Seven years ago, I became a mother for the first time. My daughter, adopted five days after her birth, was placed in my arms and my entire world changed. Her chocolate-brown eyes gazed at me in wonder, and I blinked back at her. Suddenly we went from strangers to mother and daughter.
Looking back, I thought I was prepared. My husband and I entered into adoption intentionally. We were proactive, too. We read all the books and even the blogs. We met with other families formed by adoption. Shortly after my daughter was placed with us, I started a local adoption support group where we could discuss challenges. We were as prepared as we could be.
But experience, of course, is the best teacher. Here’s what no one told me before we adopted — and what I wish so badly they had.
1. I’d feel guilty for being my baby’s mom.
I was so honored to be chosen by my daughter’s birth mother, but there were seasons when I felt tremendously guilty for being able to parent when her first mother could not. While I experienced my daughter’s firsts (first tooth, first step, first word, first trip to the zoo, first birthday), my heart ached for her first mother who missed out on those experiences.
2. School assignments would prove to be tricky.
Starting in preschool, children are assigned things like creating a family tree or a life timeline. Parents-by-adoption and their children have to decide what to include. We often have to ask for the assignment to be altered to fit our children’s stories. Not all children have a baby picture of themselves, for example.
3. I’d have to become assertive.
I’m not a confrontational person. One of my life mottos is “it’s okay to be happy with a calm life.” But sometimes as a family whose adoptions are transracial and therefore obvious, it’s impossible to avoid confrontation. Strangers randomly approach our family at the most inopportune times and in any place—a restaurant, an airport bathroom, the checkout line at the grocery store—and begin interrogating us about adoption. Even though people are generally curious and not malicious, as a busy mom of three and as a “mama bear,” I’ve had to learn to become assertive and not answer strangers’ questions just because I want to be perceived as nice.
4. We’d be spotlighted.
We attract attention. Two white parents and three black children walk into a room, and we are subject to double-takes, stares, and small smiles. Whether the attention is positive or negative, it’s still there. And because our adoptions are obvious, we’ve become adoption educators, whether we wanted the role or not.
5. Assumptions would be made, time and time again.
There are the assumptions about birth parents (young, promiscuous, drug users, poor), about adoptees (disturbed, lucky to be adopted, born addicted to drugs), and about parents who adopt (heroes or saviors, wealthy, unable to have biological children). Stereotypes surrounding each person in the adoption triad hurt adoption as a whole, and our family has to gently correct those who use inappropriate adoption language or make assumptions.
6. I’d feel sad about the things I missed out on.
I never experienced a gender-reveal party, making a birth plan, seeing my baby’s face on a 4D ultrasound, or making some decisions regarding circumcision or the name placed on my child’s original birth certificate. Some women grieve because they don’t get to give birth, surprise their spouse with a positive pregnancy test, or have a traditional baby shower. Though moms by adoption are very thankful to become mothers, it’s normal to feel sad about missing out on some of the things traditionally experienced by mothers.
7. People figured celebrities inspired me to choose adoption.
No, I don’t know Angelina Jolie. Yes, I know that Sandra Bullock adopted her children. Yes, Hugh Jackman is a father by adoption. There is a long list of celebrities who chose to adopt, but no, their decisions had no bearing on my choice to adopt. I have an autoimmune disease, I didn’t want to pass it on to a biological child, and so we chose to adopt. But congrats to Sandra on the adoption of her new baby girl. And if she invites me to have coffee with her, I would definitely say yes!
8. I’d be asked why I didn’t have my “own” kids or if I’m going to have my “own” now that I’ve adopted.
My children are my own, but they are also the “own” and “real” kids of their biological parents. Adoption wasn’t second-best for us. It was our first choice in building our family. And though the experience of conceiving and birthing a child is very different from adopting a child, one isn’t better or more special than the other.
Nine years ago when we began our adoption journey, I didn’t know how bittersweet, challenging, and beautiful adopting could be. I was prepared, but there are only so many books one can read and conversations one can have, and the rest of the journey has to be navigated through personal experience.