What does adopt mean?

A simple Google search will bring up this definition meaning to “legally take another’s child and bring it up as one’s own.” While that is true, it is also so much more.

What does adopt mean to me? My husband and I wanted a large family. We had two biological children through two very medically troubled pregnancies. While I had an easy time conceiving and felt great through my pregnancies, underlying issues plagued me and almost took my life and the life of my second child. Adoption, to me, meant a new way to build a family. I had no idea at the time that adoption was not for the faint of heart. We would go on to adopt two of our foster daughters through the foster care system, and another child through a little-known form of adoption called direct placement adoption. Through our journey, we found that people had all sorts of reactions to our decision to keep building on our family (after all, we had the “dream” family of one girl and one boy already—why go for more?). Like many people who have gone through the adoptive process, we found ourselves choosing the timing of sharing our decision to adopt—or adopt again—very carefully. Regardless, to me, adoption meant adding to our home to create the family we knew was now out there waiting for us to connect.

But what does adopt mean to our society? I find that while society, on the whole, is proadoption and supportive of parents seeking to adopt, there are some hiccups. Society may be supportive of adoptions, but unfortunately there are still a lot of misconceptions and myths about adoption. People with invisible (to the untrained eye) disabilities, such as FASD and attachment disorders are largely misunderstood. Children who act up as toddlers are accepted, but when that same 8-year-old acts up similarly to a toddler, who still has FASD or an attachment disorder (OR BOTH!), is often looked at as naughty, bad, or needing discipline. To confirm this fact, take a child with said conditions out to a store. If he is having problems regulating himself or will lash out or have a meltdown, the comments you may receive are very hurtful. The general public still needs more education about adoption and children of adoption.

In this TEDx Talk, an adopted youth talks about her belief that society has not changed as much as it should have. Society recognizes the need for adoption, but I think it still remains this mysterious, just-out-of-reach phenomenon. While one in ten people are touched by adoption somehow (know an adopted person, work with an adopted person, etc), the only people likely to understand the process and hardships would be those parents waiting to adopt. Adoption is somewhat of a mystery. Most people are eager to hear stories of adoption, but I think there is still a huge disconnect between our views on adoption being a good thing and really understanding the trauma some of these children have gone through, the culture shock (think international adoption), or the financial commitment some waiting parents have made. To truly live it is to understand. Even so, in our society, you may still find some people opposed to adoption. I myself have talked with people who feel it is not right to separate a child from his or her natural family. A person with this view may not fully understand the reasons why adoptions happen, and that is fine, but this right here is evidence for still needing public education on adoption issues. While I think we have made huge progress away from adoption being seen as a shameful thing, it can still be talked about in this way. I believe it is our duty, as adoptive parents, to use language and terms that are positive and supportive (placed for adoption rather than “given away,” and birth parent rather than “real parent”).

To adopt means that a child is given a permanent home and family—forever! This is a beautiful thing. Adoption always comes with a loss though, such as the loss of the ability to be parented by birth parents, and this is no small thing. Please visit this page on Adoption.com to read more about issues adoptees deal with all their lives. While many obstacles can be overcome, patience and understanding are paramount.

As the antithesis of the above, sometimes adoption means a new adoptive home due to an adoption disruption. Sometimes, sadly, due to any number of factors, an adoption does not work out. Behaviors may be more severe than first thought; adoptive parents may struggle to deal with the changes to their lives, etc. While every effort should be made to keep adoptions intact—as this is devastating to a child to be adopted and then disrupted—sometimes it simply does not work. One thing I have learned is to have grace and empathy with all parties. While my heart cries out for the children of disrupted adoptions, and I feel like it should never happen, I have talked with parents who chose to disrupt an adoption, and I see that it breaks them, too. No one is ever the same after a disrupted adoption. Adoptive parents who see no other way out may struggle with the emotional fallout forever after that. Children displaced by a disrupted adoption may struggle with intensified, challenging behavior and may build up walls of resistance to subsequent caregivers as a way of protecting themselves in case it happens again. Sometimes, adoptions disrupt because of a safety issue. A child spiraling out of control can be a danger to other children or even adults in the home. For some statistics on how often disruption (or dissolution) happens, see Adoption Disruption and Dissolution Statistics. For anyone needing support regarding a disruption, please go to this forum page on Adoption.com’s website. While things look incredibly bleak when disruptions are discussed, there can be hope and success. Please read this story for more encouragement.

Going on with what does adopt mean, it means that if you choose to adopt, you will go on a journey like no other. It means hard times and great times; it means extra appointments and creative solutions. It means opening your home to a person and changing his or her world. Adoption means beauty; adoption means hope. Adoption means new beginnings, carving new paths, and branching out in ways not previously envisioned. There are some truly inspiring storiesabout adoption all around.

Adoption also might mean traveling to a foreign country to meet with a child who has been living in an orphanage. This is the least known form of adoption to me. As a child, I was very interested in doing missionary work and specifically working at orphanages. Some dear friends of ours are currently waiting to adopt from Haiti. If you plan to adopt internationally, this may mean several trips to a foreign country, sometimes having to leave the child behind on these mandatory visits as a part of the process. If you adopt internationally, you may be concerned about coercion, corruption, and you may even experience an adoption delay due to political unrest in the country you are adopting from. When you do bring your child home, you will have to find ways to continue to connect her to her culture and heritage. Special meals, special hair salons, community celebrations related to the ethnicity of your child. If you adopt internationally, this means you may never find the birth parents of your child as well. For some people that is okay, but for others, this is extremely hard. Currently, there is an adoption crisis in the U.S. (international adoptions have plummeted by 81%).

Another answer for the question, what does adopt mean, comes in the form of paperwork—and lots of it! It means waiting. It means appointments. Home visits. Home studies. It means excitement, maybe disappointment, it means waiting some more. Adoption means decorating a room, getting ready, planning a party, sending out announcements. Adoption might mean worry. Am I enough? When will it happen? Will it happen? How soon? What will our child look like? What will it feel like when we meet face to face? Adoption means changing the family tree and making a new one. Adoption means doing something hard and something that you can’t even yet see, but you know it will be something so good, so you’re driven to make it happen. Adoption is a deeply personal story and is truly unique to each adoptee and adoptive family. Adoption is often connections that we never before imagined. I view adoption as an elaborate tapestry, each one of us sewing a thread to make a picture unique to our family. Without each one in the family, the picture would not be the same. We are all valuable as human beings. We each bring unique gifts and talents that only we possess. A part of the beauty and magic of adoption is seeing how your story unfolds. With adoption, we don’t always have all the answers: who does this child look like? What genetic traits from his birth family does he possess? What things about her—hobbies, interests, tastes—have been passed down to her and from who? While there is a slight sadness in all of this, I like to think of it as the great awakening to the person growing and thriving in your home. You get to meet him where he is and watch him flourish.

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.

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Do you want more choices with your adoption plan? Do you want to regain more control in your life? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. We can help you put together an adoption plan that best meets your needs.