Adoption is a journey. Like any expedition into unknown territory, preparation can make the difference between a smooth trip and one fraught with disappointments and difficulties. Whether your adoption journey begins with infertility, a life-long dream of building a family through adoption, or the desire to add one or more siblings to your bio-built mix, the passage from the dawning of the idea to completion of the process offers various routes. Some may take you down paths that are less than comfortable and force you to look at aspects of yourself do haven’t wanted to acknowledge. While the process may not be pretty, avoiding these parts of the trip may mean your experience will lack depth and detail that will come in handy in years to come.

Truth and honesty are good traveling companions, and being introduced to both at the beginning of the journey will go far to explain the bumps and ruts ahead.

Here’s a truth you need to meet right at the start: Adoption is as much about loss as it is about gain. Understanding that sadness overlaps the joy as the first step on your adoption journey will start you out on the right foot.

The path can be long and arduous. You will be asked to open your eyes, your hearts, your home, your histories, and your wallets along the way. Before you’re even halfway to your destination, you will have examined yourself and your relationships thoroughly, and looked into the future beyond your own time on earth.

It can be difficult, the wait can be torture, and some days may find you are too tired to think. You will worry– perhaps even obsess– over things you don’t yet even have words for, and you’ll lose sleep.

At the end of it all, you’ll be parents. There are no words that come close to conveying the joy that grabs you, wrestles you to the ground and hangs on to you by the heart the first time you hold your child. Comprehending the invasion of corpuscles that takes place … inhabiting every fraction of every inch of your body and turning you from you into mother or father instantly … comes only when it happens.

Before heading off down the trail, however, a few words about words …

Adoption language is tricky, as you’ll learn in that chapter, but you at least need to start off knowing who you are.

At the beginning of the beginning, you are hopeful adoptive parents, or prospective adoptive parents, or in the shorthand of Internet groups, PAPs.

Your journey will connect you with potential birth parentsexpectant parents, or parents making an adoption plan, sometimes referred to as PBPs.

Eventually, there will be a baby, but we’ll get to that bit later.

This core group, essential to every adoption, is commonly known as a “triad.”