It’s easy to define “adopt” if all you do is look up what it means in the dictionary. In fact, the Dictionary.com definition of “adopt” is quite simple: “to take and rear (the child of other parents) as one’s own child, specifically by a formal legal act.” Or if you prefer to define adopt by the Merriam-Webster definition, it would simply state: “to take by choice into a relationship especially: to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one’s own child.” They both seem pretty black and white and simple to follow. But adoption is more than that; it is all-encompassing, life-changing, hopeful, and a lifelong process.

I remember when we were in court officially adopting our son, and the judge asked us what adoption meant to us and if we understood that it was something that was forever. As my husband fought back the tears, he explained what it meant for us to finally become a family of three through the gift of adoption. He explained that we would never look at our son like he was anything less than ours. He explained that we would love him like he was our own until our dying day. He explained that this was not something we decided on a whim. This was something we wanted and was by choice. He explained that we understood that we were making this choice for our son’s entire life. And that adopting our son was accepting him as our flesh and blood. No questions asked. No looking back. From that moment forward, he was ours, and we were his!

How we would define adopt now would probably be pretty similar to our first reaction in court that day. But now we are living through it every day. Now we are learning what it truly means to raise a child born to another woman. Now we are figuring out how to parent, not just an adopted child, but any child, whether he is adopted or not. Now we are embracing the realities of parenting! Now we understand the easy, the hard, the scary, and the messy truths of adopting. Now we take it day by day and step-by-step in how we parent, in how we react, and in how we discipline. Now we are probably a little less judgmental, knowing everyone has a story. And not everyone’s story is going to look the same, especially your birth story.

Would the way we define “adopt” change over the course of time? I would wage it probably would not change. In fact, we probably have a better understanding of what it means now than we did back then.

It would still mean loving a child born to another woman. But even more so, it means loving that other woman. It means having an open adoption with her and her family. It means sacrificing our comfort zone to allow his entire birth and adoptive family to love on him. It means opening our hearts, our minds, and our home to allow his open adoption to be a success. It means loving him above all else. It means showing him that he comes first. It means truly caring about his birth family, not just saying we care. It means reaching out to them. It means never letting go.

It would still mean love, everlasting, unconditional love. A love you never knew existed. A love you didn’t know could exist. A love you only dreamed and hoped for. An experience you didn’t know if you would ever be able to experience. A love so strong built on a desire to become a family. A love that grew in your heart. A love that grows with each passing stage in your child’s life. A love so divine. A love that runs thicker than blood.

It would still mean understanding just how much children are a gift from God. To appreciate them in a way that would be honoring and praising to the Father that gave them to you. It means trying to understand God’s plan, and failing every time because what He has planned is greater and bigger than anything we could have dreamed. And thanking Him for creating the child that was meant exactly for us, even when you thought you lost hope in ever having that child.

It would still mean appreciating everything everyone has done to get you to this point in your child’s life. It means appreciating those that were there for you when you were starting to lose hope of ever becoming a mom. It is appreciating his birth parents, no matter what you do or do not know about them. It means appreciating the family and friends that held our hands through the journey coming home. It means appreciating the journey, no matter how long it took. Even if it took six years. It means appreciating your child and everything that he is, even where he came from. It means simply appreciating being a parent and the honor that it is to be a parent—never taking it for granted.

It would still mean sacrifice. Sacrificed sleep. Sacrificed peace. Sacrificed uninterrupted bathroom breaks! Sacrificed bed space. Sacrificed alone time. It means sacrificing the last cookie because your son wants it too. It means sacrificing every piece of food you ever wanted because the minute you say you want it, your son does too! It means sacrificing all of your birthday bath bombs because your son wants them. But it doesn’t really mean sacrifice at all. Because he is worth it. Because he made you a mom. So you will be glad and rejoice in those moments!

But it still also means someone else sacrificed much greater to allow you to become a mom. It means there is a woman out there that birthed a child and walked away empty-handed. The depths of that feeling will never go away. And the magnitude of appreciate for that woman will never fade. It means there is a woman out there that carried the child that was meant for you. It means there is a woman out there that will always wonder about the child you are caring for. It means there is a whole family out there that is made up your child’s DNA.

It still means being a part of your son’s story, not the whole story. You might be the one that holds his hand now and the one that he comes to when he is sad or sick. But there will come a time when he wants answers you may not have. Or there will come a time when he just wants to be a child, not an adopted child. Or there will come a time when he starts to want to tell his story, and you will embrace those moments and marvel at how lucky you are to be part of his story. A small sliver of his big life.

I often wonder how our son will define “adopt.” There will probably be a sense of loss. In fact, statistically speaking, most adopted children do feel a sense of loss. He may also struggle with identity. Will he feel there is a void in this life? Will there be questions we cannot answer? Of course there will be. But will it also mean an appreciation for the life he has been given? Will it mean an understanding that he simply was meant to be our child? Will he have a sense of gratitude? Will he be thankful for the life he has been given? Will it mean he was given the best life by his birth mother who made the ultimate sacrifice? If there is one thing I want him to understand, it is the magnitude of how brave, selfless, and loving his birth mom was to sacrifice a piece of herself to allow us to be his parents. My hope is that the depth of that statement sits in his soul.

What does it mean to others? I was curious how would other people define adoption. So I asked a few our family and friends how they would define “adopt,” and this is how they responded:

“To make a child a son or daughter; to make parents out of those who had no hope of being called by that title.” Kristin, Adoptee

“We always teach our son that because he’s adopted, it means he has even more people on this earth who love him. He has his birth family, and he has his family, and not all kids have that many people who love and care about him the way all of us do. Love is the word we describe it with most often.” Stacie, Adoptive Mom

“I define adopt as ‘Providing love for a child and putting the needs of the child first.’” Jeffrey, Adoptive Dad

“I would define adopt as this: to bring a child into your family as your own.” Caitlin, Adoptee

I am curious how would you define adopt? Do we define it the same? Did I miss something that resonates with you?

Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.