Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
I knew I would love my kids, but nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude.
By Sierra Owens Taylor
In 2014, my husband and I underwent hour upon hour of adoption training. The training covered topics ranging from the legal intricacies of domestic adoption to the logistics of a hospital stay with a newborn.
Repeatedly during this training, the phrase “adoption triad” was used. I naively viewed my role in the triad as that of facilitator. My job, I thought then, was to make things as smooth as possible between our adopted child and her birth parents. I was responsible for making sure everyone else felt good about the adoption and life in general.
Ha! Oh, to have such a simplistic view of adoption and my role again! What the training neglected to address, and I failed to give enough weight, is that adoptive parents are humans with feelings and baggage that we are all bringing to the table. Despite my intentions to be a selfless mediator, I found myself awash in a sea of emotions that rocked my world as I rocked my baby.
The first thing I didn’t expect to feel, didn’t feel entitled to feel, was guilt. Well, that’s not entirely true — first I felt happy, and then the crushing guilt arrived quickly on its heels.
I was overjoyed to be a mom! It had been a much harder goal to achieve than my 9th grade health teacher had led me to believe. At the same time, my happiness came at the cost of another couple. My joy was their pain.
Over and over, I asked my husband, my mother, and myself if our tiny daughter’s birth parents felt regret. I agonized over whether the adoption agency had fully explained the services that might have allowed them to parent. I spilled tears on her sweet cheeks as I worried over her birth siblings who were not getting to snuggle her.
Fortunately, this emotion was mostly assuaged when we saw her birth parents a year later and they shared how glad they were to have made the choice they did. What a sweet relief!
The second emotion I was unprepared for was far more complicated than the first. I was angry. I was angry at the birth mother for making poor choices with her health and body during pregnancy.
I was angry with my state legislature that had passed a law (since repealed) that made the birth mother fear legal consequences if she sought adequate medical help. I was angry at the adoption agency who had withheld information about the baby’s health in order to secure a fast and easy placement.
I was especially angry that none of this could be said aloud lest I not be seen as “grateful” enough. After all, that’s what society wants in adoption relationships. I should be grateful for my child, my child should be grateful to have a home, and birth parents should be grateful not to have “deal with their mistakes.”
Oh yeah, I was angry at people who said stupid things like that, just in case you couldn’t tell. That particular anger increased exponentially after our second adoption, when we became an interracial family and people went from saying ignorant things to hate-filled, insidious ones.
The third thing I was woefully unprepared to experience was a fierce protectiveness, not only of my child and their stories, but of their birth parents. I am perhaps the least confrontational person on the planet. I once apologized for being inconveniently located when a woman backed out of a parking space into traffic and hit my car.
Suffice it to say, I was frequently shocked to hear my voice admonishing others for speaking ill of my children’s birth parents. While I may dislike some of the choices they made, I will defend the fact that they did the best they could under the circumstances with more vehemence and backbone than ever knew I possessed.
I often find myself in the combination role of protector and educator. Many, many people say — in front of my kids — that they aren’t my “real kids.” Usually I can calmly and tactfully explain that they are my “real kids,” but not my biological ones.
I will cop to once whispering “you can see them too?!” to a prying woman at the grocery store that I knew only vaguely, because if they aren’t real, they must be imaginary! My pre-child nature cringes a bit at each of these interactions, but my children seeing that I will always defend the validity of our family is more important. Children will change you. Mine made me grow a spine.
The last and most overwhelming emotion I felt was love. I knew I would love my kids, but nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude. I wondered if the first time was an anomaly, but my second child proved that wasn’t the case, and like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes when I saw his gummy grin.
I was amazed by the love that came for my children’s first families as well. How could I not love the brother that shares my daughter’s eyes or the father that gave my son an obsession with chocolate chip cookies?
How can I not be forever grateful (yes, I do feel grateful; I just don’t want to be expected to feel grateful) that four people trusted me with two of their greatest treasures? I want, hope, and pray the best for them and for all the siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents that exist beyond our scope of interaction.
I have become a more loving, less judgmental person in general. Through adoption I encountered raw pain, real struggle, and ridiculous racism. You cannot walk away from that experience unchanged. You cannot help but have your perspective shift and your worldview widened. More love for my fellow man was the natural end to the transformation I experienced.
Thinking of those trainings that so failed to prepare me for what I would feel, I can’t help but chuckle. After all, how could all those emotions have been truthfully explained without leaving all the prospective parents scrambling for the door?
Maybe the instructors should have acknowledged the reality of the feelings we would have, and mine certainly aren’t everyone’s, but maybe more time should have also been spent on the sheer amount of bodily fluids that children expel 24/7.
Parenthood is nothing if not a series of great and horrible surprises, each stage a veritable haunted house that is barely survived and yet looked back on with enjoyment.
I no longer try to assign myself a role within the adoption triad beyond “mom.” It’s a simple word, but its meaning encompasses everything. I will always have emotions about adoption and that’s fine.
I can feel all the feels and still be the nose wiper, drink pourer, and battery replacer that I need to be. In fact, I think I am a better adoptive parent for having let go of my unrealistic views of my part in this complicated relationship. The intensity of the emotion, if unexpected, makes it all the more exciting and worthwhile.
Sierra Owens Taylor is a stay-at-home adoptive mom to two of the cutest kids in the world.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter