Question: What is the single most important piece of advice, in terms of adoption, you would give someone who is hoping to adopt domestically?
Answer: Check your ego at the door.
Throughout our experience with two loving, open, domestic adoptions, we’ve learned to check our egos at the door. We said goodbye to it long before the adoption process actually began, back in the days of humiliating fertility treatments as we tried various drugs and procedures, constantly feeling the bruised ego that accompanies failure. I felt as if that chipped away at our ego already, leaving it vulnerable and in need of being built back up. Instead, we began the adoption journey, still freshly wounded and with a big hole in our bank accounts.
We first chose to sign on with a nationwide agency that offered both international and domestic adoptions. As we signed on for their domestic program, my husband and I filled out paperwork and had numerous long discussions about everything from acceptable drug exposure to which races we felt comfortable with. The question of open, semi-open, or closed adoptions had to be decided upon as well and we quickly found comfort in the idea of semi-open adoption, thinking we could handle filtered communication with a birth mother, so she could have the peace of mind of seeing her child grow up and never having to wonder if they were okay. We even said we were okay with a closed adoption, but not comfortable with a fully open one. Looking back, we made this choice without considering the child we’d be parenting. Open adoption was scary for numerous reasons, but we wondered if our child would love us less authentically if we were being compared to a biological family.
Our egos kept us from putting our own fears aside. We finished our paperwork, completed our home study, and waited alongside dozens of other families. I allowed my ego to get a little more bruised every day when I’d see another family chosen over us. I’d compare us to them in my mind, wondering why we weren’t appealing to potential birth parents, or how we were failing.
Before our first open adoption, I didn’t realize the importance of devaluing our egos.
After months and months of this, some friends mentioned an agency in Texas that specialized in helping infertile couples only. They just happened to only help families seeking open adoptions. For the first time, pushing my ego aside, I decided to give open adoption a deeper look. I found this agency’s website and discovered an online forum where adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees all came together to share their experiences, ideas, and support. Over the span of the next few weeks, I dove in and became immersed in this new world, both scared and excited at the same time. I could feel my mind opening as it remained hyperactive, causing me to lie awake in bed with what-ifs churning my mind and stomach until I’d finally succumb and read more first-hand accounts on the agency’s forum.
Through these accounts, my ego became buried deeper and deeper underneath the stories of happy children with secure senses of self, birth parents who deeply loved their children, and adoptive parents who felt grateful and humble. We thought about it, prayed on it, and ultimately decided to do it! Still, the selfishness of wishing we could simply pretend a child we adopted was only ours crept in from time to time. We feared the hurt that would accompany knowing the birth family and seeing them daily in “our” child–-a constant reminder that we had to rely on someone else to make us parents and resurfacing feelings of failure from our infertility. We trusted that our minds had already broadened that much in the span of a few weeks and jumped in headfirst, having faith in ourselves to grow and mature in our thinking. We recognized our own selfishness and the healing we still had to do to be worthy of our future child and whatever family accompanied them.
Again, we waited, but our egos continued to haunt us. Numerous situations fell through and, as we grieved, we continued to wonder why we weren’t good enough or what we’d done to deserve these losses. The need to constantly prove ourselves–-to our agency and numerous expectant parents–-made us doubt our strength and our worth. I’m ashamed to say that was our primary concern, and only in the back of our mind was the thought that adoption, in general, is unfair to more people than us. In a perfect world, adoption would not need to exist. Everyone would be fertile and privileged (financially, mentally, circumstantially) enough to raise their children. Our loss was not the greatest in adoption. A birth parent’s loss is not the greatest in adoption. It’s the child who experiences the greatest loss in adoption, a primal wound that can’t ever be fully healed. And by secretly hoping we might be able to pretend we were our child’s only parents, we would obviously be denying our child of a connection that would soften their loss and ameliorate the wound they’d always be so aware of. By opening our minds and our hearts, and by checking our ego at the door, we could give our child the gift of hearing why adoption had been a necessary solution to an impossible situation and something worth embracing together, our lives are interwoven with both nature and nurture.
And three years later, I look back at the woman I was before open adoption found me and feel grateful not to be stuck in that mentality anymore.
When our first child found us, a scared 17-year-old girl waited behind a hospital door for us. My husband and I looked at each other from behind that door, frozen in fear. We took a deep breath, and said, “Are you ready?” We held hands and squeezed. We then walked into our destiny: an open adoption where we promised to be strong enough to keep a thread alive between our son and his biological mother. We built a genuine friendship and pretty soon we realized that we not only wanted her in our lives for our son, but for ourselves too.
Long gone were the days of wanting to feel like we were his only parents because there were warmth and hope in having another woman out there in the world who thought he was as perfect as we did. And three years later, I look back at the woman I was before open adoption found me and feel grateful not to be stuck in that mentality anymore. I feel thankful and relieved not to be controlled by my ego, an ego that once told me that not being able to heal my child’s primal wound meant that I wasn’t good enough. Now I realize that our child’s self-worth is like a puzzle and we’re not meant to fill every piece. Having a birth family occupy some of those pieces is an honor, and our egos should be put aside to allow our children to feel whole.
Before our first open adoption, I didn’t realize the importance of devaluing our egos. We have a choice: be humble and gracious, or allow our egos to destroy our children. Through the pain of infertility, we find pain in not being our children’s “only.” Only mother. Only father. Only family. Only comfort. Only need. Through the grace of openness, we can have faith in the unknown and simply believe that a divine plan is much better than anything we could dream or even create on our own. Our humility and grace can translate into wonderful things for our children: Security. Ownership. Comfort. Self-assuredness. It allows them to never feel as if they are torn between two different worlds, eliminating the need to form allegiances or choose sides. They will never hurt our feelings by missing their birth families because their loss doesn’t have to be a reflection of their love for us or our value to them. They are two completely separate things and by allowing them to say, “I miss my birth family,” we keep them from burying intense emotions simply because they’re afraid they’ll bruise our egos by being disloyal.
We entered into our second adoption with our heads held high, genuinely seeking an open adoption. We’d had three years of realizing that our son was more important than the self-worth we once thought depended upon being the “only.” The family who found us and entrusted their baby girl to us had the grace we’d always strived for. They had open hearts, open minds, and had ditched their egos long ago. They put their child first and had the opportunity to see us as confident adoptive parents who would also put their child first. As we spent time together shortly after placement, I found myself truly grateful that our children have numerous family members. Between mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, both birth and adoptive, our children have more people in their lives than many could ever hope for and they’ll be raised to believe there can never be too much love.
We were sitting in a therapy session with our daughter’s birth parents, shortly before placement, when I found myself wondering at what point we’d simply choose to lead by example, showing our children that we love every bit of who they are and where they came from, requiring no unfair affirmations from a child to build our adult egos. We, as both adoptive and birth parents, have the power to simply have blind faith that our children love us and need us regardless of biology, giving them the security to believe that there’s no reason to doubt we must feel the same about them. By checking our egos at the door, we give our children the power to own who they are: a child who was adopted out of love and sacrifice, worthy and deserving of love from everyone in their lives, regardless of biology.
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