Our first adopted son joined our family as child number six, joining the five biological children we already had. Two years later, another son joined our family through adoption. Three months after he came home, we had the surprise blessing of discovering I was pregnant with twin girls. That made nine children and we thought we were done. Then we discovered our tenth child on an advocacy site and brought her home when the twins were three. We were definitely done then, except that we weren’t, and next month we will be traveling to bring home children numbers eleven and twelve.
It’s been quite an adventure, and we have a unique mix of both biological and adopted children. There are days when it all works really well and other days when my husband and I look at each other and wonder what on earth we have done. Just like in any other family, large or small. While I would never say that we have everything figured out, here are three things that we have noticed on this journey.
1. It’s going to be different. Sure there are some things are the same . . . excitement, nervousness, waiting, unknowns . . . but there are some ways that it is just different. For me, I assumed that I would easily fall in love with my newly adopted child. I loved children. I loved my children. I got along well with children. I was completely unprepared for how disconnected I felt at first. This wasn’t my child; he was someone else’s child. I did not feel those warm, lovey-dovey feelings I had when I gave birth to my previous five children and each of them were placed in my arms. I had heard of this happening, but didn’t seriously believe it could happen to me. It caused me to feel immense guilt and that guilt made it even more difficult to do the hard work of attaching to my child.
I know that there are adoptive parents out there who do fall head-over-heels in love with their new child. It does happen. But be prepared: if you immediately fell in love with your babies at birth, adoption may feel different. At least at first. With each subsequent adoption, I have experienced that disconnected, other-child feeling. The difference was that I was expecting it and knew what to do. Eventually with all of them, I fell in love. I do not love these adopted children any less fiercely or deeply than I do my biological children, but it was a hard-won fight to get here.
2. “One of these things is not like the other.” You know that old Sesame Street song, right? “One of these things just doesn’t belong.” The one where they show three related items and one unrelated item and the child is supposed to find the one that is different? Well, I didn’t want that to become our family’s theme song.
When our first five were little, they were all incredibly blond and blue-eyed. (Those five are still incredibly blue-eyed, but at least one now has blue hair as well.) Enter our Vietnamese son, the one with black hair and black eyes. The contrast was striking. It was so striking that I was highly aware of the difference all the time and imagined others were as well. We wondered how easy it would be to really fit in with a family when you always so easily stood out. From the beginning, we knew that we didn’t want to do that to our son and always planned on at least a second adoption. With two Asian children, the contrast was not quite as notable.
I think we were more attuned to this issue because there were so many blondes to begin with. It was their sheer number against the lone child with dark hair that caused the Sesame Street song to so often pop into my head. Interestingly, as those first children have grown and gone off to college, the racial balance of our home has shifted. This will be especially true once our two newest daughters arrive. There will be more dark-haired children than blondes for most of the time.
3. Trauma and loss. In my opinion, this is the single most difficult thing to come to terms with as a new adoptive parent who has already parented biological children.
Chances are, if you are relatively healthy and are thinking about adoption, your children have had a loving and stable environment. While you were pregnant, their birth was eagerly anticipated, and even if your child was born with health issues, you were there to get them the care they needed and were right alongside them the entire time.
Your new adopted child, no matter the age at which they joined your family, has already experienced unimaginable loss. Their gestation might not have been welcome. Their birth mother may have been under significant stress. Even if they were wanted, something happened that caused the breaking of the most fundamental human ties. This loss is not something to take lightly. Loss and trauma on this level does something to a human brain, particularly one that is still developing. There is just no escaping this fact.
While some children are resilient and overcome these initial losses, other children are extremely affected by them. They think differently, react differently, and learn differently, because their brains have been changed in ways your biological children’s brains never have. As a result, very often, adoptive parents, even experienced parents, need to change their parenting methods. And I can tell you for a fact, this is hard.
It is hard to wrap your head around the facts of what trauma does. It is hard to admit that what you’ve always done as a parent doesn’t work with this newly adopted child. It is hard to start from scratch. It is hard to admit you’re wrong. It is just hard. Your child will not be the only one who has to learn to deal with grief. Often adoptive parents need to do their own grieving . . . for the child they imagined they would have, for the losses their child has experienced, for the child their child could have been in different circumstance, for the changes trauma has wrought in their family, for their mistakes made out of ignorance.
Parenting both biological and adopted children is so often very much the same, while at the same time being so very different. Parenting changes you as a person. It is humbling and wonderful and terrifying and amazing and beautiful, regardless of how your children joined your family.
If you’re interested in adopting a child and would like to speak with an adoption professional about your adoption options, click here.