If you are an active member of the adoption community, you have probably heard the phrase "adoption is love." But what does that look like?

Spreading Adoption Love

Adoption is a Lifelong Journey

Adoption is love is a phrase you may have seen or read before on memes, inspirational quotes, and poems. Spreading adoption love is an important message to be shared within adoptive families, within the overarching adoption community, and throughout our other communities.

Before becoming an adoptive parent myself, it was a message that spoke to me both from the perspective of someone who hoped to become an adoptive parent as well as someone who wished that no child be without a family or a home.

As a member of the adoption community, I’ve been surrounded by families who have adopted along the same international pathway as I did. When I first met these parents, it was immediately obvious that spreading adoption love was their mission. These parents who have now become extended family and friends through our shared adoption journeys just oozed the love they carried for their own adopted child or children, as well as the passion they had for advocating for adoption and offering support to other parents hoping to someday walk in their shoes.

I’ve also gotten to know many adoptees—from infants to adults—who would agree that adoption is love and spreading adoption love is important to ensure that other children who need a family have the same opportunity to find the family, love, safety, and futures they otherwise may not have known. I have seen some of these adoptees grow from children into adults, now having children of their own and, in some cases, adopting children as well.

And while I believe adoption is love with so much to be gained, to grow into, to share, to learn, I know adoption is sacrifice and loss, too. This is because while one family is joined and gained and grown, another family experiences loss and separation. And yet this is also love. Painful, real, self-sacrificing, and protective love.

Expectant parents are often the less-mentioned members of the adoption community when the topic of adoption comes up in conversation. In many ways, it seems as if it’s easier to bypass the topic of expectant parents and birth parents altogether to spare painful conversations and realizations. It is an uncomfortable and sometimes awkward topic for those who don’t fully understand the adoption triad and its forever connection.

Because the act of adoption is not a “one and done.” It is not paperwork and finalization. It is not presentation day and bringing home a baby or toddler or older child. Adoption is a Lifelong Journey on the Parts of All Family Members Involved.

Regardless of the type of adoption—open-adoptions, semi-open adoptions, closed-adoptions—there is no erasing the fact that an adopted child had a first family or a birth family.

And that does not take away from how much the adopted child is loved by their new forever family, nor does it lessen the connection to their first moments. It doesn’t reduce the significance of an expectant parent’s heavy decision: whether or not they would or could take care of and raise a child they were unprepared for. The act of making an adoption plan, no matter open, semi-open, or closed, doesn’t lessen the fact that the woman who carried the child for nine months loved their baby enough to place her body through a pregnancy and place her mind, body, and soul through the physical, mental, and emotional act of saying goodbye so that a child might have a better chance at all the things she felt she might not be able to give—all the dreams she wasn’t sure she could help make come true. Even if that meant possibly letting go of a dream of her own.

Adoption is love even in that goodbye. Even in that sacrificial hope. Even in the faith a birth parent has when combing through profiles of hopeful adoptive families, when deciding what is in the best interest of a child that she may feel stir and kick, but may never hold or kiss.

The feelings of loss and grief are love. The selfless nature of putting a child above self is the greatest love.

Adoption Love Can Transcend the Forever Family

I have been spreading adoption love since meeting my daughters for the first time so long ago. The memories bring back a rush of emotions that are just as real and raw today as they were in the moment. The first sight, the first hold, the first kiss, the first whispered “I love you.” It’s difficult to describe the invisible yet unbreakable bond you feel with a child who has just become a part of your life, of your family, even if not a part of the physical you. 

It’s difficult to describe the growing, shaping, and changing of what you thought love was and what it begins to become in that moment. You realize you would run into a burning building, jump in front of a moving train, or stop a bullet for this little being who has just taken your name and quickly stolen your heart. And even as the child grows older and becomes more independent by the day—into the teenage years where they are questioning, pushing away, and wanting to become someone separate from you—that love remains.

As an adoptive mom, I can say that my love does not end with my daughters, but is felt almost every day when I look into their eyes and see the beauty of their birth mother, of their birth father, of their birth family.  I struggle sometimes between guilt and gratitude, knowing how lucky I am to have this person in my life because of a family I’ve never met. Because of people I’ve never known. And yet, in my daughters’ eyes, expressions, tones, personalities, talents, limitations, strengths, and weaknesses, I have come to know them just as my adopted daughters have taken on through nurture some of my traits. I have come to experience, learn, and accept their adoptive family’s habits, traditions, beliefs, hopes, and fears. The good and bad—all of it.

All of it shared through families joined forever by the sacrifice made and by the love gained.

Spreading Adoption Love to Burst the Stereotypical Bubble 

Adoption often gets a bad name or is shadowed closely by stereotypes, old beliefs, myths, and misunderstandings that somehow cast it as a bad thing. Because every adoption is unique—every birth family, adoptive family, and adoptee—there are many sides to adoption.

In the case of foster care, where a child may have been removed from an unhealthy or dangerous situation where a history of abuse or neglect existed, adoption may seem darker, scarier, and more uncertain. It may feel unfair. It may feel unwanted. A child being placed into foster care has done nothing wrong. They are a victim of their circumstance. In some cases, the same feelings might be used to describe the circumstances of a parent who loses their child to foster care.

In many cases, a removal to foster care is the direct result of drugs, alcohol, abuse, crime, or evidence of neglect. In other cases, one or both parents are incarcerated. These events leading up to the separation don’t make it any less traumatic for a child who doesn’t understand or may not even be aware of the reason behind the separation. Children love their family, period. Whether or not things are good at home, Mom is Mom, Dad is Dad. Family is family. 

A child who is removed from their birth family will experience trauma whether they are moved into a safer home or not. Removal in some situations can bring pain and loss that is unbearable for a child who has already lived in an environment of trauma. All children in foster care have been exposed to some form of trauma; the very act of being put in foster care is traumatic for children because it means the loss of their birth family and often friends, schoolmates, teachers, and everything that is familiar.

Before researching adoption and foster care, admittedly, I bought into a lot of stories about how bad and dangerous foster care is and that adopting a child from foster care will end badly. And make no mistake, no matter how well-intended, there are situations where foster care has not been a good experience for a child. Where bad things can occur. Despite this, though, hundreds of thousands of children pass through foster care yearly with many thousands adopted into forever homes yearly. 

Foster parents come in many shapes, from single parents to first-time parents to parents with existing biological and/or adopted children, to empty nesters looking to open their home and their hearts after discovering they weren’t quite ready to close that chapter of their lives.

There are countless stories with happily-ever-afters, like Connor’s Foster Care Adoption Story and Liz and Ashley’s Adoption Story.

So yes, foster care, too, helps in spreading adoption love. Again, it is the result of loss, but with an opportunity at the end of a nightmare for a child to know love, peace, safety, and hope as well as healing.

Hearing from Adoptees is Important

Adult adoptees have gained more of a voice in the past few years. They no longer want to leave it to agencies, facilitators, or adoptive parents to speak for them. This is just as it should be. We need to listen to adoptees to better understand how they feel about their place in the adoption triad. How we can best help them through the loss, grief, and trauma that very often lies just below the sweet happiness of adoption—of that photo of the smiling family you receive at Christmas. 

The truth is, adoptive families, adoptees included, are often left to figure out and navigate their adoption journey on the good days as well as the bad days. You can spread adoption love even when it’s not a good day. Even when a child feels confused or unhappy, or doesn’t quite know how to voice what they’re feeling—perhaps because they don’t understand what they’re feeling. It’s love even when they dig deep and realize they may have love for a birth family they may know a lot, a little, or not at all. It is love even when they are not quite sure how to express to their adoptive family that they love them, but may not always feel happy or the same as a child in a traditional biological family. They may wonder whose eyes they have or why they are great at singing, but can’t do math to save their life. They may not want to hurt or offend the family who adopted them by telling them they don’t always feel like the families they see at school, at sleepovers, on tv and in the movies, or that they read about in books.

It is important that adoptive families, birth families, and those closest to adoptees learn about and respect adoptees’ feelings. This is another way of spreading adoption love—acknowledging that adoptees are not extensions of either adoptive parents or biological parents, but individuals who deserve to feel the way they feel without the fear of judgment.

Adoption is Misunderstandings, Awkwardness, and Awe

Adoption is love in spite of all the misunderstandings that come along with it. All of the awkward pauses. All of the “I don’t knows” said in doctors’ offices when medical or social history is unknown. All of the counting to 3s when complete strangers question whether you are family since you may not look like a traditional family. 

Adoption leaves you breathless sometimes when your child looks you in the eyes and tells you they wish they’d grown in your tummy, wish they could live with you forever, wish you could stay home from work and play the day away. It leaves you feeling bewildered at times when they tell you they don’t like you so much (to put it nicely) when you discipline them for misbehaving or breaking the rules or getting into trouble at school. Adoption leaves you reaching into your heart for just the right response when your little one tells you they love their birth mom the most in the world for giving them life and sits wide-eyed waiting for your reply. It’s sweet and strange when you acknowledge that you love their birth mom the most in this world for giving them life, too. 

Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.

Susan Kuligowski

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she's not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.