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What I wish people understood about the adoption process

November may have been National Adoption Awareness month but we can’t let the conversation stop there. What does adoption mean to the people involved? What can we do to help adoptees and first families find peace and healing from any trauma?

I have endured the struggle of seven long years of infertility. I haved lived through the fear of the unknown that is the beginning stages of the the adoption process.

I have felt, so deeply, the heartbreak of two failed adoptions. I have experienced the incredible honor of raising my son.

I have carried the worry over loss of culture and racial identity for my son. And I have managed the delicate balance of growing and maintaining a relationship with my son’s first (birth) family.

That’s a simplified version of my side of adoption.

Too often the emphasis of the adoption world is focused on the adoptive parents—their journey, struggles, wait, pain and joy. Rarely is the voice of the adoptee or the first family heard, recognized or respected.

As a transracial adoptive mom with an open domestic adoption, I have a very specific view of the adoption triangle. The triangle consisting of the first family, adoptive family, and adoptee.

We need to shed light on how the lives of first families are impacted by such a huge, life-altering decision. What does it mean for expectant parents to have to make the irrevocable and heart wrenching decision to place their child for adoption? What are the circumstances that led them to a decision that no one would ever truly want to choose?

I have had the honor to know and love three different expectant mothers.

One who became my family and two that did not. I witnessed the deep love, self sacrifice and daily struggles they faced as they wrestled with this choice they had to make— whether or not they would place their child for adoption.

I saw the lack of support (and even pressure) from family and friends to place or not to place. Watching what they went through felt like torture, so I can only imagine what it truly felt like for them.

I am blessed to have an open adoption with my son’s first family. Over the last four years I have often wondered what it means to them to watch their child be raised by other people. Are they able to find joy and peace in their heartache? Do they regret their decision? Am I failing in their idealized version of what life should be like for their child?

Which brings me to the most important side of the adoption triangle: the adoptee.

The innocent child who was forced to leave their first family. What does this life-altering decision mean for their lives? How does this trauma impact who they are and who they will become?

It’s amazing to me that in the whole process of getting our homestudy completed and becoming qualified to adopt, nobody once mentioned the trauma that newborn babies experience when being placed for adoption.

My son was four days old when he was released from the hospital. During those first four days, his first mother was always by his side caring for him, breastfeeding him, worrying over his breathing and watching him while he spent three days in the NICU because of fluid in his lungs.

My husband and I were there, too, trying not to get in the way—to be a support system for his first mom, while also trying to start the attachment process with our son.

But all too soon it was time for his first mom to be discharged and, just like that, she was torn from his life. The heartbeat that he heard for nine months, the voice that talked to him and the body that nurtured him. Gone.

I wish I had known about newborn adoption trauma and how I could’ve helped my newborn son. Now that he is four years old, we are witnessing some of the outcomes of that trauma. He struggles, we struggle—but we are also learning and growing and trying to help each other. However, in one form or another, this struggle will be lifelong for him.

When we started the adoption process we specifically chose an open adoption knowing it would be best for our future child and their first family. Being able to grow a relationship with our son’s first family has been an incredible honor that we cherish and choose to nurture.

Over the last four years, social media has kept the lines of communication open for us—it has allowed us to share our lives and keep those ties intact.

Planning our visits is something I always look forward to, and as my son gets older it becomes even more important that he gets whatever time he can with his first family, face-to-face, playing, laughing and loving with them.

These visits may become difficult as he gets older and begins to experience the many conflicting emotions that come with adoption, but we plan on always being there with him, helping him walk through those tough times.

My husband and I feel it is our responsibility to keep the connection with our son’s first family strong and healthy so that when he is old enough to take the lead, that relationship is already in place and he can continue to grow it on his own terms.

My biggest advice to anyone thinking about adopting, or people who have family members who have adopted is to take the time to listen to adult adoptees and hear the truth of their words.

It will give you a greater understanding of the adoptee perspective and help you learn ways that you might support an adoptee throughout their lives.

Adoption has irrevocable consequences that will impact their lives. Good or bad (and mostly somewhere in between), adoption will change who they are.

Adoption is complicated, confusing and never the same from person to person or family to family. Let’s continue to educate ourselves as a society so that we can give better support to all involved in the adoption triangle and most importantly remember that it’s about the adoptees and first families and what can be done to make their voices heard and respected.

Maria Confer lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband of 15 years, her four year old son, and her two crazy dogs. She is the founder of Wildflower Liberty League, a small (one woman) business focused on diversity, inclusion, and equality for all children.

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