Post-adoption bitterness

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How many times have you heard someone say admiringly “girlfriend is totally rocking that angry, bitter thing?” How ‘bout never?

Lately, I’ve recognized bitterness in myself. It feels funny, like shoes that don’t fit but that I’m wearing anyway.

I try to shrug off bitter. Sometimes I can, but it’s temporary. Bitterness sneaks back. Sometimes I make a deal with myself in the morning about staying positive. This usually ends with me getting pissed off at myself by midafternoon because I fail.  I've always been a glass half full girl.

When bitterness sets in after adoption|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

Adoption is stressful in a way most people don’t get. Kyle's adoption in 2013 was stressful in ways Zack’s adoption in 2012 wasn’t. I have two children adopted from China.

Over the past month and change, we’ve been dealing with medical needs we weren’t ready to handle and nightmarish travel snafus. Our homecoming from China was a non-stop roll of Murphy’s Law on steroids: insurance snags, payroll blunders, unplanned home repairs. There’s more and I could go on but I won’t. Let’s just say the events of the past couple of months have created conditions favorable for bitterness.

I’m a big believer in not stewing over stuff I can’t change. If I’m not gonna care about it in five years I try not to get twisted about it right now. But lately, little things have been getting to me.   Stupid shit like a late taxi or my two plus year-old super cheap vacuum cleaner crapping out. I think little things are getting to me because I’m not dealing with the big things that are really bothering me (I’m not a psychologist but I once stayed at Holiday Inn Express).

I am smarting over the lukewarm support we got for our adoptions. I am not saying everyone was unsupportive but it’s become obvious that as our family grows, some of our relationships deteriorate. Fizzle out. That “hey, we’ll get together” never happens.

I remember my mom explaining to me in second grade terms what covet meant. To drool over someone else’s stuff or station in life was bad. I’ve always believed in celebrating good stuff that happens to good people. If good stuff wasn’t on my plate, I looked inward, sucked it up, bucked up or perked up. Maybe it wasn’t my time or my turn. This way of looking at life has gotten me through a lot of tough crap and minimized pity parties when things don’t go my way. Until recently.

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I follow several other adoption blogs, just as I know many of the people following this blog are other adoptive families. I’ve read posts about families being “so blessed” to have such “amazing support.” I see pictures of showers and parties to celebrate an adopted child. And I covet all of this. I’m ashamed to admit that, but I do. I’ve coveted every baby shower, every airport homecoming party with the welcome home signs and balloons (I’m a sucker for a balloon). And even though I’m conflicted on adoption fundraising, I’m envious when a family trills about how blown away they are that their friends have considered it “a blessing to help us bring our child home.”   These scenarios have been so very far from my own experience.

Adoption is hard. Even families with their villages firmly behind them still agonize over the waiting and uncertainty. They still have paperwork headaches. They deal with serious medical issues and struggle with attachment and bonding. No one has it easy in this way we’ve chosen to build our families. To admit I am angry and bitter over reading about good things that happened to good people doesn’t make me feel great about myself.

Our adoptions were so deliberate. The stress aside, we were happy to bring our boys in to this family. But outside of a small circle, their becoming part of our family wasn’t celebrated. Kyle's adoption hasn't even been well acknowledged. “Congratulations” is something I’ve only heard a couple of times. I’m not sure if it’s because he was so sick and people aren’t sure what to say or another reason. And that has made me feel hollow. The hollowness turns to bitterness and I look in the mirror and see a resentful woman who gets way too upset over dumb stuff like being out of Diet Coke or a broken vacuum cleaner.

I probably shouldn’t take any of this personally. I never told anyone I was struggling until things got really bad. The answer was always “fine” whether things were fine or not (women are good at that.) The people in my life may not have known I needed help or moral support. They were probably going about their own business in their own lives.

Maybe the “outside looking in” of our adoptions was flying to China, eating some egg rolls, being handed a child who is exactly what we expected and delighted to be in our family. We fly home and life pretty much returns to normal. Not so much but maybe that's what people think because I let them think it.

I can conquer the bitter or channel it in to something positive. I have a wonderful husband. I’m lucky to have our kids. There are probably many who’d trade places with me in a heartbeat.

I share my perspective a few different reasons. First, because I just need to share it. Second, because it’s part of the uglier side of adoption that no one talks about. No one’s adoption story is all unicorn farts and marshmallow cream. If that’s the line they’re feeding you, then check their pants to see if they’re on fire because they’re liar liars. Some families have to deal with the after effects of abuse and institutional neglect. Other families struggle with attachment or dealing with unaccepting family members. And finally, I share this in the hopes that one person reading this will have an “aha” moment. Maybe some other frustrated mom is out there nodding her head and thinking “me too.”

There is no remedy for the anger and bitterness I feel, other than time, and maybe just giving myself permission to let it go and to more fully focus on the good stuff I have in front of my nose. Because bitter isn’t better.

UPDATE: This was originally written and published on Ripped Jeans and Bifocals in 2014. I've let go of the bitterness and, for the most part, turned it around and moved on. But, this is part of who I am and what makes me who I am now…funny how life works that way, isn't it?

Thank you for reading!



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  1. I wish I had wrote these words. Because they are my story too. We are so questioned. And when we want to celebrate and jump up and down with excitement expecting a new daughter we are looked at as though it is a teen pregnancy. And after coming home, even family forgets a lot of times. That we are tired, or struggling. Our immediate family is very caring and ready to do, it is the friends that have disappeared that hurt.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I have followed your adoption stories, too. I am not sure if you know that. I don’t think we ever forget what it’s like to ride the rough roads and while the “if it doesn’t kill you, you’ll be stronger” mantra sounds trite when you’re in the weeds, there is true. Our immediate family is also supportive and I’m thankful you and your tribe have that, too. I hope you come back and visit my blog & give it a share if you feel like it! Hugs to you!

  2. I have two nieces that were adopted. And their parents went through a nightmare to get them. Even though there were lots of congratulations, I know there were a lot of difficulties (to put it mildly) along the way and I don’t know if they’ve ever felt the after-effects you’ve described, because they’ve never mentioned it. I have a friend who adopted 5 children from 2 countries and she has seen the after effects of institutional neglect and difficulties with bonding with one child in particular. I’m so sorry for what you’ve dealt with…our children are our children, no matter how they come to us.

  3. Thank you for speaking the truth! Our circumstances are very different, we adopted a 13 year old American girl. But I went thru many of the same feelings and struggles. I have family members who still (!!) don’t accept her.

    1. That’s sad. Our family has been great, mostly. I have some “China mom friends” that have adopted tweens and young teens. I know that brings it’s own set of challenges!

  4. I’m glad you’re feeling better about it now.

    You know, some blogs- I just wonder how truthful they are being when they talk about everything as being “so blessed.” Not that they don’t feel that way, but I wonder if maybe there’s more there that they just aren’t sharing.

    1. I am! This has a lot to do with why I’m committed to telling it like it is on my blog. I don’t share every thing (although sometimes it seems like that) but if I choose to write about it, I’ve tried to tell the truth. Adoption has been a blessing, but we’ve definitely had some rough roads.

  5. Thank you for reposting this. My parents traveled to Peru in the summer of 1991 to adopt us and because of government issues and being yanked around, they had to leave us down there for 8 MONTHS before coming back to get us for good. They would love to tell you that after that kind of wait they felt nothing but blessed to have us home, but we went on with our lives for eight months without them and there was a lot of fallout from that. While we are the poster family for claiming how blessed we are, there is always a but. I love that you are so open about the buts. This is an incredible piece.

  6. I have to say that I’ve been feeling a bit like this. We just finalized the adoption of our two girls, 7 & 9, and it seems that people are either bewildered to hear we added to our family when our kids are almost ready to leave the nest, or supportive in words but not actions (if that makes sense). No one met us at the airport, or even called in the first weeks home. Friends that I talked to every single day haven’t called in months. Why? In the first few months, I was completely overwhelmed, and anyone that would listen to me talk about it, would question if we should have done it in the first place. I expected ideas for how to deal with the issues or words of encouragement, but 90% of the time, it was “is it too late to return them?” LIKE THEY WERE A SHIRT THAT DIDN’T FIT!!! Or, you asked for it..
    I hated feeling so negative about the whole situation, like I was a terrible person for how I was feeling and reacting. In the beginning, I had only read those blogs of people who have had blessed and fabulously supported adoptions, and they immediately bonded and loved their new children. Yeah, I wasn’t feeling that at all. Then I read a few of your posts, which led me to other posts, that said it wasn’t all unicorn farts and marshmallow cream, and I felt instantly relieved to know that I wasn’t alone. So, thank you.

  7. Thank you for this. We are in the process of adoption and the response from our families has been lukewarm, at best. Their will be no baby showers or homecoming parties for us, I already know that. We are struggling to find the funds to process our adoption. It’s a heartbreaking process, and meanwhile people in our family (and some friends) who never wanted children are having them and the support for them is overwhelming. Indeed, we are learning to swallow the bitter pill we didn’t ask for. It’s been a lonely road to walk, thanks for making us feel less alone on that road with this article.

  8. Thank you for speaking this truth. This is a side of adoption that many people don’t understand. We adopted domestically, but I vividly remember standing in the courtroom on our adoption day and feeling so overwhelmed with disappointment, not about the fact that we were adopting, but just because the experience of officially becoming a mother was so much different than I had always expected. I had to push those feelings down because I knew the day was not really about me, it was about our son, it was HIS adoption day and I wanted it to be a happy day for him. But it did hurt because he was the first grandchild on either side of our family, but none of the grandparents came to the courtroom with us. There were no family or friends there to witness him joining our family. I don’t remember feeling like most people in our family were excited. It was just so very different than I always thought the day I became a mother would be. It was very strange and no one talks about it.

  9. I am just so sorry your families have had to go through this. There are so many women, who talk without thinking. Haven’t come across any men that have made, such course and rude comments as women that have. Our Daughter’s Adoption, was in country and still we had women that felt the need to judge us and our adoption, when they didn’t have a clue what we went through, they acted like we just filled out a form for a child and that was it. They didn’t know about the months and the pain we waited through.

  10. I deeply connect with every word you said and I know I’m two years too late but wish I had the opportunity to bring your family a hot meal accompanied by lots of balloons ???. We celebrate you and your journey today. We stand next to you “in the trenches” not in proximity but in heart. We are where you are in this heart aching choice of a beautifully, messy life. We see you! Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

  11. We adopted through foster care. In the beginning there was a lot of excitement shared by people around us. They made promises of parties and showers. None occurred. There were pats on the back and promises of prayers. What we really needed was a sitter, a listening ear, and a huge hug. As we fought for our second fost/adopt, even the pats on the back and promises of prayer faded. The said, “Things worked out for your first, things will work out for the second.” As we left the courthouse after his adoption and I saw all of the “friends” leave us standing there, I realized that we were done. The bitterness that had been festering, boiled over.

    We moved to another state. Things are 100% better. But every once in a while, I remember the anger.

  12. Thank you for your honesty and sharing. My son and daughter-in-law are fostering to adopt. We are on our third child without an adoption date as yet. I say “we” because as a grandparent “we” are just as vested in this process. Trying so hard to be there for my son, daughter-in-law and any child that comes into our life without being intrusive. I was devastated when our first little grandchild went back to her biological family and still am. I want happiness and safety for her and with the overwhelmed foster care system, I am not confident she is safe.
    I want to find a blog that helps me help my son and his family. I have bouts of bitterness too for the process and for the rough roads we have to go through

  13. Thank you so much for being honest about the bitterness. Thank you also to the comments left by other posters. My husband and I are just now in the home study process to adopt from India and I have been reading a lot of adoption blogs. Many of the blogs appear to be all sunshine and rainbows, but then in the online training and in reading The Connected Child, the story I get is a lot more difficult and, frankly, scarier. I vacillate between hope that we are doing the right thing and fear that we are making the biggest mistake of our lives. If anything, I’m getting the impression that everyone’s journey is different. I want to be prepared for whatever happens.

  14. Thank you so much for this. We haven’t yet adopted but are in the process, and I often struggle with many of these themes: support, bitterness, and hardship. the concept of a shower hasn’t been mentioned by anyone in our life except for one friend, but still so many internal questions about what we “should” do that are really more related to what others will think is appropriate than what we want for our family and Future children. It’s just nice to hear that others relate, that I’m not alone. Thank you for being honest and raw; it gives me hope.

  15. I am reading this several years after you posted this article, but it is still so validating. I adopted my twin boys domestically and didn’t know there was this side to adoption. Though my bitterness comes from a different place, it feels sometimes that it shouldn’t be spoken because of the wonderful gift of children you have been given. Thank you for posting something so relatable for those of us who don’t have too many others to share this with. ❤️

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. It was a really rough time for me and I’m so glad something positive came out of it and that you found it validating.