While most prospective adoptive families go into adoption with an open mind and open heart, there are some who might begin the process who are either not fully ready, or who do not have reasonable expectations of how the process will unfold. There are a million good reasons to adopt, but there are also some other reasons that you should give some thought to before adopting to make sure you are entering the process emotionally prepared and ready to give the best life you can to the child you adopt.
1) You have lost a pregnancy or a child and think adopting will heal that wound
As someone who suffered multiple pregnancy losses during my quest to become a parent, I understand the depth of that wound. While I have not personally experienced a stillbirth or the death of a child, I can only fathom how painful that must be. Many couples dealing with infertility think adoption will be easier, that it is more of a “sure thing” than further fertility treatments or attempts to conceive. They think that the trauma of infertility and loss will evaporate once they are holding their adopted child in their arms. Sadly, that just isn’t the case.
Studies show that people dealing with infertility experience stress comparable to people undergoing treatment for terminal cancer. That kind of trauma just doesn’t go away on its own. Before adopting, you need to grieve the loss not just of pregnancies that didn’t go to term, or of children that are no longer living, but of your inability to have biological children altogether. When you first started trying to conceive, odds are you thought about what your child might be like. Will he be a bookworm like you? Athletic like your spouse? What other physical traits or talents might she inherit from your families? With adoption, you have to acknowledge and mourn for the fact that this child you may have envisioned that is half you and half your partner is not what you can expect from an adopted child.
While the “nurture” component certainly has a strong effect on any adopted child and he will undoubtedly pick up some of your mannerisms and maybe even your interests, he will be his own unique person, with DNA completely different from yours. You will have no way of knowing what she might be like. If you are grieving the loss of pregnancies, children, or the loss of your potential to be a biological parent, you need to work to grieve that loss as fully as possible before attempting to adopt. If there are infertility support groups near you, or online, those can be tremendous resources. Individual or couples counseling can also help tremendously. Look for a therapist in your area with experience working with infertile couples, and even better—if possible—one who also has experience working with adoptive parents.
2) You think it will be easier than having a biological child
As someone who has never carried a pregnancy to term and gone through labor, I can’t fully understand how difficult that process is! However, I have many friends and family members who have experienced basically all the potential unpleasant side effects and have been “kind” enough to share the details with me. All of them, especially the gross ones. Often, after regaling me with their tales of 4th degree tears (whatever you do, do not Google that), or unending heartburn, or puking for six months, or how they now pee a little when they do jumping jacks, they look at me and say “Man, you did it the easy way!” While I understand their jealousy about my lack of incontinence, I then have to inform them that oh, dear friend, there is nothing easy about adoption. From the cost to the paperwork to the wait, there is nothing easy. What is even harder is knowing that when you are walking out of the hospital with your child, experiencing what may be the best day of your life, the birth family is having the worst day of their lives. They walk out of the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart, and that is a type of grief they may never fully recover from. Your highest high? Well, it is someone else’s lowest low. And not just someone who you have no connection with: these are the people who gave you the ability to be a parent. There isn’t anything easy about that.
I often tell people that parenting a child you adopted is about 99% the same as parenting a biological child. For example, in my house we are currently potty training (send help and red wine, please), and there is nothing different about that process for us because we adopted our daughter at birth. However, that 1% that is different? That is hard. Harder than you may have imagined. Having hard conversations with your children about why they were placed, helping them grapple with their identity as an adoptee, and helping them try to keep an open line of communication to birth family? Not easy. Many adopted children’s first parents were experiencing really traumatic and terrible crises in their lives when they decided to place and continued to experience true hardships after placement. Talking about those things with your adopted child in a way that gives them the truth but honors their birth parent and doesn’t give them the impression that they are in some way “damaged goods?” Not easy. Adoptions where you have no information on birth family and can’t tell your child where they came from, who gave birth to them, who their bio family is? Not easy.
3) You think you have a duty or desire to “save” a child
I have stopped watching televised news broadcasts because they are just too terrible. The world is a scary place, and bad things are happening everywhere to good people, including children. As an educator currently studying to be a school counselor, I know all too well that these “bad things” are happening in our own communities as well as around the globe. While I appreciate that some people might come to adoption because they want to help heal the brokenness of the world, if your sole reason for adopting is to “save” a child from what you perceive as a life of terrible hardship, I’m here to tell you this: don’t. Even if your religion or belief system tells you that it is your responsibility to aid the orphans of the world, placing that burden on a child, that you have “saved” her, puts her in the position of feeling like she has to be grateful. Always. And that she can’t share her real, complicated, difficult feelings with you about being adopted. He may be afraid that if he is anything short of perfection that you might not love him anymore. So many adult adoptees echo this over and over: having to be the “grateful” adoptee who was “saved” creates tremendous lifelong emotional difficulties that affect nearly every intimate relationship he or she will ever have. This could be with family, friends, or their significant others. There are so many other ways you can get involved in organizations that will help children in need, either locally or globally. Don’t decide to parent one of those children because you feel compelled to “save” them.