The movie “Thirteen Going on Thirty” goes something like this: a thirteen-year-old girl makes a wish to be thirty and finds herself struggling with the outcome when it becomes a reality. As an adult, she is having a discussion with her mother and she asks her if she could change anything in her life, would she? The mother’s response is, “no, because the mistakes I made have made me who I am today. If I hadn’t made mistakes, I would not have learned from them.”
Personally, that is a hard question for me to answer. There are a lot of things I would change in my life. Looking back at my teen years, there were plenty of mistakes made along the way. Sometimes I reflect on the choices I made and wonder how I got to where I am today. I made some very foolish decisions that could have changed my life dramatically. I must have had a guardian angel watching over me and protecting me. I just wasn’t very smart at times. But in the moment I saw nothing wrong with my choices. Thankfully, I grew up and got a little wiser along the way. Of course, I still make foolish decisions. Life would not be life without a few wrong turns along the path.
I never thought my journey would lead to adoption. It had nothing to do with choices I had made earlier in my lifetime. My decision to adopt was not the result of anything I could have prevented by making different choices. It just simply became a part of my life’s journey, a part of my story that I would never change. The hardships and trials leading up to that part of my life were difficult. I struggled for years with the fear of not having another child. When my husband and I finally made the decision to adopt, a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders. I no longer had to bear the weight of secondary infertility and feelings of failure on my own. The two of us were now on equal ground, and we would face our adoption journey together as partners wanting the same outcome.
At two points in our lives, we found ourselves face-to-face with the reality of adoption. The circumstances were different and each situation had its own set of challenges. Basically, our adoptions went rather smoothly. But of course, nothing happens fast enough in the adoption world. Everything takes time. The problem with that is that once things do happen, life doesn’t slow down so you can enjoy the results you have been waiting for. Time refuses to stand still and you have to be careful not to blink or you might miss something.
When I reflect back on our adoption journey, the one thing that I would change is how I thought I could do it all on my own. I had been a mother to two biological daughters for nearly nine years. Of course, I knew everything there was to know about being a mother. However, there were a lot of changes made in the world of parenting during those nine years: not laying babies on their stomachs, when to start solid foods, and car seat rules, just to name a few.
A newborn baby who cried every day from 5 to 8 p.m. was a little stressful. Thank goodness for big sisters and automatic baby swings. Luckily, once he stopped crying, he would sleep through the night. Much to our surprise, I became pregnant when he was just 5 months old! He was a chubby baby, weighing almost nine pounds at birth, and he continued to grow steadily. By the time he was a year old, he weighed 28 pounds. With the additional physical burden of being pregnant while caring for him, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both of my wrists, thus requiring the wearing of wrist braces on both hands during most of my pregnancy and several months thereafter. I will be forever grateful for the blessing of a good husband and two daughters who loved helping out with their baby brothers.
Several years later we entered the adoption world again. This time I really felt prepared. By now I was the mother of five and surely knew it all! We adopted a little girl from the foster care system who had been through a lot in her short 2 ½ years. She was confused and so were we. I was suffering from postpartum depression following the birth of my now five-month-old son. But we had been waiting for a little girl and could not pass up this opportunity to complete our family.
The first year was especially difficult as I tried to meet both her physical and emotional needs while dealing with my mental illness and a new baby. After counseling and meds, I gradually returned to my “normal” self. Stil,l we battled with daily outbursts and unending power struggles. We decided to seek out help through counselors and doctors to see if there was an underlying condition we were not aware of. Her life prior to living with us was very unclear. There were so many unknown factors. This was new territory for us.
She was given a few different diagnoses. Reactive attachment disorder and separation anxiety disorder were among them. We pursued counseling on several occasions but she didn’t respond well to it. She would often become angry before the sessions and not cooperate with suggested treatment ideas. She saw multiple counselors and since they changed so often she took it as a personal attack on her and felt like they didn’t really care about her. After several failed attempts, we decided this was not the path to take. Instead, we trudged forward into the unknown.
Since I have become a storyteller for adopting.org, I have learned so much more about the adoption world. I have reached out to other adoptive parents and realized that we are not alone on this journey. When I asked fellow adoptive mothers what they would do differently on their adoption journey, I was surprised to find out that many of them feel the same way that I do. One mother’s response was, “I’ve adopted five children. If I could go back and change one thing it would be myself. I was so inflexible at the beginning, thinking I knew exactly what to do and how to do it, that all I did was to add trauma onto trauma and exacerbate attachment difficulties. It took a long time to admit I was wrong and to learn to be humble and flexible”. Another mother agreed, saying, “I would change myself and lose the fear. The rigidity, fear of the unknown, fear of the diagnoses, fear of any of it. I let it interrupt our bonding/development of our relationship”. If only I had allowed myself to be vulnerable and ask for help in raising our daughter. But we thought we knew it all and we were not going to admit that we didn’t.
I wish that I had done more research on our daughter’s behavioral traits. Even though we were also raising an adopted son, I still wasn’t convinced that nature could prevail over nurture. I now know that it can take generations for traumatic experiences to work their way through genetics. According to Claire Gillespie of Health.com, “Generational trauma isn’t just experienced by one person but extends from one generation to the next.” It can contribute to further adverse effects in children and grandchildren including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. If we had been willing to acknowledge our lack of knowledge, we could have possibly avoided much heartache and frustration for everyone involved.
I didn’t want help or advice from our daughter’s adoption history; I wanted to put that part of her life behind us. If only I had paid more attention to her medical care, I would have saved her years of stomach aches and illness by noticing that she was allergic to dairy. It took her tonsillectomy for me to discover what had been in front of me the whole time. It wasn’t my best mom moment after weeks of giving her milkshakes to make her feel better.
Another adoptive mother had this to say: “I have adopted twice. The first one, if I could change anything it would be setting better boundaries with birth family relatives. That was difficult because it was a foster care adoption. Grandparents were very involved and I voluntarily had frequent visits with them. They became somewhat unreasonable and demanding, but I felt uncomfortable setting boundaries because as the birth family they could say “we want him” and take him from me at any time. So I spent 22 months in fear of making them angry. Seven years later I still struggle with showing my true feelings and setting boundaries after having that anxiety and fear for so long. My second adoption was also a foster care adoption. That one we were denied taking our son to therapy when I felt it was necessary. He was also taken on mandatory prison visits. I wish I had pushed harder for therapy. After adoption, he was diagnosed with attachment disorder and it has been very difficult for us.” When considering adoption, it is important to consider what the future will look like. Remember to think about what boundaries need to be in place before being faced with conflicts in the relationship.
Being a parent is hard work. We can use all the help we can get. As I face becoming an empty nester in the coming months, I find myself wondering if I have done enough. After raising six children, it’s a daunting realization to think that I no longer have that daily influence on them. There are no do-overs. Whatever is done, is done. I can only hope that I taught them correct principles for becoming responsible adults.
There are multiple websites and online resources to guide us in raising children today. Adopting.org, adoption.org, and adoption.com offer information in all areas of parenting and adoption. Facebook has support groups where we can be involved in dialogue with other parents who may be struggling. Local Health and Welfare agencies offer parenting classes for those preparing to adopt or become foster parents. Blogs are an online journal or informational website displaying information on a certain topic or topics. Shutterfly.com suggests the following parenting blogs: popsugar.com/moms, parents.com, and scarymommy.com. Creatingfamily.org/blog is run by the National Infertility and Adoption Education Nonprofit. This blog provides research, tools, books, and more that can help enable parents to build a family. Other blogs are available for fathers, stepparents, and parents of teens. Social media has opened endless opportunities for guidance on the adoption journey and help in raising a family.
Elizabeth Stone, author of Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins: How Our Family Stories Shape Us, said, “The decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Where we came from shapes who we will become. As adoptive parents, we have the responsibility of making sure those children become the best version of themselves possible. Although there will almost always be things we wish we could change about our lives, it is important to remember that as long as we give it our best, that is all we can ask of ourselves.
Let us all say, as in the words of Erma Bombeck, “There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorry’s … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.