When you see mention of adoption on social media, you see a lot of “born in my heart, not under it,” and memes about being “chosen” and “blessed.” But, when you peel back a layer, you see heartbreak—the birth mother who agonized over her decision and all the complicated feelings that pair with the “born in my heart” sentiments.
I have three kids—two are adopted (one arrived via my vagina, the other two via China). Our most recent adoption was finalized over two years ago, so I think of my kids as just my kids and not my adopted kids. The adjustment period has passed and things are normal, well, whatever passes for normal anyway.
But, those sentimental adoption memes that pop up on my Facebook feed hold a special place in my heart. I have the family that I have because we’ve built it through adoption, and this process has taught me quite a lot about who I am as a person and about life in general. I find myself reflecting on the path our adoptions have put us on. Sometimes I look at my life and ask myself, “How did I get here?” Yeah, I know that’s a line from a Talking Heads song, but the point I’m trying to make is that life in my 40s didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it when I was in my 20s. I guess it never does, for anyone. My 20s were a selfish time, and I’d never have predicted these twists and turns.
And that’s OK.
Adoption has taken me places I never expected to go and touched every part of my life. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and when I stop to think about it, many things I’ve learned have taken me by surprise:
1. I learned to take on a new culture, sort of. I’m a white girl from South Texas. I celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and any occasion when I can eat Tex-Mex. Adding Asian children to our family gave us a broader look at culture. Even though my kids are Americans—Texans, even—they’re ethnically Asian and that brings a responsibility on my part to give a nod to that culture in our everyday life.
I try. I think I suck at this sometimes. There’s the Lunar New Year, Moon Festival, Tomb-Sweeping, and probably a bazillion other things I’m slacking on. But, adopting these kids has given me a broader window to the world and helped me expand my borders a little bit.
2. I learned new definitions of hurt and healing. I’d always thought of adoption as a happy event, and it is, but there are so many layers. Postpartum depression is something that people understand (or at least have heard of) but the post-adoption depression that kicked my ass? Yeah, not so much. Most people have never heard of or don’t believe in post-adoption depression. It’s isolating.
There are the kids who are never adopted and the void that comes when we know we’re done adopting. I’ve experienced a non-touristy view of China—twice—and each time I’ve come away in tears because I’ve seen so many children who don’t have the same happy ending as my kids, who don’t find families. “Save a child” was not our motivation for adoption but leaving China and seeing firsthand how many children were left behind, well, that pretty much tore my heart into little pieces.
3. I learned patience and diplomacy. I’m an instant-gratification, give-it-to-me-right-effing now girl. Adoption is all about waiting, and paperwork, and more waiting, and stress eating. I compare it to a very long, unpredictable pregnancy. I’m not saying adoption blessed me with the gift of eternal patience, but I’ve learned acceptance through waiting on something I had zero control over. Having less of a shit-needs-to-happen-yesterday outlook has helped me become a better mom and a happier person.
I’ve never had patience for assholes, but when each day brings a nosy (albeit well-intentioned) question, your mindset will change. We field comments like, “You should have adopted from your own country,” and “Why didn’t you adopt white kids or black kids?” all the time.
I’ve learned not to jump down people’s throats for asking something they see as innocent, even when I think it’s rude. I’ve learned to guard my kids’ privacy, and I don’t let every ignorant person ruin my day. And, I’ve learned to tell people to mind their own effing business when it needs to be said.
4. I learned that although adoption was second choice, it’s not second best. If I would have had the full lineup of lady parts, my husband and I wouldn’t have considered adoption. There were fleeting moments of worry that I wouldn’t love them as much as I would love a biological child or that some part of me wouldn’t really feel like a mom. I’m not gonna lie: bonding and attachment haven’t been a cakewalk. I can look back on all this and say that yes, I do love my adopted kids as much as any child who would have popped out the old-fashioned way, but that took time.
But sometimes, good things are worth the struggle.
I often say “nothing surprises me anymore,” because, well, I’ve been around a while and I think I’ve seen all the things. But, nearly everything about our family’s adoption experience has surprised me. I expected adoption to add to the number of people who lived in my house, but it’s been so much more.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned through adoption is that no matter how long I live, there’s always something more to learn and experience. As much as I like to think I’ve done it all and seen it all, life is probably always going to surprise me, and that’s a good thing. Adoption changed every nuance of my life (also turned it upside down and sideways) in a mostly good way—in a really loud, messy and sticky way.