This post is by Tiffany one of my friends I met on an adoption forum years ago. She’s fierce about what’s right, what’s wrong, she’s also an adoptive mom. A while ago, I asked her to write a post that might help others understand the complexity and challenges of adoption. She said she’d tell her story and see if that helped. This is a long-read so grab a beverage before digging in. This is a must read. Thank you my friend.
Growing up, I decided that when I was big, I was going to adopt a child. I knew so many families with adopted children, and something about it seemed to connect with me. I now see the naiveté in my thinking. I was naïve. But I’m also committed to be truthful about my journey as an adoptive mom, and the truth is that is what drew me to adoption as an adult.
I look back now and see my very good intentions but realize how very much I didn’t understand. Granted, this was all in the days before the internet where you could find so many people sharing their thoughts. I did know many adopted kids, and they never talked to me about being upset about being adopted. Now, I realize that perhaps that is because they didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t view me as a safe confident for whatever reason, or maybe hadn’t even fully processed their own feelings.
My husband and I started seriously pursuing adoption shortly after our daughter, who is our biological child, turned two. We felt she was at a great age for a sibling, and since I had always wanted to adopt, we decided to try. After much research and attending several information sessions, I picked an adoption agency that I felt was ethical.
A short time later, we attended the day long, state mandated training session put on by the agency I had selected. We came out doubting our decision and questioning if this was right for us. We were disturbed by the attitudes of the other potential adoptive parents (PAPs) and the comments they made about expecting mothers.
One PAP talked about how they had been offered a match with a mother who was in a drug rehab facility, and she spoke so derogatorily of the mother. They refused that match because they did not want a child born to a drug addict (she did not use such nice phrasing). Another PAP talked about how they were matched already, and her conversations revealed that she clearly had an inappropriately close relationship with the expectant mother. I was deeply disturbed, and this was even before I connected with birth mom groups and realized the level of coercion present in the industry. There were two first mothers who spoke, and it was hard for me to see that they were currently at good places in their lives but had given up their babies because they lacked support. They both stated in the Q&A session that had they to do it over, they would not. We were the only couple in the room who did not have infertility issues, and that was incredibly uncomfortable. I have never felt more like adoption was about purchasing a made-to-order baby grown by an incubator than I did that day.
On the drive home, we decided to put a pause on the adoption path, and I was going to start exploring if foster adoption was a possible option for us. However, before I could do that, a close friend met an expectant mother who was looking to place her child for adoption but had not contacted an agency. My friend mentioned us and asked if she wanted an introduction.
I have to get hazy in the telling here because I am fiercely protective of both my daughter’s and her parents’ stories because I believe they are not mine to tell. I will say that my daughter’s parents were in a position where they did not feel they could keep their baby. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think back to the night we met them and wonder if I could have done something and kept my daughter’s family together. I can honestly say that I don’t know what I could have done differently, but I still revisit it again and again and wonder. My nature is to fix things, to help people, to make it all better. It’s hard for me to let it go when I can’t.
Two days after meeting her parents, we went home with our daughter. I have never experienced anything more emotionally traumatizing than my daughter’s separation from her parents. As I write about it now, I am choking up and tears are falling. If anyone tries to tell you that a baby doesn’t experience loss when adoption occurs, please tell them that’s bullshit, with my compliments. If anyone tries to tell you that birth mothers don’t care about their babies, the same goes.
My daughter cried and fussed all that first night, and there were other times, especially after the first few visits with her parents, when I could absolutely tell she was grieving and upset. I hadn’t yet read The Primal Wound, and no one had ever mentioned anything like that to me. But I had been a very attached mother type with my first child: co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, positive punishment methods (ie, no spanking or time outs)… all that good, old crunchy stuff. I felt the mother-child bond was incredibly important. So, I was the same with my younger child, and I could tell it was very hard for her to lose the familiar voice, sound, and smell of her mother and have only the arms of a stranger. That immediate bond my biological daughter and I had was missing because my younger daughter was not born to me. I loved her instantly, and I felt the intenseness on my side, but I was still a stranger to her. I barely put her down those first weeks because I wanted to constantly comfort her. It broke my heart to listen to her mournful cries, and it pains me even now to realize this little person I loved more than my life suffered in that way. She was scared and worried and felt abandoned, and I hurt so much for her.
Adoption can really suck sometimes.
My daughter has asked me often “If they loved me, why did they give me up?” You know the people who say “She gave you up because she loved you so much and wanted you to have a good life?” That’s crap. People don’t willingly give up someone they love. I won’t teach my daughter that love means abandonment. My daughter’s parents loved her immensely and didn’t want to say goodbye. I actually heard my daughter’s mom’s heart breaking when she handed her baby to me. The pain in the room that night was visceral; it hung around us like a heavy fog.
My response to my daughter when she asks that question has always been something along the lines of this, depending on her age: “Your mom and dad loved you so very much. It hurt them so much to let you go. They love you still. They gave you to us because life isn’t always fair, and bad things happen to good people. People can find themselves in situations where they have no control and no good options, and that’s where your mom and dad found themselves. It’s ok to be sad or angry about this, and it doesn’t mean you and I don’t love each other or that you don’t love sissy or daddy. You can love us and miss your other parents, too. Or you can feel like you don’t love me. That’s ok, too. I love you so much, and whatever you feel is ok, and it will never change how I feel about you.”
Fairytales tell us that love is enough- that it conquers all. But in real life, it isn’t. Mamas in war torn countries want to protect their children from bullets and bombs, but they can’t. That isn’t their fault. Mamas in poor, third world countries want to feed their kids, but they can’t. That isn’t their fault. I have privilege born of a better set of circumstances, and it doesn’t make me a worthier or better mama than anyone else. My love is not stronger or more powerful than these other mamas. I am not better than my daughter’s other mama. I’m just lucky.
The question of adoption keeps coming up though. It isn’t a one-time answer and done. I just heard last night, out of the blue, my daughter’s voice say sadly that she wished she lived with her other parents. I hugged her for a minute, told her I heard her and understood, then she ran back to playing and the issue was dropped. For now.
This past weekend, the framed picture of her parents that usually sits on her desk made an appearance at the tea party she set up for fun. My older daughter and I watched and waited for our pretend tea to be served while she performed a little ritual with the picture and some Dia de los Muertos figurines. I wondered if she was simply making the connection between her heritage, the figurines, which she had just gotten, and the picture of her parents, or if there was a deeper emotion attached. But I didn’t press, and she didn’t say anything more. She served me my pretend tea and offered a plastic cupcake, and the picture sat between Piglet and my daughter for the rest of the party.
Emotions can run so deep that sometimes, and they come out in ways where words are not enough.
We parents want to fix things for our kids. We want the pretty two minute speech they show in those sitcoms when a child is faced with a difficult situation, and the music plays, and the parents says all the right things, and the kid is all like “You’re so right. I’m all better now.” And everything works out so perfectly.
Real life is much messier than that. There are no easy answers when my daughter tears up and sobs that she misses her mom and dad. All I can do is offer her my arms and say that I understand she feels sad, and that’s ok, and I’m sorry that life isn’t fair. There are no easy answers as to why visits with her parents don’t happen more often, or why she can’t go live with them, or why she has to be adopted when she wishes she wasn’t and wishes that she had grown in my tummy like big sissy, or when she angrily tells me I’m not her real mom because she doesn’t like that I’m asking her to pick up her dirty clothes.
I have wracked my brain trying to think of the pat little speech that will end with her smiling and saying she feels all better now. It doesn’t exist.
All I can do is tell her every time that her feelings are ok, and I love her.
Selfless love is a requirement to be a good mom. I make so many mistakes, and I don’t claim I have even a fraction of the answers. I just told my husband last night that I feel like I do it wrong with both my girls 50% of the time! I was so at a loss of what to do over something going on with my older daughter and how to guide her through it. All I can do each time is hold onto that selfless love that puts their feelings into perspective and holds their hearts above mine. There is no room for self-pity or jealousy or insecurity when you are a mom- whether biological or adoptive. You are raising a tiny human being, and the enormity of that job is too big to leave space for feelings that will derail even your best of intentions. I try to handle my daughter’s adoption with humbleness and openness, realizing that she never asked for this burden, and it is certainly a heavy one.
The night I brought my daughter home, all my former naiveté around adoption, whatever was left, went away. It was sobering to hold this tiny, precious baby in my arms and feel her sadness and confusion and know that her mother was also missing her desperately at that exact moment. I remember crying. When I had come home with my older daughter, there was so much joy. And certainly, I had joy for this new little life, but I also had sorrow for her loss and her parents’ loss.
I think that so far, that has been the most important part of my journey as an adoptive mom: to realize there is depth of loss from the moment of separation that would remain an asterisk for the entirety of my daughter’s life story. It will never go away or be forgotten, and we will have to help her deal with the emotions that come from being separated from your family of birth.
Some APs may think that means I am wallowing in adoption and not accepting my daughter as my own, or that I am making too much of the biological connection and not enough of the actual parenting that I do. I have been told that more than once. But I think that is a reflection of how challenging it can be for us to sit with another’s pain and be patient enough not to want to push it away or move on to something else.
None of us can define another person’s life experience or how she will view events in her life through the lens of her own emotions. I am careful not to put emotions onto my daughter and that includes even my sadness around her adoption. I think that can be just as damaging as ignoring any potential negative feelings. Instead, I try to remain neutral and allow her feelings to develop, and then I am there to support her. She can go for weeks without mentioning anything about adoption, and then we will have days in a row where she is upset and sad, or moments when she just wants to factually talk about it and seems to have no real emotion tied to the line of questioning.
This world will never be perfect. I am so incredibly grateful that we were there when my daughter’s parents were looking for a family. She fills a place in my heart that I didn’t know was empty, and only she could fill it. But my joy comes at her loss, and her parents’ loss, and I am always aware of that price and the fact that someone I love more than my life is paying part of that cost. I am no longer a naïve child who thinks adoption is just so beautiful, but in recognizing that, I can at least set myself on the path to being the mother my daughter needs me to be, and the mother her parents trusted I would be to her.