Adoption is harder than I ever imagined. We adopted our daughter from China 18 months ago and I assumed that I would blog about it the whole time. I wanted to write encouraging things about how well she’s doing or how we redeemed hard days, but I was paralyzed at the time. It was all we could do to make it through every day. Somehow we did make it. Barely.
As I’ve spent time thinking about it, I wanted to write up some reasons why adoption is hard. I’m going to write in generic terms–some of these things apply to our family but not all of them do. I don’t want any of our daughters looking back years from now and being hurt by things I’ve written about our family.
But the truth is, there’s not enough information out there about the real parts of adoption. Part of my goal is just to communicate to people around adoptive families: People still tell me often our daughter is lucky to have us or that we “saved” her. People still use the word “orphan” to describe her. People still ask me the most awkward personal questions about us or about her. People still tell me almost weekly that what my kid is doing is just the same as what their biological kid went through and really, all kids are the same (kids may go through similar phases, but kids from hard places have different reasons, motivations, and needs than non-adoptive kids). I want to write about what people have done well and strategies to do better–I genuinely think people have good motivations and just don’t always know what to do with us.
Mostly my goal is to connect with other adoptive or pre-adoptive families. I wish I’d seen more of the hard truths before we adopted our daughter. I don’t want to vilify adoption–truly, it is a wonderful experience. But in the circles I move in, adoption has become so glossed over, so pretty and holy, that there is no room to say what needs to be said: Adoption is muck and grime. It is searing. It is losing yourself. It is repeating “Gentle hands!” for the thousandth time before 8:00 am. It is getting kicked hard in the jugular. It is throwing your back out and limping around because your kid threw an epic, dysregulated fit. It is watching your child blankly at Target and losing all sense of what the books told you to do when she has a breakdown that is so horrific you’re afraid someone will call CPS. It’s looking at the days and weeks ahead and knowing that there will be no real break, no respite, no rest, not for years and years of hard attachment work, and that you chose this life and wondering if you’ve ruined your family, your children, your marriage, yourself.
And adoption is also watching your brave daughter who, minutes before, had been so dysregulated you almost pulled her out of gymnastics class, whose muscle tone is still weak from being kept in a crib most of her life, who has such a hard time focusing, as she stands, legs apart, on stacked gymnastics mats and waves the coach’s hand away to jump, arms akimbo, alone. Adoption is that moment of catching your breath–you know how hard that jump was, how much control she’s exerting, how many muscles are moving, how miraculous each normal activity is. And you breathe a prayer of thanksgiving that she’s yours, that she’s home, that you had one good moment in a sea of exhaustion.
Adoption is so, so worth it. (And no, we haven’t ruined our family, our marriage or ourselves, but please don’t underestimate the difficulty of wrestling with those questions late at night.)
But adoption is also really hard. I’ll be writing out some of the reasons this summer.