I’ve been told that adoption is more of a marriage than a birth. I think that is pretty accurate and the older the child is at the time of adoption, the more of a marriage it is. At first I thought that because we got D when he was so young, that this wouldn’t really be as true for us, but it is. Think about the differences between a birth and a marriage. A birth is when a human life enters the world not ever having known anything else but his mother and father. I add father because even though he hasn’t physically touched his father until birth, he is still made up of DNA and other physical things that came directly from his father—things that physically touched him. This child has known no other life besides his own and in some degree, that of his parents. An adopted child has a history before you—family, friends, DNA, culture, and so many other things—and that’s okay. It’s even good, so embrace it.
As I’ve sat in numerous adoption and foster parent classes, I have been privy to many, many discussions, some which included me, and some to which I not-so-subtly eavesdropped. It has been interesting to hear how many prospective adoptive parents would like to erase their potential child’s past and “move on”. Things like drug and alcohol abuse, neglect, mental illness and so many more issues that have plagued various birth parents lives, become the reasons for criticism. And keep in mind that many adoptions happen as the result of very coherent, deliberate choices by wonderful birth parents to place their children with families because they just don’t feel that they can give those children good lives. Those choices are made out of a great love for their child and extreme unselfishness. But, as one who has adopted out of our local foster care, I can say that most adoptions aren’t the result of a choice like that. I believe that adoptive parents really need to face this fact: adoption is not the same as a biological birth. Accept it. Mourn the loss of it, if that bothers you, and get over it. It’s not the same and it never will be and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a different thing.
I remember sitting through a wonderful class that was all about how we need to not cut off all ties from a child’s birth family or the life they had before adoption. The instructors taught about how continued visits with biological family long after adoption can be most beneficial to the child. They taught us to not throw away clothes or blankets or anything from the child’s life before adoption because no matter how tattered and dirty those things might seem to us, they are one of the few connections that child has with their biological family and with a former life that is becoming more and more distant in his memory. They talked about not changing their names (especially in older children) because it may be the only thing their mother ever gave them. They talked about the difficulty in still having contact with the biological family, but that in many cases, that contact was very healing for a child. They discussed how many adoptive parents don’t want the hassle of more extended family, or regular visits, or dealing with people that aren’t their own family. They said often adoptive parents are insecure that a child might perhaps love someone else more than them, and maybe want to return to live with that family, but that on the contrary, usually what happens is that the adopted child realizes this was the better choice for him and is happier to have discovered that for himself. Ironically, right after the bulk of this class was taught, I heard an adoptive father turn to someone else during a break and say “Well, I’m severing those ties as soon as possible. I know what’s best for my child and they aren’t it.” I was totally surprised that he had missed every single principle taught in that class, and I felt sadness at how his child may feel, not only with his parents’ attitude towards where he came from, but also without that connection that might have helped him to heal more quickly and more completely. Adopted children need to sort through all these things at their own pace, not at a pace that is more convenient for us. A marriage is two people entering in to a contract, with risks on both sides. Don’t forget it’s a risk for the child to take you, too, and he never asks for you to leave your past behind.
Adoption is a wonderful thing. If you have read any of my blog entries, then you already know how I feel about it. But it is the marrying of two worlds. It is two or more people that aren’t blood-related coming together just like in a marriage. As you willingly step into that union, remember that you are taking that child to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until…well, I know the traditional vows ends with “til death do us part”, but I believe in the eternal nature of families, so I will replace that with “forever and ever”.