Adoption Is Not What I Thought It Was

It is more beautiful; it is more tragic.

Natalie Brenner March 21, 2017
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Adoption is not what I thought it was.

Years ago, when I pictured adoption, it was pretty black and white, cut and dry:

Parents decide to adopt. Parents pick out an orphan at an orphanage. Parents bring baby/child home. Family lives life. The end.

Did you cringe while reading that? I did while writing it.

Somewhere along the road, I came to the realization families don’t only adopt from Africa, but both internationally and domestically. My view of adoption remained entirely vague and simple, cut and dry, for years.

I thought adoption would be easy. I thought adoptions were closed. I thought adoption was Families Finding Babies. I thought once you adopted a child into your home, that was it. End of discussion.

Adoption is not what I thought it was. It is so much more.

It is more beautiful, it is more tragic. It is infused with joy and grief, gain and loss; it is entirely complex.

I thought “openness” in adoption meant “co-parenting.” It doesn’t. I was not prepared for how tightly my heart would wrap around my son’s biological family, for how desperately I crave openness with as many biological family members as possible. We were privileged to meet his biological/birth mom and now I dream of the day we meet more faces that share his physical features. I only want to say good things about her. I want to protect her; my love for her is fierce and these are realities I was caught off by.

I thought all birth moms were single teens that most likely struggled with an addiction of some sort. As we read histories of each expectant mother, planning to place her precious baby for adoption, I realized I was deeply wrong. None of them fit a specific category of age, career, or lifestyle. Every single expectant mother had a different story, an exclusive experience, and a unique reason for her decision to place her baby for adoption.

Every single expectant mother had a different story.

I thought if biological parents didn’t continue contact, it meant they didn’t care. But as I educated myself and read article after article, I realized how I was entirely wrong (ignorant). Each of those women were humans, carrying inside of them a life she valued, hoping to give them a life they themselves could not offer. They cared; they cared so much they denied their body for 9+ months to bring this child into the world and place him or her into another family’s arms. They care so deeply they relinquished the opportunity to be their child’s mama.

I thought talking about adoption and biological/birth families would be detrimental to children who were adopted. How entirely off this thinking was. What is not talked about is then covered in shame. When we remain silent about things, especially important things, colossal aspects of our children’s identity, we are telling them (without words and unintentionally) that their history is shame-filled, embarrassing, not-normal and wrong. Talking about adoption and biological/birth families normalizes it, allowing our children to explore their full identity.

I thought birth moms were the only part of the equation when placing children for adoption. I learned quickly many situations include birth fathers, spouses, and family members. All of these humans know about this little precious baby and support (or don’t) the decision to place him/her for adoption. Sometimes, there are siblings. The family tree branches extend much further than biological mothers.

I thought adoptive families were exactly the same as solely-biological families. Sure, to an extent; I believe to my core that love is what makes a family, not blood. But to say that adoptive families are the same as solely-biological families is to detract from adoption and those involved in adoption. Adoption bridges families together who would not otherwise be family. Adoption incites questions, especially transracial adoptions, that solely-biological families never have to answer. Adoptive families have added layers to wade through, such as loss, trauma, birth culture and identity.

Adoption is so much more than I had thought. Adoption is always born out of loss, loss that deserves a voice, but adoption can also be beautiful.

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Natalie Brenner

Natalie Brenner is wife to Loren and mom to two under two, living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Natalie believes in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty and believes grief is the avenue to wholeness. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at and join her email community.

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