Adoption is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve been through a lot in my life. When I tell people that, they just smile. When I searched for information on what to prepare for as we tried to adopt I never could find much information from the adoptive parents perspective on how difficult it is. I’m not at all down playing how hard it is for birth parents – I feel for them, and have seen some of the struggles our children’s birth parents have had after placement, and the sorrow, but you can find so many resources to tell you about how hard it will be for them, as well as resources to help them. I didn’t find that for us, for adoptive parents. So, once again, adoption is the hardest thing I have ever done. It’s so worth it, but it isn’t just rainbows and butterflies once you’re chosen and become parents.
Once you decide to adopt you have to have a home study done. This is where you have to show how you are fit to be a parent. Your finances and budget are gone over, employment and income verification are done, background checks are sent off, then you have to fill out this super long questionnaire. You’re asked about your discipline styles, your sex life, your tempers, how you were disciplined as a child, any abuse you’ve been the victim of. You describe your personalities, hobbies, goals, your spouse’s personality, the relationship you have with your parents, etc. Then, you have to take some adoption training classes, as well as get three reference letters each, endorsing you to be parents. The whole process, although necessary, is rather invasive and kind of humiliating, having to prove that you’ll be a good parent, when if you had biological children none of this ever comes into play. Once that is all done you give a case worker a tour of your home, going room to room and making sure it’s up to par.
Then comes the waiting. Will you be chosen? Are you good enough for someone to pick you? How do you really let them know who you are? Are you going to be scammed? How badly is this going to hurt? What if you’re picked and they change their mind? How long is this going to take? Are you doing the right thing? Will you be able to afford this? The questions and insecurities are endless, and they just get worse as time goes on. We were always matched quickly, so for those that wait longer, years even, I can’t even imagine how much worse they are.
After all of that you have to market yourself, which is a whole beast in and of itself – opening up your family, your life, to people you don’t know in the hopes someone will pick you. You feel so naked, and uncomfortable. Trying to “show yourselves off” was so foreign to us. Having to post on a schedule on social media to try and get people to see us, doing live videos, all things that were just…not really us were things that we had to do consistently now. Having family photos done monthly, all lifestyle, to try and show who we were. The whole process was expensive, terrifying, and humbling.
Once you’re picked you think it’s all going to be downhill from there. Oh, how wrong that was. At least for us. The stress only got worse. What if I said something wrong and they changed their mind? How do I come across as excited, but not too pushy? How do I give them their space when I’m going crazy and I need contact and to know things are still heading toward adoption? I drove myself crazy with all of the what if’s, and worrying. To others I held it together pretty well, but to K, and to myself, I was a wreck. Pretty much all of the contact with birth mothers (birth fathers were not involved in any of our adoptions) was done through me, so all of the pressure to build the relationship, and to not mess it up, was on me. There were nights I’d just curl up in a ball and cry, scared that I may have messed up the match and “lost” this child we didn’t have, that wasn’t yet ours, but that we’d already fallen in love with.
The waiting is torture. I did pretty well until we were finished preparing – building the cribs, finishing the nurseries, getting clothes, etc. I, however, am the ultimate preparer, so that was all done, every time, in less than a month. Then, I was left just waiting, and thinking about the adoptions. The birth mother cannot sign until a minimum of 24 hours after the baby is born (this varies state by state), so she can change her mind anytime up until relinquishment, so you’re waiting for this baby to be born, but it’s almost scarier when they are, because you are full of doubt and fear that she won’t sign. With A, we were there for the birth, K cut the chord, all of that. I knew that her birth mother had every right to change her mind and decide to parent, and if she did I’d respect that, but that didn’t make the fear any less. We were both terrified that we’d been there, saw this perfect little girl be born, snuggled on her, and that we may end up having to walk away forever. We had those same fears for our son D, and our daughter T.
Building a relationship with the birth parents/family is tricky. You want to show your best self, but you also want to be real and not put on a show. More than anything, you hope you click. We agreed early on that no matter how badly we wanted to be parents, we wouldn’t pursue an adoption where we didn’t feel we clicked and could be good friends with the birth parents, because of how important open adoption is to us. We tried to make sure we had all of the hard conversations ourselves rather than going through case workers. If we couldn’t have those conversations, how would open adoption work? We knew there’d be highs and lows and tough conversations, so it was important to set the precedent to have those ourselves, as well as to help us with having open communication, and setting healthy boundaries for everyone. Luckily, clicking with all of our children’s birth parents came naturally, and they are people we genuinely enjoy, love, and have become best friends of ours.
To us, it was important to under promise, and over deliver. We want an open adoption for each of our children so badly, and are fighting like hell to make sure we can make that happen, regardless of circumstances. Open adoptions are hard work, and we’ve only just begun, with our oldest being less than 2 years old! But, they are worth it. I love that our children will know that they are adopted, always. That is so, so important to us, that they won’t ever have one day where they learned about it, but that it’s just always been a part of them. I also want them to know how much they are loved on all sides, birth parent and adoptive parent, and that takes work to learn how to respect boundaries, never make the other feel less than, and to keep the best interests of the children as priority. I want to have a friendship with their birth parents, and have our visits be fun, casual, and just natural – none of that just happens or falls in your lap, all of that takes work. Of course it’s intimidating, I’m sharing my children with their birth mothers. What if they like them better? What if I’m not good enough? I’ve found myself comparing myself to them, and being a bit insecure, but then I remember that they picked K and me, that they chose us to be the parents, and that they see things in me that I don’t even see myself, just as I see things in them they don’t see. And, they try to lift me up and are some of our biggest cheerleaders, and we try to do the same.
For me, what I call adoption depression hits about a month before the baby is due. I get overwhelmed with the fear that this child that I’ve fallen in love with, that isn’t even mine, might not be, as well as guilt for all of the pain the birth family will be going through, and I shut down. I do what I need to do each day, but I kind of fall off the face of the earth with my relationships with friends and any family but K and my children. I have a hard time focusing at work, falling asleep, and forget to eat. I get so stressed some of my hair starts to fall out. I get afraid to be excited, and put up walls, trying to not go in the nursery that was so carefully prepared, and doing everything I can to not think about the baby. Those that know about the adoption tend to remind us that it may not happen, with comments of “if you get him/her”, “if it goes through,” etc, and that just stings all the worse. No one knows better than we do the pain and heartache that is possibly waiting for us, and the real possibility that an expectant parent may chose to parent rather than place their child. What’s helped me is having a few close friends that I tell, and these close friends are ones that stay positive and excited for us, regardless of how often I remind myself that the adoption may not go through, which I do often out of self preservation. I tell myself it will help me not hurt as bad if things don’t go as planned, but that’s total crap. I hope it will help, but know it won’t, however I feel better that I’m “doing” something to protect myself.
Relinquishment happens, and you can breathe a sigh of relief – there’s no changing their minds, the child is yours. You’ll finalize in 6 months, but this child is going home with you, and there’s no turning back. Your emotions are all over the place and you feel a bit crazy. You’re so, so happy, and grateful, but you’re also full of guilt. You’re insanely happy, but it’s at the cost of someone else’s heart break at placing their child. I know I cried on the way home after all of the relinquishments for our children, and they were tears of empathy, love, and just sorrow for their birth families – I also cried on and off for the next few days, overwhelmed with grief for what their birth mothers were going through. Open adoption doesn’t magically heal their pain, or ours. Adoption is painful and heart breaking, but also full of so, so, so much love. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with any of those emotions, when feeling all of them, I think, is so important. You need to have an idea of what the birth families are going through, and you need to try to respect and love them in whatever way they are ready for. You need to really understand so you can tell your baby how loved it is, and that’s why it was placed. I couldn’t do a very good job of that without opening myself up to all of these feelings, and although I find it important, it’s daunting.
After relinquishment and bringing your baby home it’s all about finding a balance between your life with your new child, making sure your needs and your family’s are met, as well as those of the birth family. Just as with biological children bonding can take a bit and not be instantaneous, the same can, and does happen sometimes, with adoption. As does postpartum depression. People don’t think you need help because you didn’t give birth to your child, so they come for baby snuggles only, when what you really need is someone to help you with the housework and meals, and give you time to bond with your new baby, because it didn’t grow in your stomach – you both just met. You continue to feel a mixture of love, gratitude, and guilt, and as the birth families heal, so do you. As hard as it is, and as crazy as you’ll feel at times, it’s worth it.
I was speaking to my friend Terra Cooper a while back, and fellow adoptive mom, about wanting to do something for me, to celebrate being a mom, and not have to worry about anyone else. I wanted to be a bit selfish and just not have to think about adoption for once, and she summed it all up better than I ever could, “I get it. I wouldn’t say it’s being selfish. It’s wanting those things that every other new mom gets and doesn’t have to share with another mom. It’s wanting to feel “normal”. It’s wanting to have an event that’s not shared-even in your head-with another. I get it. But it’s adoption. It’s not normal and everything is shared. I’m not saying that to invalidate your feelings-I hope it’s the opposite. In a perfect world there would be no adoption. We don’t live in that world -in fact we are in a different world than the “normal” moms and they won’t ever get it. It sucks, but it’s our reality. Our children will forever be shared-but if someone didn’t share them with us-we wouldn’t have any of those moments. It’s ok to be angry and sad and want normalcy. Feel those feelings. This is your “normal” and it sucks and is beautiful at the same time.” With adoption you give up so much, and at least for me, more than I ever realized or even some things I never realized I would care about, but you’re giving it up for something so much better. It’s different, it takes time to adjust, to grieve, to heal, but in the end it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
Adoption is hard on all fronts, birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptee. I feel like all sides need to be talked about, so everyone feels they aren’t alone. I wish so badly that I’d known of more resources for adoptive parents, all I could find were those for birth parents when I was in need. If you’re an adoptive parent, and you feel alone in this process, you are not alone. There is pain, joy, love, and fear on every side of this triad, you just have to find your own little corner of people to help you get through it, and then you need to pay it forward.