Warning: This is an extremely personal, serious, and heavy topic. It also contains some profanity.
The difficult parts of adopting a newborn…
The first difficult part about adopting my newborn was interacting with his birthmother. No, she wasn’t difficult. She wasn’t rude, or hateful. She had just given birth to a beautiful human being. And here she was, choosing me from a 5 minute DVD and a one page letter of facts about my family, to parent her son for the rest of his life. How heavy is that to take in? It was super heavy. The room was charged with a range of feelings. She was sad. I was elated. She was in physical pain. I was in emotional pain. One thing I remember clearly and vividly is that while I was rejoicing in utter exuberance at finally becoming a mother, her heart was breaking. She carried this perfect little baby in her womb for nine months, bonded with him, talked to him, and loved him, and was saying goodbye to him, possibly forever. That was not lost on me from the minute I walked into her hospital room to meet her. I wanted to hold her and make her so many promises and just try to ease her pain. I was a stranger to her, so you can imagine what it must feel like for two women who don’t even know each other to be thrown into a small, cold, sterile room with such high emotions, with an enormous range. All I could think to do was just spend time with her. Ask her questions about her life, without sounding like I was interrogating her. I needed to know everything about her in that short window that we had to spend together because the boy I would be raising as my son, is her son too. He might have her eyes, her nose, her fingers, her legs, her hair color, her mannerisms, her sense of humor. I wanted to memorize everything I could about her so I could pass those things on to him when he finally decides to ask me about her.
Secondly, I was struggling with very real post-adoption depression. This is a very real thing among adoptive parents. And there are many different adoption situations that can contribute to depression and anxiety. Our adoption was known as an “emergency placement”. All that means in laymen’s terms is that our son was born and we were chosen by his birthmother at birth. She didn’t decide to make an adoption plan for our son until he entered this world. So we went from being a couple with no children in one 24 hour period to being parents of a newborn. There were no nine months to prepare a nursery, or ourselves for a newborn in the house. Our son spent a couple of weeks in the NICU which gave my husband time to prepare the house while I stayed in a local hotel. Two weeks is NOT enough.
But what we really struggled with, or what I struggled with, was all on the inside. Instantly, I was consumed with thoughts like “would I have that whole ‘mother’s intuition with this baby?’ and also “am I going to be good enough for him?’. I was so worried I wouldn’t know what to do. And everyday I felt like it was too good to be true that this finally happened for us. I was waiting for God to be like “Psych…just kidding.” And he would be ripped away from me. I was so afraid he would die. He contracted RSV when he was just two months old and I remember asking the pediatrician, “Is he going to die?” He laughed and said no. But I was terrified. I slept in his room for two years on the floor because I was so afraid he was going to die of SIDS. Every fever I imagined he had cancer. Every fever, I stayed up all night for fear it would get so high he would start seizing. I was a hot mess. It was winter, I never took him anywhere. I was too afraid to go outside. Staying indoors in winter all day, every day is enough to depress someone. Throw in a crying newborn. See what I mean? My sisters (all three of them) can tell you how many times in a day I would call them.
I had a job up until the day my son was born. Now I was calling my boss and telling him I had to go on leave, (he was a freaking SAINT) but what about the rest of the world? Yesterday I was a childless thirty something who was clearly not pregnant and now I was a mother to a newborn baby. My husband quietly called our neighbors and explained what was happening. He told them, I didn’t want you wondering why we showed up at home with a baby all of a sudden. He assured them we didn’t “steal it”. When I called my clients or met them in person to hand their accounts over to a co-worker, it was awkward. I was a newly “adoptive mother” and still feeling out how to answer questions. Answering questions is a BIG FUCKING DEAL in the adoption triad. People ask and say some really insensitive shit. When I told one female client I was going on maternity leave, she said “I didn’t even know you were pregnant!”, while staring at my belly. I explained the shortest and most vague way I knew how that we adopted. Luckily, I was only met with a sincere “congratulations.” Other people aren’t so nice or sensitive. Another female client responded with “congratulations, I guess.” What does I GUESS mean? I let that one go. I was still learning, and boy I was learning by doing. Stressful.
The most insensitive part came eight weeks later after I returned from my maternity leave. Keep in mind, I was still agonizing over my son’s health and wellbeing and my ability to be a good mother. I was anxiety ridden, terrified, scared, lost, tired. I was sleep-deprived. I was working with another professional and her clients when the subject of children came up. They casually asked how many I had, if any. I replied. It stayed casual until the topics of childbirth and nursing came up. Up until then we were just three moms sitting in a room waiting to start our negotiations, talking about mom stuff. My heart stopped beating for a few seconds. My brain fired up looking for responses to these nursing/birthing questions that were inevitably going to be directed at me in just a few nanoseconds. I just decided, less is more. So at my turn, I just said, “well, my son is adopted, I didn’t really get to experience those things.” I let out a breath. Surely, they would pick up on the fact that I had nothing to offer to this conversation and they would kindly move on. Nope. Nope, fucking nope. The client’s agent looks directly at my face and says, “How could anyone give up their child? Nursing my children was so beautifully bonding that I couldn’t imagine just giving them to someone else. But, kudos to you for raising something that isn’t yours.”
All of the air was sucked out of the room in that moment. My eyes were bulging. I could not even blink. My jaw was on the floor. Not only was I a new mother, but I was still negotiating how to answer questions about my son, and how he came to be my son and how I came to be his mother. There is no handbook. Add on top of that, my sadness at not getting the chance in this life to experience childbirth and nursing. I was a mess. I quit my job the very next day. But I learned soon enough, that lady was just a bitch. Most people say insensitive or stupid things because they don’t know any better.
These are very real and very difficult issues for women (or men) going through the adoption process. I share my story to educate parents and families not involved in adoption. I share it for my fellow peers going through the process right now.
If you take anything away from this blog post, take away this: If you are in the process of adopting, people say terrible shit. Use it as a teachable moment, or ignore them and move on. The choice is yours. Do not give anyone outside of your loving family any power over your feelings. What you need is support. Find people who will support you. It is a difficult journey and hard to navigate. All adoptions are different.
If you meet, or come in contact with a family made up as a result of adoption, don’t ask personal questions. There are many blog entries out there about what NOT to say to adoptive families. Yes, we are different, but only how we came to be.
My “newborn” is going to be six years old in six days. He has his birthmother’s eyes, nose, fingers and legs. He has the same color hair and the same porcelain skin she has. He has my sense of humor, my wit, and my unapologetic approach to living. I think we did okay.
Thanks for reading.