When I first began working in the field of adoption, most of my personal experience had been from the viewpoint of adoptive parents. Growing up I had family members and friends who had adopted children both internationally and domestically including foster care. So, I had seen what the process was like from that side of the experience. It wasn’t until I fully dove into the world of adoption entering the field as a professional at age 24, when my perspective began to change. It wasn’t that I discovered what I thought I had known wasn’t true, but I saw a much broader experience which included expecting and birth parents as well as adoptees.
I stepped back to see the bigger picture. I have had the joy of witnessing thousands of families brought together through adoption over the years. I saw children growing up and families come back to expand their family a second and third time. What impacted me the most was also seeing another side of the experience as thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancies entrusted the agency to help walk them through all their options. These women were confronting one of the most difficult decisions in their lives and they needed support no matter what they chose in the end. I was hungry for even more knowledge to continuing broadening my view. I sought out adoptees willing to share their stories, mostly through online forums, and I listened. It can be challenging to listen, I mean really hear what is being said especially what it’s not all rainbows and sunshine but it’s so important.
Now as an adoptive mother, my perspective continues to change and develop having first hand experience with open adoption. Seeing my daughter’s mother’s experience and growing together through open adoption has deepened my perception. I don’t just see adoption from the viewpoint of adoptive parents anymore as I did when I was younger. When I’m moving through life with my young daughter, I push myself to see from her point of view. What is it like for her growing up as a transracial adoptee? Are there things I find celebratory like Mother’s Day and her birthday that might have a complex duality for her as she grows up? When we text, videochat or visit with her birth mother it’s evident how complex adoption can be. My daughter’s birth mother has become a part of our family and we love her deeply. If someone sat us down and asked us both to “walk us through your adoption experience,” we would have starkly different answers. If you charted our journeys on the same timeline, my moments of greatest joy would most likely correspond to her deepest times of sorrow.
To realize it’s not just about me is humbling. Much of the time, I’m the least who matters because the impact for my daughter and her other mother is so much deeper because of the loss they have experienced through adoption. I’m not saying that adoption isn’t a beautiful thing. It has amazing and joyous aspects for everyone involved. But what I do want to press upon prospective adoptive parents is that isn’t all that adoption is. The journey for every member of the triad is shockingly different.
Simply put, adoption is bittersweet. I don’t mean that to say one side of the equation is always feeling happy while the other side is always feeling down. It’s not a seesaw. The exact moment I’m feeling so joyous to hold my daughter in my arms and introduce her to her new family I can feel devastation for her other mother who is most certainly in pain. When we video chat, Momma J may experience happiness and excitement when our daughter shows off her newest superhero move and at the same time heartbroken that the circumstances weren’t different when she made the decision to place. My daughter is still too young to voice too many adoption related thoughts but when she is a little older her birthday might be a time of celebration and sadness. Opposite feelings can be meshed together at any one time adding complexities to our lives.
As I continue to grow as a professional and as a mother through adoption, I am committed to a simple life motto: Know Better, Do Better.
So if you are just beginning the process as a prospective adoptive parent, I would encourage you to challenge what you already know by seeking out voices of birth parents and adoptees and take it all in. Every story is unique but there are often common themes connecting each experience. It won’t be easy, but it will enrich your journey and better prepare you to raise a child who comes into your home through open adoption.
The more stories you hear from adoptees and birth parents the more opportunity your viewpoint has to stretch and grow. I found myself thinking differently, with a higher level of empathy for others touched by the same process but in very different ways. Personally, the biggest impact first hit me while I navigated the waiting process. Instead of focusing solely on the loss for prospective adoptive parents, which would have been my primary focus before entering the world of adoption, when hearing the terms “disruption” or “disappointment ” I found myself thinking about the happiness the child’s mother was feeling in her decision to parent.
You might notice your thoughts during your process shifting too. After rushing to the hospital for an emergency placement, you might find yourself struggling when asked to wait in other room for an extended period of time while the biological family is bonding with the baby. Understandably, you just can’t wait to hold the child in your arms. It may help to remember that in that moment, the child’s mother and family are squeezing in precious time before preparing to say goodbye.
As you are hopeful in counting down the revocation period until you can celebrate becoming a forever family, remember that “forever” decision is weighing heavily on the woman who is making sure she is certain that adoption is the right choice.
I’m not asking readers to completely shift their beliefs about adoption. I would just encourage prospective adoptive parents to actively seek out adoptee and birth parent voices whether it be online or in-person to gain a better understanding of all the sides of the adoption experience. Keep in mind, someday soon you hope to be a parent of an adoptee and in a life-long relationship with parents who have chosen adoption through openness and so learning about those experiences now from those who lived it will only help you when that time comes.