Ever since I was young, I’ve had short fine hair. I’m not sure if I even brushed it more than once a day. (I sure don’t as an adult—though now I’m thinking maybe I should.) Sometimes my hair would get long enough that I could just throw it up in a ponytail. That worked well for soccer games and basketball half-time performances. But most of the time, it was short and super easy to take care of. I was naïve to hair dilemmas. I always thought curly hair was so pretty—I still do—but I never, ever realized the care it took to keep it looking that healthy, bouncy, and pretty.

I have learned the error of my thinking since then. Learning how to take care of my daughter’s beautifully curly African American hair, and keep it beautifully curly, has been a process. And tonight, as I sat down and committed to five hours of styling her hair, there were a few lessons that I learned, or maybe was reminded of, about adoption.

1.     It takes time and commitment. Yes, it may seem like all the paperwork and waiting will never end. It truly feels like the end is too far out of reach. As I’m doing Callie’s hair and she asks, “How much longer?” my answer is usually, “It’ll still be a while, honey.” And it’s true. It takes a while—sometimes longer than we want. When we start the adoption process, we go in not knowing how long it’ll take—and often, it just takes a lot longer than we hope.

 2.     Sometimes it hurts. Yes, from time to time I’ll hear my daughter yell out that I pulled too hard. I don’t mean to hurt her, but sometimes it just happens when hair is being pulled or detangled. When it comes to adoption, we’ve also experienced our share of hurt. With failed placements and loss of contact with a birth parent, we’ve had our heartbreak. We hear stories about, and sometimes have the privilege of experiencing for ourselves, the joy of adoption. But with that joy also comes hurt—if not for you as the adoptive parent, don’t ever make the mistake of neglecting the hurt that a birth mother feels. Hurt comes—sometimes when we least expect it.

3.     Sometimes you run into problems. Just tonight, I came across a section of hair that had a huge knot. I’m talking HUGE. It kind of wore me out just thinking about working on this. I couldn’t cut it out because the knot problem would be replaced by a new problem: a bald patch of head. So I slowly, strand by strand, worked that knot out. It took a lot of time and was a delicate procedure, but it worked. A few years ago, we had to resubmit a set of fingerprints about five times. FIVE TIMES, people! That’s ridiculous. It was frustrating and really rather annoying. But you just figure it out as you go, take care of the essentials, and it all gets worked out.

4.     You need the right tools and resources. You don’t just dive into five hours of hair without the right tools. And you probably shouldn’t just jump into adoption without feeling comfortable with your agency and caseworker. They are the people who are there to support you along the way. There are other resources that can help too—adoption groups, reaching out to family and friends, understanding the benefits of social media during your waiting period, etc. Don’t do it alone. If you do, you run the risk of ending up a little frazzled when problems do come up.

5.     There’s joy in the journey. I dread spending five hours working on my daughter’s hair. But I also love it. Sometimes we talk. Tonight we watched Disney movies, and we sang the songs together and talked about the characters. I loved it. We have met so many wonderful people through adoption. We have grown to be better people—more humble, more full of love for others, more understanding and compassionate. If you allow yourself, you can find great joy in the journey.

6.     The end result is worth it. When we were finally finished tonight, I had never seen a bigger smile . . . and it wasn’t mine. My daughter ran to the mirror, jumped around, and started singing and dancing. She loved it. She is one of my end results. Without adoption, I would have never have seen her joy as she spun in a circle and her hair flew around. I would have missed singing songs with her and laughing. With all the problems and pain, the end result is most definitely worth it.