Every adoption story is different, and every adoptive child joins his or her family at a different age. Some adopt their children at birth or shortly thereafter, some adopt toddlers, elementary school-aged children, or even teens. As mothers, it can be difficult to think that there is a part of our children’s lives that we may not have been there for, or even a part we have no knowledge of. Whether you adopted your child as an infant or a teen, there is—and will always be—a part of her life where you were not there. Making peace with this is important for your own self-image as a mother and is also important if you maintain a relationship with your child’s birth family.
Though we adopted our daughter at birth, there were about 38 weeks of her life prior to her birth where we didn’t even know she existed. We got “the call” about 12 hours after her birth, and in total, she spent about 48 hours with her birth mother who cared for her before we became her parents. I have no ultrasound pictures, no knowledge of what her birth mother’s pregnancy was like, no knowledge of what her labor and delivery was like. I knew, going into domestic infant adoption, that the odds were I wouldn’t have any of that. It can be hard for parents, particularly mothers, who are coming to adoption after infertility to make their peace with missing out on the “traditional” pregnancy, labor and delivery experience. It is very important though that you make peace with and grieve your loss of the ability to have biological children before you adopt. If you do not come to terms with the fact that your “having a baby” story will look different than most people’s, it can be difficult for you to bond with your child, difficult to feel secure in your role as their mother, and can make it difficult for you to interact with friends and family who had their children the “average” way.
While there are definitely, in my mind, some advantages adoptive moms have over moms of biological kids (morning sickness, epidurals, all the various biological indignities of bringing a child into the world), it is also okay to acknowledge that your route to motherhood is different, but realize that different doesn’t mean worse or that you are any less of a mother just because you didn’t have your child kicking you in the bladder for 40 weeks. Often, these differences come up in conversation with your “mom friends” or at play dates once your kiddo has become a part of your family. At dinner once with friends, a good friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that doing jumping-jacks made her bladder, um, less than ironclad since having two children. The other moms joined in sharing their stories of the various ways their children had destroyed their bodies, and after a few minutes of doing so, I realized I wasn’t able to join them in this conversation. At that moment, I had the option to feel sorry for myself that I couldn’t relate to this aspect of their version of motherhood, or I could celebrate that my status as a mom via adoption made things a little different for me. I chose to lead with humor (which is often my go to in slightly uncomfortable situations) and informed them that I wasn’t at all jealous of their incontinence and was frankly quite pleased that all of my “equipment” was still “programmed to factory settings.” We laughed and ordered more wine, and the conversation moved on.
I realized then that what I had missed—pregnancy and childbirth specifically—wasn’t at all important compared to what I hadn’t missed, which is the joy and privilege of being my daughter’s mother forever. That’s the thing to focus on: no matter how much you “missed” of your child’s life, whether it was one day or 17 years, you are his family forever. You get the lion’s share of the good stuff, even if there are years of your child’s life that you weren’t there for. If you are able to realize that, it will help you help your child make sense of his life before you were his parent. He may have no memory of life before you, or he may have had years of living with and being cared for by others. Regardless, she will be curious about her life before you and may have questions you are unable to answer. Odds are, her life didn’t begin the exact moment you became her parent, but it doesn’t mean you should pretend that’s what happened. Even if your children experienced trauma, they will undoubtedly still have curiosity about their birth family or have some good memories from the time they spent together. Acknowledge that this part of their life was no less important than what came after you became their parent. They are who they are because of every life experience they have had, even ones they have no memory of. Assure them that you love them wholly and unconditionally by acknowledging the importance of their life before you became a part of it.
If I could give any single piece of advice to people considering adoption, it would be this: consider how comfortable you are with being different. Are you okay standing out a little? Are you comfortable with your road to parenthood being different than most? Even though adoption is more prevalent now than it was decades ago, and people are more open about building their families through adoption, odds are you might be, like I was, the only lady at a dinner table who didn’t come to motherhood via the usual method. Once you can accept and embrace the fact that your journey to motherhood looks different than most, you can start to see what is most important: not how your children came to you, but your relationship with them as their parent for the rest of your life. The fact that you don’t pee when you do jumping jacks? Just the icing on the cake.
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