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7 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Adopting

My husband and I had no idea what we were doing when we had the first “why don’t we adopt” conversation five years ago. I don’t suppose anyone really knows what they’re doing when they climb aboard the parenting crazy train, right?

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No matter what your path to parenting, there’s always that look back where you can pinpoint stuff you wish you knew in the beginning. Here are seven things I wish “five years ago me” had known about adoption …

1. Adoption is loss.

Regardless of the situation, the birth parent loses on adoption day. So does the child. No matter how you slice it, adoption isn’t anyone’s ideal. You can say “meant to be” and “better off,” but I’ve come to appreciate the difficult walks of my sons’ birth mothers. I don’t know their pain firsthand, but their loss is part of our family story.

Right now, my kids are too little to grasp the loss that predates their entry into our family, but one day soon, they’ll ask the hard questions. My two adopted sons bring joy (and noise!) to my life, but their stories begin with a loss and I’ve learned to respect that.

2. Clear communication about “coming home rules” is super important.

There are many paths to adoption, and every situation is different. Coming home from the hospital with a newborn is not the same as coming home with a 4-year-old from Ethiopia, and every family has different comfort zones.

Our son was 26 months old when we brought him home from China. He was jet-lagged and not too sure who we were. The last thing he needed was a gaggle of well-meaning friends and relatives waiting to pass him around and squeeze him. Newly adopted kids need time to get used to their new parents and bond without a bunch of confusing extra people in the mix.

On the other hand, it’s okay to need the bells and whistles of new parenthood. If you’d like a meal train or need someone to run errands for you during your settling-in period, speak up. The rest of the world might not see you as a new parent, so don’t hesitate to remind them.

3. The reactions of others won’t always be positive.

I expected the world to “whoo hoo” when we announced our adoptions. That did not happen. Some of our family and friends thought we were too old (we were in our late 40s.) Some criticized us for not adopting from foster care or for not adopting an American child, although I’ve heard from families who adopted domestically that their choices were also criticized. Someone will always find fault.

Comments like “you’re crazy” or “I hope you know what you’re getting into” stung. I’ve developed some thick skin since then, but I wish I’d been better prepared to receive criticism.

4. People who make tacky remarks usually don’t mean any harm.

Questions like “where did you get them” and “what happened to their real parents” might seem terribly intrusive (because they are), but not everyone who inserts their foot into their mouth deserves your wrath. I’m not suggesting anyone should put up with remarks that are hurtful or discriminatory, but try to give the average Joe some grace.

5. I’d be living in a fishbowl.

This is especially true in the case of international or trans-racial adoption. Being that family that “doesn’t match” is something you eventually become immune to … sort of. Doing ordinary things like picking your kid up from gymnastics or going to the grocery store will earn you tidbits of extra attention. Most curiosity is friendly, but you might always be that family who stands out versus fitting in.

6. The lack of medical information and social history is awkward, embarrassing, and frustrating.

We have three children: one biological and two adopted. Filling out medical or school forms for my bio is a snap. I can give specifics on my pregnancy, delivery, and my daughter’s very early days. My medical history is known and documented.

Not so with our two adopted sons, who were abandoned at birth and spent their early years in foster care and an orphanage, respectively. Mom’s blood type? Don’t know. C-section or vaginal birth? No idea. Preemie or full-term? I wish I knew. Right now, forms are an annoyance. The amount of blanks I have to leave is frustrating. At some point, the gaps between what we know and what we don’t might be a source of embarrassment for my kids. I can say we have to accept unknowns (because we do), but it’s hard.

7. I’d have zero regrets.

Although the early days were hard, adoption is the best decision my husband and I ever made. Adoption is beautiful, broken, joyful, agonizing, and always complicated. Our family was built through adoption. It has torn us down, built us up again, and knocked us on our butts.

And we’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Becoming parents through adoption is exciting, scary, happy, and … well, all the feels. Maybe you can compare my pre-adoption naivety with the pregnant mama who doesn’t yet know the pain of childbirth, sore nipples, and sleep deprivation. No matter how you get to parenthood, hindsight is always 20-20.

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