For us, the adoption journey started out as a foster parent journey. We initially did respite and short-term placements. This meant that I met and worked with many biological parents, and the fear of birth family rejection can be crippling. Scary stuff. Believe me, I know it—I’ve been rejected myself by birth mothers when I cared for their children for a time.
I will never forget making a fool of myself outside the local Ministry for Child and Family Development office (MCFD). I had been asked to provide respite for a 5-year-old boy. My biological children at the time were just 18 months and 3 years old. I was used to picking kids up and strapping them into their car seats. In I swooped, eager to show this mother that I was capable and ready to care for her son for the weekend. I scooped up the tall, lanky, school-aged boy, struggled, lifted some more, awkwardly placed him in a too small, forward-facing car seat, and started to sweat as I attempted to fiddle the straps into place. His mother looked on incredulously.
Not too many months later, we had two girls from a sibling group of five come to live with us quite unexpectedly when the local MCFD office could not find another home. I am a homeschool mom, and I had no idea about lunches, school field trips, or the happenings of a bustling elementary school class. I relaxed one evening after packing up lunches in some Tupperware lunch containers I had on hand. They were fluorescent orange and yellow, which I thought might be kind of cool, and I was just happy lunches were actually made. For the first few days of the placement, I didn’t know the girls’ last names or even what school they went to! The first day I took them to school was also a planned visit day with their birth parents. I hurriedly picked the girls up from school and headed downtown. As usual, there was no parking within an eight-block radius of the visitation center. After circling the building like a crazed vulture, I finally spotted a place to parallel park. By now, I’m running late and feeling like an utter failure at making a good impression with the girls’ biological parents. I held up traffic as I tried to ease our Yukon into a spot. Back and forth I go, inch by inch until I’m sure I have indeed parked and not blocked a lane. We rush upstairs for the visit, and the first thing I hear is, “What IS that thing?” Sure enough, the bright lunch box visible in one of the girls’ hands is the object in question. Later, the girls will tell me their mom laughed through the whole visit at the “ridiculous, ugly, outdated” lunch boxes.
Thankfully, time has washed away my embarrassment at these blunders. But were they even blunders? I see a younger me, trying so hard to keep it together, do a good job, and be a great mom to children in need. Through the years, I have met with countless birth moms. I have been grilled on my faith, my age (apparently I—at one point—looked too young to care for children), my income, what types of movies I let my kids watch, and about whether I had enough baby gates in my home.
All of these experiences led me to one crucial moment: we had decided to look for and find the birth mother of our oldest adopted daughter. When we made the five-hour drive to meet this beautiful lady, despite the sleepless nights and what-ifs, it was one of the most beautiful experiences along our adoption journey. Seeing my daughter and her mother look at each other in wonder and then hold hands and walk along the river bank throwing rocks is a memory I will always hold dearly in my heart.
Adopting is not an easy path. There are many decisions to make and many emotions to experience. If you are at a point in your journey where you are struggling with the possibility of birth family rejection, remember and know these things:
1. Birth parents are human beings, just like you. They have faults, talents, hopes, dreams, and desires. They are probably just as worried about making a bad impression, or doing the “wrong” thing, as you are.
2. The circumstances that led to needing to place a child for adoption—or, the permanent removal of a child and subsequent adoption from foster care—were probably not a planned track for the birth parents or even their first choice. As a result, any rejection could be their own coming to terms with the possible disparity of how they feel they may have decided to parent their child, with how you do it. Maybe they would have loved for their son to play hockey, and with your family, he plays soccer. This is more about the birth parent processing their loss (loss of ability to parent, loss of influence and time with their child) than anything else. There is nothing you can or should do as an adoptive parent, other than being as accepting and loving as possible, with appropriate boundaries.
3. You are, as our pastor says, “beautiful you.” If you ARE rejected, know that it is more about someone else’s insecurity or unmet expectation that you probably couldn’t have even known about than it is about YOU as a person. Some people reject others solely because of their own brokenness and trauma. Know this and understand that your own value and worth are not connected to anyone else’s view of you.
We have had birth parents visit our home, spend holidays with us, and even live with us. Rejection happens, but it doesn’t have to shake you. After all, you are doing the hard work that others seldom do. Adoption is not for the faint of heart.