I want to back up for a second and go back to the moment I decided to adopt. I was a preteen and had been listening in on an adult conversation between my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I was surprised to discover my grandfather had grown up in the foster care system. He was never adopted. He had siblings who were adopted and more half siblings that his father had later in life. My childlike brain saw this situation in black and white. It was wrong for my grandfather to grow up without a home, so when I grew up, I would provide a home for a child in need. Problem solved.
As I grew older, my understanding of adoption grew as well. I would like to say that I considered all the factors surrounding my first child’s adoption, but I simply did not. When I was 24, I became a mom to a precious baby girl. Her birth mom chose us out of more than 50 families waiting at the adoption agency. She liked our house and our dog, and she wanted her child raised in a family of faith. She chose us to raise her beautiful, brown-skinned baby girl, and I trusted she was making a good choice. I felt confident I could raise and love this child well. As I write this, that child is entering her junior year of high school! My understanding of adoption has changed a lot since that precious tiny girl was placed in my arms. She has grown to be strong, lovely, and intelligent. She is proud of her black heritage and confident as a young woman of God. I would like to say I created that in her, but I swear it’s a fluke.
My motivation to adopt was much like anyone’s motivation to have a child—cute babies! I just wanted to hold a child in my arms. I wanted someone to love and hug and kiss. I wanted someone to tuck into bed at night and read stories to. When I found out she was a girl, I dreamed of buying every dress ever made, and I did. My view of adoption was so small. I saw her, and I loved her. I loved her mom for having her and for entrusting me to raise her. I was honored and proud of every single part of being this child’s mother. My motivations weren’t wrong—they were just shortsighted.
At first I didn’t seek out a community for her. During the first part of her life, she didn’t have friends who were adopted. She didn’t see teachers, peers, and community members who looked like her. When raising children, biological or adopted, it is tempting to believe that we will be enough for them. And we are—at first. We feed them, change them, love them. As children grow, they need an environment that nurtures their uniqueness and sharpens their individuality. Children need more than just a mom and dad who love them.
Should you adopt? “Oh yes,” I want to scream! Yes, you should adopt. Yes, you should open your heart and home to a child! I never could have created the eight amazing children I am honored to raise. They are beautiful, unique, creative, quirky, wicked smart, and funny. They each have the DNA they were meant to have. One has a heart so loving it can hold even the saddest soul, just like her birth mom. One has the cutest dimple in her chin, just like her birth dad. One has a laugh like her birth mom. One has legs for days, just like her birth sister. One has an impish grin, like his birth dad. One has the deep-thinking soul of his birth grandmother. One has the shy grin of his birth father. One has eyes that smile, just like his birth mother. I did not give our children these things. I couldn’t—they don’t come from me. They are unique to our children and unique to the families they belong to.
Should you adopt? Adoption is the blending of two or more families. It isn’t simply absorbing a child into your own family. Adoption is about expanding. It’s about growing larger. It’s about eating potato pancakes on Christmas Eve because the tradition came with the child. It’s about listening to endless stories about car engines because somewhere in your 11-year-old’s DNA is an interest in cars that you know didn’t come from his environment. Adoption is opening your heart to a child, the child’s family, the child’s story, the child’s past. It’s about seeing the future with this child in it.
Should you adopt? Adoption is about loss. Adoption isn’t just about the sweet baby you hold in your arms. It’s about a birth mother who leaves the hospital alone. It’s about a child who will scan the crowd at shopping malls and playgrounds looking for a face that resembles his own. Adoption is about cradling the emptiness of loss alongside the fullness of the child who rests in your arms. Adoption is about balance. It’s about joy and celebration and sorrow and loss and then joy once again. Adoption is about sharing—sharing a child with a birth family who may be physically present or may be present only in the heart and imagination.
Should you adopt? Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Can I share our child with another mother and father for the rest of my life?
- Can I support our child as they process through their story?
- Can I support our child when they have feelings of love, anger, loss, or joy about their adoption story?
- Do I have the capacity to find a community of people who look like our child or who share cultural similarities with our child?
- Am I able to remember that the adoptee is the center of every story and that he or she is the hero, not me?
- Can my heart stretch and celebrate a child whose strengths, characteristics, and personality may be very different from mine?