I was asked recently if I would be willing to write something for an adoption blog “as an adoptive mother”- things I wish I knew before I adopted my child. What immediately went through my mind were the very words used in the request “as an adoptive mother.” I am the type of person who LOVES that my child is adopted and LOVES the title of adoptive mom. While in so many ways I am a mom like every other mother out there who has birthed their child, adoption also changes what being a mother looks like. So, what did I wish someone told me before I created my family through adoption? I wish someone had told me I would be a mom in every way my friends with biological kids are and yet, it is different to create your family through adoption. Let me explain…
I am one of the lucky ones who has been with my son since the moment he was born. I chose domestic infant adoption as I wanted “the closest thing” to birthing my child when it came to attachment and parenting. I was blessed to be invited into the delivery room and was there when my son was born. I love to share birth stories with other moms but my story is different. My birth story is about holding the leg of a near stranger and watching my son being born. Different. My story is about the love I felt for this new being and how my heart just melted when minutes after being born he grabbed my finger and would not let go. The same.
Then there was the hospital stay. I watched the video about SIDS and fed my baby, changed his diaper, and cared for him every moment I could. The same as any mom. What was different? I shared this time with his birth mother and her family. Not only was I bonding with my son, but I was laying the groundwork for a relationship with my son’s birthmother. I was falling in love with my son and also leaving space to allow his birth mother to love him and say goodbye, all while knowing she was within her rights to change her mind at any time. I had to sort through the fact that my incredible joy at becoming this little boy’s mother was also his birth mother’s incredible pain and loss. I watched another woman fall in love with her baby and then choose to place him in my arms. I will always be in awe of birth mothers- that love for another at the risk of your own heart is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed and been a part of. A near-stranger made my impossible dream of being a mother happen.
Like any other mother, I named my son. But how that name came to be is different. Some adoptive parents choose a new name or keep the name the birth family gave, and some name their child together. Whichever path the adoptive parents choose to name their child, the difference is that the birth name often changes when adoption is finalized. In my story, everything changed when I met my son’s birth mother. I shifted from “I can name my child” to “What is the story I want for my son?” The story I wanted was that from the beginning all of his people worked together for what was best for him. When it came to his name, we named him together. I LOVE my son’s name and the story behind it, even though his first name is never one I even considered. I love it because it came from the woman who birthed him, loves him, and made me a mom. His nickname is a derivative of his middle name as he was named for my wife’s great grandmother and is called by his full name or his nickname so we honor all of who he is and all of his family. The Same and different.
Then there was leaving the hospital. The same as any other mother, I strapped this tiny little human into a car seat and left the hospital, eager to start my life as a family of three. What was different? I navigated the heartbreak of a birth mother saying goodbye to her son and then instead of going directly home, I went to the lawyers to complete paperwork to start the process of making legal what my heart already knew, this was my son. The same and different.
The same as all parents, I navigate all the complicated relationships that come with family. What is different? I chose an open adoption with my son’s birth mother and as such, she is now a part of those extended family relationships. I love my son’s birth mother. It is a relationship I value for myself as well as my hope for what it will mean to my son as he grows. But like all relationships, it is not always easy. When I share a difficult interaction, instead of being met with empathy for how relationships can be complicated, I more often have to defend my choice to be in an open adoption. I have heard that “I don’t have to share anything with HER” or “You are a saint for allowing HER to be in his life.” What both of these responses fail to recognize is SHE is MY family. People like to (falsely) clarify for me that she is “my son’s birth family”, what I really want people to understand is she is MY family. She became my family when I held my son in my arms. I want my son to know that love defines his family. That all of his people love each other, and he does not have to choose between nature or nurture to define his family or who he is. He is loved by two families- is that not something to celebrate?
Doctor’s visits are another one of those same and different experiences of being an adoptive mother. It is the same in that my child is weighed, given his vaccines, and we talk about how he is developing. What is different is that we do not have all of his medical history…I have to explain this every time. I have shared the medical history we have but when part of the history is unknown odd occurrences can sound the alarm. For example, my son ran a high fever for a long time that no one could explain. They ran a slew of tests because the limited family history we had did not offer insight into what was happening and therefore no disease could be ruled out or in. So, I waited for the results of an HIV test and all other sorts of scary diseases only to find out all were negative, and it was a “fever of unknown origin.”
What I wish I knew then, now that I am an adoptive mother is that I would spend a lot of time being an adoption educator and researcher in my personal life to be the best mom I can be for my son. I never knew I would spend hours reading about birth mother’s experiences so that I could build a bond with someone who was once a stranger and is now family. I never knew things would be so very different than I thought while being exactly what I dreamed. I always hoped that being a mom would be something I loved, what I know now is being an adoptive mother is by far one of the most amazing and beautiful aspects of my life.
What I wish I knew when I began my adoption journey is that while the world wants to tell me that my son is “so lucky you adopted him” that it is I who am the lucky one. I am the one who gets to be a mom despite not being able to birth a child. I am the one who has a larger family now not just my son but his birth family. I am the one who sees how heartbreak can become beauty as a family is born. It is the same and yet so very different then if I birthed my son. But what I know now, that I wish I knew then is I would not want it any other way. That all the heartache, the miscarriage, the failed adoption would all one day lead me to MY son. I never thought I would feel grateful for a path filled with so much pain to create a family but any other path would not have led me to the little boy I call my son. And that thought is more heartbreaking than all the loss that came before him.
Written by Tara McAvoy, adoption caseworker for the George J. & Mary S. Mitchell Adoption Unit.