The adoption process is not for the faint of heart. It requires big things of ordinary people. Running that gauntlet caused me to develop three new abilities, each which would eventually come in handy years later.
Lesson 1: Calm the Chatter
The Wait. I found all the doing of the adoption process to be the easy part. Get those fingerprints. Write those essays. Clean the house and host the homestudy appointments. Attend the classes and work up that adoption profile.
But when all the doing was over, the harder part started: doing nothing. Just waiting. Just sitting with all that anxiety over all the unknowns. Would it happen? How would it happen? Would something go wrong? How many things could go wrong? LET ME ENVISION ALL OF THEM.
My frantic mind, locked on a goal, got really good at conceiving of every possible thing that could go awry, monkey-chatter taking over as I moved through my days.
At the time I dabbled in yoga and meditation — not seriously, but enough to understand how to bring my thoughts back to here and now and to calm the crazy.
In this moment all is well.
We eventually did get The Call and years later I am able to reflect without anxiety on The Wait. It’s so easy when all is said and done to look back and say, “of course this was always going to happen.” But finding calm while in the thick of The Wait and quieting the chatter of my mind were very difficult tasks at the time.
The infertility journey left me feeling wholly inadequate. I wasn’t good enough to contribute to the gene pool — there must be something about me that is deeply flawed. The effect of infertility on my self-esteem was devastating.
I risked going into the adoption matching process with a dysfunctional approach, that of a supplicant. Please, please, O Mighty Expectant Mother, I know you have dozens of choices in front of you. Look at me! Meet me! Love me! Pick me!
Our caseworker derailed that train of thought. She reminded me that we had much to offer an expectant mother and father. We could provide a way out of a very difficult dilemma. We could provide ongoing contact, should we find a way to open ourselves up to that. And most of all, we could be people of honor who live up to any and all agreements we make in planning for our post-adoption relationships.
By the time we were chosen to be parents, our caseworker had helped us own our power so that we came to the adoption table not as supplicants but as equal partners. That’s the essence of such a partnership (differing roles but both with importance to the child), and was a key factor in our children’s birth parents likewise not feeling like supplicants when the balance of power inevitably shifted.
Wide swings of power may be fun on a playground, but not so much in real-life relationships.
Lesson 3: I’m Legit
Though I don’t know from first-hand experience, I’m pretty sure that the whole being-pregnant-and-giving-birth thing sets you up for legitimacy by the time you’re holding your baby in your arms.
But things are different for adoptive mamas. Where does our legitimacy come from, especially if we became a mom thanks to a very real other mother who has that whole being-pregnant-and-giving-birth legitimacy thing going?
I felt like a complete imposter taking our daughter home from the hospital, a small panicked shriek in my throat as a nurse helped us buckle our daughter into the car seat for the first time. Are you sure this isn’t a giant mistake?
Crystal, our daughter’s mom, had just spent the last hour giving me mommy lessons from her hospital room — how to diaper, how to feed and burp, how to read the signals. She’d already successfully parented her son for 4 years, her legitimacy as glaring as my inner-fakery.
Newsflash: There is no Bureau of Babies coming by to issue a Motherhood License. That comes from the inside, not the outside.
Everything Learned Is Learned Again
Fast forward several years. While my kids grew, I explored adoptive parenting and became immersed in online discussions about adoption. I discovered points of view I’d never considered. I found people for whom adoption hadn’t been a happy experience, birth parents and adoptees who pointed out that their loss exists alongside adoptive parents’ gain. I began to understand that adoptions through the decades have been conducted too often using coercion, deception, shame, and secrecy (many states still prevent adoptees equal access to accurate records of their birth). I yearned to make things better for my own kids and future generations of adoptees and adoptive families.
So I listened. And in doing so I became better equipped to parent my children because of the insights and myriad perspectives that had been shared.
I then had an outlandish notion: I would write down what I’d learned about how to better “do” adoption — and get a book published about it.
So I did. I wrote a proposal and got both an agent and a publisher. But those weren’t the only hard parts. Then I had to actually write the book and release it into the world. Each stage circled me back to — you guessed it — all that I’d learned during the adoption process.
Calm the Chatter Again
One spring day in 2013, a box of books arrived at my door with my cover on it and my name listed as author.
What should have been among the happiest days of my life turned out instead to be one of the most anxiety-filled.
Think of all that could go wrong! It could be a critical flop. It might be a commercial flop. I might get ridiculed or attacked. Or worse yet, just plain ignored. Will it get noticed? Will it be well-received? What will I do if it’s a colossal failure? LET ME ENVISION ALL THE WAYS THIS COULD GO WRONG.
The morning after my creation was released into the world to either sink or swim, I headed to a yoga class. On my mat, I once again remembered how to bring my thoughts back to here and now and to find the space between thoughts.
In this moment all is well.
I came home more centered and less fearful and anxious about what others will or won’t say about my creation. I gave the project my very best — what more could I expect of myself?
Own My Power, Take Two
So little ol’ me wanted to be picked by a Big Important Publisher to write a book. Riiiight. Like that would ever happen.
I was filled with self-doubt when I thought of myself as a supplicant. But then I remembered the see-saw on which birth parents and adoptive parents build and continually re-balance their relationships. I’d learned once before that co-equals have something to offer each other.
I shifted instead to seek a partnership in which I bring to the table my unique gifts and the publisher brings its abilities and strengths. Once I made transformed my perspective and owned my power, my book project moved forward.
Once the book was out, I got to work on the second part of publishing a book — letting people know about it. As I composed my my first pitch to an editor, I asked myself, “how would a real writer approach this?”
I didn’t consider myself a legitimate writer! I was doing exactly what I counsel adoptive parents NOT to do! I tell them not to get hung up on being “real” — that if you just keep showing up and accept your legitimacy from yourself, then poof! — you’re real.
I was stunned to discover that even though I’d accomplished the remarkable feat of writing a critically acclaimed and (and now commercially successful) book on how to “do” open adoption, there was no Bureau of Books that was going to issue me a Writer’s License.
That’s gotta come from within.
Now I’m raising teenagers. I suppose Round 3 is upon me.
Have you undertaken your own challenging adoption process — adopting a child, conducting a search and reunion, campaigning to restore civil rights to adult adoptees? What lessons can you apply to your other endeavors?
A version of this post previously appeared on Portrait of an Adoption.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.