Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to really contemplate what adoption is to me and why it is important. Perhaps it’s the long holiday season when we are forced to look at our familial relationships (ready or not). Perhaps it’s the shorter days of sunlight that pull my mind into a sea of melancholy.  If I am being honest, there are days I look around at my life and wonder what on earth I got myself into. Adoption is hard for everyone involved, no matter what movies and books proclaim. 

There is no place for a Savior complex in adoption. While our decision may have helped keep my kids from returning to an abusive situation, I have not saved anyone. For that matter, as grateful as we are to the caseworkers, police, and judges involved, none of us save,d our kids from destruction. We may have removed them from imminent danger. Unfortunately for all parties involved, adoption can be, and most often is, a traumatic event. 

So, from one perspective, adoption is trauma.

But let’s look deeper. Adoption is also the capacity for unimaginable joy. This is not a Pollyanna, rose-colored glasses situation. I have cried myself to sleep over our lack of ability to find happiness before. My adopted kids came to us through the foster care system. Those words alone can bring nausea to some. But also, my kids are incredible people–amazing, intense, and confusing people, but the amount of joy they bring to our home is equally intense as their personalities. 

Adoption is grief: grief over what could have been and grief of a birth family imagining what it would have been like if they could have been the ones to raise the adopted child. It is the grief of a birth mother who believed she was making the best choice for her child but still hears phantom baby cries in her empty apartment. It is the grief of an adoptive family knowing that no matter what they do, they will never measure up to some of their children in the light of imagined birth families. 

Adoption is the grief of the brokenness that leads to the need for adoption and foster care in the first place. It is the grief of saying goodbye again and again and again, feeling like your heart has left the house and is never coming back. Adoption is the unimaginable ache of knowing the child is going back to their best case scenario, their birth family they belong in, but wishing selfishly they could stay in your arms and care forever

It is the grief of realizing the children we wanted to adopt were different after they were placed in our home and settled. What looked manageable on paper that was curated to pull heartstrings, is unmanageable and terrifying in the light of day. 

It is grief because the happiness over adoption day becomes overshadowed by a child’s self-sabotage trying to deal with their personal, indescribable grief. Finally feeling like they are safe to express their true feelings, the child realizes there is so much to be confused and sad about when visitation days don’t happen anymore, when they get confused and write the wrong last name on papers, and when they call out for Mommy and the wrong person comes because the mommy they want isn’t there anymore; yes, adoption is definitely grief. 

But mostly, the biggest thing besides happiness, family, and love, adoption is hope: hope that even facing astronomical odds, this one child will face a tomorrow because adults in their lives made the best choices in horrible situations.

Despite the persistent call towards discontent, there is hope that a child may be the one to break the bonds of generational abuse. Their current pain and grief may still bridge the gap for them and those after them to live more hopeful, less heartbreaking lives. 

Adoption is hope that tomorrow we will all be a little bit closer to being healed and a little bit further from brokenness. Is this overly optimistic in the day and age of internet discord and discussion? It could be seen that way, certainly. My own personal journey on the route of adoption has certainly lent me a perspective that leans towards cynicism. On my worst days, I throw my hands up and yell at the ceiling that everything I am doing is hopeless and pointless. 

However, on my best days? Those days when my kiddo who couldn’t, in the early days, be spoken to without her then hiding in fear, now cracks a silly joke and climbs on my lap like it was no big thing. Those are days I find hope for all of us. 

While adoption is not really a best-case scenario for anyone involved, I think it is better than the alternatives. I’d rather my child struggle and yell at me than know she was somewhere else being starved, abandoned, or abused. I will be the whipping boy for my child’s anger at their history and circumstances. I’ll take the hatred aimed at me not for my own actions but for the actions of others. If I get to be their safest place, if they can feel the sun on their face, and a breeze in their hair instead of being locked in a closet, I’ll take it. Not in an, “I’m a brave martyr” kind of way, but in a, “God this sucks, but it’s better than the alternative” kind of way. 

Maybe this seems dire to you, depressing at best, that my best view of adoption can be hope. At the end of the day, I will be left with my own impression and you will be left with yours. But eight years deep into a relationship with my kids, my views on the world, adoption, and life have changed a great deal. 

If you are further along and can find unbridled joy every day, please give me the name of your psychiatrist and/or the name of the medication you are taking. I’m kidding (mostly) But I know in today’s world, we are more open to things like mental health and sharing scary experiences with others. I know that some of you are steeped in the same pain my family is–desperately grateful for this life that can be desperately hard. And for us, hope is possibly the best description of adoption there can be.