Almost a decade ago, my husband and I embarked on our first adoption journey. And I had it ALL figured out. Or so I thought.
I did all the things and got all the stuff. You know what I mean, right? We put together a gorgeous yellow and green nursery. We researched bottles and vaccines. We found a pediatrician. We read adoption books and blogs. We met with other families-by-adoption and openly discussed concerns with our social worker. We were ready: authentic and eager.
We had also built up in our minds what parenthood would look like. You know, like a movie! Walks in the park! First Christmas, surrounded by gifts and cookies and twinkly lights. First trip to the zoo. Everything would be magical and enthralling. And of course, we’d take hundreds of pictures for our family photo album.
But all the research and reading and imagining couldn’t prepare me for the realities of parenting a child who came to us via adoption. As soon as I was handed my first baby, she looked at me with her large chocolate eyes, and I thought, “She’s really mine?” And my next though was, “Now what?”
Here are the things that surprised me most, from the first baby to the fourth:
1: She wouldn’t feel like mine.
Our first child was a “stork drop” placement, meaning we were chosen to adopt her after she was already born. We had little time to let it sink in that we were parents. It was a whirlwind: packing, traveling, and meeting our baby. Though I was thrilled that I finally had a baby in my arms after a year-and-a-half wait, it took months to feel like her mom.
2: I would feel guilty.
Mothering a baby you didn’t conceive and birth can be surprisingly guilt-inducing. For a long time, I felt as if I was parenting another woman’s baby instead of MY baby. When my oldest turned nine months old, it dawned on me that she had been mine for the same number of months she had been her birth mother’s. And with each “first” (first tooth, first step, first word), I felt a small pang of guilt that her birth mother had missed the precious moment.
3: I’d struggle to accept compliments.
Any time someone would say, “Your baby is so beautiful!” I would struggle to reply “thank you.” I think this was because I had nothing to do with her physical appearance (not my genes!), and I felt like a fraud taking “credit.” It was only with time that I was able to authentically express gratitude for compliments.
4: I’d continue to yearn for more.
Not just with our first adoption, but with each one, I have always felt driven to keep my arms and heart open for more children. Though adoption is almost always a bittersweet and surprising journey, I can’t seem to close that chapter in my life. There are always the “what ifs” and wandering thoughts.
5: I would forget, at times, that my children were adopted.
Don’t get me wrong here. Adoption is an open and honest topic in our home, always welcome and encouraged. But day-to-day life means that adoption isn’t at the center of our every breath. It can take me by surprise, being out and about and noticing a second glance, and then I remember that we’re a transracial family, formed by adoption, and that means we garner some attention.
I often tell families who come to me seeking support on their adoption journey that anything they feel is normal. Adopting can be a welcomed and challenging path to building a family, and each situation is different. The key is to be open to the possibilities, to embrace the realities, and above all, enjoy the children you have been blessed to parent.
Rachel Garlinghouse and her husband live in the St. Louis area with their four children, all of whom were adopted domestically, transracially, and via open adoption. Rachel’s experiences and education have been featured on NPR, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and on many websites including Babble, Adoptimist, Scary Mommy, and Huff Post. Rachel has written five books, including Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children. Learn more about adoption and motherhood, as well as connect on social media, via her blog White Sugar, Brown Sugar