The birth father is often forgotten in discussing the adoption process. Including them can be a great opportunity for those involved.

What Is Adoption?

When I started this journey many years ago, my answer would have been very different. Today I am wiser, smarter, and have a much more realistic view of adoption. Sit back and read with me as we travel through this multi-faceted topic. It won’t be an easy read, but then it hasn’t been an easy ride.

Adoption. It’s full of every emotion known to man. In our home, we often refer to the process as a rollercoaster ride. One day you can feel down, hopeless, the next soaring with the promise of all things the world offers. Even though we have experienced deep pain as the result of this process, I wouldn’t change a moment. The process has changed me in just about every way imaginable. And some that I wouldn’t have been able to imagine.

What is adoption? Adoption is loss.

This was hard for me to process from the very first day. Processing the emotions of our joy and relief didn’t sit well with us. I cried so much in the days following our oldest son’s birth. His mom chose adoption for her and her son. She knew the loss, the pain that would come, and she still had the strength to follow through with the choice she had made. The choice she believed to be the right decision for her child. Watching her grieve him in the first hours after his birth was difficult, and I know through our relationship that the next year, more likely two, were very difficult for her. We have talked several times about her emotions, about how she knows that she made the right choice and that she knew it would be hard. For me, watching her struggle was hard and I stopped sharing his milestones with her. I couldn’t imagine how through her pain she could appreciate our joy, our love and our pure glee in his existence. And yet, she did. She eventually asked us to send more pictures. Share more about him, and we did. We do.

For our son, it was harder to process his loss. While we knew he had that loss, he also knew us from birth. And while I believe he felt the loss, we didn’t really have a tangible way of knowing what was loss and what was being a newborn dependent on you in every way. Even then, at 10 days old, I cried over him knowing that she had not changed her mind. Knowing that he would be ours through adoption forever. I talked to him about her and how she was strong, and how very much she loved him. How she had the strength to attend his baptism, I will never know. I was so happy she was there, and yet, I had no idea how hard that would be for her. I know I was meant to be his mother, and she was also.

With our second and third children, this became much more difficult. We adopted through the foster care system and processing this loss was much harder. In our daughter’s life, she remembers vividly living with her first mom. She came and went between homes for much of her first years here. I saw the struggle of the transition several times a week. It’s only after the visits stopped that she slept peacefully and could begin to regulate her emotions. For me, the process of accepting that their mothers were losing children was harder. They had caused, in my mind, the incidents that had made my children lose their family and their homes.  This “mother,” which, in my mind, was only through biology, had caused this devastation and such deep, painful loss for my children.

What is adoption? Adoption is forgiveness.

When we began the journey with our oldest son whom we adopted through domestic infant adoption, choosing open adoption was an easy choice. Why wouldn’t we choose to have a relationship with the woman who gave us the more perfect gift imaginable? I still cannot fathom that gift. But when we brought home our two youngest from foster care, we both struggled greatly with cutting them out. While they had caused hurt and pain and devastation for all of us in many ways, I could see their hurt, pain, and devastation at the thought of never seeing their children again. I was so afraid. We were being told by well-meaning social service workers to cut off all ties and not commit to having them involved. It just didn’t sit well. When our second son’s biological mom requested to meet us, I went. Nervously, eagerly, and scared silly. It didn’t help that my son was struggling, but he was there for the visit anyway. When I walked in, I was shocked at the humility and emotional fragility of this “monster”—that’s what I had made her in my mind. As we sat with our struggling boy, his anger and fear directed solely and wholly at her, I saw her sadness. It wasn’t the type of sadness that leaves once the visit is over. It takes time. Years to heal from that deep of a loss. And I knew. I couldn’t simply say, “Thanks for this boy, see ya later.” It wasn’t going to work that way. And so, the process of forgiveness began. I still work on forgiveness with her. She wasn’t taught to love. She wasn’t taught truth, light, and honesty. She struggles to accept that I could and do love her.

With my daughter’s first mom, this process was so much harder for me. In part because she didn’t cause the physical hurt to our daughter. She simply couldn’t keep her safe by choosing safe people to have in her life and her daughter’s life. And in part to her resistance to accepting the truth of the matter, the fact that she made bad choices, and then trying to hurt us, deepening the fear and hurt in our children in the meantime. I don’t need to list the things she did. I know now why it happened. How deeply sad and hurt she was, and why she was so afraid of adoption. She has every right to be. She had experienced the deepest pain a child could experience, and her story broke my heart. My only regret is that I wasn’t where she was to be the one to find her, foster her, adopt her, understand her. Through the process of forgiveness, I have learned her story. And though it wasn’t easy, we have a good, strong, and loving relationship.

What is adoption? Adoption is trauma.

This is the hardest for me. I wish that I could have spared each of my children the pain and lasting effects of trauma. We do and plan to do everything we can possible to help them heal. But it’s hard when you think you’ve come so far, and then trauma creeps in and cripples them once again. It’s harder when we’re with people that don’t understand trauma and how it affects their relationships and brain development. I live most of my days in fear that my children will say something that will be taken at face value by someone not familiar with our story, with the challenges of trauma. I grew complacent and was faced with the harsh reality of the lasting effects of trauma. And though healing can and does happen, the old familiar patterns of survival stick with them indefinitely.

My children were toddlers when they came home. Two and 2 and 1/2, respectively. They were not grown. They were not middle schoolers. Toddlers. For each of them, trauma looks very different. My daughter becomes mute. She often has a hard time doing anything but crying when asked a question and she perceives she’s “in trouble.” We work daily on communication, answering questions, and being confident.  My second son has always been a master manipulator. And before you scold me, I understand that this is not a choice he makes. His brain is damaged. He is immensely intelligent. He is kind, sweet, and funny. And he is a manipulator. Just this week, we experienced the lasting impact of trauma and his fight or flight response. He is highly emotional and struggles to moderate his emotions. It’s who he is, we love him through it, and we try to help him in every way to learn positive ways to feel his feelings and deal with them. And we have failed to realize that when under pressure, when things get hard for him to handle, that the fight or flight response comes out and he reverts instantly back to becoming the victim. It’s a safer emotion for him. Even though his neglect and physical trauma happened pre-verbally he has had the same patterns since he arrived. And we, in our cockiness and security, forgot about that. It’s not a mistake I will make again.  

What is adoption? Adoption is love.

There is a popular saying in the adoption community that goes something like this, “The adoption took time. The love arrived instantly.” This is what I have to say about this. Baloney. BALONEY. Love is multi-faceted and layered. It can happen instantly. That I will not deny. But making a blanket statement that may make it seem that those who don’t love a child instantly are somehow flawed is short-sighted and so, so damaging. I understand the sentiment, it is not lost on me. But I guess you can say that life and experience have hardened me in that way. But rest assured, there is love. It may not look or feel the same for everyone. For every child. But it does happen. With our first son, the cliché was true. I loved him instantly. I have no doubt in my mind that it happened that way because he was a helpless, squalling infant and a life-long dream of mine. With our second son, that’s not how it was. I gave my self six months, nine months, and eventually stopped. I am not a monster. It is much different adding a child who is older. Much, much different. I was afraid for so many reasons and I held back a part of me. It was hard. He was hard. His trauma was hard. And some days, I wondered if I would ever truly love him. I do. Wholly, completely, just as much as any of my other children. It just took longer. That’s not right or wrong. And no one will make me feel differently. But I remember vividly the day I realized. And it still brings me tears.

Love is deep. And it grows and stretches with every person that enters your life. I have been richly and deeply blessed by this journey. Even though it has brought us all grief, sadness, and pain. It has grown us and strengthened us. It has enriched our lives with a depth and richness of love and dependence on each other, our family and the safety and love that exists here.

Through love, I have been able to include our children in the loving and acceptance of their first moms. I have supported them in their love. In their sadness. And in their tears. I continue to encourage them to love their first moms deeply. I have tried to model to them and show them that we are all capable of much love, much forgiveness, and much more than we originally thought. They are young. We know that as they grow their love will change. It may deepen, it may diminish, it may become more confusing and harder to work through. What we hope and pray is that we can support them, model for them, and heal with them to become a strong, loving family that includes all of us. That someday we will no longer have to use the words birth mom, that they will know by using their names, the depth, and uniqueness, the specialness of the bonds that we all share. We hope and pray that they will hear the word adoption and hear love.

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Karla King

Karla King is a passionate open adoption advocate, adoptive mom, foster mom, wife, reader, avid creator of food, a stay-at-home mom, and Christian. She loves taking care of her family, supporting others on the adoption journey, and watching the world through her children’s eyes.