If you had met me when I was a little girl, and asked me, “What career do you want when you grow up?” I would have instantly told you, “A mother.”
Even though infertility played a part of our early story, it wasn’t the beginning nor the ending of our desire for adoption. Adoption has always been a longing of my heart, an occasional whisper in the wind, a yearning for children I had not met nor carried for nine months in the safety of my womb. So when God blessed us with biological children after years of prayer, the desire for adoption slipped to the background for awhile, but never faded away.
We had four biological children, one right after the next. A curly haired girl, then three energetic boys.
And then, after what seemed like an eternity of feeling a burden for the fatherless, of looking around the table at dinnertime and still experiencing a sense of, “Someone is missing!”, of researching and saving and finally getting the green light from God to GO, my husband and I became adoptive parents for the first time.
That morning in Jiangsu, China, my husband and I stood in a strangely quiet room, waiting for the first glimpse of this baby that was about to become our daughter. Our knees shook and time stood still as we looked at her face for the first time and gently reached out to touch her delicate features. She was ours.
Overnight, we were in awe at the beauty and wonder of adoption.
Just like we had done with our four biological newborns, we stayed up at night and watched this new treasure sleep. We counted her toes and memorized her scent, learned her cries and jumped to meet every need. And underneath it all was the wonder, the amazement, the joy, because how could the God of the universe take a family from one side of the world and match them with a child thousands of miles away — and do it so perfectly?
That first adoption turned our world upside down. Orphans were no longer nameless children in faraway lands. We had seen them with our own eyes, held them in our arms, and whispered their names. “How could we not do more?” we asked ourselves.
Radical change was coming for our family and we jumped in feet first. We held nothing back. Six months after we brought our first adopted daughter home, we brought home an aging out teenage girl. Six weeks after that, another toddler girl. Two years later, we surrendered to full-time orphan ministry in South Africa and began traveling and fund-raising the next year. If things go as planned and God allows, we will move to Port Elizabeth, South Africa next spring to launch our ministry to the fatherless.
We sold everything we had ever owned in preparation for our future ministry. All of my current “worldly possessions” now fit into a small storage unit. My children have learned (maybe even easier than me) that most of life is disposable stuff. The real value in life is love and people, and in that category, we are oh-so-very-rich.
A few months after we sold everything and had begun the traveling/fund-raising phase of our ministry, God miraculously dropped another biological treasure into our family. He has brought such delight into our blended family. Then, just this year, we took custody of a 5 year old little boy through an adoption dissolution. He has brought us nothing but sweet joy and we love watching him thrive and heal.
Adoption has been beautiful for our family.
It has also been messy.
We have now adopted two toddlers, one teenager, and one preschooler. We’ve adopted both genders. One from foster care, three from orphanages. All abandoned as newborns.
The world of adoption, special needs, and trauma parenting were unknown to me at one time, but now that we’ve experienced this world, we’ve learned and grown, adapted and changed, stretched and hurt, and learned to love deeply, unconditionally, and unselfishly.
I don’t know what brings you to be reading this today. Maybe, like me, you always wanted to adopt and find yourself unable to stop reading and researching and hoping. Maybe you’re anxiously awaiting travel approval and that very first meeting with your child. Or maybe, you’re in the trenches of trauma and special needs and you came here for a bit of encouragement. Regardless of what brought us together today, I want to share with you five things I wish I’d known before we adopted…
1) The day you adopt you become a trauma parent.
All adopted children have experienced trauma. Early on, I bought into the myth that if you adopt a very young child, you avoid the trauma because they will forget.
They never forget.
A child that has known hunger in infancy will react to food and hunger. A child that has suffered abuse and neglect (even at a very young age) will struggle with trauma responses to life’s situations. A child who has known abandonment (and this applies to EVERY adopted child) WILL struggle with insecurities and fears that are foreign to a securely attached biological child.
If you don’t prepare ahead of time to parent the trauma, you’ll quickly find yourself drowning under the weight of your child’s trauma needs and grasping for every resource on the planet. Trust me, the day you adopt, you become a trauma parent.
So many parents put more thought into decorating the nursery and picking out the coming home outfit than they do the trauma the child they’re adopting is facing. “Healthy” on a chart (if it’s even true — how many of us have found untruths in adoption files?) only means healthy on the outside. It can take a very long time to help your adopted child be healthy on the inside.
2) Adoption is for the child.
Adoption is not for the parents. You must be prepared for continual selflessness or you might not make it. And frankly, if you’re adopting to “rescue an orphan”, or “save a child”, or because YOU need a cuddly little child to feel complete, just don’t. Head to your nearest animal shelter and find a cute puppy to take home. Because adoption is for the child, not the parent.
I felt pretty selfless when we adopted the first time, but I quickly realized I didn’t have a clue how much selfishness was still bound up in my heart.
You’ll find your true self on your adoption journey, and, like me, you may not like what you find. If you’re adopting for anything but the needs of the child, you will quickly find out.
Selflessness is found when you’re curled up on the floor of your room, holding a hurting child while she screams uncontrollably for hours, and you look at your spouse and wonder, “What have we just gotten ourselves into?” It’s found in sleepless night after sleepless night. It’s found in brokenness and emptiness and hurt that runs so deep it shatters minds and bodies. It’s found in the therapy sessions and the rocking and cuddling and meeting the needs of these precious hurting children, day after day after day.
It is true that adoption makes families.
But if we fail to remember that the child we’re adopting already has a family somewhere, or if we somehow think that we are the hero in the situation, we are gravely mistaken.
Adoption must always be first and foremost for the child.
3) Traditional parenting techniques rarely work with adopted children.
It took me a year or two to really grasp this one. We already had four biological children by the time the adopted ones started joining our family, so we thought we had a decent grasp on this parenting thing.
Boy, were we ever wrong.
In my opinion, connected parenting is an absolute necessity with adopted children — we love it so much we use it with all of our children! So much of the give and take of parental teaching, discipline, and authority is based on a healthy, attached relationship with your child. When attachment has been skewed from birth, problems arise. Deep, dark problems that are exasperated by traditional punitive parenting methods.
The child doesn’t possess an innate desire to please the parents.
The child’s flight/fright/freeze stress response remains frequently elevated.
And there isn’t a deep enough attachment on the part of the parent to protect from unrealistic or harsh expectations.
Connected parenting techniques work in adoptive families to continually bring the focus of correction and discipline back to the attachment relationship. This is the third thing I wish I had known before we adopted.
4) I could parent so much more than I thought I could.
I still remember going down the checklist of special needs before our first adoption and feeling intense fear. I wasn’t sure I could handle any of the needs! Well, maybe a super duper minor correctable need….
But here’s the real truth: A special need on paper is so much scarier than a special needs child.
One is facts, the other is warm cuddles and soft giggles when they wake up.
One is statistics, the other is crooked smiles and sparkly eyes that shine.
One is paper — the other is human. So many of the special needs we thought we couldn’t parent have been such non-issues in our adopted children.
Every family may not be equipped for every special need. But I think most could parent more special needs than they think they could, if they could look past the need and see the child.
5) How very much I would love my adopted children.
I’ll never forget when I was pregnant with my second child. I literally lost sleep at night because I was worried I might not love the second child as much as the first one.
The night he was born, I realized that this miraculous mother-love didn’t stop loving the first child at all but somehow multiplied to love the second one just as much.
And it’s been that way over and over again with our adopted children.
The love grows. It multiplies. It overwhelms us time and time again.
For some reason, it seems to us that more men than women struggle with this concept of loving a child that’s not “their own”. This is a real fear for many.
I can’t even begin to describe to you the beauty of falling in love with a child you didn’t give birth to. Sometimes this love comes quickly, instantly, easily, like a tsunami of emotions all at once. And other times it comes slowly, one tiny hard earned wave of water at a time, and you have to work for it.
True love is a choice, a conscious act of our will to actively meet the needs of someone else.
It’s worth it, oh so very worth it, to love these children.
When I get asked now, “What is your career?” I always answer with, “I’m a mom to nine children.” I don’t usually take the time to tell them the rest of the answer. That you don’t need to pity me or tell me how full my hands must be or wonder why in the world I would want to care for so many children. Because at the end of the day, my paycheck comes when it takes a full thirty minutes to kiss all of my children good-night.
I adopted, thinking I was changing a child’s life, never knowing how my life would be forever changed by the love I would have for them. And if I had known this before I adopted, I might have done it even sooner.
– guest post by Selina