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How It Feels to Become a Mom By Adoption

A happy couple spending time with their beautiful adopted daughter while at home.

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To say all mothers are created equal is both true and false. I don’t exactly know the validity of this statement because I’m not a mother by biology. I’m a mom by adoption. My babies are mine, but I did not grow them. I have two children — curious, sweet, stubborn, insanely smart, and very happy children. They came to us by adoption and they complete our family. Like many other moms of littles, my days are spent chasing toddlers, doing endless loads of laundry, creating boundaries, teaching life lessons, riding bikes, cooking, cleaning, wiping noses and bottoms, reading bedtime stories, and finally, collapsing into bed by the… Read More

To say all mothers are created equal is both true and false. I don’t exactly know the validity of this statement because I’m not a mother by biology. I’m a mom by adoption.

My babies are mine, but I did not grow them.

I have two children — curious, sweet, stubborn, insanely smart, and very happy children. They came to us by adoption and they complete our family. Like many other moms of littles, my days are spent chasing toddlers, doing endless loads of laundry, creating boundaries, teaching life lessons, riding bikes, cooking, cleaning, wiping noses and bottoms, reading bedtime stories, and finally, collapsing into bed by the end of the day.

And much like any mom, I wonder if I’m doing it all right. Sometimes I worry that I’m not enough. I wonder if we’ve prepared them to make the right choices as teens, or choose the right paths as young adults. I hope that I’m teaching them enough about kindness, generosity, humility, self-control, and everything else we want our tiny humans to know. Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I sure hope it’s enough.

As a mom by adoption, I have some unique worries.

From the outside, I am a mom like any other mom in the world. We want the absolute best and highest for our children. Conversely, and unlike most moms, I also worry about them asking me the hard questions about being adopted, which, I suspect, is just around the corner with my four-year-old. I wonder what future relationships with their birth families will look like. I wonder how they will feel when they learn that their birth moms have birthed and raised other children. And I sometimes worry about mental health impacting my child in the same way it did the birth mother. So, I guess being a mother through adoption brings unique differences that will inevitably carry into mine and my children’s futures.

From the moment you meet an expectant family, the world is a bit different for us adoptive moms. From having your first meeting, to being matched, to prepping your hearts and homes for this child. I don’t think we ever truly feel safe. Safe to believe this baby will come home with you. Safe to decorate a nursery or throw a baby shower. Or safe to tell your family and friends, for fear of being crushed by the unthinkable — the failed match or the change of heart.

So, in a sense, we hold our breath and perhaps even keep up our guards until this child is in our arms. Meanwhile, we try to be the strong ones for the expectant parents during this fragile and challenging season.

As a mom by adoption, grief and joy often co-exist.

If, like me, you adopt an infant and you’re present at the hospital, you continue holding your breath until the time they sign the termination paperwork. The hospital experience is like the most beautiful, sad song you’ve ever heard. I once heard it called a wedding and a funeral in the same room. You’re falling in love with this baby, and yet, he or she isn’t legally yours. You want to love with reckless abandon, and yet, you’re trying to be sensitive to the emotions of the birth family, who are grieving before your eyes, but trying to stay brave.

When I was doing skin-to-skin with my newborn son, I was fully aware of the gift that it was to hold him so close to my body. But I also felt like a fraud. That’s when unexpected grief hit me without my permission. This was one of the best moments of my adult life, and I was grieving. All of the women on that hospital floor had just done the most intense physical act a woman can do to bring life into this world, one that my body wouldn’t allow me to do.

“What exactly have I done to deserve this child?”

The thought was heartbreaking and uninvited, but that’s the nature of grief. And it doesn’t always stop there. Given that I struggled with infertility for many years, grief still occasionally surfaces. When someone I know gets pregnant (and so easily, it seems), I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t still sting. No, it’s nothing like before, but there’s still a twinge of pain when it happens. What was once a gut-punch is now more like a splinter. These feelings will probably always exist to some extent, and I’m becoming more and more at ease with that. These emotions are normal and likely part of the healing process.

I love a good metaphor to put things in perspective. Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of owning a lake house. You’ve got this dream down pat, from the color of the exterior paint to the exact lakefront property you want to build on. You work your whole life to afford it, and then, at no fault of your own, it never comes to fruition. In fact, you start building the home and it burns down. You build it again, and a flood destroys it. Your funds and your enthusiasm run dry and you’re called down a different path.

The home you were meant to have is on the other side of town, you’ve just been so focused on your lake house that you didn’t see it. Your new home is your new dream come true, but that’s not to say you won’t ever think about the lake house that never was. It’s a distant, bittersweet memory. This is how I would describe the love I have for my children. If I never get my “lake house,” I’m okay with that. My life is very full and my cup most certainly runneth over.

As a mom by adoption, I have the privilege of experiencing the beauty of open adoption.

In an open adoption, as both of mine are, we have our relationships with our children and relationships with their biological families. Sometimes that goes as deep and wide as great grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Truth be told, some days it feels like too much.

Relationships, no matter what kind, require a level of effort and nurturing. As parents of littles in a busy season of life, we don’t always remember to go above and beyond our own village (which is quite large) to be sure birth families aren’t feeling left out. They are wonderful and they are worth it, but it demands work on everyone’s part.

On the flip side, my kids have loads and loads of grandparents who dote on them and beg to keep them for overnight visits and take them fun places. What a gift for these kiddos!

As a mom by adoption, sometimes it’s hard to see that my babies don’t look like me.

When I look at my babies, I see their birth parents. They look exactly like their biology, as they should. I can’t tell my daughter she has her daddy’s eyes and I will never be able to. Have I ever wished we could share our DNA with our children? Sure. Do I feel blessed to have two healthy kids staring back at me with big brown eyes? Without a doubt.

I get to tell my kids how much they look like their birth mommy and daddy and deepen the conversation when asked where they came from. It’s an emotional slippery slope, but I’m willing to accept the challenge.

As a mom by adoption, I am absolutely blessed.

Adoption is a beautiful mess, which, in turn, has been the biggest blessing of my entire families’ lives. I know for certain that after a tough season of infertility, we were called to adoption. My children are just that — my children. And because of them, I’m a mommy, and a “normal” mommy at that!

While I may never know for certain, I think it’s safe to assume I’m just like any other mom, although I took a slightly different journey getting here. And our life will look just a little bit different going forward.

To all the moms out there — biological, foster, adoptive, step, etc. — whew! You are amazing. Each one of us had to fight our own unique battles to get to where we are today. And it’s thanks to those battles that we’ve arrived on the other side —stronger, wiser, and perhaps scarred but better equipped to shape the littles ones we’ve been entrusted with.