The Waiting: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective
We officially began our adoption wait in May of this year. Joyous over the completion of the mountains of paperwork, the profile book, and the home study, I reached out to the adoption attorney we had signed up with by sending a cheerful and peppy “check-in” email. Her response: “Do not email me to ‘check in’ again. Families that do the best with this process are those that put adoption to one side and go on happily with the rest of their lives while they wait.” Although neither my husband nor I had sensed overwhelming warmth from our initial meeting with her, this level of detachment came as quite a shock, and I was left thinking that perhaps there was something wrong with me. Why wasn’t I able to put the adoption to the side??? Because by the time we had signed up with her, adoption had been an unrealized dream, held fondly in the deepest part of my heart, for eight years.
Although everyone’s experience is completely unique, I have heard many describe the process of waiting for a match as “brutal”, “torturous”, and “hopeless”. Of course, the possibility that you will be able to adopt a child—a living, breathing child, not a fantasy—at the end of this long and difficult period makes the wait seem bearable, at least in the abstract. But the day to day experience of the wait is undeniably hard. Given that there is no way to avoid this, is it possible for something beneficial to happen in midst of waiting which might transform your perspective?
After I realized that the above-referenced attorney was not only not going to be a dear friend, but was also not going to be someone I could email periodically, we began to look for other options. We had gotten help with our profile book from a wonderful group of adoption consultants, and they suggested some agencies for us to consider. After signing up with an agency, we waited. And waited. And although I was able to check in with the agency, it began to feel sort of inane to write every week when I knew that if they had had any profiles to send, they would have! It was around the fourth month of waiting that my hopelessness really began to take hold. I told myself that I needed to start accepting the idea that adoption was not in the cards for us. Although we believed wholeheartedly that adoption was a beautiful way to spread love into the universe, and knew equally wholeheartedly that we had a wonderful home to offer to a child in need and a birthmother and birthfather unable to care for her, the possibility of that actually happening began to feel increasingly dim. Add to that all of the insecurities we had about our advanced ages (we imagined taking our daughter to college and making her stand around while we retrieved our walkers from the trunk), and my days began to feel riddled with doubt about adoption. In desperation, I contacted the adoption consultants again, who put me in touch with Caitlin at Texas Adoption Center.
Caitlin was amazingly caring and encouraging from the first time we spoke. She understood that I felt very isolated in the waiting, and so she put me in touch with an adoptive mother who, like me, had had three biological children, and had adopted her fourth. I nervously emailed this perfect stranger about a topic right on the surface of my heart. In response, she suggested that we talk on the phone, which we did for over an hour. It was as if she could read my mind. Although her daughter was 18 months old, she could recall with perfect precision the exact set of emotions I was feeling at that moment in time, and with humor, wisdom, and empathy, my new friend Amy planted a seed of hope. She told me the story of her adoption and her relationship with her daughter’s birthparents. There was no hesitation in her voice when she told me that she loved them both dearly and was in constant contact with them.
I am a clinical psychologist, and so my professional life is based, in large part, on empathy. I spend so much time thinking about how my patients feel, and what it might be like to walk in their shoes. So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I had allowed myself to think about what it would feel like to be a birthmother who had decided to make an adoption plan for her baby. When I thought about how difficult it would be to reach the conclusion that I was not the best person to care for and raise my child, I began to have so much empathy that I felt all kinds of difficult emotions; sadness, fear, and guilt chief among them. At these times, I didn’t know if I would have the courage to make this choice. My admiration for birthmothers was enormous, but until I heard Amy’s story about her daughter’s birthmother, and learned about a truly open adoption firsthand, I approached the imagined relationship we would have with birthparents with fear. After Amy shared her story, however, I recognized that although the decision to place a child for adoption is an enormously difficult one, in the right circumstances--when both adoptive and birthparents are truly invested in the best outcome for the child--a birthmother could also feel a number of incredibly positive things about the experience.
We are still waiting, hoping, and praying for the wait to be over as soon as possible. I still have intrusive thoughts about adopting about a billion times a day. But I have made a beautiful new friend whose love for both her adopted child and her child’s birthmother has inspired me and given me a much more complete understanding of what is possible. The wait now seems much less lonely and much more hopeful. One of the hardest things in life is that, as we mature, we develop so many defenses to protect ourselves from being hurt that we lose our ability to really listen and understand each other. We become less aware of the fact that we are all part of the same human family, and thus universally deserving of compassion and respect. We become so mired in the differences in our backgrounds that we become fearful of those differences, and thus incapable of embracing them as opportunities to learn. Part of the miracle that transpires in and around a successful open adoption is that it cuts through all of those defenses, allowing us to operate from the standpoint of love, not fear. That is a realized dream well worth the wait.