I remember our first adoption. It was an emotional roller coaster of waiting, fear, excitement, and uncertainty. Would we be matched with a child and when? What would he or she look like? Would I be able to love that child? Could we really do this? And then when I started to read the more real-life adoption stories that aren’t all rainbows and unicorns…well, I started to panic that maybe this whole adoption thing wasn’t for me. What if I ruin my family? What if? What if? What if? There are so many questions and uncertainties during the process that it can be scary and intimidating.
The possibility that this new child was going to affect the course of my family was what I found most scary. Was our family going to change? If so, how, and would I like the way it changed? Would I have to change? I sometimes think that it is the knowing you are going to be asked to change and grow in possibly uncomfortable ways that make something big like adoption so intimidating. Change can be scary. Change that might be uncomfortable can be scarier. When you choose to adopt, you are often also choosing to embrace uncomfortable change. The anticipation of change made me mentally put our adoption plans on hold more than once.
We survived that first adoption and actually went on to adopt four more children. Here are some hopeful things that we learned along the way.
1. There are children who need families. Stories of parents who have waited for years to adopt a child abound in the adoption world. It is easy to get caught up in the thinking that there are few children who need families. This is not the case. There are plenty of children who need families and families who need children; it’s just that pool containing the preferred demographic of female, as young as possible, and healthy is just not that large. Boys are harder to place and wait longer. Older children are harder to place and wait longer. Children with special needs are harder to place and wait longer. Reverse your thinking from wanting to parent a girl to wanting to parent a child can change wait time drastically.
2. Different is just different, not better or worse. It’s easy to get an idea in your head and think if life doesn’t work out just that way, it will be disappointing. I can tell you, my life looks nothing like how I imagined it would look. I will also tell you that my initial plan was pretty neat and tidy, and I was pretty sure that I knew where happiness and contentment lay. I am prone to thinking different is bad, so if you had asked me 12 years ago if my current life would make me happy, I would have said no, without hesitation. And I would have been wrong. My life is very different from how I planned and imagined, but it makes me happy. Quite possibly happier than I would have been if we had stuck to my original plan. Different doesn’t mean worse. Different is just…different. Learning this is quite freeing; you no longer need to feel stuck with one particular plan. You are not choosing between good and bad. You don’t lose if you don’t choose the right path. There is, in fact, no winning and losing. Just different.
3. Small things matter. Before I had children with special needs, I could give lip service to the idea that small things, small victories matter. But truthfully, I’m not sure I really believed it. I had pretty typical children; they were bright and things came easily for us. Little victories were hardly noticeable because no one had to work very hard for them. Then came my children for whom life was not always easy. To learn to do even small things, for some, involved some significantly hard work. Learning to count and read, going up and down stairs, standing on one foot, riding a bike, all became things that were cheered and celebrated by the entire family and were certainly not taken for granted. I see the world with new eyes because of the children I now parent. Sometimes, it’s the little things which matter most, and I’m not sure I would have known that before I adopted.
4. Love has no limits. Early on in my parenting, I was terrified of having to parent a child with special needs—either physical or cognitive. I (kind of) knew that if a child born to me had those issues, I could learn to love him or her. (I hoped). But I wasn’t quite sure about it and wasn’t really eager to discover if that was actually true or not. I wasn’t really equipped or special enough to parent a “special” child. Knowing this about myself, I sometimes look around at my children and wonder how I got to where I am. It turns out I was right. I could love a child with special needs. It turned out to be not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. I soon learned that the needs of the child became background noise to who the child really is. Any person is so much more than a diagnosis. It is not that you are loving a person despite their need(s), but you are loving a person who just happens to have some special need(s). I learned that children are just children, and a child with special needs doesn’t require different or more love. It turns out that I didn’t need to be special to love my children either.
There are things that are true about adoption: it will change you and your family. Sometimes it might be hard. Sometimes it might be scary. But you know what? This is not unique to adoption; it is true of all parenting. Parenting a child will change you. Parenting a child will sometimes be hard. Parenting a child will sometimes be scary. The difference is that when we adopt, we often voluntarily choose the change, the hard, the scary beforehand rather than coming upon it without warning.
I realize that all that may not sound very hopeful. Here is what I want you to take away from all of this. Change and growth can be very good things. They can allow you to see the world in a way you otherwise wouldn’t. They can make you into a better person and a better parent. They can be more than worth the hard work. And you can find yourself and your family in a beautiful and unexpected place.
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