November is “National Adoption Month”. I spent many hours working as an adoption Social Worker from 2000 to 2009. I cherish those moments I shared with so many families. Moments of hope and anticipation, dreaming and trusting God with very big dreams and very deep disappointments. But the adoption journey also includes many moments of heartache, tears, wondering and pleading with God during very deep struggles. I have held both and I continue, years later, to pray for “my families” who adopted children. Families who open their homes, their medical and financial records and most of their hearts to me during an intensive home study process. I could not leave any of those homes unchanged by the great risks and the amazing rewards of the adoption journey.
People ask me if I loved Mia right away, and whether I love her as much as the children to whom I gave birth. Yes, on both counts. I’ve experienced that rush of love in different ways with each of my four, and yes, I loved her right away.
Because that was my experience with Mia, however, does not mean it is how all parents feel. Many people I know who have more than one child admit to relating more deeply with one or more of their children from the start. They confess that it takes more time or more of an effort to connect with others. Regardless of whether a child was born to you or came to you by adoption, not all parents feel an immediate bond with their children. Women who have just given birth sometimes take a long look at the new little stranger who has been placed into their arms and think, “Really? This is what all the trouble was for?” (I know they do; they have told me.)
Some parents who have adopted their children dare not confess that it took time to feel the kind of genuine, infatuated love they now have for them. Such parents have scoured their homes and lives in preparation for the home study. They have sufficiently proved what consistent, loving and capable parents they will be. No spanking. Consistently enforced time outs. Limited television. Lots of reading together. Daily outdoor play. Mozart on the radio. Organic strawberries. Non-toxic, Eco-friendly cleaning supplies.
Hmmm…what else? The wipes will always be gently warmed, the bottles never heated in the microwave and only a few grains of refined sugar will pass over their children’s lips every year. (Phew – did we get all the answers right?)
Their friends, employers, and clergy have written long letters extolling their virtues.
They have opened their medical files and financial statements to the world and everyone from the local police to the FBI has verified that they are not criminals. (They do not even have unpaid parking tickets and they never, ever jaywalked.)
They have weathered the disapproval of unsupportive family or friends and the ambivalence of wary employers.
They have shrugged off the barrage of inappropriate questions and remarks.
Many have gone through the physical and emotional pain of infertility.
So, do you think, after enduring all of the above, a person who has just adopted a child is going to say, “You know, I’m not sure I like this kid” or “I’m questioning whether I really want to be a parent after all”?
You tell me.
Sadly, adoptive parents sometimes think that if they do not feel an immediate bond with the child who is now legally theirs, it has something to do with the way their child came into the family. It is not. I once wrote a newspaper column about attachment in parenting and interviewed about a dozen mothers. Some had adopted their kids; some had given birth to them. Their comments confirmed that it is normal to feel an immediate bond with your child and it is just as normal not to experience it for a while. It did not matter whether the mom had gone through labor and given birth to the baby or had welcomed her child by adoption. It was evenly split among the “it took time” and the “when I laid eyes on her, I was in love” groups of mothers.
Perhaps because she was my fourth child and I was already very entrenched as a mother, I quickly felt attached to Mia after her adoption was finalized. I was aware that, in this great big world, she had no one but my husband and me to protect her, nurture her and to be her family.
Adopting Mia opened the world up to me in new ways. I look at my little girl, with her sophisticated (and sometimes extremely silly) sense of humor, her love of the natural world and her talent for making beautiful pastel drawings. I see her sweetness and the light she brings to those around her. She began as a “waiting child” in Guatemala, but if she is of such infinite value, what about other children born to other very poor mothers around the world?
Half of the world’s children are born into poverty. There are an estimated 150-170 million orphans globally who live without parental care, are warehoused in orphanages, live on the streets or in child-headed households. Their potential is unseen, like a paper sack of daffodil bulbs, hidden behind a watering can in the garage, shriveling in the dark.
These children starve to death. They die of preventable diseases. They are abused and exploited in unimaginable ways. There is a global orphan crisis; it is a pandemic.
Do I have any responsibility to these children, even though (as was the case with my Mia) I did not bring them into the world?
Are they, in some mystical way, my family too?
After adopting my daughter, I have come to think they are.
Actually, as a mother, a person of faith and someone who has had the privilege – and, concurrently, been given the burden – of visiting some of the world’s poorest places, I am sure of it.
Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family, Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by Skeptics, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels (co-editor, forthcoming, 2014), and 12: A Daybook for a Wholehearted Year (forthcoming, 2014). She is a grateful believer, a reader, a sometime poet, a dog lover, and, with her husband of 25 years, mother to four wonderfully creative and quirky tween and teenaged children. Learn more at jennifergrant.com.