Top 10 Things I Wish I Would’ve Known About Adoption

I have four gorgeous children. Yes, I’m completely biased. I am blessed beyond measure with all these kids under one roof, even when I’m pulling my hair out at the noise or the mess. I don’t always remember that two are adopted and two are biological-they’re just all my kids. 

Here are a few things that I thought it might be helpful to share with those who are hoping to adopt, things I wish I would’ve known before adopting. It wouldn’t have changed anything for me, but maybe I wouldn’t have been so surprised about a few things.

1. People have BIG opinions about adoption. No matter where you turn, you’re going to hear the opinions of others. If you’re in the adoption process, you may already get this. Whether you should do an open or closed adoption. Whether you should adopt a baby or an older child. Whether you should adopt outside your race. Whether you should even adopt.

Many of these people expressing opinions about these matters are only on the fringe of adoption. They aren’t adopted nor have they ever adopted a child. My suggestion to you is smile and nod. You probably won’t change the mind of someone willing to express their opinion on a subject they have no personal experience with and since you don’t need their approval to adopt a child-smile and nod.

As for the rest, oftentimes well-meaning friends or family, know that they are probably expressing opinions out of love for you and fear at this unknown. Just stick to your guns on things you and your spouse or partner have already decided on. The opinions that matter are yours and your child’s.

2. You will have to tell perfect strangers everything about your life, marriage, finances, mistakes and education. If you are an intensely private person, this is painful. This type of sharing may create new wounds or open old ones. People get to adoption by many different paths; no two are exactly alike.

This means you may have to discuss things like miscarriage or failed IVF attempts or past marriages or youthful mistakes. None of that is fun, even with a caseworker or social worker who is kind and understanding. She’s still not your bff, who you haven’t even told some of this stuff to. It’s not easy but just keep telling yourself it’s one step closer to bringing your child home.

3. You will have to have parenting philosophies before you are a parent. Some of the questions we were asked at our home study were about our parenting philosophies. What?! We don’t have kids yet! How am I supposed to know my philosophies in a subject I haven’t even experienced? This is a lot like taking a test for a class you haven’t had. Tricky.

This takes some pondering and soul searching. How were you raised? Was it good or bad? Will you do some of the same things your parents did or go against the grain of what you know? These are heavy questions to wrestle with, especially when your answers are being graded.

4. There is a birth parent involved, even if you never meet. With my first son, we did an international adoption. There wasn’t a lot of information available about my son’s birth parents, so though I knew logically that they were involved at some point, I honestly didn’t think too much about them. I was more intent on showing my son the culture he came from rather than putting myself in the shoes of the birth parents.

With my second adoption, I actually got to meet and spend time with the birth mom, the birth grandma, and the birth great-grandma. My son’s birth mom was the person who placed my son in my arms for the first time. Talk about bittersweet.

As I felt my heart burst wide open at the joy of finally meeting my son, I felt his birth mom’s heart breaking wide open at the realization she was saying goodbye. We all cried and hugged and held hands and held the baby long past our allotted time. It was a special moment and a hard moment because it brought home the sacrifice she was making for her son. My son. Our son.

5. The questions don’t end once your child comes home. The personal questions you get asked during the adoption process are just the beginning. You will be asked questions, even in front of your child, that you may not have answers to because you could never have contemplated the question.

I have been asked point blank how much my children cost, if I ran a daycare, why their “real” parents didn’t want them, do they speak another language, why I didn’t have babies of “my own,” and congratulated on helping out someone less fortunate.

I now have answers to these questions. But at the time, I’m afraid my Mama Lionness came out and responded in a manner less than I would’ve liked. You may get asked offensive questions. Perhaps you’ll handle it better than I. Now I am trying to tame my tongue and always use the questions, even the offensive ones, as an opportunity to educate people about adoption. That seems to be the best thing I can do to protect my children and instill pride for their stories at the same time.

6. There comes a point where there’s nothing left for you to do. This is hard especially if you like things Just So. It’s hard to relinquish control over a situation you barely have any control over anyway. Being busy with paperwork and finding money for your adoption and telling people your good news takes up a lot of time. You can stay busy.

It’s when you’re paperwork is done and you’ve taken out a second mortgage to bring your child home and everyone knows and just keeps asking if you’ve heard anything (yes, and I just forgot to tell you!) that it’s especially hard. Which brings me to #7.

7. The waiting place is the hardest place to be. Oh this place! There are a lot of points at which you’re waiting in adoption: waiting for paperwork to be filed, waiting on funds, waiting for home study results, waiting to hear anything from anybody about how much longer this thing is going to take because you just want to BRING YOUR CHILD HOME!

And the waiting place at the end where you question everything-will it work, will this all go through, is this really going to be my child-is hands down the toughest place in the adoption process. You have no idea how far you are from the end and your heart aches for your child and your arms long to hold him or her. 

It. Is. Hard. 

But it will pass the moment you get to hold your child and hug him or her tightly. And like the pains of labor, it is all but forgotten once your child is home.

8. There will be an adjustment period. Ok, your adoption agency probably warns you about this but I want to reiterate it. Especially if you’re a first time parent. Whether you adopt a baby or an older child, prepare yourself to have to adjust. The child will have to adjust. You and your spouse or partner will have to adjust, making room in your relationship for the parent parts of you. It will happen in its time, make sure to give yourselves a break.

And you may have Mama brain. For me this was very similar to pregnancy brain. The act of labor over an adoption and how full your head and heart are at the idea of a child becoming yours takes up so much space you will find yourself distracted or forgetful. This is totally normal and I’m afraid to say it doesn’t ever really go away.

9. Things probably won’t go as you planned. Again if you like things Just So, this is hard. There will be snags in the adoption process. Some of them may be like steel traps that you can’t find a way out of at first. There will also be snares and knots in the coming home and adjustment period.

This is ok.

You will survive the adoption process and you will figure out how to be a brand new family knitting itself together. As a woman of faith looking back over my adoption processes, it’s hard for me to believe in coincidence. I got exactly the right children at exactly the right time. Which leads to…

10. You will be blessed beyond anything measurable by our feeble human ways. These children, the ones that other mothers bore and gave to me are the greatest gifts I can ever receive. They came from all over the world and I’m often humbled at the idea that I was chosen-yes, chosen-to be their Mama. That my adopted and biological children would mesh and blend and play and fight and love each other as best friends thrills me with a sort of holy gratitude.

God had a plan for all my babies and he has entrusted me to help them find their gifts and then their destinies. 

I’m so honored that I’m their Mama.

Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

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