Adoption. It is complex and unique to each and every adoptive family, child, and biological family. There are no two situations exactly alike, even within the same family.
Adoption is love. First and foremost, adoption is love. From the first thought of adoption, a family is trying to think of the best interest of a child whether it’s the biological family trying to give a child a life full of the experiences, childhood, life that they feel they aren’t able to provide to an adoptive family full of dreams and aspirations for what they can provide for a child, experiences, education, extended family.
There is no perfect family. There is no perfect situation. I know that biological mothers can and will become wonderful, caring, competent mothers with time. I also know that they have to make the best decision they can in the moment they are in.
Adoption is loss. Loss of a child. Loss of a family. You cannot honor an adoptive relationship without honoring the loss that every member of the triad experiences. The loss is deep and real and can be hard to navigate. First and foremost, for the child, that primary bond is broken. It will mean different outcomes for each child. Loss happens on the part of the birth parents as well—loss of a child for the biological family, namely the mother. Just like the child, it will be different for each mother. But make no mistake that it is a significant loss and will change that mother forever.
As adoptive parents, it is up to us to honor and help the child, and the biological family, navigate the loss of each relationship. It will be a unique experience for each family depending on the relationship that was built before the adoption took place. It will evolve and change as the child grows, the relationship changes, and the needs of the child become known.
Adoption is change. In the first hours of life, changes begin to occur. If you are welcoming a child through domestic infant adoption, the change begins as the biological parents begin making a plan for adoption, seek counseling through an agency, and choose a family for the child that they have created. The next change occurs when the adoptive family chooses to seek adoption. It may seem simple, but each of these decisions is fraught with heartache and hard decisions—decisions that must be made for the safety and protection of all parties in the adoption triad.
Change occurs in every pathway of adoption. It’s never simple; the complexities will depend on which avenue of adoption that you find best for your family. In international adoption, children will leave behind everything they know: food, culture, language. It will present change and challenge for the family and the child. In foster care adoption, change is a daily occurrence. No matter the avenue, change will occur, and it will take you on some marvelous, difficult, glorious twists and turns.
Adoption is spontaneous. It changes your life on a dime. The average parents get nine months to prepare for the arrival of a child. With adoption, it can surprise you how quickly you can put together a wardrobe, room, and a safe and comforting space for a child. It can range from hours to weeks. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But the reality is that no matter what, you will not be prepared for the change that will come to you. It will be perfect no matter if your child is weeks away from arriving, waiting for you across the world, or living across town waiting for you.
You will plan out the perfect scenario, the perfect reaction, the perfect notification, and the truth is you can never plan for, or with, adoption. Even with a due date, scheduled C-section, whatever good and true plan you have, it can and will go awry. The beauty in that is you will have a fun, funny, and interesting birth story to tell your child. In some cases, you can have a lot of fun turning that spontaneity into an exciting arrival announcement. Embrace the spontaneity and use it to your advantage.
Adoption is grief. There is so much to grieve in the adoption process. I’m not talking about the loss of family, connection, a child. I’m talking about the loss of a dream, hope, aspiration. In some cases, the grief over the loss of the rights of passage, processes that come with welcoming a child to your family. I’ve found that even my closest friends didn’t know how to support us in welcoming our children home. It was weird, confusing, and not at all typical for my typical friends and their biological families.
Outside of the actual process of adopting a child, there is much to grieve. I had to grieve the reality that I would never conceive, carry, or birth a child, that my husband and I would never have the experiences that everyone I had known to that point had. No late night labor pains, no hospital visits by friends/family. Something that I very much took for granted and wasn’t prepared to leave behind for many years.
Take your time to grieve all that you feel is important to you. Some people couldn’t care less about any of that, and that’s okay, too. It makes you who you are. But there is a dream, a hope, something that you’ve wished for, longed for, imagined. Grieve that loss of the right of passage, grieve it all, and make room for the story that you are given. Even in the loss, you will find new hopes, new joy, new things to love about the story that you are writing. It will take twists and turns that you cannot imagine, but it will be a beautiful story.
Adoption is trauma. No matter how adoption happens, there is trauma. I was very resistant to this knowledge when our first child was born. We were able to bond with him just a few hours after birth. We were able to stay with him, with his birth family, and be there from nearly the moment he arrived. And yet, there was trauma. In hindsight, I would have insisted that things happened differently to minimize some of the trauma that happened in that process. We had wonderful agency representation, and she was wonderful with our child’s birth mom, but the process is hard. Unfair. Traumatic. There is simply no way to avoid it.
Adding our second and third children brought out the results of my own trauma. We all have trauma from parts of our lives that we survived, lived, and in most cases, never confront because you’re able to process them. There are things from the life I lived before my children that have now reared their ugly heads. It’s real. Trauma does affect you. You may not realize the depth and spread of that trauma, how it affects you, your body, your parenting. It took me a long time to understand that my child was triggering me. They still do. But now that I’m aware of it, I can change the outcome, maybe not in the moment, but in the moments after. Acknowledge, apologize, and vow to change the next time.
Adoption is healing. For us, adoption is what made us a family. It began the process of healing a lifetime of hurts, disappointments, and loss. It is what started the process of melding together all the brokenness. I learned to trust; I learned to feel, and I learned deep and unyielding love. But don’t get me wrong, healing is hard. There’s nothing easy about taking all your broken pieces and putting them back together. Sometimes, in the putting together, you need to break it all down and start over again—sometimes multiple times.
In our family, the healing comes in small, unexpected ways. It also comes with weirdness, tension, and awkward behaviors. We do a lot of therapy around here. Therapy for mental health and physical health. Hours and hours per week healing our pasts in multiple ways. That would have frightened me at one point. And I hope it doesn’t frighten you because it is exactly what we needed. This healing. We spend time together in places we didn’t expect, healing each other, learning that we are all broken and imperfect in one way or another and that itself brings healing and acceptance.
Each week, we take part in building confidence, skills, and healing the broken, neglected places in their bodies and brains. They work hard. They earn praise and rewards, and they earn the knowledge to help themselves handle situations that were once difficult for them. And oh, it’s a beautiful thing. Healing is hard work.
Adoption is messy. There is so much to navigate in this messy process. Emotions run high and deep. There are so many avenues to consider with adoption. We decided upon domestic infant adoption for our family. It was what felt the most right. In the process, we learned to navigate open adoption—what worked for our new little family, what worked for our son’s biological mom in regards to her extended family and the children she was already raising.
When foster care adoption became our story later, we learned what messy truly was. In the beginning, I knew I was adamantly opposed to open adoption with our children’s families through foster care. I knew that I couldn’t let my children be hurt repeatedly by the families that had failed them. I was wrong. My children all have relationships with their biological mothers. We are including their biological families in some circumstances. It will be different for your family. Own that. You will know what is right, what is wrong, what will work, and what you need to do to help your children feel safe, loved, and protected.
In some ways, our children’s birth families’ fear and loss made this hard. We had to overcome a lot of fear, a lot of messy, to reach the less messy parts. Sheriff calls, Child Protection reports, forgiveness. It’s all so very messy. When it came down to it, I learned that the mess was loss, grief, and fear. They had to learn to trust me, and I had to learn to trust them. It was hard. And messy. And worth it. None of this will be easy, but it is possible that the messy becomes something else. Something beautiful.
Adoption is beautiful. Even with love, loss, change, spontaneity, grief, trauma, healing, and messy parts, adoption is so, so beautiful. It puts the broken pieces right and allows your heart to become whole once again. For me, the deep, deep pain and rejection became a small, dark head to kiss. Tears of joy, gratefulness, and pure, pure love have begun to stream from my eyes and my heart once again. But through this all, we have not just gained children. We have gained family. We don’t look alike, and in many ways, it would appear that we don’t belong together for varying reasons. But the truth is, these people that make up the quilt of our children’s lives have brought us, and more importantly them, love, acceptance, wholeness, and healing. Parenthood looks so much different than I thought it would.
Through loving my children, I have learned to accept those that loved them first. The beauty, and sometimes fear, that forces us to reach outside of ourselves to find acceptance and grace. The truth is, it’s not easy. Learning to trust others with the heart of your child is hard. But seeing that pure, unadulterated love and acceptance in your child is possibly the most beautiful thing that you will see.
I know this won’t be easy for you. It will change you, grow you. You will not emerge the same caterpillar you went in as. You will evolve and grow to the beautiful, winged creature that adoption will make you. It is love. It is loss. It is change. It is spontaneous. It is grief. It is trauma. It is healing. It is messy. And it is so, so beautiful.