The Moment I Realized I Was a Parent

The easy answer is that for me personally, the “moment” I realized I was a parent wasn’t exactly a moment, but a series of moments that lasted about 14 months, and even then, I had not yet met our daughter face-to-face. She was 2 and a half at the time we actually picked her up in Bulgaria. As a new, confused parent, I was still not feeling very parental in the Dobrich, Bulgarian suite we were staying in. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t start at the beginning to provide you some context.

I had thought about adoption for years, specifically international adoption. I don’t know why it seemed right for me, but it did. But this is a snippet of my What I Wish I’d Known about Post-Adoptive Depression article on adoption.com

When I had a stillbirth in 1999, it became more and more apparent to me that I should give a child already in the world home. It’s a deeply personal decision that seemed a good fit for me. A second pregnancy would’ve been very risky. Just as my husband and I decided to try for another baby, he left me for another woman, and the marriage promptly ended in divorce. I put hopes of having a child of my own on a back burner until I met David (not his real name). 

I brought up the idea of international adoption to David one evening over dinner at Red Lobster, of all places to propose having a child. He was reluctant to agree, not because he didn’t want one, but because of our personal circumstances. At that time, we weren’t in the best financial situations and had both been previously divorced, among other seemingly problematic issues. In short, we just didn’t look very good on paper. Plus, international adoption was so expensive that it appeared financially unattainable for us.

So we were not exactly the poster children for the “Perfect Adoptive Family”. Still, we decided to try. We went to a seminar on international adoption to gather more information. We listened carefully to the pros and cons of different ages and genders and soon realized that a girl in the 2-6 age range would be an excellent match. 

After a lengthy, drawn-out, and expensive process (our church helped us out financially and we held fundraisers), we began the adoption of a then-14-month-old Turkish-Bulgarian girl from eastern Bulgaria. Although the process began when she was only 14 months, we didn’t actually get her until she was two-and-a-half. That gives you an idea of how long, tedious, and nail-biting this whole experience was.

So our real journey began! But was I a parent yet?…

None of the paperwork signings made me feel like a mother. Not the trip to Bulgaria, nothing. I remember the stay in the hotel room, and I recall clearly my nerves. They were more frayed than they’d ever been. I was nervous to meet our new daughter, but I was very much also afraid of some sort of legal snafu halting the process altogether. As you can tell, I’m a worrier.

And here was a mind-blowing, high-pressure situation that filled me with fear and uncertainty. 

Even when I met her, she was under the orphanage’s care, not mine. So then, I still wasn’t a parent regardless of the building mound of finalization duties and paperwork. The next day we returned to pick her up and take her “home.” Our home, not hers. She wasn’t our kid yet. Besides, we were to be in Dobrich for almost a week, then Sofia, then to Frankfurt for a layover, and then back to the U.S.A. Our daughter Olivia (which is what I’ll call her here) really wasn’t ours until…When?

I addressed this in my previous article on adoption.com called “When I Began My Adoption Journey, I Had Never Heard of Post-Adoption Depression; From Sunset Till Dawn: One Woman’s Passage Through Post-Adoption Depression (Part 1)” from November 9th, 2015 and also from Part 3, October 20, 2015: 

That very first evening in that dark and dreary hotel suite, David and I huddled together in a small side room of our suite with its own door (we dubbed this the panic room). Olivia finally dozed off, so we closed the door, had a beer each (I don’t recommend it as a new-parent coping mechanism, but my nerves were shot, and I was desperate for something to calm me down) and breathed a short-lived sigh of relief. The room had a small window that we opened for some fresh, though frigidly cold, air, and as I stared out into the desolate, rainy, and grim Bulgarian night, I wondered what I had done. My life was over (or so I thought at that very moment.) I didn’t feel less like a parent than at that moment….

It was the most bizarre and exciting feeling to meet my child for the first time. The day after I was introduced to her, we went to pick her up. We were told very little, including information about her potty training, which we rudely interrupted by snatching her away from the only home she’d ever known. There were so many questions we should’ve asked, but we felt rushed and overwhelmed by the whole process.

And we knew if we actually hopped on a plane then all support would be gone. And at last, we were dropped off at the airport with this little screaming toddler. We were on our own with a very distraught, freaked-out little child predisposed to random screeching fits. This isn’t exactly what I learned about in adoptive parenting classes.

In Sofia, we were in charge of her, but there was still no way she was really ours. We were somehow just babysitting for a friend. Nothing registered except our anxiety and our eagerness to arrive home. But when was I a real mother? 

On the plane, it was so bad that I clearly remember buying earplugs for all who would be sitting around or near us on the long flight (I kid you not). I also apologized to everyone around us in advance. A kind flight attendant offered to keep Olivia entertained, and I was elated! She still wasn’t ours because a nice lady interned and took her all over the plane with her. Not our responsibility, at least for a moment.

Most people think this is a thrilling process with unicorns and rainbows, and that’s what I wanted for us, but adoptions are as unique as they are sometimes mysterious. There’s an array of adoption experiences, all was happiness and love-at-first-sight or it was a terrifying experience. I originally brought this forward to let adoptive parents know that regardless of their experiences, they are not alone. While this may sound harsh, I firmly believe in telling our stories in non-judgmental ways. I want parents to be able to sincerely relate their own stories without feeling a failure or a disappointment. So I tell the real side of the story that most newly adoptive parents may just not want to talk about, but don’t worry. It has a happy ending.

I also cite in my adoption.com article:

Once home, my then-husband called the adoption agency for help, support, and advice. Their response?  “Based on what you’re telling us and your reaction to Olivia, we’re thinking we may need to come and get the child.”  Well, that put a terror in me I can’t describe!  I didn’t want to disappoint my family or my church, or lose all the time, money, and effort we’d put into this, but by far most importantly, although I hadn’t bonded with Olivia, I didn’t want to lose her.  Neither of us did.  She had her cute moments, her endearing moments. But I couldn’t honestly look at her and say, “I love you.” No, it would take a full year before I would reach that point and mean it.

But I think there were two moments when I personally saw myself as a (terrified!) mom. The first one was at the airport when we got in our car, and we strapped her into her new car seat….which, needless to say, she did not like at all. As we pulled away from the airport, this very vivid feeling that came over me that she was our responsibility. Not to disillusion adoptive parents, but it took me up to almost a full year before it finally and thoroughly kicked in that I was truly a mom. This is, of course, not true for everyone. The next moment I realized I was a mother was once we were home, and, after my dad visited, and he left, David and I felt it was time to settle in fully to parenthood. After almost a year-and-a-half of going through an often-tedious adoption process, here we were alone in our house – the three of us. 

As I also wrote on adoption.com, “I felt very bad for this freaked out a girl who wouldn’t be comforted, no matter what “motherly” things I attempted to do. I did know one thing, however: This was no “love at first sight” fantasy. I felt upset, angry, lost, hopeless, and overwhelmed.”

Being alone with her was another awakening that I was really a parent. There’s nothing like feeding, bathing, caring for, and playing with a child. Who else was going to do that? Us, her parents, of course. That’s when my parenting skills, thrown into the deep end, actually began to help ease me into the notion of parenthood.

So for me, becoming a parent and realizing and internalizing the concept came in stages, not in a moment. And I have learned that that’s okay. We all come to adoption from different places and experiences and we all get unique children, so each adoption is obviously extremely personal and has its own challenges whether new parents are ready for the ride or not. And it really is individualized…but it’s also very worth it! We’re all doing our best when it comes to flexibility and parenting.

It’s also perfectly alright to not see those rainbows and unicorns upon laying your eyes on your child for the first time. There’s plenty of help, adoption chat rooms, resources, experts, support groups, classes, and more that are available now that weren’t around back in the very early 2000s. Take advantage of everything available to you! Read books, go to clubs and groups, participate in virtual events. I wish I’d known about a wider circle of support that I even remember using. But the truth is, the real variety of non-judgmental information and opportunities are out there now more than ever.

I cannot emphasize enough: Regardless of your adoption experience, even if you still don’t feel like one, there’s hope to finally feel like a parent….to be a parent. In my case, I went through the motions and did my best in a kind of “fake it till you make it” way. Thankfully, that worked. And don’t forget that adoption.com can be your one-stop-shop for all things adoption with such a wide variety of information and outside resources. 

You’re supported whether or not you “feel” like a parent. The old saying about loving someone means action; it has nothing to do with feelings. The feelings will come, so be persistent and patient, and I can guarantee you that, with a few “special” exceptions, the feelings really will follow your acts and gifts of love from your heart.

The easy answer is that for me personally, the “moment” I realized I was a parent wasn’t exactly a moment, but a series of moments that lasted about 14 months, and even then, I had not yet met our daughter face-to-face. She was 2 and a half at the time we actually picked her up in Bulgaria. As a new, confused parent, I was still not feeling very parental in the Dobrich, Bulgarian suite we were staying in. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t start at the beginning to provide you some context.

I had thought about adoption for years, specifically international adoption. I don’t know why it seemed right for me, but it did. But this is a snippet of my What I Wish I’d Known about Post-Adoptive Depression article on adoption.com

When I had a stillbirth in 1999, it became more and more apparent to me that I should give a child already in the world home. It’s a deeply personal decision that seemed a good fit for me. A second pregnancy would’ve been very risky. Just as my husband and I decided to try for another baby, he left me for another woman, and the marriage promptly ended in divorce. I put hopes of having a child of my own on a back burner until I met David (not his real name). 

I brought up the idea of international adoption to David one evening over dinner at Red Lobster, of all places to propose having a child. He was reluctant to agree, not because he didn’t want one, but because of our personal circumstances. At that time, we weren’t in the best financial situations and had both been previously divorced, among other seemingly problematic issues. In short, we just didn’t look very good on paper. Plus, international adoption was so expensive that it appeared financially unattainable for us.

So we were not exactly the poster children for the “Perfect Adoptive Family”. Still, we decided to try. We went to a seminar on international adoption to gather more information. We listened carefully to the pros and cons of different ages and genders and soon realized that a girl in the 2-6 age range would be an excellent match. 

After a lengthy, drawn-out, and expensive process (our church helped us out financially and we held fundraisers), we began the adoption of a then-14-month-old Turkish-Bulgarian girl from eastern Bulgaria. Although the process began when she was only 14 months, we didn’t actually get her until she was two-and-a-half. That gives you an idea of how long, tedious, and nail-biting this whole experience was.

So our real journey began! But was I a parent yet?…

None of the paperwork signings made me feel like a mother. Not the trip to Bulgaria, nothing. I remember the stay at the hotel room, and I recall clearly my nerves. They were more frayed than they’d ever been. I was nervous to meet our new daughter, but I was very much also afraid of some sort of legal snafu halting the process altogether. As you can tell, I’m a worrier.

And here was a mind-blowing, high-pressure situation that filled me with fear and uncertainty. 

Even when I met her, she was under the orphanage’s care, not mine. So then, I still wasn’t a parent regardless of the building mound of finalization duties and paperwork. The next day we returned to pick her up and take her “home.” Our home, not hers. She wasn’t our kid yet. Besides, we were to be in Dobrich for almost a week, then Sofia, then to Frankfurt for a layover, and then back to the U.S.A. Our daughter Olivia (which is what I’ll call her here) really wasn’t ours until…When?

I addressed this in my previous article on adoption.com called “When I Began My Adoption Journey, I Had Never Heard of Post-Adoption Depression; From Sunset Till Dawn: One Woman’s Passage Through Post-Adoption Depression (Part 1)” from November 9th, 2015 and also from Part 3, October 20, 2015: 

That very first evening in that dark and dreary hotel suite, David and I huddled together in a small side room of our suite with its own door (we dubbed this the panic room). Olivia finally dozed off, so we closed the door, had a beer each (I don’t recommend it as a new-parent coping mechanism, but my nerves were shot, and I was desperate for something to calm me down) and breathed a short-lived sigh of relief. The room had a small window that we opened for some fresh, though frigidly cold, air, and as I stared out into the desolate, rainy, and grim Bulgarian night, I wondered what I had done. My life was over (or so I thought at that very moment.) I didn’t feel less like a parent than at that moment….

 

It was the most bizarre and exciting feeling to meet my child for the first time. The day after I was introduced to her, we went to pick her up. We were told very little, including information about her potty training, which we rudely interrupted by snatching her away from the only home she’d ever known. There were so many questions we should’ve asked, but we felt rushed and overwhelmed by the whole process.

And we knew if we actually hopped on a plane then all support would be gone. And at last, we were dropped off at the airport with this little screaming toddler. We were on our own with a very distraught, freaked-out little child predisposed to random screeching fits. This isn’t exactly what I learned about in adoptive parenting classes.

In Sofia, we were in charge of her, but there was still no way she was really ours. We were somehow just babysitting for a friend. Nothing registered except our anxiety and our eagerness to arrive home. But when was I a real mother? 

On the plane, it was so bad that I clearly remember buying earplugs for all who would be sitting around or near us on the long flight (I kid you not). I also apologized to everyone around us in advance. A kind flight attendant offered to keep Olivia entertained, and I was elated! She still wasn’t ours because a nice lady interned and took her all over the plane with her. Not our responsibility, at least for a moment.

Most people think this is a thrilling process with unicorns and rainbows, and that’s what I wanted for us, but adoptions are as unique as they are sometimes mysterious. There’s an array of adoption experiences, all was happiness and love-at-first-sight or it was a terrifying experience. I originally brought this forward to let adoptive parents know that regardless of their experiences, they are not alone. While this may sound harsh, I firmly believe in telling our stories in non-judgmental ways. I want parents to be able to sincerely relate their own stories without feeling a failure or a disappointment. So I tell the real side of the story that most newly adoptive parents may just not want to talk about, but don’t worry. It has a happy ending.

I also cite in my adoption.com article:

Once home, my then-husband called the adoption agency for help, support, and advice. Their response?  “Based on what you’re telling us and your reaction to Olivia, we’re thinking we may need to come and get the child.”  Well, that put a terror in me I can’t describe!  I didn’t want to disappoint my family or my church, or lose all the time, money, and effort we’d put into this, but by far most importantly, although I hadn’t bonded with Olivia, I didn’t want to lose her.  Neither of us did.  She had her cute moments, her endearing moments. But I couldn’t honestly look at her and say, “I love you.” No, it would take a full year before I would reach that point and mean it.

But I think there were two moments when I personally saw myself as a (terrified!) mom. The first one was at the airport when we got in our car, and we strapped her into her new car seat….which, needless to say, she did not like at all. As we pulled away from the airport, this very vivid feeling that came over me that she was our responsibility. Not to disillusion adoptive parents, but it took me up to almost a full year before it finally and thoroughly kicked in that I was truly a mom. This is, of course, not true for everyone. The next moment I realized I was a mother was once we were home, and, after my dad visited, and he left, David and I felt it was time to settle in fully to parenthood. After almost a year-and-a-half of going through an often-tedious adoption process, here we were alone in our house – the three of us. 

As I also wrote on adoption.com, “I felt very bad for this freaked out a girl who wouldn’t be comforted, no matter what “motherly” things I attempted to do. I did know one thing, however: This was no “love at first sight” fantasy. I felt upset, angry, lost, hopeless, and overwhelmed.”

Being alone with her was another awakening that I was really a parent. There’s nothing like feeding, bathing, caring for, and playing with a child. Who else was going to do that? Us, her parents, of course. That’s when my parenting skills, thrown into the deep end, actually began to help ease me into the notion of parenthood.

So for me, becoming a parent and realizing – internalizing – the concept came in stages, not in a moment. And I have learned that that’s okay. We all come to adoption from different places and experiences and we all get unique children, so each adoption is obviously extremely personal and has its own challenges whether new parents are ready for the ride or not. And it really is individualized…but it’s also very worth it! We’re all doing our best when it comes to flexibility and parenting.

It’s also perfectly alright to not see those rainbows and unicorns upon laying your eyes on your child for the first time. There’s plenty of help, adoption chat rooms, resources, experts, support groups, classes, and more that are available now that weren’t around back in the very early 2000s. Take advantage of everything available to you! Read books, go to clubs and groups, participate in virtual events. I wish I’d known about a wider circle of support that I even remember using. But the truth is, the real variety of non-judgmental information and opportunities are out there now more than ever.

I cannot emphasize enough: Regardless of your adoption experience, even if you still don’t feel like one, there’s hope to finally feel like a parent….to be a parent. In my case, I went through the motions and did my best in a kind of “fake it till you make it” way. Thankfully, that worked. And don’t forget that adoption.com can be your one-stop-shop for all things adoption with such a wide variety of information and outside resources. 

You’re supported whether or not you “feel” like a parent. The old saying about loving someone means action; it has nothing to do with feelings. The feelings will come, so be persistent and patient, and I can guarantee you that, with a few “special” exceptions, the feelings really will follow your acts and gifts of love from your heart.

 

 

Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.