Thank you for taking a break from your boys to come walk yesterday. It was really great to see you.
One thought that lingered in my mind after we parted was that you said you wouldn't necessarily recommend adoption. I can think of many reasons why someone would not recommend adoption but I wondered what your "why" is... As you know [my husband] and I have considered adoption and you are someone whose opinion we both deeply respect so we were curious to hear more...
We knew a wonderful family who adopted a little girl after they had three teenage boys and we heard they had her for less than a year before they unadopted her. We respect them, we know it must've been hard if it came to that for them. I've also talked with a good friend who works with troubled youth and he emphasized how the state does not disclose everything in a child's past and this can be very problematic for adopting parents. I don't know that any of this is your experience, but I can see it's been a good challenge (maybe in some unexpected ways?) for your family. Just wondered if you would feel comfortable sharing more about your experience...
My dear friend,
Quick answers because I'm up late and ought to go to bed but rather than wait until I have time enough to really answer I'm going to give you the sweetened condensed. I wouldn't necessarily recommend having children by any method -- not to everyone. I've loved being a mother but it's not for wimps. You know that. And adoption, too, is not a universal good. I wouldn't go back. But I wouldn't urge everyone I meet to jump into adoption without weighing things carefully. Things to think about:
- There are real advantages to being able to begin raising your child in utero -- people who think they'll adopt to avoid the trouble and mess of pregnancy and new-infant sleeplessness don't understand the deep attachments formed through those simple "mindless" caretaking months (though you and I both know how mindful that caretaking can be). So much is being taught, so gently, so naturally during that time. And you'll be building on that foundation for years to come. It's harder to have to start founding those reserves of trust and affection while at the same time dealing with the needs and behavior of an older child.
- Children ought be with their genetic families wherever possible. It aches me that my Youngest won't be able to trace his features in my face, in Fritz' face. That he won't be able to look around the room when the family is gathered together and see himself reflected back over and over. I'm startlingly aware how comforting it is to see reflections of yourself in the people around you. Where can I find that comfort to transmit to this son whom I love more and more every day? We talk with his grandfather regularly. We are trying to gather some family stories for our Youngest. We tell him our stories and gradually are creating OUR stories. We emphasize our common heritage as children of a loving God. Will it be enough? Ever?
- I worry adoption has become a kind of Brangelina fad ... a kind of conspicuous do-gooding and that instantly makes me eye it with suspicion. I think I offended a woman I know who recently told me how good we were and how her son and his wife were even going to do us one or two better as they've always planned to adopt several needy children as soon as they finish having their "own" children. Perhaps I ought to admire this kind of plan but it offends something in me. No child ought to be taken on as a project or as a badge of goodery. Every child ought to come as one of your "own" children.
- Adoption is complicated emotionally. And juggling those complications is time-consuming. Just like when you marry and you get not just the sweet boy you fell in love with but a whole family with all their baggage and demands -- so adopting means making room in your life not just for another child but for concerned grandparents, great foster parents, devoted case workers and others whom you will need to call regularly, spend time with, send pictures to, report to, maintain a relationship with. All of that takes time and emotional energy.
- Any child you adopt will be dealing with trauma and will have hidden wounds that are going to crop up over and over, jumping out of the shadows when you least expect it. And you won't ever have a complete copy of the backstory. You won't necessarily know what's going to trigger things. Why some things will matter so much. You won't always be as able to say, "Oh, honey, that's not the whole story," and so it will be harder to provide reassuring context when they replay past heartaches. There will be more things than ever that you don't know the answers to.These are only a handful of things (and there are others) parents should consider before they adopt. Yes, it is going well for us ... now. For now. But we've come through 8 pretty taxing months and that's with a happy-hearted little boy who is physically healthy, remarkably bright, and affectionate -- whose damage was relatively minimal, who doesn't act out violently or sexually. I wasn't prepared for how hard the adjustment would be. How much it would stretch our older son. And it hasn't been peaches and cream for Fritz and me. Or a bowl of cherries for our new little Youngest either. It's been good for all of us, but not easy.
I've been thinking about this email for the last couple of days. Thanks for being open and honest about how you feel about it. It will be many years before we start considering adoption again and we will take this into consideration when the time comes again.
MJ, I noticed during this last visit that there is a certain diminished energy in your eyes, for lack of a better way to describe it. You and your family have been through a lot this year, probably more than I can understand not having been through the process of adoption myself. I wasn't sure whether to understand that subtle change about you as just the wear of an arduous year, or as something personal. Have I done anything to fall out of your good graces? If so, tell me what it is so we can talk about it. If not, is there anything I can do for you as a friend to be a support to you?
My dear friend,
No, no, nothing personal -- At. All. I don't remember my state of mind now during our walk but you are graceful always in my eyes. I may have just been tired. I know I was anxious about calling our Youngest's abuelo and feeling all the demands from all these other interested parties. Maybe it was just how steep the hill was we were climbing in the dark the night of our walk. Maybe just the long steepness of the hill we've been climbing as a family this past year.
Or maybe you just picked up on my discomfort discussing the whole topic of adoption: My judgements of others who have adopted coming back to roost (that they were somehow doing it for show, that they ought to do it this way or that way, that they shouldn't do that or this -- though now I can see how they may not always have had a lot of choice about how they were able to do their adoption and I certainly had very little insight into the needs of their particular child and their particular situation). My weariness with facing the silly kind of applause some people have treated our decision with. My torn emotions as I deal with other people's bad choices and the aftermath of abuse. My sadness as I have to face more straight-on aspects of our society's endemic racism which had been invisible to me before. My heart's ambiguity seeing what adapting to this change has cost for our older son and for Fritz while at the same time becoming more and more heart-strung and entwined around our Youngest.
But no, nothing personally against you by any means.
Thanks for checking to make sure.
Well, I'm relieved to know it's not personal. You did seem tired and did mention the you stayed up until 2am canning applesauce the night before ;)
And about the topic of adoption - I am probably guilty of applauding your decision just as much as anyone else, but I can see exactly how that attitude would get to be old and very annoying. In reality, you felt directed to do something you probably wouldn't do otherwise, so you did it and it's been really hard. You didn't necessarily do it to save the world (even though I wouldn't put it past you to want to save the world) and you don't necessarily even believe that adoption is the best way to save the world. And few people, including myself, can really understand how hard it is and how hard it has been for your family in particular. So maybe you feel like people's spoken and unspoken praise for your decision is misplaced and, in general, just misguided. (I had to look up what "Brangelina" meant in wikipedia, btw - perhaps I'm a little out of touch?).
For the record, I think your "ambiguity" while dealing with someone else's bad choices is a great improvement over anger, hatred or disgust directed toward his birth parents. I recognize endemic racism in myself also ... and as race issues are ever present here ... and [my child] has already had to be confronted with racism issues at school ... How do I find a way to talk about this with my 3rd grader without instilling any of those same misconceptions in my son, especially when he has felt mistreated by youngsters of those races?
As I think about it MJ, I can see some ways in which you and I have lived parallel lives in the last year. Without assuming that I know the trials your family has been through, I can say that I know what it is like to feel inspired to do something, and so you do it, and then you come to find it's much different than you expected and your role is different than what you foresaw when you first felt the prompting and sometimes you don't know how to feel about it. Sometimes you wonder what your purpose is if it wasn't what you thought it would be. And in some ways it is much harder than you thought it would be ...
My dear friend,
This is why I adore you.
Thanks for walking and talking with me that night. I still feel warmed by your feeling your way into my experience. Thank you for helping me see in the dark. And helping me say.
[with permission from personal correspondence]