I can’t think of one other challenge that I’ve accepted during my lifetime that has taught me more about being human than having taken the adoption journey with my family. Not only is adoption the act of growing your family–aka, becoming a parent (which most would argue is probably the ultimate challenge)–but more than a process, it is a lifetime commitment that continues to reshape and change with every passing year.

Nobody goes into adoption thinking they have all the answers (or God, bless you if that’s the case). Most of us enter the adoption landscape a bit naive, nervous, and uncertain of where things will lead or if they will lead anywhere at all.

Adoption, in some ways, starts out on somewhat of a selfish level on the part of prospective adoptive parents. No, adoptive parents are not selfish; in fact, I’d argue the many I have come to know are anything but. 

Still, it’s an overwhelming concept and from that first search to precheck to home study to hours, months, and, in some cases, years of background checks, fingerprinting, physicals, evaluations, interviews, and paperwork, followed by the holding your breath while you wait and see period–there is a good reason the act of adopting feels difficult.

There is no 100 percent guarantee of a match or that an adoption will be possible despite the efforts of everyone involved. Life has a way of getting in its own way and, in some cases, the best-laid plans aren’t enough.

And yet, year after year, hopeful moms and dads step up to the starting line and begin one slightly nervous, unsure, and excited foot after the other on their journey to becoming a family for a child who needs one.

Here are three things adoption has taught me.

Baby Boot Camp

Because we chose to adopt internationally our path looked a little different. We knew going into it that it would mean spending time out of the country–meeting our child for the first time in an orphanage, going through a foreign court, staying at a residence for adopting families, and navigating a city where we didn’t speak the language (very well), know our way around, or have access to things we might need with a new baby on board.

Despite that, we were excited and, thanks to a lot of support from our adoption support network, we felt as prepared as we could’ve been as a result of spending time with and talking to so many other families who had experienced what we were about to.

It’s one thing to talk about it, though, and another to live it. 

Between our two adoptions, we spent three months in our children’s country of birth. And while it was for sure the adventure of a lifetime, there’s no way to prepare to become a new parent to an infant or toddler far away from home.

Admittedly, I chuckle a bit listening to my friends’ tales of woe stumped on what outfit to dress their baby in for the grueling 10-minute drive from the hospital to their home where family awaits with open arms and helping hands, casseroles, and offers to run errands to help the brand new family.

Waking up in another country, meanwhile, in a room that is not your own, in a home that is not your own, with a new baby and limited supplies or access to the literal mountains of baby gear most families have become accustomed to is–really something.

Still, I look back at that time with fondness and gratitude. It was the longest stretch in my adult life away from the day-to-day (including working a full-time job). Being away from the familiar and all of our usual obligations afforded us the opportunity to instead focus on our new family.

Granted, we experienced things like having to learn how to sterilize bottles extra carefully due to water issues. We stayed in a home that didn’t have paned windows in favor of simple shutters (I mean, it was cool, but could get pretty chilly at night). We also had to navigate a foreign city to find basic supplies at the mercy of cabs, translators, and the goodwill of people who looked at us a little suspiciously. It was different.

We didn’t have the benefit of grandparents or siblings with advice or listening ears or offers to run out to grab this or that. Instead, we found solidarity with other adoptive families who were also going through this strange baby boot camp with us in real time.

People Are Going to Judge

There is no denying that before transracial adoption, I had no idea about the depths of racism or what it really means.

I do now.

In case anyone is wondering; yes, it does still exist. It’s impossible to avoid completely.

What you do do is figure out how to navigate an unfair world–for your child. Because at the end of the day, you are somewhat responsible for the environment where they may or may not be on the receiving end of bad and inappropriate behavior.

The good news is, I’ve found that there are many more amazing people than not-so-amazing people. Now more than ever, folks are recognizing that what some say is, “not seeing color,” doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t appreciate another human for the skin they’re in. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you that your friend’s child is brown, but I guarantee it means something to the child who is brown living in a predominantly white school district.

For the most part, we have avoided the heavy stuff, but I’d be a liar to say that people in my life haven’t spoken out of turn and strangers on the street haven’t said some of the most hateful things to me or in front of me about people who look just like my children.

I have learned that my love for my children is deeper and stronger than my attachments to humans who can’t get out of their own way regarding how to treat others with respect and decency. Because really, that’s what it boils down to.

I Have A Lot to Learn

I’ve been an adoptive mom for 15 years now. I’ve written, well, a lot of articles about adoption. Although I feel that I have good information to share based on my own experience and the experiences of those around me, I also know that I have a lot to learn when it comes to adoption, my kids, and how to become a better adoptive mom for them.

Understanding the adoption process is one thing. Understanding what it means to have a child placed into your arms is another. Knowing that adoption is a lifelong commitment is important. Knowing that, like everything else in life, that commitment is going to change throughout the years demanding different things from all parties involved. Accepting that there is nothing wrong with being an adoptive family is something that not everyone is comfortable with. As if the adoption part somehow makes you less of a real family, in truth, accepting that you’re an adoptive family is a beautiful and humbling realization. I’m proud to be an adoptive mom who knows that I have a lot to learn.