On a sunny December morning in 2007, my son, Jack, was born. We received a phone call from our social worker that Birthmother’s labor had started ten weeks early. After a frantic drive to the hospital, I swept through the OR doors just in time to welcome Jack into the world. Just a few days later, Birthmother and I found ourselves with a few unexpected quiet moments to talk about what we were about to do. On paper, it was simple. She would gift her parental rights to me, and just like that, Jack would be issued a new birth certificate. In our hearts, though, this was not just a legal transaction; it was much more complicated.
We sat in the hospital room, just the two of us, face-to-face with what we shared with one another: our love for our son. Just a few days ago, he had been safe and warm inside of her, and now, he would go home in my arms. We talked about our hopes and fears. We confessed our feelings of guilt and our shared need to feel forgiven by the other. We were both terrified—perhaps we knew there really was no way to fully prepare for this. In those minutes together, we found courage in the pact we made to love him the best way each of us knew how, which would be enough and not enough all at the same time (because that’s just how parenthood is).
Nine years later, those moments with Birthmother have held me through times of insecurity, doubt, and exhaustion. These days, we are in a lovely rhythm of sustaining our semi-open adoption through letters and pictures (Birthmother lives in another country). Each day, I am reminded of Birthmother when she shows up in Jack’s eyes and facial expressions. And although I am technically a “grizzled old veteran” when it comes to adoption, I am regularly humbled by the privilege and gift of parenting by adoption. The unique make-up of our family attracts curious parents-to-be, and people often ask me for advice about making the decision to adopt.
While every adoption has its own set of characters and storyline, these questions may be helpful if you are considering adoption:
What is motivating me?
Often, potential adoptive parents forget to take time to reflect on why they want to adopt. While there are many good reasons to adopt, there are also motivational pitfalls such as adopting because it seems “cute” or exciting, or because you feel guilty about your own privilege. Ultimately, the decision to adopt should include a desire to provide intensive care to a child. This may seem obvious, but often parents are surprised by the intensity required in order to build healthy attachment relationships in adoption.
Have I invested time and energy into building relationships with those who are further along in the adoption journey?
Parents who have already adopted can be indispensable guides to help you learn about the joys and challenges of adoption, as well as the many ways to build an adoptive family. Building this network before adoption will also potentially provide tremendous support post-adoption. If you don’t know any adoptive parents personally, reach out to local agencies to find out about adoption support groups.
Am I prepared to provide an intensive healing environment for a child with a potentially traumatic beginning?
Adoption inherently begins with separation and trauma, and often children by adoption have experienced other forms of trauma such as neglect, abuse, and/or medical complications. Children with difficult starts can experience significant healing when adoptive parents can confidently provide an environment that is mindful of a history of trauma. Connecting with resources such as a therapist who specializes in adoption or reading books about adoption (check out The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis) can help you answer this question.
How connected am I?
Parenting takes a village, and sometimes adoptive parenting takes a really big village! Reflecting on the level of resources (in terms of knowledge, skills, and community) you bring to adoptive parenting can help you fill in the gaps before adopting. Developing relationships with those who have developed wisdom and expertise in this area is also an important step toward initiating a healthy adoption process.
Would I regret not pursuing adoption five or ten years from now?
It’s a strange question, but the answer often contains an unexpected nugget of insight. Imagining the future with or without adoption will help you clarify you desires and needs and perhaps uncover a layer that you haven’t considered.
As you begin to explore these questions and wonder out loud with people who know and love you well, your path toward (or away) from adoption will become clearer. Taking the time and space to reflect on your early adoption journey will help you move forward with peace and confidence.