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.

Birthmother: Seeing me

By Birthmother – Passing on my genes

One of the blessings of choosing open adoption is that I get to see and hear some of the details about my children as they grow. Each year I take a look at the latest set of pictures and marvel at the newest changes in their features or their personalities. What still surprises me, though, is when I look at the pictures and see a little piece of me shining through. This family resemblance is something that many adoptive parents envy – they wish they could see their own genes passed on to another generation.

Ironically, one of the reasons my spouse and I didn’t want children was the fear of our genetic background. True, we don’t have any major genetic diseases, but no one’s heritage is perfect. Our ancestors had their share of alcoholism, mental illness, heart disease, etc… and we certainly have our own struggles with that they’ve passed down to us. Frankly, we don’t like ourselves very much, so why would we ever want to reproduce?!?

When we did get pregnant, we carefully selected adoptive parents with healthy lifestyles in the hopes that positive nurturing would outweigh any genetic factors we might pass on. In my mind, nurture was so much stronger than nature. How could a child raised thousands of miles away, a child who I would only meet a mere handful of times, bear any resemblance to me?

Well, one way or another, those resemblances do shine through and no one will let you forget it. It starts as soon as the baby is born. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who sees the baby becomes an amature geneticist. “Isn’t that your nose?” “Isn’t he the spitting image of your uncle Don?” If a particular trait cannot be categorized or easily referenced, people are so discomforted! For instance, my daughter has blonde hair. I do not have blonde hair. The biological father does not have blonde hair. Unthinkable! Even if I mention that my mom’s hair was blonde when she was young, people look at me as if major trouble must be brewing. They want to account for every feature on the child’s face, every personality quirk, and every disease.

As I watch my children grow and learn about the imperfections they’ve inherited I find myself experiencing incredible guilt. When I see how tall my daughter is I remember being the tallest person in my grade school, always sticking out, and I remember the frustration of having enormous feet that match my height. I was devastated when I learned that my son has an extreme peanut allergy; I know his allergies must have come from my side of the family. Or, worse, what if something I ate (or didn’t eat) when I was pregnant triggered these allergies? Did I eat too many peanuts? Not enough? The responsibility of having so much influence on another person’s development is terrifying. Yes, there can be pleasant moments (seeing that my son has my soft brown eyes, hearing that my daughter has my affinity for speaking intelligently and empathetically to new people). I hope that, in time, I will focus more on the positive traits and be less terrified of the negative.

I try to keep in mind that every gene is easy to see when looking at young children – nurture hasn’t had time to make an impression upon nature yet. Staring at a baby is like staring at raw genetic material. As my children grow the days and hours and years spent with the adoptive family will make my genetic contribution seem less pronounced. I can’t wait to see the personalities and habits of the adoptive parents imprinting themselves upon the canvas of genetic code. Will my son learn the hands-on skills of his adoptive father? Will my daughter catch some of her adoptive father’s flare for off-color humor? I love the fact that every single person who contributes to the lives of these children has a chance of manifesting in their habits and personalities.

Every person who influences our lives becomes a part of us forever. This is especially true of every single person who shows us love.

The adopted individuals I’ve known were often difficult to identify as being adopted, so great was their resemblance to their adoptive parents. They shared hobbies, quirks, physical features, and a million other smaller details that no gene could ever account for. Their family bond was so strong, I would never have thought to question their origins.

Maybe where we start from isn’t as important as where we end up.