It was the summer of 2000. The weather was hot. The grass was crunchy beneath our feet and dust puffed up as we walked. At 18 years old I had just graduated high school. My boyfriend and I, along with our youth group, had attended a music festival in Northern Pennsylvania.While we were there we decided to take a stroll through the crowded vendor booths. One such booth held an organization dedicated to the pro-life movement. Back then, they were giving out tiny silicone baby dolls that were meant to be the size of a 12-week-old fetus. My boyfriend and I continued out walk into the woods nearby and found a place to sit. The doll turned our conversation to our own future plans for a family. It was the first time I can remember thinking and saying out loud that I would like to adopt. Thankfully, he was of the same mind. As we sat there cradling in our palms this tiny silicone doll, we imagined what our future might be like. Later that week, we would walk in the same woods and he would get down on his knee and ask me to be his wife. We’ve been married for 11 years.
We spent the first three years of our marriage trying hard not to get pregnant and every one after that heartbroken. I was told I was infertile. Once again, we revisited the conversation about adoption. It had been in the back of our minds practically since day one. It never occurred to us as a plan B; we had always intended to have biological children and adopt. It would not be for another several years before we had the opportunity to make our hopes a reality. I pictured somehow adopting small children who, once they were adopted, would be so grateful for a family that they would be well behaved, kind, sweet, and more-or-less perfect in every way. I cannot state well enough how foolish I was. Even if through some miracle I could now have such a child, I can tell you with honesty: I do not think I would want them.
Is adoption good? Well, yes, and no. It’s complicated. Adoption is so much more than good. It is also so much worse than bad. It is self-sacrificing. It is loving unconditionally the child you have and letting go of the child you imagine. It is realizing that while the road you are walking is difficult, full of potholes and detours, It is a road worth walking. I would be a much different person today had we decided at the crossroads of adoption or remaining childless to remain childless. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we would have more money, more free time, fewer gray hairs, and better sleep at night. At the moment, I would be hard-pressed to think of anything else that would be in the pros category on the list of pros and cons.
Yes, adoption is good. Adoption is also hard. It means letting go of what you imagined family would look like. It means reading books about attachment disorders and integrating routines into your life that feel oppressive. However, even though they feel oppressive and controlling they make your child feel secure. It means rocking a 7-year-old who woke up screaming with night terrors and a standoff for an hour over something that should take 30 seconds but you know if you back down it will be worse tomorrow. It means therapy for everyone. We go Oprah style: “You get therapy! You get therapy! Everyone is getting therapy!” It’s sitting through evaluations and IEP meetings. It means late night poison control phone calls and ER visits because someone lacked the impulse control to not eat an entire bottle of children’s gummy vitamins or swallow a bottle of perfume. She jumped out of a tree on Christmas eve to prove you were wrong and she wouldn’t break her leg and now instead of greeting the family who has come to visit, you are sitting in a waiting room with a 5-year-old who is wailing and enraged because she broke her leg.
Is adoption good?
For me, the best and worst thing was deconstructing myself. I had gone into adoption thinking of myself as the rescuer. I saw my children as victims who needed saving. In my mind, the side benefit of having children of my own was less important than me helping them out of a bad situation. I see now how selfish and narrow-minded that position is. At the end of the day, my children saved me. They save me from a lifetime of boredom, of selfishness, and of pride.
Oh, how I have learned to let go of pride. Carrying a 7-year-old out of Walmart surfboard style (during Christmas season rush) who had laid down in the aisle in protest of hearing “No” ripped any pride I had left to shreds. People glared and tsked at us. I used to think I was a very nice person. It turns out, unfortunately, I was only nice because people tended to not oppose me.
When my children came along they showed me I wasn’t very nice. Often, my motivations, instead of being altruistic, were quite selfish. I wanted to look like a nice family. I wanted my needs met. I wanted to be a mother, but I wanted to be the kind of mother you read about in Hallmark cards or see on TV. I thought I would be the kind of mom who made homemade cookies and had everything together.
I was going to be the kind of mom whose children were well-behaved in public and listened whenever they were spoken to. I envisioned my children playing nicely with each other and their friends while I kept the house tidy. It turns out, my children are real and not plastic or silicone. I cannot pose them to make them the way that I want them to be because they are their own people. Even my youngest, who I have had since she was 6 weeks old, has a personality all her own. She is willful, stubborn, sassy, and 100% my daughter whom I love. My other daughters came to me a little bit later at 3 and 4 years old. While they came potty trained, that was about the only training they seemed to have had at that point.
With my older boys, I knew, to an extent, what I was getting into. Foster care adoption prepares you for the unexpected. You learn to anticipate trouble before it arrives. My boys were 8 and 9 when we first met. I was not expecting them to stay forever. However, after a year and a half in foster care, those boys and their little sister (who was honestly a magical dream come true) became ours. Life with them was nothing like I could have imagined. It is far more wonderful and far more tragic than my imagination is capable of.
So no, adoption is not the everything I imagined it could be. It is both better and worse. Yes, adoption is good. It is also tragic. Another mother, through either her own personal decisions or decisions made by a judge and lawyers, sacrificed her own journey of motherhood so I could live mine. That’s a part I never thought about before we adopted. I hadn’t considered the depth of someone else’s loss to make my dreams come true.
I hope that when my kids are older and they look back at pictures from days gone by they see that our faces and hair don’t match the way so many families do. They will see what we had in common, not how we are different. I want them to remember us laughing together and rolling our eyes at family jokes. I never want them to question if we love them or not. When I ask them now if they know I love them, they sigh in exasperation and say “yes, Mom, you tell us all the time!” I hope it is always that way. I know days will come when they feel my love less acutely.
I know others will come along who will be more important to them than their immediate relationship with me. That is healthy, and natural, and good. I just never want them to feel like they were not mine. That is a worry I carry like lead bars in my heart. Will they always know they are the moon and stars to me? Will they ever be truly aware that their voices make my heart do funny things? Their laughter makes my day better. They are my delight. Just their existence makes everything better for me. But I have this fear that one day they will look back and long for someone who wasnt me. I fear that they’ll wish that I wasn’t their mom. Yet, I know too that it will be normal if that does happen and it is my job to be ok with them dreaming about what could have been. What if their birth moms could be a safe person? Then they wouldn’t be mine. The reality, though, is that she wasn’t healthy or safe and they are mine. It is both a miracle and a tragedy. And every day to a certain extent a small part of them wrestles with that very real reality. As they age and wonder if they look like their mom or dad more. Are they taller than birth dad or the same height? Even in biological families these things can vary not being able to tell just by looking is hard.
Is adoption good? The adoption community is full of the very best people I have ever met besides my husband. They are also the most frustrating, complex, complicated people I have had the privilege of knowing. So, yes, and no. Adoption is amazing. It is an excellent alternative to children being without families. It is the best option for our family and for our kids. It is an amazing blessing. It is also an almost-daily struggle. Christmas was full of joy and also full of drama from over-stimulation. Things that are normal for most families are a field of landmines for our family. Certain traditions become off-limits. If something is too crowded or too noisy, it has to be left off the to-do list. Movies need to be vetted carefully to make sure there are no emotional triggers. Does the main character lose their mom? Is adoption viewed in an idealized or overly negative light? Are the kids left unattended for a long time? It’s exhausting. But not checking could mean the difference between a good family time and an emotionally triggering nightmare.
So be aware, is mostly what I’m saying. Some families have no issues ever. Their adopted child never feels the need to examine their past or consider anyone else as their parents besides their adoptive families. Their children are well attached, their families aren’t awkward about the adoption. And, sometimes, it isn’t that way. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I do feel that adoption is very, very good. My life would be so different without it. It would be filled with so much less joy and delight than it is now. My kids are my world. I adore them—trauma and all. Their stories weave into mine and become ours and all of our lives are better for it. Even the ugly parts can find redemption down the road. I’d encourage you to give adoption a chance. If you are on the fence, I hope you take the time to ask questions of people who know. It is not all roses and sunshine,no, but adoption is good.