Emotional Ups and Downs of Being an Adoptive Mother

Picture yourself at an amusement park on a warm, summer evening. As the sun begins to disappear behind the mountains you see the flashing lights and hear children talking joyfully as they wait anxiously in line for their turn on the rides. You can smell popcorn popping and corn dogs sizzling in the grease, making your mouth water in anticipation of the tasty treats. Up ahead lurks the old white wooden roller coaster. Your stomach begins to turn just thinking about putting yourself in that seat. Others around you seem so excited about the journey to the top. You watch intently and listen to the creaking of the train-like cars as they climb to the top of the structure. You can hear the delightful screams of the passengers as they make the plummeting drop down the steep slope and lean into the tight curve waiting for them. The cars slowly ascend again and eventually come to a screeching halt as they bring the passengers safely back down. The happy riders climb out with smiles of delight on their faces and continue to experience another adventure in the park. After observing what seemed like a terrifying scene, you reluctantly decide to climb aboard and experience it for yourself. You scream in fear as it rises to the top and feel your stomach drop as you fly down. At last, it is over and you have survived what may have been the scariest thing you’ve ever done. The emotional journey of an adoptive mother is similar to riding a roller coaster.

Life is much like a roller coaster. We will endure highs and lows throughout our lives. The journey will be different for each of us. Though we may go through the same or similar events, the emotions we each feel will vary from those around us. Such is the experience of an adoptive mother compared to other mothers.

When we are children we dream of what we want to be when we grow up. We draw pictures and tell stories of what our life will be like. Often along the way our plans change. Our family may move or there may be a divorce. Financial circumstances may affect our plans for education and the career we had chosen to pursue. Love may come and go and the marriage you had hoped for doesn’t happen. Or maybe it does, but the children you planned on having don’t come as easily as you had thought they would. Thus goes the roller coaster we call life.

People choose to adopt for various reasons. Some couples make the decision early on in their relationship to adopt while others are faced with that choice due to medical reasons. It is also becoming more common for single men or women to adopt a child. Whatever the reason, it is an emotional roller coaster ride for all concerned, especially for the adoptive mother.

No two adoption stories are the same. My story began as a 9-year-old child when I witnessed my 16-year-old sister place her baby for adoption. As a young girl, I didn’t understand the whole situation and felt anger over the arrangements being made. It would take many years for me to make any sense out of it. I didn’t see the joy the baby brought to someone longing for a child. I only saw the sadness and emptiness in my sister’s eyes. Many years later I met the man who would become my husband. While we were dating, his parents adopted a baby boy. There was also a sister who was adopted. I watched as this family embraced him and welcomed him into their home and lives. It was no different than if their mother had just given birth to him. This baby boy was loved immediately. The youngest of seven children, he was never treated any differently than his siblings. Neither was the sister who was adopted. They are a loving family and a great example of unconditional love.

As I became better acquainted with the family I would learn of the hardships that brought them to this point in their lives. My now mother-in-law had suffered blood clots during her fourth pregnancy. She was advised by her doctor to not have any more children. She and her husband wanted more children so they began the adoption process. They approached their doctor about adoption and were made aware of a possible placement. They had been told that if the baby was a boy another couple would be adopting him. The anxiety of wanting a baby along with not knowing for sure if they would get one was an up-and-down battle. Once the baby was born and she was a girl, then came more apprehension as to whether or not she could love someone else’s baby. More roller-coaster emotions. After babysitting her for one day, she knew she could love her as her own. My mother-in-law still felt that her family wasn’t complete and despite doctor’s orders became pregnant. She was very ill during the pregnancy but carried the healthy baby girl to full term. A few years later they pursued adoption again. This time the baby boy I referred to was added to their family. The family was finally complete. However, the highs and lows were just beginning. Combining a family of both biological and adopted children takes lots of adjusting. Meeting the needs of all children is a constant battle. Even now as the children are grown, it can be a daily struggle to make sure everyone feels loved and involved in the family unit.

My adoption story continued many years later as I was faced with the reality of secondary infertility. The sorrow of disappointment each month began to take a toll on my marriage and family. The desire to be pregnant consumed my life. I was very hard to live with and daily activities became hard to enjoy. The blessing of my two biological daughters was outweighed by the grief I felt. Eventually, I learned to find happiness with the family I had been given. After nearly seven years we adopted a baby boy and in five short months, I was pregnant with another one. Be careful what you ask for! Life was constant movement and I can honestly say that none of us would have survived if not for the help of my two older girls. They were my life savers then and still are to this day. Over the next ten years, we would face the trials of infertility again. After suffering a miscarriage, I was finally able to have a healthy baby boy eleven years (almost to the day) after the birth of our last son. Five short months later we would be asked if we would like to adopt a 2 ½-year-old little girl. Our family would now be complete. But the ups and downs were far from over.

Being an adoptive mother to both biological and adopted children, I am very much aware of the roller coaster ride life can be. Just the day-to-day, mundane tasks of motherhood take on new meaning as you try to provide for the entire family. Each child has his or her desires and interests. In an attempt to not let one child feel more loved than another, we try to attend to everyone’s needs. This can be exhausting but necessary to keep peace in the family. There are many sleepless nights and hours spent crying in the shower where no one can hear your heartfelt sobs. Being a mother is tough. Being an adoptive mother is even harder. Just when you think you have it all figured out, a new conflict is presented. The joy you feel when that baby is placed in your arms for the first time is quickly replaced by the fear of the awesome responsibility you have to raise this child. With the happiness that comes from watching that child take his first steps comes the reality of what you must teach him as he walks through life. Every choice they make can either make your heart swell with pride or shatter into pieces. Whether it’s a skinned knee or a broken leg, a school crush, or a broken engagement, a mother’s love never ceases. No matter what the outcome, love never stops. 

A mother who was asked to describe the ups and downs of being an adoptive parent said, “I feel honored that another woman trusted me with her child. I feel scared for all the identity issues and racial issues that have only barely begun. I feel in awe of the beauty of my daughter that’s so different from my own. I feel overwhelmed with three different therapy schedules and all of their special needs. I feel tired when I often can’t do things that other moms get to do to get a break like taking their kids to play centers or preschool. I feel lucky that I was able to adopt children when my heart knew I had more love to give, but mostly I feel so happy at the end of the day to put my life energy into these four amazing little humans and to create a family whose bond is stronger than blood.”

Another adoptive mother put it this way: “Sometimes I feel guilty when motherhood is so hard! For a long time I thought I was terrible because I didn’t feel thankful, grateful, and joyful that I even got to be a mother, but adoption, in general, is so stinking hard sometimes.” To this, I say amen. I have had to take the should-haves out of my life. If we all just make it to the end of the day in one piece it is an accomplishment. Don’t let anyone dictate how you should feel. After the adoption of our first son people would say to me, “Oh, you did it the easy way!” What are you talking about? There is nothing easy about adoption. The emotions you feel are different from anything you could ever imagine.

A friend shared her feelings of inadequacy because she is not able to have biological children. She would often feel anger that other women could have babies. She expressed the sadness she felt at attending baby showers for friends and family or being in a group of women as they discussed their pregnancies. She is thankful every day for the birth mothers of her two sons who were adopted. Her life as an adoptive mother has had its ups and downs. When one of her sons decided to search for his birth parents it was very hard for her. Harder still is that he has chosen to call his birth father and his wife Mom and Dad. He also speaks to his birth mother frequently. On the other hand, her other son has no desire to search for his biological parents. 

As an adoptive mother, you often feel insecure and wonder if someone else will take your place. All you can do is continue to give unconditional love and hope for love in return. Several adoptive mothers shared with me how they often feel like a failure as a mother because they aren’t able to meet the emotional needs of their adopted children.

Raising a family has its highs and lows. Some days you will climb to the top and feel like you have mastered all the skills of parenthood. Other days you may plummet to the bottom and wonder if you will ever get up again. There will be jolts along the way to make you feel like you have to get off the ride right then but, just around the corner, you will be brave again and face what is to come. Just like the ride on the roller coaster at the amusement park, you will climb out of that seat and keep going on to the next adventure.