November is National Adoption Awareness month. Because two of our three kids are adopted, we love adoption.
I can’t begin to tell you how much adoption has blessed our lives. It has given us two of our children, of course, but we have been blessed in other ways as well. Not only were we were given children, but their birth families are also a part of our lives. Our birth moms are so important to us, as are their families. The adoption process has also taught me priceless lessons. I have learned about sacrifice, true love, and compassion on a deeper level. I like to think of myself as an advocate for adoption, in all its forms. We love adoption.
But I will be the first to say that adoption is not easy. In fact, there are many challenges and heartaches along the road to adoption. There were times during the process that I wondered how it would all end, if it would end, and how I could survive the ups and downs of the process. There was so much joy and anticipation, as well as worry, anxiety, and sleepless nights (and that was before the baby came!) But of course it’s worth it. When my babies were placed in my arms, I cried with joy. It was so amazingly sweet and lovely. It was so, so worth it.
Today I have a free printable for you with words that mean a lot to me. I love the story of Hannah in the Old Testament, and the printable contains her words. I think so many of us who have struggled with infertility can relate. You can find this printable at the bottom of this post.
But I also wanted to share with you 5 lessons that I learned through our two adoptions. I share these experiences and feelings with you in order to offer support and encouragement for all those who are thinking about adopting or currently going through the adoption process. It’s also for all those who are supporting someone (a friend, daughter, etc.) who is adopting. Sometimes we don’t know how to help because we don’t know what they are going through. I hope this article is helpful in your efforts to support them in their adoption efforts.
5 Unexpected Blessings I Learned Through Adoption
(Please understand that this is my opinion, based on my experience with adoption and the experiences of several friends who have also adopted. Every person’s experience will be different.)
- Adoption is much more challenging than I thought it would be. Learn to embrace the journey.
Anyone who has started the paperwork for adoption will tell you it’s a beast. There is a mountain of paperwork. Then there are the interviews and home inspections. None of it is cheap and all of it takes time. So much time. When you are anxiously waiting to adopt, the six to twelve months that it takes to get approved seems like forever. And that’s just the beginning of the journey.
Then it’s the joyful and anxious anticipation of waiting for your baby. You check your emails every day, hoping and praying that a birth mom is reaching out to you. You keep your phone on you all the time…just in case.
And then someone does reach out to you, and it’s like you won the lottery! You jump up and down and scream and call your significant other. You hope and pray. Only to find out it’s a scam. Or you find out right as you are about to buy plane tickets to get your baby that the birth mom who called you and said she wanted to give you her baby decided to let her mom raise the baby instead. That hurts. And that happens. It happened to us.
And it’s okay to cry and be disappointed and even grieve. But don’t you dare call it quits! Please, don’t quit. You may feel like quitting, but eat some chocolate, take a nap, and then get back up. Keep hoping, keep praying, and keep answering those emails and phone calls because one day, it will happen. It happened for us twice, and it will happen for you. Learn to accept that this is part of the reality of adoption. Learn to embrace the journey. I promise, one day when you are holding your new baby, those disappointments will seem so small. It’s hard, but you are not alone. Keep the faith.
2. Open adoptions can be a huge blessing.
Open adoptions are when the adoptive parents and the birth parents know some degree of personal information about each other (like names, ages, etc.) and agree to have some form of contact after the adoption is complete.
Open adoptions can seem so scary. I was really anxious about having an open adoption before we adopted. It seemed that people came out of the woodwork to tell me about someone they know who had a “crazy” birth mom who stalked them, or wouldn’t leave them alone. I was worried. But our adoption counselor urged us to consider an open adoption because in today’s social world, closed adoptions are rare. So rare that we would probably have to wait years before a baby would be placed with us.
So we went for it. Both of our adoptions are very open. Our birth moms are welcome in our home and at our daughter’s special events, such as baptisms and birthdays. And I gotta say, it’s been a huge blessing for us.
While it’s true that some birth moms are more needy than others, especially that first year, most birth moms want you to be comfortable raising their child. While they want to know that their baby is being taken care of and that they made the right decision, they don’t want to be a burden on you. They want to be able to move on, and open adoption can be very healing for the birth mom. It has been so good for me to see our birth moms heal and move forward in their lives.
But mostly, it’s been good for our kids. When my daughter asked me why she has blue eyes when everyone else in our family has brown eyes, I told her it’s because her birth mom has pretty blue eyes, and then I showed her a picture of her birth mom. When my youngest daughter asked me why her hair was black, we were able to have the same conversation.
In our house, we talk about adoption openly and often. We don’t want there to be any shame or mystery connected to adoption. It’s been a beautiful thing for us and our family. It can be beautiful for you too.
But it is true that some birth parents and adoptive parents struggle with boundaries. Don’t be afraid to have an open discussion with potential birth parents about what contact you are willing to have. You all want what’s best for the baby, and that love will guide you as you made the best decisions for contact. In this case, honesty really is the best policy.
3. Not all your emotions will be positive. That’s normal.
I was not prepared for the guilt that I felt after our oldest was placed in my arms. When our oldest daughter’s birth mom placed her baby in my arms and drove away with tears streaming down her face, I sobbed. How could my joy come at such a high price for another woman that I loved and respected? It didn’t feel right.
The guilt I felt about taking our baby away from their birth mom didn’t seem to go away. I cried for days, literally. When I talked to our birth mom about four days after placement, and I expressed my sadness and anxiety for her, she was quick to offer me comfort. She said that it was hard, but she knew it was right. She will always love her daughter, but she wanted me to love her daughter and be her mother. I realized that I couldn’t enjoy my new daughter like I wanted or her birth mother wanted me to if I was weighed down with guilt.
When we adopted again, I was surprised at how fast the guilt came back. Our second adoption came about very quickly, and this new addition to our family cried all the time. All. The. Time. She cried and screamed more than I thought was physically possible. This was a stressful time for our little family. My husband was gone a lot for work, I had a 4-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a new baby that cried constantly and slept very little. I wanted to be there for our new baby and comfort her, but when I failed to calm her down, I wondered if it was because she wanted her birth mom instead of me. I felt guilt for not being good enough for her. Then her birth mom texted and said how much she missed her. Guilt, discouragement, and insecurity seemed to be my constant companions. I’m not gonna lie, it was so hard!
I knew that I had to overcome these strong negative emotions that were hindering my ability to be a good mother. I had long talks with my parents, my husband, and some close friends, all who were great strengths to me and knew how to comfort and advise me. And I came to realize that what I was feeling was normal (see HERE, HERE, and HERE, for other stories), but I had to let the guilt go. These birth moms wanted me to raise their children and I needed to be grateful for these amazing children and enjoy them. I prayed for strength to let go of the guilt and anxiety, and move forward.
As hopeful adoptive parents, we wait, and wait, and wait, for our opportunity to be placed with a child, and when we finally have a baby placed in our arms, it may be a shock if not every emotion is positive. But realize that you are who this baby needs, and this is what their birth mother wants. You are blessing to both the baby and the birth parents. If you are still struggling, it’s okay to see professional help too. I love counselors and therapists. They can do wonders!
4. People around you may not know your needs. It’s okay to tell them how they can help.
We were so excited to tell our family and friends that we were going to adopt, and I was surprised when not everyone was as happy for us as I thought they would be. We heard comments like, “You haven’t been trying for that long, just try a little longer to get pregnant.” Or, “Have you tried Clomid or (insert any doctor or fertility treatment here)?”
When we did get our baby, people were genuinely happy for us. But insensitive comments still came. Questions like, “Aren’t you worried about the genetics? Genetic predispositions are strong…” or “What are you going to say when she wants to know about her real mom?” Now, it’s easy to be snarky when these questions come at you, I know. Really, I know. But I have also learned that saying things like, “Well, I am her real mother now,” only make for uncomfortable conversations. Instead, I try to kindly educate people when they ask about my daughter’s “real” mother by saying, “Oh, you mean her birth mother? She’s doing great, thanks for asking.”
The other lesson I learned was that it is okay to let people help me. And at times, I need to ask for help. For some people, it’s not obvious that you need help after adopting because you didn’t go through labor and delivery, right? You should be fine. Never mind that you are worried about all the lawyer and adoption bills rolling in, that you are anxious about your birth mother and her health, or that you have no idea what is normal for your baby. And even though you are so happy to have your baby, you are so tired.
So if your neighbor asks if she can bring you dinner, say yes. If someone wants to bring you a gift, let them. Most people genuinely want to help you and show their love and support, so please let them. Then take a nap with your new baby or cuddle with her on the couch while watching your favorite tv re-runs. It’s okay to let people help you or to ask for help when you need something.
5. The bonding will come. Adoption really is about love.
After overcoming the fear of an open adoption, my other great fear was that I wouldn’t bond with my new baby. I foolishly watched a show about children adopted from Russia who never bonded with their adoptive parents, and even tried to kill them. Yeah, it was crazy. And it fueled my doubts. What if I didn’t bond with my new baby, and what does that even mean?
Naturally I turned to the internet. I learned that it’s possible to breast feed an adopted baby. That seemed to be my answer! I could bond with my new baby by breastfeeding! Let me just tell you now, it didn’t work out. I did try it, and I won’t go into details or suggest that others not try it (some people swear by it), but I will say it caused a very awkward conversation with my pediatrician and my husband and I ultimately decided it was not necessary for us or our family.
My point is that I get it. I understand your worry that you and your new precious baby might not bond. And let me tell you now that you can let that worry go. Those stories you hear on the news or read about online are so rare that they are sensational. Yeah, they do happen. But I can almost guarantee they won’t happen to you.
The first time I held my oldest daughter, I felt that protective love, that “bond,” if you will. I dreamed about her and I couldn’t wait to hold her again. When my youngest daughter came, I didn’t feel that immediate bond. I felt like I loved her, but not in that intense mama-bear way. Days passed while I was dealing with her crying and my exhaustion. Then one day, after we had had her for about a month, I was holding her while she was drinking her bottle, and I was overcome with this intense love for her. I knew I would do anything to protect her and help her! I felt like that was our “bonding” moment.
My point is that you will love your child and they will love you. It comes and when it does, it is so beautiful. If that love isn’t instantaneous, the first second you lay eyes on your baby, that’s okay. It will come.
Sometimes people ask me how I can love my adopted children as much as I love our biological child. I tell them that all my children are different but I love them all the same. Sometimes they look like they don’t believe me, but I don’t care. I know. I really know. I know how much I love each of my children. When I look at them, I don’t see “adopted,” or “not adopted.” I see three people who I love more than life itself. I see three amazing, beautiful little girls who make the world a better place. And I love them all intensely. You will love your adopted child that much too. It’s so beautiful.
Adoption is one of the most beautiful and miraculous things I have ever been a part of. I hope this post has helped give you some hope and encouragement if you are thinking about adopting or if you are in the middle of the adoption process. If you have just adopted, I am giving you virtual hugs, and I am so happy for you! If you know someone who is in any stage of the adoption process, please give them a hug. Adoption is awesome, but it is an emotional roller coaster. You will look back and be so grateful to be a part of the miracle of adoption!
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