I was never a fan of haunted houses. I didn’t like the lack of control or the dark spaces flooded with loud, foreboding music. I didn’t like the strobe lights that gave me small glimpses of what I should fear. I didn’t like the anticipation of what was lurking around the corner, eagerly waiting to jump out and surprise me. The adrenaline rush it all supplied didn’t excite me. Yet, year after year, I went to the haunted houses with my friends from elementary school through my college years in some attempt to control the fear that welled up inside me every time. Fear that whispered, “Turn around and run.”
I’m not a risk-taker. There’s no burning desire in my soul to go cliff diving. Bungee jumping? No thanks. My husband and son joke that they would never choose me as a partner on the show The Amazing Race. (We’d never win. That coupled with my complete inability to navigate without a GPS would get us kicked off the show immediately.) I’m sensible. I’m predictable. I’m a big fan of schedules and meal plans. I don’t see the allure of a casino. Because… risk.
But somehow God convinced us, not once, but twice that there are places in life where the reward is greater than the risk.
In the years, months, and days leading up to adoptions, the risks lingered in the back of my mind, tucked away neatly behind mental to-do lists and family photo outfit ideas and birthday party themes and Christmas gift ideas. All the things that I could control. Don’t get me wrong here. My husband and I had many conversations about the “what ifs.” We talked through lots of scenarios and possibilities in case the referral files were not accurate. We had the hard talks. We read all the books and articles. We completed the trainings. We talked with the social worker. Everything. We did it right.
But there’s nothing that can truly prepare you for the hard stuff, when the risks become real. I guess it’s like a scene in Grey’s Anatomy when a new resident is hit with his first patient who’s coding on the table in front of him. School, training, observation, skills labs… they’re nothing compared to the real thing that’s in your face that’s now your responsibility.
We’d only had him in our arms for a few hours when the strobe lights started flashing for me. There were no major, glaring reasons to worry. They were actually just a few small, almost unnoticeable things. I knew just enough from my participation in Facebook groups and my casual reading to light the fire of fear inside me. Fear just big enough to generate frantic Google searches and emails to our international adoption pediatrician back home. I knew… knew… there was more than the referral stated. More than the handful of pictures and the brief seconds of video revealed. A mother’s instinct is rarely wrong.
For a year and a half, the strobe lights emerged again from time to time. Bright, disorienting flashes that both allowed me to see and blinded me simultaneously, leaving behind darkness when they subsided. The place where fear lived. A new diagnosis. A new “we should monitor this.” A new reason for me to insist on an appointment at our pediatrician just to be safe. Because safe and predictable is where I thrive.
And finally, a few weeks ago, the big scary thing jumped out from around the corner. I knew it was coming. I knew to anticipate it. But that never makes it less scary, does it?
I had prepared myself for a diagnosis for our son. I had accepted what I thought he had and I was ready to hear it from a doctor say it. In some trivial way, I was accepting of that diagnosis because I felt I had control over it through my knowledge of it. However, when the geneticist gave me the actual outcome of our months of genetic testing, testing that I had pushed for, I wasn’t ready. Eyes opened wide, yet blindsided. I grappled with a diagnosis that was unfamiliar, and it took the breath out of me. And then I thanked God that he placed our son with us where fierce love and medical care are always available for him. We are all so blessed. We will not turn around and run out of fear. There is always light.
I think all potential adoptive parents need to know something about the risks.
You have no idea what you’re getting into. It’s a hard thing to accept, but what you envision as your child’s personality, his likes or dislikes, her attachment to you, your attachment to her. It might not be reality. Even if you have five other kids at home, this one’s not going to be like the rest.
The babies that you fed on demand, co-slept with, and read the classics to in utero are vastly different from the child that you adopt from an institution. Your new child was not rocked to sleep, and she had to learn some self-soothing habits, like head banging, that may not appeal to you. He was not fed a snack when he was hungry, so he might have food issues. She has not received an education equivalent to your child at home that’s the same age. Aside from the language barrier, she may not know how to count or that different colors have different names. He probably has some sensory issues because he has been confined to the same three rooms of the orphanage his whole life. He might be terrified of a hair dryer or hate baths. Wind may send him into an out-of-control fit of terror.
The referral is very likely not 100% accurate. In fact, you should expect it to be inaccurate. Even grossly inaccurate. You should expect that you will discover things about your child in country or when you get home that are not disclosed in the referral.
Choosing what are considered “minor or correctable” needs is not a guarantee that you will be free from life-long implications of an undiscovered need or an undiagnosed syndrome.
Prepare yourself and your budget for surprise medical expenses or therapies that your child might need. You have to be “all in” even if (especially if) you are blindsided.
You will likely encounter challenges of some degree with medical needs, attachment, feeding issues, or a host of situations that you cannot foresee right now. Your child might require life-long care. Prepare your heart for these things. Prepare your heart to receive life-changing news. I have too many friends who are going through this now to keep this from you. If you make the decision to adopt, you are making the decision to be all in for this child, a child who did not choose you.
Potential adoptive parents, it’s not my intention to scare you away from adoption. I’m simply handing you a flashlight to prepare you to encounter the dark and unknown. You will, at some point, be faced with situations that are uncomfortable and maybe a little terrifying to you. But your child is worth it. Anything in life that’s worth it is going to require risk. We choose to adopt despite the risk.
And I think the world needs to know something about adoptive parents.
We are not brave. We get scared. We don’t know what the future holds for our kids. We worry, and we research, and we pray that we’re doing the right thing for our them. We learn to push aside our passive personalities in order to be an advocate for our kids. Some of us secretly strive to be the mom from Speechless, who unabashedly makes demands for services for her son with special needs. For me, that’s a work in progress to silence the accommodating, people-pleasing side of me and give rise to the mama bear who needs to push for her child.
We are not strong. There’s a chance that you’ve met our alternate personas in public known as Miss Brightside or Miss Positive because we really don’t want to lose it standing in the produce section when you ask how our child is doing. We might hold it together for appointments and IEP meetings, but we probably call our friends/mothers/spouses and cry the whole way home. We have a lifeline of Facebook friends whom we’ve never met. Some days, we are the glue that holds the other’s mental stability together after yet another appointment that revealed tough news.
We are not special. We really are just regular old people like you. We’re still selfish and human. We’re not amazing. We are not equipped with some special subset of skills that make us better at life than anyone else. Our kids fight, and we make a lot of mistakes just like you. Our houses are probably a mess.
We simply said “yes” when the time came. We said “yes” to risk and fear and, sometimes, a little craziness.
When you say, “I could never do what you do,” you’re wrong. We know that you can if you’re just willing to face the risks. And we will cheer you on when you do.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my life being afraid of the dark. The unknown. The unable to be seen. But it’s like I tell my kids now. There’s nothing to be afraid of. When you turn on the light, it’s the same room, the same house, the same everything, minus… the dark that makes things appear scary.
In the midst of darkness, there is always light, even if we have to let our eyes adjust a little so that we can see it shining through.