledge forms, to make a donation, or to volunteer, please contact Patrick at 250-938-2331, Melody Miller at 250-540-2449, the VJH Foundation at 250-558-1362 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.