Why Adoption Isn't Second Best

Holding my daughter in the hospital a few hours after her birth. Notice the "visitor" pass sticker, which is how I initially felt.  Now, you can just call me "mom."

Holding my daughter in the hospital a few hours after her birth. Notice the "visitor" pass sticker, which is how I initially felt.  Now, you can just call me "mom."

For those of you on the fence regarding adoption - or - for those that have a bias (believing that somehow it's not as good as raising your bio child) towards rearing a child not of your own making - this one's for you.

At the start of our family making journey, adoption simply wasn't a consideration. We were going to have our "own" child, when I was good and ready. Said child would have the looks and attributes that combined the best of my hubby and I, and our genes would move into the future assuring a certain feeling of immortality.

Adoption was for other people, and they were certainly more selfless and philanthropic that I was, so I believed.  

I'd like to be completely honest here regarding my biased perceptions towards individuals and couples that pursued adoption, as I imagine sharing these (less than attractive or informed) will aid you in sifting through your own thoughts and feelings. So, here we go -

1) Simply put, I thought that creating a family through adoption was less desirable than through the all powerful blood-and-genes connection. It seemed 2nd best to me. A compromise; leftovers for the desperate. Certainly one couldn't attain the closeness, the bond,  the attachment felt by the experience of creating and sustaining a life through one's own body.

2) Parenting by way of adoption seemed sub-par; the experience being more like babysitters versus feeling the empowered sense of being parents. I've heard numerous clients  in my office echo similar concerns - "I don't want to raise someone else's child."  And who hasn't heard the question, "Where are the real parents?" This further exacerbates the (misinformed and hurtful) notion that adoptive parents are the opposite of real - they're the fake parents, the stand-ins.

3) Having two sets of parents (bio and adoptive) would be too confusing for the child. Better just to say goodbye early on and then let them navigate biological connections, if they desire, later in life. The thought of an open adoption where we kept in touch with the  birthparents, simply terrified and intimidated me.

4) Adoption is too risky. I'd envision getting the baby home, attaching, and then poof - the biological family would swoop in, claim genetic rights, and we'd lose - the child and then our minds.

5) Adopting a child won't fill the void, won't replace the hole that represents what my hubby and I couldn't produce. The legacy of loss will override any real joy that's created through adoption.  

6) I can't take a failed adoption. I can't take any more loss.

7) The failure to perpetuate my own genes into the future means that my life ends with me.   

Now that I've got substantial professional and personal experience with infertility, donor-assisted reproduction, pregnancy loss, and adoption, I'd like to challenge the above assumptions.

Assumption #1 & 2: Adoption is a less-than experience than creating your own children.

Simply put, it's bullshit. Misinformed crap. I once read the anonymous quote, "Adoption isn't for sissies," and that's damn right. Parenting is joyous, challenging work, and adoptive parenting is a bit more work. A labor of love. You'll be surrounded, at times, by intrusive, uninformed opinions regarding the way you created a family. You'll develop a thicker skin, and learn how to best handle these experiences over time. You'll likely have additional challenges that biological parents won't, but you'll also be privy to the associated growth opportunities that these experiences invite.

You will eventually feel empowered as the parent - the real parent - not the babysitter, not the stand-in.  Biological parents experience entitlement from the onset - the fact of having a right to something. Empowerment is superior, however, because it's the authority or power GIVEN and EARNED to parent. When my daughter was nine months old, I remember thinking that I have now parented as long as my daughter's birthmother had carried her in utero. This seemed significant to me at the time.  I needed affirmation that I was doing the work, the hard stuff of parenting, to feel empowered.  Today, I'm parenting a 3-year-old, and I'm the mom. I just celebrated Mother's Day yesterday, dropped my daughter off at school this morning, and will take her to soccer practice later today. That's the stuff of parenting. If you'd like to cover the math on this one, I've been parenting for 29,160 hours since my daughter's birth. Her birthmother has 6,480 of gestational  parenting (in utero). When you consider who the "real" parent is now, the question appears absurd. I am forever grateful to the birthparents for the masterpiece they created, the lovely young lady that I get to call my daughter. I've put in the work, and I've earned the title of "mom." And did I mention I'm crazy in love with her? 

Assumption #3: Adoption is confusing for the child.

Generally speaking, do you tend to be confused when you don't have information - or - when you do? For most people, information provides clarity. When you are open and loving regarding the way your child came to your family, everyone benefits. Secrets and withholding information breed shame over time.  While the information surrounding an adoption may be private to your family and close friends, it's not secretive.

As my daughter grows up in an open adoption, she will become familiar with her birthparents. We lay a foundation for her, similar to planting a seed and watering it, so that someday, if she wants to further develop these relationships, she won't be starting from scratch. Is it sometimes uncomfortable to navigate the relationship between parents and birthparents? Yes, absolutely.  But it's necessary. Our daughter's well-being as an ever evolving person is simply more important than our current comfort levels.    

Assumption #4:  Adoption is too risky.

Isn't taking risks the spice of life, though? Seriously, I have no interest in people who try to avoid risks. There are laws in place for adoption, and the best thing you can do is get informed about the laws in your state. Everyone has a horror adoption story to share, but really, they're rare. Don't let your fear determine your actions. Feel it, and move forward anyway.

Assumption #5: Adoption won't fill the void.

This assumption goes hand in hand with Assumptions 1 & 2, espousing that the family created through adoption is just not as good as the one that's biologically based. Remember how I called bullshit on that earlier. Let's go deeper with this one...

For a large majority of people, adoption is the end of a long, often painful journey towards parenthood, punctuated by a variety of losses along the way. I call this the "legacy of loss."

To get right to the point, suffering is a part of life. To imply that loss or previous suffering compromises the (adoptive) parenting experience, never really healing the wounds of what could have been biologically, is to speak the language of rigidity and inflexibility. It's my way or the highway, as the saying goes. For some people, no amount of light can fill their darkness. If you choose to adopt this philosophy, or if it's been passed down to you, it will do more than just affect your parenting journey, it will affect the most significant aspects of your life.  

It is the very losses that I experienced along my journey to become a mother that make the experience of parenthood extremely meaningful and fulfilling. It is the opposite of void. Are the losses magically erased? No, and I wouldn't want them to be.  I want all of life, not just the pretty, presentable parts. The opposite of void, the antonyms are - - filled, full, valid, abounding, brimming, world, cosmos, meaningful, allow, permit.

You must allow the possibility for the unknown. You must invite it to transform you. You will be filled, even if you also feel the legacy of loss.

Assumption #6: I can't take any more loss, any more disappointments.

To paraphrase the famous psychologist Albert Ellis, 'You can stand anything but death.' It's harsh, and yet it challenges you to call upon the reserves of your resiliency. If you've experienced a legacy of loss already, you probably can't imagine what will happen to you if you pursue an adoption that doesn't go through. My hubby and I painfully joked, before taking our daughter home from the hospital, that we'd go on a homicidal rampage if things fell through. I felt so vulnerable, beaten down, and powerless. I understand your pain, but you can and will survive this, and be better for it. Maybe you can't see it yet, but I can. Just hold on. As Ellis said, "The art of love is largely the art of persistence,"

Assumption #7: Biological children pass on my genes, giving me a sense of future contribution, of significance, of a stake in immortality.

Your life as you know it ends with you, no matter your beliefs. We're all going to die. It's not a hypothetical. And there's no guarantee a biological child will perpetuate your genes beyond herself. Let's try something - can you identify the names of your great, great grandparents on both sides? That's only three generations from you, and yet most people cannot recall their names.

What is passed on, however a family is created, are the important ideas, life philosophies, cultural teachings, and values.  That, my friends, is where the real power lies.

Adoption isn't second best. But don't trust me, try it for yourself. It's certainly not the path of least resistance, but it bears significant fruit.  Flip the script on what you thought would happen, making space for what could be.  


Take Me to Angry Town

Anger is an expected part of the grief process. You feel vulnerable, helpless, and you draw your shield in an attempt to protect yourself. People often feel uncomfortable with the world “anger” or “grief” since the loss experienced can be relatively invisible to self and others, and therefore, treated as less legitimate.

Forgive Thyself

Back in West Texas for the fourth year in a row, I am reminded of the roads I’ve traveled throughout my infertility journey. The desert appears to be the perfect metaphor for infertility – barren and unforgiving terrain, and so it’s with little surprise that I’ve found myself drawn to this land time and again.

Never Give Up

“Never Give Up,”  the spray painted words told me as I jogged around Lady Bird Johnson Lake and looked up at the old railroad bridge.  At first consideration, that advice holds power, assuring you that one day you’ll get the prize, if you just work and work at it. I’m reminded of the movie Rudy, where a young man is determined to play football for The University of Notre Dame despite his mediocre grades, lack of finances, and small size. Rudy eventually pulls up his grades, and as expected, plays a game at Notre Dame. It’s inspiring stuff. There are a lot of life experiences that follow this narrative – persevere and you’ll be rewarded.

All Consuming

If you’re like me, infertility took over my life. It was all I thought out, dreamt about, planned for, spoke about, made exceptions for, ate for, stopped drinking for – you name it. Life became hinged on hypotheticals – What if we get pregnant after I accept this new position?