Not a single day goes by that I do not think of her and that moment. The moment she crumbled onto the cold marble floor of the courthouse lobby. The moment I held her, comforting a woman I’d come to love, a woman that just lost everything.
The moment we both knew that, under the law, she would cease to be a mother.
The moment we both knew that I would become one.
I was in my late-twenties and we had been fostering our children for a few years. Hopeful beginnings and hard work on all parts lost to addiction. We were devastated when the relapses started. We are devastated still today. Though our love for our children is fierce and deep, though our adoption day marks our most joyous occasion, our family was born out of immense pain.
And I want you to know that I grieve my motherhood experience. I live in a world that is in constant juxtaposition. Two stories are always being told. There is the story of the young, infertile parents finally adopting the children they loved and fought for. They blend into their extended family and community. They celebrate birthdays, holidays, and milestones. They post the sweet pictures and typical parent status updates. They champion adoption and foster care. They convince you that taking in older children and sibling groups are worth the effort. They are the story that warms your heart. They are the happy ending. If we’re being honest, they look an awful lot like you and your family. This story is familiar and safe.
Yet there is the other narrative. The one about the young couple that lost a relationship with a birth parent they loved and fought for. The infertile couple that spent years in emotional, spiritual, and legal upheaval before the drop of a gavel declared them parents. They still often feel disjointed from their extended family and pray their children don’t notice how much stronger a grandparent’s bond is with a biological grandchild. And because they were adopting older children at a time when their peers were having babies, these parents never seem to fit in any group. Birthdays remind them of the years they missed and the birth story they lack. Every holiday, and milestone is marred by the truth that this was never suppose to be their’s and another woman is mourning the moments that were meant for her. This is such a heavy burden to carry. In this version, they know and walk the trials of older child adoption every day. The counseling, the triggers that lead to extreme behavior, the attachment disorders, social delays, and learning disabilities are exhausting. They still believe in open adoptions but the constant navigating of birth family contact and visits leaves them in turmoil. They worry endlessly if their children will truly have a happy ending. If we’re being honest, they really don’t look anything like you and your family. This story is foreign and messy.
It’s complicated living in both stories, both equally true. Most days I look at my children and feel great joy and pride. But there are also the days I just want to mourn the motherhood experience I imagined for myself, but will never have. Some days I do. There are days that I weep for the birth families and days I go into a rage over the pain my children endured.
After a recent discussion about hurt, a dear friend said “I had no idea. I never knew to think about that.” And so here I am, letting you all in, wanting you all to know. Be gentle in your assumptions about adoptive families. We don’t always let both sides show, for some stories are too intimate and require a private reading. Watch for the times we pull back. Learn how to be our support in those moments when we still feel dizzy. Let us grieve when the moment calls for it.
And if you are an adoptive parent, I want you to know that you are not alone in your mixed-up, ever changing emotions. I’m not sure if a day will come when we don’t feel delight and resentment, pride and guilt, hope and worry, healing and pain all within a 24 hour repeat cycle. But I do know that raising your children is an incredible honor and that you’re doing an incredible job. We have a sign hanging in our family room that simply reads “let’s write the story of our lives together” and that’s what you’re doing day in and day out. Writing the story of your knit-together family life. It’s a nail biter, for sure, but I truly believe you’re going to love the journey and the ending.
-Written anonymously to protect those beautiful babes that have no current reason to know parenting is hard sometimes. Also to protect the privacy of a birth family we are protective of. Negative comments about them are not welcome here.