Before my husband and I got married, we talked about how we would someday build our family. Both of us mentioned adoption, and through the years we decided it was right for us. We didn’t know if we’d adopt through foster care, pursue international adoption, or look into the domestic route; all we knew was that adoption would be a part of our lives. I remember talking to friends back then and having everything in common, not worrying about whether or not they understood my lifestyle, because there was nothing different about us. Even mentioning we were hoping to adopt some day, my friends’ beliefs and opinions on the topic meant very little to me, because I, myself, was uneducated about adoption. I had no real opinions of my own to stand on because I hadn’t done much research at that point.
Fast-forward 5+ years to when we began to pursue a domestic open adoption. I had read dozens of books, attended birth parent panels, experienced an open adoption orientation for our agency of choice, and had gone through the home study process. We walked into the adoption process as a whole unaware, saying we probably preferred a closed or semi-open adoption, and came out on the other side of the process saying we were only looking for an open adoption. We were converts, completely committed to open adoption, because of exposure. My opinions had been formed through learning, and there was no going back.
I had lunch with an old friend who sat patiently as I told her what I’d learned and what decisions we had made, next steps, and our hopes for our family. “You really think you can love someone else’s kid?” she said. “I mean, look at that kid across the restaurant over there. He’s obnoxious and snotty. Are you really saying, if that lady offered, you’d just take her kid home?” And there it was. That moment where I realized we were different. Something in me had changed, and there was no going back. We were different now, and my wavelength was just slightly off from hers. I wasn’t better; I was just different. I tried to explain my thoughts to her, and tried to work patiently on helping her understand, but the first time I introduced her to my son, I felt like I could hear her saying, “He’s just somebody else’s kid.” I still work through these emotions with many of my friends who haven’t had their lives impacted by adoption. They’re still valuable friendships, and I still love them dearly, but there are many things about these friendships that left me unfulfilled.
I’ve maintained friendships with my friends who have biological children, but there’s a puzzle piece missing now. We fit together in most ways, and then there are those times when I feel like the oddball in the group. It’s those moments when I’m sitting in a group and someone starts talking about how hard her pregnancy was and everyone else chimes in while I sit there on the sidelines squirming in my seat, reminding myself to feel thankful for exactly what I have, that I realize: I’m just going to have to embrace this fully. Our family is different, and that’s not just OK; that’s awesome. But, still, I wish my friends understood.
I’ve embraced how we’re different, and it was during the process of embracing it that I found some amazing friends who leave me fulfilled and who do understand. I had to fit somewhere like I once fit with my other friends. I wanted to find that last puzzle piece so I could feel like I fully fit—even in pieces—somewhere. It was within the five types of friendships listed here that I found that last puzzle piece. These are friends who understand what it feels like to squirm, for one reason or another, and it’s bonded us for life. There are five groups of friends who I’ve found to be unexpectedly invaluable in my life.
1. The Same Side of the Triad (for me, fellow adoptive parents)
As we waited for our son to be placed with us, we met dozens of other families through adoption. Some were hopeful adoptive parents like us, and some were already adoptive parents, living out open adoptions like the ones I felt suited for. I grew close to those families, and they supported me and understood me in a way no one else in my life could. We cried together, complained together, and celebrated together. We understood the love we felt for birth families, and the fierce protectiveness when a friend would make an ignorant or hateful comment. We “got it,” and had each other to lean on in good times and bad.
These are the friends I can go to with everything in my life, but especially those adoption-related things that my other friends simply won’t ever understand. We are kindred spirits, walking the same path, and we can challenge each other because of such an important shared experience. The other amazing added benefit is that our children now have friends who are also adoptees, and the night my son asked if anyone else didn’t grow in their mommy’s belly, I could point out a dozen friends who had a birth mom, too.
2. The Opposite Side of the Triad (For me, birth parents)
A couple of years ago, I found some adoption support groups on Facebook. I was added to a few in quick succession by a friend, and found a place of support like no other I’ve ever found before. Here, hopeful adoptive parents, adoptive parents, expectant parents, birth parents, and adoptees all came together in one space to share their insights. It was here that birth parents existed as people outside of my children’s birth parents. I could hear candid thoughts, fears, hardships, disappointments, and raw grief. I had an inside view into the heartache and the joy of birth parents, and it helped me empathize with my children’s birth parents in a way I never could have before. These birth mothers helped me define boundaries, and—better yet—helped me stick to them. We found a shared space that existed where all we wanted was the very best for our children, and we could work together to help each other achieve that.
Having the other side of the coin in your life is invaluable, and that includes people who don’t agree with your view, or groups that challenge you. I read and soak it all in within anti-adoption groups, and it’s changed my perspective on many things, and I’ve grown along the way. I have been changed because of the impact these friendships have made on my life. They’ve made me more human, more empathetic, more genuine, and more humble. They’ve challenged me to go the extra mile, and to take pride in the role I’m honored to play. They keep me honest, they keep me motivated, and they ground me in reality.
Every once in a while, I meet someone and share a little bit about my family, and they confide that they were adopted. On a business trip, I found myself sitting next to a girl who worked for the agency my company employed. We started getting to know one another, and when I told her about our son and she found out he was adopted, she was excited to tell me she was also an adoptee. Adopted from Korea as a child, she was the only non-white person in her family. This is a friendship I’ve kept up through the years and it’s become even more valuable now that I am a mom to a transracial adoptee myself. She gives me perspective I couldn’t get anywhere else.
Adoptees are also present in many online adoption groups, and all have different stories to tell. Some are content and adjusted, while others are upset and resentful. Others fall somewhere in between, but the important thing is to listen to them all. Listen to every perspective, gather knowledge that might help you, and apply it where you can. These friendships may give you doses of things that are hard to swallow sometimes, but they’re worth maintaining, because they give insights that can’t be found anywhere else.
4. Friends of Different Cultures
Almost two years ago, we adopted our daughter, who is Latina. As a white woman, with a white husband, and a non-conspicuous son (also adopted, but without visible differentiation of race and heritage), we owe it to our daughter to understand her culture. Part of this, for us, is maintaining a close bond with her birth family. There are birth parents, birth siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more who are there to love and support her, and it’s important to me that she learn about her culture through them first and foremost. Also important are the people we have in our neighborhood, our churches, and our activities. I want to make sure that we provide enriching friendships with people who share her culture so that I can better understand who my daughter is and provide the very best for her.
5. My Children’s Birth Families
This doesn’t seem like it should fit on an “unexpected friendships” list, because I should have walked into an open adoption thinking I was going to be friends with my kids’ birth families, right? But the truth is that I expected to try my best, and to try to find common ground as a foundation that we could build upon. I expected to put my kids first, always, and to speak of their birth parents with respect. But here’s what I didn’t expect: this genuine, organic, natural, can’t-be-explained bond. I didn’t expect to miss these women and to give up our family vacations so we travel cross-country to spend more time seeing them. I didn’t expect to pick up the phone and call them the second my child did something cute. I didn’t realize they would come with extended family members who would fill voids in my own life. I didn’t know it could be like this and, much like the other unexpected friendships made along the way (only to the greatest extent), life wouldn’t be anywhere near as fulfilling, enriching, or complete without them.
These five sets of unexpected friends have meshed together to create my missing puzzle piece, and now—because of them—I’m fulfilled, and everything fits.