Are you considering adopting? Then don’t miss this poignant and heartfelt essay by adoptive mom and founder of Tribe Alive, Carly Burson. Looking at the photos below, there is positively no chance of missing the spark of love between Carly and her first adopted child, Elie, and with two foster girls behind the scenes and a start-up to run, too, this mom is constantly on the move. Yet, like most moms, she’s simply learning as she goes.
Scroll on to read the eight things Carly and her husband wish they had known before diving into the adoption process. The good news? They wouldn’t change their decision for anything in the world.
I was just a teenager when I declared that I had no intention of having biological children. There has never been a time that I’ve doubted that conviction or the choice to grow our family through adoption and foster care. When we were in the process of adopting our first child, my husband and I powered through paperwork, happily gave up our Saturdays to attend adoption classes, invited numerous social workers into our home and convinced each other that the scenarios trained adoption professionals warned against surely wouldn’t happen to us. Like all new and expecting parents, we dove into the process blissfully (and intentionally) unaware of what the future could and would hold for us.
Now, six years into our journey toward parenthood, one daughter through adoption, and a daughter and granddaughter through foster care, we realize there was just no preparing for any of it. There was so much we didn’t know, so I’ve compiled a list of the top eight things I wish I had known before adopting.
1. Be financially prepared.
My husband is a budgeter—a spreadsheet kind of guy who knows exactly what’s coming in and what’s going out. Even though he takes our savings and financial stability pretty seriously, he couldn’t properly prepare for the financial burden of adoption. When we began the process, we were given a cost breakdown of what to expect monetarily. In the end, our costs were triple what was originally communicated. We sold our little dream home in Connecticut, gave up big jobs in New York City, and moved to Texas to lower our cost of living so that we could financially afford to finalize the adoption of our daughter. You can imagine that the situation was dire for this Northeast girl to agree to move to Texas. If you’re considering adopting and are organizing your finances, plan for double (if not triple) what your agency tells you. Adoption is expensive, but worth every penny.
2. Surround yourself with people who get it.
Not everyone understands adoption and not everyone will celebrate your new family in a way that is deserved. Surround yourself with friends and family who support you and your decision and who shower you with the same love that they would a pregnant woman. The celebration that my family threw me for our first child meant so much and validated the reality and importance of the daughter that was soon-to-be mine.
3. Recognize grief and loss in adoption.
Adoption is full of so much joy and promise for adoptive parents, but we must recognize that our child has also experienced a great loss. To approach adoption sensitively, we need to start by viewing it as a tragedy. Know that someone loved your child before you, but due to circumstance was not fortunate or privileged enough to keep him or her. This fact does not lessen your love for your child, but it is a part of your child’s story and needs to be honored throughout their life.
Our daughter came from a wonderful orphanage where she was deeply loved and had a close bond with her nanny. I never imagined that I would feel guilt from removing a child from an orphanage. I struggled with taking her away from people whom she loved and who loved her. It took me a while to realize that adoption is not meant to be a savior story. It’s about love and loss and finding a way to exist somewhere between the two.
My children did not come from me, but they are the very best part of me…I do not introduce them as my adoptive daughter or my foster daughters. They are my daughters. They do not need to be completely mine to be mine.
4. Post-adoption depression is a thing.
The stories that most adoptive mothers tell of love at first sight and instant connections may not be your story, and that’s OK. My husband and I spent more than six weeks in Ethiopia battling the U.S. embassy to finalize a two-year adoption process. It was full of stress, discomfort and confusion. We didn’t have a lot of room for celebration, bonding and new baby bliss. I put so much pressure on myself and questioned every feeling I had for my child. It took time for me to bond and connect with her, and I beat myself up every day because of that. I spent three years journeying toward becoming her mother. At the end of it all, I worked hard to hide the depression, fear and anxiety I felt when she came home because I was deeply ashamed. I wish I had known to be easy on myself and to allow our love the time it needed to grow.
5. Be OK with being stared at.
It’s apparent that we are an adoptive family. We’re white, and our daughters are African and Guatemalan. As soon as people see us, they understand our situation and are often curious. I do not enjoy gaining the attention of strangers. In the beginning, I dreaded time out in public as a family. Know that people will stare. Some will stare out of curiosity, some through judgment and some because their mother never taught them that it’s rude. Learn to ignore it and simply smile back. Your children will need to learn how to positively react to different scenarios one day, but for now, they’re watching us to see how we react (I may have told a woman to find something else to gawk at in line at Target once, so also learn to forgive yourself when those moments happen).
6. For some, your family is not real.
- “Does she call you ‘Mommy’?”
- “Where are their real parents?”
- “Don’t you want your own children one day?”
When my husband and I chose to grow our family through adoption and foster care, we prepared for a lot, but we never anticipated having to validate and defend the reality of our family. Adoption is not for the weak of heart. It’s hard, complicated, expensive, unpredictable and intrusive. It breaks you down to a shell of yourself even before anyone has called you mommy. You spend years fighting for a child that you’ve never met. You drain your bank account, take an unpaid leave from work, test your marriage, purchase one-way tickets to other countries, shed tears, celebrate milestones and spend days in bed when faced with more disappointment. In the end, you make it through and title yourself a warrior.
There’s no hospital room or family members waiting to find out if it’s a boy or girl, but a judge looks you in the eye after three years and tells you, “From this day forward, she is yours.” You weep and celebrate and start to imagine the type of mother you’ll be. After all of that, you come home and the world asks, “Where are their real parents?” The truth is that everything is real. Their birth parents are real, their siblings are real and we are real. Never let an uneducated question diminish your rightful place in this world as a mother.
7. You will always be your child’s advocate and protector.
The challenges that come along with adoption never go away. Adoption adds complicated layers and you must be prepared to tackle the issue with your child time and time again. Some people will respond to adoption thoughtlessly (the in-law who says you’re more like mentors and less like parents, the stranger who asks personal questions, the teacher that constantly references that your kids are adopted). When you choose to adopt, you are choosing to protect your children from society’s insensitivities for the rest of their lives, and you can never back down to difficult and confrontational conversations. Your child must always know that you’ve got their back.
8. You will forget your children are adopted.
My children did not come from me, but they are the very best part of me. I’m white, and they’re black and brown. It’s obvious that they were adopted. Society never fails to recognize that, but I do. My children are my children. I do not introduce them as my adoptive daughter or my foster daughters. They are my daughters. They do not need to be completely mine to be mine.