When my husband and I shared the news that we were adopting, we got a common reaction, “That’s so great of you! There are so many babies out there who need homes!” as if we had repeatedly been offered a child and finally agreed to accept. The process, it turns out, is less like giving away a box of kittens and more like being vetted to responsibly raise a human from infancy to adulthood, ensuring a future, providing opportunities, and everything else parenting entails. It took us nearly a year to complete the paperwork and requirements before we were viable parental candidates. Nine months later, we became parents, but let me be clear, adoption is not for sissies.
Adoption is not for tenderhearted souls who believe in the power of positive thinking or, after being turned down, find comfort in the saying, “It wasn’t meant to be.” If you know an adoptive mom, you’ll agree that beneath her tasteful and expressly unprovocative exterior lie certain strengths that got her through the wake of infertility.
Now, with a finalized adoption under my belt and many hours spent standing in the shower thinking about it, I’ve arrived at a list of five essential components to successfully adopting a baby:
1 | Accept that your pregnancy quest is over
Bury it, bless it, or mourn it. Never will you be the glowing, corpulent woman panting in the delivery room, with your hair in a ponytail and your milk coming in. Nor will you be included in the thousands of conversations about pregnancy, labor, or breastfeeding, which is what your friends will be talking about exclusively for the next five years. You will feel left out, like you missed the best party of the year – but worse. Acknowledge the fact that even though the other half of the population doesn’t get to experience the miracle of childbirth either, it still sucks, because it’s you.
2 | You need to be financially stable because, ultimately, you are buying this baby
You heard me. It’s not human trafficking, but the people helping you through this process earn their livings procuring children for others. Every adoption carries its own expenses, and, depending on the involvement of the birthmother and residential jurisdiction, costs can exceed that of renovating a Manhattan brownstone. Be prepared to pay a lot, and then double that.
3 | Make sure you have your act together
You will be drug tested, fingerprinted, and background checked. You’ll have a social worker in your home, in your bank account, in your neighborhood, and pretty much up your butt for as long as it takes. This is some serious FBI data-basing going on. If you have a registered sex offender anywhere near you, or you’re a bad driver, or you smoke cigarettes, or don’t pay your bills on time, they will find out and want an explanation.
4 | Be certain that you’re capable of loving someone with no biological connection to you
Some studies suggest that we are genetically predisposed to reject offspring that is not ours and must consciously suppress this instinct to form outside attachments. As a lifelong dog lover, I personally doubt this, but, supposing it’s true, are you willing and able to love intentionally (or at least fake it) until the real feelings kick in? You better think long and hard about this part and remember these two words: Mommie Dearest.
5 | Steel yourself for disappointment and rejection
After pouring your heart into a 500 word personal statement, which is then printed on earth-toned card stock along with photos of you and your husband trying not to look desperate, your dossier will be available, upon request, to birthmothers. You will be notified by your case worker of any interest in your profile, and every inquiry will have you convinced you’re about to meet the mother of your baby – until she rejects you for reasons you can’t change, like your age. Or things that you won’t change, like having a dog. Or things you are trying to change, like the size of your family.
Once my husband and I were rejected because the birthmom wanted her baby to have an older brother. We were like, “How about your baby gets to be the older brother?”
In applying for a job, selling your house, or submitting an essay, just a facet of you is being judged. Adoption is all of you and it’s always personal.
My daughter’s birth certificate cites my husband and me as her parents, though we did not conceive her and I did not birth her. As she gets older, the means by which she arrived in our family matter less and less. That she is our girl by law and in countless other ways epitomizes the beauty of adoption. The unbelievable amount of red tape and hoop-jumping exemplifies the rest. If asked, “Would you do it again, all things considered?” my answer would be the same as any mom’s, biological or adoptive, “Ask me again later when she’s asleep.”
This piece was originally published on Sammiches and Psych Meds.