Adoptive mother: Feeling insecure

It’s been a couple of months now since I’ve written and I have to say I’m feeling a bit insecure these days. Of course this conundrum I have is not anything new for me; just ask my husband who will tell you about this cycle I go through where I question my life’s purpose on regular intervals. But admitting this openly, to the public is hard, especially to the birthmother of my child who I’d like to appear as if I am secure in my situation in life. But I’m an honest and open person, and life is not perfect, and this is how I feel at this given moment in time.

So what’s the problem you might ask? I have a beautiful 3-year-old boy who is healthy and happy and loves me to pieces which is exactly what I wanted when I sought out to adopt a child.

The first problem is time. Or to be more specific…alone time to think or accomplish things without a very demanding three-year-old wanting something of me. I distinctly remember a good friend of my husband, talking to me right before we got our son, saying whatever I did as a mother to be sure I didn’t lose myself in my child. He’d seen that happen to too many mothers who’d submersed themselves in motherhood so much so that they’d forgotten who they were and often put their own interests aside if they hadn’t already forgotten what their interests were altogether. I remember this conversation well because I assured him that it wouldn’t happen to me and that I knew what he meant; I’d seen women do that too and I’d always felt sorry for them. However, now, I fear I’ve succumb to it too. It crept up on me slowly without me even realizing it and the lack of alone time I have to think or accomplish things has taken a toll on me. I just recently have planned my first ever days away from our son at the end of this month and I suspect the 4 day trip I’m taking solo back to Pennsylvania to visit family will do me a world of good.

The second problem goes much deeper and involves my own insecurities as an adoptive mother. After we first adopted our son I remember being so worried about Lizzie, our son’s birthmother, and so wanting her to be happy and succeed in life. I’d rejoice at her successes and silently cheer her on. Today I still do those things but underneath it all I realize that I’m still unclear as to the underlying reason why she decided to give up our son and it haunts me sometimes. For many adoptive mothers the answer as to why the birthmother gave up a child is crystal clear. The birthmother might not have been able to provide adequately for a child, or the birthmother might not have been mentally or physically stable. And for that adoptive mom she can be assured that she is “the better Mom” for that child. But from what I can see, Lizzie is doing very well for herself, in fact, as of recently she is kicking ass in pursuing an acting career for herself while at the same time holding down a respectable day job. And she isn’t losing her head in things. She knows what is important in life.

This leaves me, the adoptive Mom who has no career and little time to think about things, feeling a bit on the insecure side. I wonder if our son will compare his two “Moms” one day and look at my lack of career with distain while marveling at Lizzie’s successes?

Of course it could be easily argued that perhaps the reason Lizzie is doing so well today is because she gave her son up. She was smart enough to realize that pursuing her own interests would be a hard thing to accomplish with a child. If that’s the case, kudos to Lizzie for her foresight and I should be jumping for joy as we have both gotten exactly what we wanted: me a beautiful child and family and her many flourishing opportunities in acting and her other interests in life.

It could very well be that these insecure feelings I have from lack of time and in comparing myself to our son’s birthmother are not so terribly unique to adoptive Moms. In fact, I could just be going through what all Moms go through at one point or another because when I really dig deep to see where the crux of my insecurities lie I notice that it really boils down to two very simple questions: “Am I a good mother to my child?” and “How can I do better?”

Adoptive mother: Meeting “Uncle David”

Recently we had the opportunity to meet up with one of our son’s biological relatives other than his birth parents while they were vacationing in California. It was an interesting experience road tripping to meet the maternal birth family and being a part of their family for the day. I noticed some family dynamics at play as our son’s birthmother, Lizzie, her brother, David, their significant others and her step-mother interacted with each other throughout the afternoon – as I would watching any family. It was interesting for me to see how different siblings and family members can be from each other, yet so similar at the same time. I am reminded of me and my own siblings where each of us, even though related, are very much our own persons.

I got to see little bits of our son in Lizzie’s brother, David – particularly his mellow attitude and seemingly good sense of humor. Although it’s impossible to know who he gets that from (Lizzie, John – the birthfather, or elsewhere). Mostly, it was just nice to meet another blood relative of our son and nice to see that he was so good natured.

I’m guessing we might have taken Lizzie’s brother by surprise with how we chose to address him, which was “Uncle David.” We had never really asked what he wanted to be called. It just sort of seemed to be the appropriate way to address him and introduce him to our son. We wanted our 3-year-old to know that David wasn’t just anybody, he was his Uncle. Before we even left on the trip (we took a 5 hour road trip to Southern California to see them) we starting prepping our son for who we were going to see. So Uncle David it was from the get go. And his long standing girlfriend quickly became “Almost Aunt Annie.”

Overall, I’d say our four hours together in California was a fabulous time, short and sweet and a wonderful opportunity. Anytime we get to meet up with his biological family is an occasion for us all – plus we got to explore a city where we had never been before.

Our friends and our families were curious to know how our meeting went as it isn’t everyday that you hear of adoptive parents driving four hours to meet up with the biological parents. I’m certain they wondered if there was any unease at the situation. I can honestly say I haven’t yet felt any unease with meeting up with our son’s birth parents. In the end I think everyone is happy to see our boy happy. Roles that we all play seem very clear. No bounds have been overstepped. Perhaps we are very lucky with our relationship with our birth parents, or, it could be the result of being open and honest about our feelings along the way so there haven’t been any big surprises.  I realize that each adoption is different and I can speak only from my own adoption experience; however, I don’t believe that having a relationship like ours has to be so unique so long as both parties continue to engage with each other and are honest with their wants and needs along the way.

Another one of my adoptive parent friends said, after hearing how our meeting went, that having loving and caring birth parents and biological family in the picture is really awesome since it simply means more people to love your child. I am reminded of the African proverb made so popular by Hillary Clinton, “It takes a village to raise a child.” How very true with a child of an open adoption but it absolutely rings true for any child. The more people to love a child and watch out for them the better that child will be in the long run. Perhaps taking this proverb to heart is the key to a successful open adoption and a successful raising of any child.  I know that we are blessed to have the birth family that we do and I am not afraid to let his biological family members get to know him and love him.

Adoptive mother: Dropping the titles

Our son’s birth parents, Lizzie and John, will be visiting California in a couple of months and we are talking about the possibility of meeting up with them briefly on a mini road trip down to southern California. This could be a new experience for us meeting up with them on the left coast since in the past we’ve always traveled back to the east coast where they live. This particular meeting would also be unique because Lizzie will be traveling with her brother so we might have the opportunity to meet a first of our son’s extended family members – an opportunity that is a rarity for us living so far from them.  These extended family members are very much a part of our adoptive family since they are part of our son’s story. I would be very curious to see what traits in her brother that I see in our son – if any. I have seen some of myself in my brother’s daughter so I know that the likelihood of our son carrying some of Lizzie’s brother’s traits is a real possibility.

This possible meeting with Lizzie’s brother has brought to the surface an issue I haven’t put much thought into before: how would we address him to our son? He is his biological uncle, yet, would HE feel weird with us calling him ‘Uncle?’ It seems weird to say ‘birth Uncle’ or ‘biological Uncle’ and even weirder not giving him any distinction at all. He is an uncle as much as my brother and my brother-in-law are plus it is important for our son to realize that he is part of his biological family. We use the terms ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ loosely at times with some of our closer friends when there is no relation to them so it seems a bit insulting not to use uncle with Lizzie’s brother who more than anyone deserves the use of the word.

The whole dilemma on what to call Lizzie’s brother brings to mind an article I read just recently about a Russian adoptee Olympian meeting her birth family for the first time when she traveled to Russia to compete in the Olympics this past winter. The article talked about how the adoptive parents and the adopted child dropped the ‘birth’ title completely when talking about the young woman’s biological family. They simply referred to her biological roots as her family and specifically her biological parents as her ‘parents.’ According to the article there was no threat to the adoptive parents or guilt from the adoptee of potentially insulting her adoptive family. The Russian girl was simply connecting with her family in which she shared genes. Why is this news at all I wondered when thinking more about the article? Why more people don’t take this approach when talking about an adoptees biological family was beyond me since it seemed so logical. Then I decided to ask myself some questions.

“Would I have a problem referring to any of our son’s biological extended family members as ‘uncle,’ ‘aunt,’ ‘grandparent’ or other?” Absolutely not. I feel his biological family members are as much family to our son as his adoptive family. But when I asked myself the question, “Would I feel comfortable at this point referring to Lizzie and John as our son’s ‘parents’ without ‘birth’ in front of it?” And my answer is decidedly no, but when he is older, perhaps yes. “Why? Aren’t Lizzie and John equally his parents biologically as Scott and I are through adoption?” When it comes to the two sets of parents (biological and adoptive) I feel it is best to give the term ‘parent’ to those who are actually currently parenting the child. It is important to differentiate the two, especially when our a child is still so young and he is learning the language. Helping our son clarify what birth vs. adoptive means is important and I think Lizzie and John might agree here.

At this current moment, Scott and my role as adoptive parents is weighing more heavily than Lizzie and John’s biological side as it takes a great amount of effort and energy to raise a child. When Lizzie was pregnant with our son and we were waiting for him to be born I felt that they were far more the ‘parents’ at that moment while we were clearly the ‘adoptive’ parents. I suspect that when our son is older and is no longer living with us, again the tides will shift and we will be at that point where we’re truly equals: adoptive parents and birth parents – or simply all just ‘parents.’

Perhaps the main reason why the Russian adoptee and her family not using ‘birth’ in front of parents is newsworthy is because of an unspoken, larger meaning in doing so: it quietly equalizes the roles of the adoptive family and the biological family implying that one side is no more important or valuable than the other in the long run. Dropping titles of ‘birth’ and ‘adoptive’ before the words ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ or ‘family’ could be a very interesting and powerful concept to explore in the adoption world going forth, if and when individual adoption situations warrant it.

Adoptive mother: Feelings for the birthmother

I feel weird saying this but I believe I have very strong feelings for our son’s birthmother, Lizzie. Perhaps this feeling of love (if that’s what it is) isn’t so weird as I’ve heard other adoptive parents express their feelings of love toward their child’s birthmothers that only a shared child can bring to adoptive relationships. But what I feel is slightly different than that, it is rather a strong sense of connection with her that I don’t believe all adoptive mothers share with their child’s birthmothers.

This connection with Lizzie could be from many number of shared interests/ideals that I see we have like: wanting to be good, upbeat people; wanting to help others and make a positive impact in the world some how; valuing people and relationships and experiences more than things; and even the shared desire of expressing our feelings of adoption in these shared articles. Or it could of course be from the most obvious link, our son. It could be any or all of these things yes. But I suspect that our biggest link outside of our son stems from our tendencies to having occasional bouts of depression in our lives. This is something I learned about Lizzie through reading her medical profile before we even talked to her on the phone for the first time. I remember thinking as we were soaking up all the information about our potential birthparents to be, “Wow, she struggles with depression too. Now that’s something I understand and can relate to.” And I immediately felt a bond there.

Whether or not Lizzie senses this same shared bond is beyond me. After all, we are not sharing day to day moods or deep dark secrets in our lives, nor have we ever really talked for any significant length about depression as it isn’t something that is a constant in our lives, just something that rears its ugly head on occasion. I only hear/see what she chooses to share with me through conversation or through postings on Facebook. (I might very well have manifested this whole connection in my head.) Regardless to whether or not this is a shared experience is real to both of us or simply on my end, it doesn’t minimize the feelings I have about it. When I hear that Lizzie is struggling with depression my heart literally aches.

Other people in my life I would feel that way about would be my mother and sister – both of which I have a very deep connection to and both also who struggle with depression on occasion. Of course I’d feel terrible knowing that anyone of my other family member or friends were struggling with depression but the intensity of my feelings would likely be a bit different, I wouldn’t feel it so deeply in my chest. I’ve realized that I need Lizzie as much as I need my mother and my sister in my life. Me. Not just for our son but I need her present in my life and I can not imagine a life without her in it.

I remember early on in the adoption process, before we were matched with our birth parents, thinking how much I hoped the birth parents of our child would not be involved in our life in any way and how I hoped that after we adopted their child that they would quietly disappear. Today when I think of this it is laughable because I know not having Lizzie and John (the birthfather) in our lives to some capacity is as painful as not having my own parents in my life.

Does this terrify me. Yes! How did I become so incredibly needy? How did this happen? I let myself be vulnerable again – I let love in my life again.

Adoptive mother: Visiting the birth parents

It is convenient that our son’s birth family lives in New York state where I have close family members to visit. Before our very first contact with our birth family via phone we did not know of this connection but we learned about it during that initial phone call. Since I reside in California now, I was ecstatic to hear where they lived since it was a spitting distance from my extended family members whom I visit on occasion. I don’t know how much of an impact this was for the birth parents in finalizing their selection on who would parent their son but I’d imagine it must have had some impact if they were at all interested in visiting with him on occasion.

Since our son’s birth we have visited his birth parents in or near their home 4 times.  I love those visits with his birth parents. Even though they are only a couple of hours long I feel the connection we are making with his biological family increases each time we stop by. If we continue with these visits, our son will not have to question who his biological parents are because he will know them. This is beyond wonderful for both him and us as his adopted parents.

I find it interesting how people respond to us when we tell them we meet with our son’s biological family. Most people, including some of my close family members and friends, are simply in awe by the whole thing. I believe they think the whole situation to be awkward and scary. “Isn’t is weird or uncomfortable?” they ask. Not in the least. Of course, I understand where people are coming from. There is a lot of fear and apprehension in our society about birth parents mainly centered around negative news stories telling how birth parents want their children back or they want to be more involved in the parenting process. Luckily, our birth parents, like many other birth parents out there, aren’t those scary stereotypes at all. They are real people who we now have a very strong connection to. In a way we’ve adopted our birth parents into our family – through our son. The simplest way to describe what it is like visiting with them is to imagine visiting extended family members, like cousins – ones you actually enjoy spending time with. They are after all our chosen family.

After our last visit with our birth parents my sister asked me a question that I don’t know the answer to. “How do you think they do emotionally after your visit?” she asked. Hearing her question made me cringe a bit since I’m assuming my sister expects it to be extremely difficult for them to see their biological child and watch him leave with other people. Perhaps that is my sister projecting how she might feel in a similar situation? I don’t know. I’ve never had a biological child of my own to know how that might feel; however, I’m not convinced that everyone in that situation might fall apart emotionally. In fact, part of me wonders if in some way it is a bit the opposite for some birth parents. They might be relieved to see their son doing well which might confirm their decision to give him up for adoption in the first place. Or perhaps it is bittersweet: they could be happy to see him smiling and content; and sad that they gave him up at the same time.  Life is not all black and white after all.

I hope that us visiting doesn’t cause any significant pain to them as I’d be sad to think we caused them any anguish. My only aspiration is that our open adoption is unobstructed enough that they feel comfortable in telling us things that work or don’t work for them.

Adoptive mother: Beginning the story

My husband and I always wanted to be open with our son about his adoption and plan to share with him all that we know about his birth parents and his biological family. This open philosophy started before he even entered our lives with the ‘Dear Birthmother’ letter where we stated what our intention was for an open adoption. The moment our son entered into our lives we started sharing his story with him. As an infant of course he had no concept of what we were saying to him since he didn’t understand our words nor did he understand what an open adoption even was. But it didn’t matter that he didn’t understand us, we began telling his story anyway with pictures so that his being adopted would never be a surprise for him; it would simply be the way he always knew it.

We used one large picture initially to begin sharing his story. It was a painting actually commissioned by a local artist, of the five of us – Scott, myself, our son encircled in the foreground, with his birth parents embracing/dancing in the background. It is a playful, colorful and joyful piece of art that emanates love and happiness and tells our story simply. It sits above our couch in the living room and attracts attention the moment you enter that room. I love looking at the painting and it brings up so much emotion when I really spend time looking at it. Amazingly, our son has always been drawn to the painting as well without any prompting from us. From a very young age he would point to the painting and babble at it as he was drinking his bottle. Now, at 2 ½ he will occasionally point to the painting and tell us who everyone is.

In our son’s very early months, I also put together a picture book which allowed me to insert photos from my son’s birthday into a story book adapted from Debra Frasier’s book, “On the Day You Were Born.” (Coincidentally, his birthparents give him the complete version of that book on his birth date.) On one page of the picture book there is a drawing of a circle of people surrounding a newly born baby. On the opposite page I inserted the photo of Scott, myself and the birthfather all surrounding the baby and birthmother in the hospital bed. The spread couldn’t be more fitting. In other pages of the book I placed a picture from the church we were waiting in (across from the adoption agency) the morning of our son’s delivery; I included a copy of his footprints that were taken in the hospital on his birthday; and I also added our very special family photo also taken at the hospital. Before our son was talking we were showing him the pictures from the book and reading him the story of his birthday. Today, the picture book sits on the bookshelf in his bedroom ready to be looked at or read whenever he desires.

As our son matures we will begin adding more things to the story we tell him. For instance, it wasn’t until the last couple of months that we started talking more about how he came out of his birthmother’s tummy. One of our friends is pregnant with baby #2 so we used that opportunity to tell him there was a baby growing inside her tummy and that he came out of Lizzie, his birthmother’s, tummy. I’m quite certain that he doesn’t understand what this really means but I do know that he hears me because when prompted with the question, “Who’s tummy did you come out of?,” he always answers with “Lizzie.”  The other night, Scott and I were looking at a map of the U.S. and I decided to point out where our son was born in comparison to where we live now (all the way across the country.) He was amused when I kept repeating, “We flew all the way over there to get you.”

It is fascinating to see our son’s comprehension expanding and to be able to share more and more details with him as time passes.  I know at this point we’ve barely scraped the tip of the iceberg in regards to what he will eventually learn about his adoption story and about his biological family. But regardless, it is comforting to know that we’ve already planted the seeds for the bigger story that will eventually be told.

I heard a talk recently about the importance of being consistent with young children when retelling stories, even stories as simple as how they “tripped over a rock and scraped their knee in the park.” In the talk, the person mentioned that part of the reason that young kids repeat things that happen to them again and again and again is that they need confirmation that yes indeed that is the way that event happened, and by confirming their story it helps kids gain confidence and be comfortable in telling their own stories. So whether our son is repeating the “I tripped over a rock” story or the story surrounding his birth, it is all good because I know these stories are helping him gain confidence and be comfortable with his own stories in the long run.

Adoptive mother: Reminiscing

I’ve recently spent a large chunk of time moving files from an old laptop to a new one as my old computer is getting ready to die off.  If you have ever had to transfer files from one computer to another I am sure you can feel my pain in knowing that there are hundreds of emails/documents saved on a computer from over the years. When I considered what files/emails from my laptop really needed to be saved from my massive collection onto my new laptop it occurred to me that the most important thing on my computer are the original email contacts we had with our son’s birth parents and social workers that transpired two and a half years ago.

So needless to say, in copying these email files from one computer to another I’ve taken much time in going back and rereading these early correspondences, many of which have brought both smiles and tears to my eyes.

There was that very first, memorable email from the birthfather asking my husband and I to answer several detailed get to know you questions. Our responses that followed were to help both he and the birthmother decide which adoptive parents to choose for their son (they had narrowed it down to one other couple from our agency and us and I assume the other couple got the same questions as we did.) I will never forget that night writing out our answers. We had been out late at a special event and we left the event early (at 10:30pm – clearly before baby came home when we could stay up past 10:00pm) so that we would be able to write out our answers before the next work day. I felt like it was the most important “paper” I’d ever had to write. My husband and I worked separately, each writing our own emails. We spent a good bit of time reflecting on our answers as we wanted to be sure the mails represented each of us accurately. Our answers were candid, honest and well thought out all at the same time.  I remember sending the emails and thinking, “Well if they don’t pick us then it truly isn’t meant to be because we couldn’t have been more ourselves in those emails.”

First family portrait, 2011
First family portrait, 2011

Then there were the pictures attached to a later email. Two images were the very first glimpses of what our birth parents looked like and one was of the baby-to-be’s sister. We had agreed to adopt their baby before even seeing one picture of the birth parents. (When adopting, looks of birthparents are not often a high priority item on the checklist in comparison to other items like drugs use during pregnancy, health of child and race of child.) I remember being so relieved at seeing their picture – they were “normal” looking. Later, in a separate email I had sent out, was a picture of our first family photo of my husband and I holding an ultrasound picture which the birthmother sent to us. Until that point, being matched didn’t seem real at all even though we were to be parents in only 3 months. I was beaming in the picture even though moments before I was bawling my eyes out in joy. I still tear up simply thinking about that moment!

There were occasional email updates from our son-to-be’s birthmother on how the baby was doing; some of which informed us that the baby was strong and perhaps we should consider naming him something that means “strong.” At one point she nick-named the baby “kicks-a-lot” which made us smile (and still holds true to our son’s active character today.)  Since everything was so distant for my husband and I – we weren’t pregnant, feeling the baby move, or seeing my pregnant belly expand to remind us daily that parenthood was getting closer – these emails meant a lot to us and helped us feel like other expecting parents.

Other emails included things like coordinating our first meeting in New York state with the birth parents; scheduling a tour of the hospital for the four of us (birth parents and adoptive parents) which took place when we visited them before the birth; talking about circumcising the baby and asking how everyone felt about the procedure since the baby would still be under our birth parent’s custody and insurance at the time the circumcision would occur. There were many emails going back and forth between my husband and I and various social workers from both New York and California – all of whom would play some part in completing our adoption. In many cases the social workers played the middlemen handling questions and/or concerns of both parties: the adoptive parents and birth parents.

Occasionally there were small gaps of time between correspondences between us (my husband and I) and the birth parents and social workers which seem insignificant now, but at the time these gaps had me gasping for breath and praying that nobody had changed their minds about the adoption.

It was interesting looking back at all the mails after the adoption. Even though I remember there being so much uncertainty at the time the emails were sent, I know what a bonding, unique, amazing, exciting, stressful time those months were for all of us. As hard as it was to go through it all, I wouldn’t trade that time period for anything.

Adoptive mother: My tornado

I never really wanted to be pregnant. Even when I was trying to conceive, getting pregnant was only a means to an end – a family. My whole life, I always felt a bit sorry for pregnant women because being pregnant looks so terribly uncomfortable. I remember once as a little girl saying that if I ever were to have kids (which I wasn’t even sure I wanted until the age 36) I’d rather adopt them then go through a pregnancy. Of course, when faced with the reality of having to adopt after discovering I seemed to have infertility issues things suddenly looked a bit different. I realized what a gift it is to be able to reproduce.

After adopting my son, I still have no desire at all to be pregnant; however, that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel immense sadness and jealousy whenever I hear of other people getting pregnant and having babies – especially if they’ve had an easy time of it. This was particularly true in the four years that my husband and I were trying to have a family. But pain, like other forms of energy, changes over time. After our son came into our lives the pain of hearing about other people’s pregnancies got much less pronounced. The pain was more like a dull ache that would pop up on occasion.

These days I’ve discovered a new form of the pain which is triggered from news from mothers I’ve befriended through my son that are now pregnant again with their second children. Two is that magical age where many mothers consider having their second children. I knew that once our son hit that age I too might be faced with new feelings of pain so I wasn’t completely unprepared when I close friend hit me with his “exciting news” of his wife’s pregnancy. What surprised me wasn’t his news, but the enormous amount of feelings it brought up in me after I was home. I call it my tornado.

I cried. I was jealous. I was pissed that they had such ease at getting pregnant. Did it even take them three months? And she felt like it was taking so long to get pregnant! Talk to the hand! I thought of my miscarriage, the years of trying to conceive, the months of failed fertility treatments, and the years of waiting anxiously to adopt. I felt a smidgen of the pain and the endless anxiety all over again. Until I made myself take a step back from it all like I learned to do during meditation during those tough years. After stepping back I was able to just observe and to be a bystander to my own crazy thoughts.

Amidst the jealousy and pain swirling around I saw other things too. Good things. I saw how glad I am that my body hasn’t changed at all due to being pregnant. I saw how lucky we are to have our wonderful, healthy son. I saw how having just one child can allow us to put all our energy into him giving him the dedication that he deserves. I saw our son’s wonderful birthparents, and how lucky we are to have such an amazing bond between us that people having their own biological children can never experience. I saw it all in my tornado.

The craziest bit of all of this is that my husband and I have talked numerous times about our feelings about continuing to try for our own biological children or pursuing another adoption but we both mutually agreed that we are good with just one child and are taking action/or no action accordingly. As much as we’d love our son to have a sibling living with him, just one child is really fine by us.

But the mind is a funny thing and you can’t control thoughts you have and you shouldn’t try to control them because you would be fighting a losing battle. You can however control how you react to your thoughts. This time I chose to step back from my tornado instead of letting it suck me in. After a while the tornado passed as I knew it would. The damage from this one was almost nonexistent.

Adoptive mother: Making tough decisions

When I reflect on the route we took to adopt our son I am always glad that my husband and I followed our hearts and made decisions that essentially led our adopted child to us. There are two significant reasons I believe that our adoption story ended positively. First that we chose the right kind of adoption for us; and second, we were honest with ourselves about what we were willing to take on in an adoption.

The first huge decision that must be made for anyone adopting is what kind of adoption to pursue. There are international adoptions, opened and closed domestic adoptions, and foster care adoptions, which all vary hugely. We chose to do a domestic, open adoption. The biggest reasons why we chose this route initially was because we wanted a newborn baby and in the other options it was harder, if not possible at all, to do so; plus we wanted our child to know where he came from. But looking back on our experience now, I am most grateful that we chose this route for a different reason, a very simple one that differentiates domestic open adoptions over all other types of adoptions: we were picked.

We, Scott and I, were chosen by our son’s birthparents to raise him over other potential birthparents that they looked at, which at the time of going through the adoption waiting process seemed like a horrific hurdle to overcome for potential adoptive parents as it is often a long and painful journey to wait for someone to choose you. There were many times along the way we doubted we would ever be picked. (The waiting was similar to having to wait to be picked for a dodgeball team in gym class by your classmates and not faring well.) I remember thinking about a year and half into our adoption wait that I would never recommend an open domestic adoption to anyone and I could completely understand why some people avoid this type of adoption for just this reason! However, when we were finally chosen my tune changed. We discovered the huge benefit of being hand selected by the birthparents. Interests and traits between both parties often have similarities which makes the likelihood of having common traits with the child much more likely. Since we wanted to have similar interests with our adopted child our open adoption seemed so much less random to us than having been matched casually with a baby via another route. Our chosen adoption path will also give my husband and I more credibility later on when we need to explain the adoption process to our son because we can tell him that his birthparents picked us to raise him. They thought we were a good fit for him which hopefully will take away a lot of questions and uncertainty regarding his adoption.

The second reason I believe that our adoption was successful is that my husband and I were honest with ourselves about what we were willing to take on in an adopted child. Two big things come to mind for me here: health of the child and race of the child.

At times I feel as if my husband and I took the easy way out on our adoption because we were placed with a healthy child of the same ethnicity, yet this wasn’t accidental. On our adoption profile we had to specify health issues we were willing to accept in a child as well as races (and give percentages of race no less than 50%) of what we were willing to accept in a baby. Both my husband and I wanted a baby with little or no health issues, however, it was my preference not my husband’s to limit us only to the Caucasian race. Even though I knew our wait time would likely be much longer because of this, I felt very strongly about adopting a child who would look like us, not because I have anything against other races, but because I wasn’t yet ready to tackle living with a transracial family. Perhaps people might say this makes me weak or shallow or racist; I think that I’m in touch with my reality.

Race issues exist. To deny that race isn’t a big deal to you is fine but if you take on an adopted, transracial child you must be willing to address race issues head on and not ignore them or pretend race isn’t an issue out in the world. By not addressing these issues with your child you risk hurting your son or daughter in the long run. I wasn’t ready to take on this task. So in the end, we waited longer, but we got exactly what we asked for: a healthy, Caucasian baby.

My advice to others who might be waiting to adopt is to be honest with yourself about what you want and don’t make compromises you aren’t willing to live with for the rest of your lives. If something is important to you don’t settle for anything less, no matter how much longer it might make your wait. Also, if enough time passes don’t be afraid to reevaluate all of your choices. Over time you may find that your priorities have changed.

Adoptive mother: The absence of shared genes

Ever since becoming a mother I’ve been very aware that motherhood through adoption is not and never will be the same as mothering your own biological children. It isn’t the act of mothering my son that is different as that seems to be the same as any other mother as far as I can tell. And mothering my son has been wonderful, absolutely wonderful – pure joy. What I’ve noticed to be different is the undeniable fact that no matter how much I act like his mother, as I do naturally, I will never really BE his “real mother” – his biological one.

Sometimes when hanging out with other Moms, I hear them talk about how their son or daughter really looks or acts like themselves or their spouse or another closely related family member and I can’t imagine what that must feel like. The lack of shared genes leaves me feeling a bit sad or sorry at times like I’m somehow not getting the full parenting experience. I imagine it brings a sense of great pride that someone else carries on your genes. I’ve often wondered if it somehow strengthens a bond between the child and his/her parents. Fortunately I’m lucky as an adoptive parent to know both of my son’s biological parents so I can at least see both his birthmother and his birthfather in him and I can pinpoint the features and mannerisms of him that come from each birthparent which is wonderful and very special and will mean the world to our son someday. But this knowing who he takes after only goes so far as to what I really know about his birthparents and what they have shared with us about themselves and their extended families. Yet even if I had all the information I could possibly want on my son’s birth family, it is simply not the same thing as knowing your ancestors and being able to share stories and your own genetics with your child.

I’ve asked my husband recently if he ever thinks about or gets sad over the fact that our child isn’t genetically related to us and will never look like us. Thank goodness for him and his logical, steady self because his response is, “I never really let myself dwell on these things because those thoughts and feelings never lead anywhere good.” Now why, WHY, can’t I think more like him?

I do try to take my husband’s lead and I remember that there is a flip side to every issue out there, good and bad. For instance, when I hear my friends worry about traits coming out of their children which are the same traits they themselves struggled with I am reminded that there are some real benefits to adoption. In this case, we can easily take our son at his face value and not read too much into his traits or mannerisms, or assume his path will follow similar steps of his ancestors. Since our knowledge of his ancestors is limited, it forces us to be present with our son and let him develop into the very unique person that he is without letting preconceived ideas of how he might turn out get in the way of his development.

I read about a fellow adoptive Mom once that shared how she responded to the inevitable question/statement that all adoptive Mom’s get sooner or later, “You mean you’re not my real Mom?” I loved her response to her child’s follow up statement, “I wish I came from your belly.” She said very firmly, “I don’t. I’m glad you didn’t come from my belly because if you did you wouldn’t be the same person that you are.” I think about this response and it gives me much peace of mind because it is so true. My little boy would not be the same person that he is if her were mine biologically. He wouldn’t have gorgeous brown eyes or golden brown hair and great olive skin and a sweet personality. He’d be someone else entirely which are not those things. He is such an awesome little boy and I love him so much that I couldn’t imagine him any other way – even if he isn’t my biological child.