10 things that surprised me about adoption

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I’ve been on what I like to call the adoption crazy train since 2011, when we first decided to adopt our son Zack from China. For those of you who are new here, welcome, and I’ll take a second to catch you up.  We adopted our son Zack in 2012 after our daughter Laura was grown and flown. My husband and I were 45 and 49. We adopted our son Kyle, also from China, in 2013.

Things are semi-settled down…I mean, as settled down as life can be with two loud 5-year-olds living in your house. I think of my kids as just my kids, not my adopted kids.  Things are normal, or whatever passes for normal around here.

I find myself reflecting a lot about our adoption journey…sometimes I look at my life and ask myself “how did I get here?” Okay…yeah, I know that’s a line from a Talking Heads song, but the point I’m trying to make is that my life didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it when I was younger. When I was in my twenties, I never would have predicted these twists and turns.

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And that’s okay.

Adoption has taken me places I never expected and has touched every part of my life. I’ve learned a lot along the way and when I stop to think about it, a lot of the things I’ve learned have kind of taken me by surprise:

Adoption changed my personal relationships

Adoption transformed my friendships. Other adoptive families and adoptees have become a rich part of my life. I'm a much better person for knowing some of these people. On the flip side, adoption has also brought about a season of pruning.  There was the natural attrition as our lifestyle shifted. All of a sudden, wine till midnight, sleep till ten morphed in to mac-n-cheese for dinner, bed by nine.

We also weeded out people who didn't support our adoption choices or people who wouldn’t offer support as our kids grow older. The guy who called our kids “Chink One and Chink Two” isn't someone that's going to enrich our kids' lives. Sure, people are going to make tacky comments but we can make choices not to deliberately put these kind of people in our kids’ paths.

20 things that surprised me about adoption|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

Adoption changed my culture

I’m a white girl from South Texas. I celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Fiesta.  Adding Asian children to our families gave us a broader look at culture. Even though my kids are Americans…Texans, even…they’re still ethnically Asian and that brings a responsibility on my part to give a nod to that culture in our everyday life.

I try. I think I suck at this sometimes. There’s the lunar New Year, the moon festival, tomb sweeping…and probably a craptillion things I’m slacking on. But, adopting these kids has given me a broader window to the world and helped me expand my borders a little bit.

Adoption made me sad

I’d always thought of adoption as being a happy event…and it is…but there are so many layers. Post-partum depression is something that people understand. They smile and nod and murmur supportive words…but post-adoption depression? Yeah, not so much. People don’t understand.

There are the kids we don’t adopt and the void that comes when we know we’re done adopting. I’ve experienced a non-touristy view of China twice and each time I’ve come away in tears because I’ve seen so many children who aren’t “so lucky,” that don’t find their forever families.

Adoption impacted every part of my life

What we ate, how we slept, who we socialized with, what I thought… Bringing kids into my family through adoption changed my outlook on everything and that changed me in ways that I did not expect.

Adoption is hard

Adopting these kids was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.  I endured a crap ton of paperwork, notary seals and apostilling to bring them home. The waiting was brutal. I traveled halfway…yes, really halfway…across the world to bring my children home. I guess I probably didn’t expect this to be easy…but I don’t think I thought it would be so hard…does that make sense?

Adoption would hurt and heal me at the same time

I experienced some post-adoption depression which surprised me. It was brutal and I went through a really, really hard time. I think I came out on the sunny side, though.

I am working on things, people.  I struggle. Some days, things are easy and some days, doing even the ordinary things are hard.

Adoption left me broken

There are many children left behind and many children that don’t get adopted…don’t get picked. “Save a child” was not our motivation for adoption but leaving China and seeing first-hand how many children were left behind…well…that kind of tears your heart in half. You can piece yourself back together, but you are never the same…I will never be the same person.

Adoption helped me to be more diplomatic

We field comments like “you should have adopted from your own country,” and “why not an American kid?” 

I've learned not to jump down people's throats for asking something they see as innocent, even when I think it's nosy or rude. I've learned to guard my kids’ privacy and I don't let every thoughtless comment or ignorant person ruin my day. And, I've learned to tell people to MYFOB when it needs to be said.

Adoption taught me stuff about myself

I’m an instant-gratification, right now kinda girl. Adoption is all about waiting. And paperwork. And stress eating. I compare it to a very long, unpredictable pregnancy. I'm not saying adoption transformed me into an uber-patient person, but I've learned acceptance about waiting on things I can't control. Having less of a “has to happen yesterday” outlook has helped me become a better mom and a happier human.

Adoption put me on a new professional path

“Writing it out” led to an active blog, which led to different freelancing opportunities. Being willing to tell my story and stretch my legs as a writer made me into…well…into someone who can look you square in the eye and say “I am a writer.

I expected adoption to add to the number of people that lived in my house but it's been much more.  It's changed every nuance of my life and turned things upside down and sideways…in a mostly good way.

I often say “nothing surprises me anymore,” because…well, because I’ve been around awhile   and I think I’ve seen all the things.  But just about everything about our family’s adoption experience has surprised me.

There’s no such thing as a cookie cutter adoption story. I'm surprised that some of this stuff surprises me, but I’m still learning.

My story is still being written.

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  1. You are beautiful for adopting children. And American or not, they are children still, in need of forever families. I too, have a secret longing to some day adopt. I really don’t know why. Part of me maybe feels like I have so much and I need to share. Another part just likes kids, I suppose. 🙂 But I’ve never thought or heard of post-adoption depression. How interesting. Not that it’s a good thing, but it’s great you’ve told it because now I know. And others will know too, that it is a thing. Maybe someday I will hop in the adoption boat, or maybe not. We’ll just have to wait and see…

  2. Great list! I used to teach kids in a very low income neighborhood and we brought one home as a foster child for 9 months. Not the same, but I get how sad it is when you realize you can’t save every child who deserves to be saved. Your story is amazing. I hate that there were/are tough times, but I’m glad it led you to writing!

  3. A fabulous post! All children deserve a chance for that forever home, no matter where they are born. Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful story! Have a great week!

  4. I can so relate. I adopted one 5 year old at 50 and another one at 53 as a single Mom. this month is 14 years since I adopted my first son. He is now 19 and my other son is 16. One thing about adoption is that you cannot really envision, or at least not realistically, how it will change your life. my life is very different form what I ever envisioned. Some things are much harder (my kids both came from difficult situations that involved trauma and abuse). Both things I was trying to avoid, but when you adopt, just like when you give birth you love your kids and you deal with what you are dealt. Its been much more isolating then I ever expected since most people don’t “get” why kids have behavior problems, can’t handle it and don’t stick around. In many ways I can’t blame them, but in other ways it would be nice if they would want to know and offer some support. I get though that you can’t support what you don’t understand.

    I have learned that I am much stronger then I ever imagined. I have had to learn how to do self care, and learn to take care of myself and not feel guilty about it. While it has been hard, I have never regretted adopting and being a Mom. While it’s been a hard ride, it has also connected me with some wonderful people and made me much more tolerant of everyone, myself included.

  5. This was my first time reading your blog. Love it! I can relate strongly to what you’ve said here. Our daughter was 2 years old when we adopted her from Russia, and I was 43. My husband and I like to say that our midlife crisis has a name. LOL. Not that I take our adoption lightly. It’s been quite a journey, mostly like a roller coaster. Our daughter is 15 now and beautiful in so many ways. She’s an amazing girl — I realized that about her right away, as she embraced her new life with grace, resilience, and curiosity. She loved being part of a family, and still does.

    I’ll be looking forward to reading more of your blog.

  6. Yes! I related to just about ALL of this. It’s funny how many things about adoption have been different than I expected. It’s a good thing I like surprises 😉

  7. Such an amazing article. My sons adoptive mother and I have discussed the depression that comes post placement is not exclusive to the birth mother. I am so thankful for her though and her toughness this incredibly difficult process. She loves my son so much and I couldn’t ask for more. Thank you for your honesty. 🙂

  8. First of all, I am in no way invalidating any of the things on your list. I have never adopted a child, so I cannot speak to the feelings and growth that you shared. However, as an adopted child, there is something I find surprising that is not on your list – but that I would hope would be the biggest learning and most challenging part of adopting children. Have you considered the life long impact being adopted will have on them? While their lives may be safer, happier, and more full of love because you adopted them, they still will undoubtably experience many other difficult feelings. Adopted children experience grief for their lost birth family and mourn their lost culture. They grapple with understanding why their experience is different than other children’s in different ways throughout their life. Your children sound young. Psychologists say children can’t really understand adoption until around 6 or 7. Until then, they often sound like they understand more than they do by repeating back what they have been told. I hope I am reaching your early enough to encourage you to take very seriously the emotional trauma that adoption is recognized as in the psychological community. This is not my opinion, rather well researched fact. I can tell you love your children. Please take the next – probably most difficult – step and look into how you are going to proactively give them the emotional support they need while growing up with many confusing and painful feelings. The best thing you can do is make sure they know they can talk about them. Many times adopted children are afraid they will hurt your feelings or that you won’t understand. I appreciate your thoughtful post and the compassion you show through giving love and support to children through adoption. I only write this comment because I know there is a lot more learning that may come ahead.

  9. Thank you for your post. I loved your article because I can relate. It’s nice to know there are others out there with a similar story. I am 49 and my husband and I have two grown daughters and just adopted our son from Ethiopia after waiting for 7 years for him. Thank you for your honesty and telling your story…I pray it will help encourage others like it did me. I also pray it will encourage others to adopt…keep on writing writer!
    PS LOVE LOVE the name of your blog!

  10. Excellent site you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really like to be a part of online community where
    I can get opinions from other parents. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thank you!

    1. Hi Sheila! Thanks for your comment! There used to be a forum called China Adopt Talk that had a ton of info but the site has been down for a couple of years now. Most adoption discussions take place in private Facebook groups. Where are you adopting from?