"Seeing the Bigger Picture in Adoption"

I used to see adoption from only one viewpoint—that of the adoptive parents. But working in the field before becoming an adoptive mother opened my eyes to how complex and bittersweet adoption can be.

in adoption, we must keep our eyes and hearts open to all perspectives—birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents

Growing up, I had family members and friends who adopted children internationally, domestically, and from foster care. So, I saw what the process was like for several routes—but always from the viewpoint of the adoptive parents. When I began working in the field, at age 24, I was introduced to a much broader experience, which included the perspectives of expectant and birth parents, as well as adoptees.

I stepped back to see the bigger picture. I have had the joy of witnessing thousands of families brought together through adoption over the years. I have seen children growing up and parents coming back to expand their families a second and third time. But now, I was also seeing another side of the experience, as thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancies trusted the agency to walk them through all their options. These women were confronting one of the most difficult decisions in their lives and they needed support no matter what they chose in the end.

I was hungry to further broaden my view. I sought out adoptees willing to share their stories, mostly through online forums. It can be challenging to listen, to really hear what is being said, especially when it’s not all rainbows and sunshine—but it’s so important.

Now, as an adoptive mother, my perspective continues to develop. My daughter’s birth mother has become a part of our family and we love her deeply. And yet, if someone were to sit us down and ask us about our adoption experiences, we would have starkly different answers. If you charted our journeys on the same timeline, my moments of greatest joy would most likely correspond to her times of deepest sorrow. And, as I move through life with my young daughter, I push myself to see from her point of view. What is it like for her growing up as a transracial adoptee? Are there occasions I find celebratory, like Mother’s Day and her birthday, that might have a complex duality for her as she grows up? Each time we text, FaceTime, or visit with her birth mother, it’s evident how complex adoption can be.


Not Only a Beautiful Thing

To realize it’s not just about me, or any adoptive parents, is humbling. In fact, I now think that, much of the time, I’m the one who matters least because I haven’t experienced anything close to the losses my daughter and her other mother have. I’m not saying that adoption isn’t a beautiful thing. It has amazing and joyous aspects for everyone involved. But what I do want to press upon prospective adoptive parents is that adoption isn’t only a beautiful thing. The journey for every member of the triad is shockingly different.

Simply put, adoption is bittersweet. And I don’t mean that to say one side of the equation is always feeling happy while the other side is always feeling down. It’s not a seesaw. The exact moment I’m feeling ecstatic as I hold my daughter in my arms and introduce her to her new family, I can simultaneously feel devastation for her other mother, who is most certainly in pain. When we video chat, Momma J may experience happiness and excitement when our daughter shows off her newest superhero move, and at the same time feel heartbroken that the circumstances weren’t different when she made the decision to place. My daughter is still too young to voice many adoption related thoughts, but when she is a little older her birthday might be a time of celebration and sadness. Opposing feelings can be meshed together at any time, adding complexity to our lives.

As I continue to grow as a professional and as a mother through adoption, I am committed to a simple life motto: Know Better, Do Better.

I decided to grow my family through adoption 10 years after entering the field as a professional. Personally, the biggest impact for me came as I navigated the waiting process. When I entered the world of adoption, when I heard the terms “disruption” or “failed match,” my focus was solely on the loss for the adopting parents. But after 10 years of widening my perspective, even when I was the one who might be affected, I found myself thinking about the happiness the child’s mother must have been feeling about her decision to parent.

You might notice your thoughts shifting during your process, too. After rushing to the hospital for an emergency placement, you might find yourself struggling when asked to wait in another room while the biological family is bonding with the baby. Understandably, you just can’t wait to hold the child in your arms. But, in that moment, it may help to remember that the child’s mother and family are squeezing in precious time before preparing to say goodbye.

As you hopefully count down the revocation period until you can celebrate becoming a forever family, remember that that “forever” decision is weighing heavily on the woman who is making sure she is certain that adoption is the right choice.

I’m not asking readers to completely shift their beliefs about adoption, and I can attest that it will be a gradual process. I would just encourage prospective adoptive parents to challenge what you already know by seeking out voices of birth parents and adoptees, and taking it all in. Every story is unique, but there are often common themes connecting each experience. It won’t be easy, but it will enrich your journey and better prepare you to raise a child who comes into your home through adoption and cultivate an ongoing relationship with his or he birth parents.

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