A Living Sacrifice, part V: Adoption

The fifth (and last) in a series of posts about women’s bodies and consecration. I’m gathering insights for an article I’m writing for the fall/winter issue of Segullah. In prior posts we discussed pregnancy, single sisterhood, miscarriage, and infertility.

I was once reading a magazine in my OB/GYN’s office when I came upon an article about a couple who had adopted a newborn. I don’t remember any details of this family’s experience. All I remember is sitting there thinking, “Man, talk about the easy way to get a baby.”To be fair, I was in the last trimester of pregnancy—my fourth or fifth, I think (it’s all a blur). I could barely walk across the room thanks to sciatica and pelvic pain. I couldn’t sleep well because my joints were all loosening, causing deep soreness in my hips and shoulders (and of course, tummy and back sleeping were out). Heartburn fried my throat every 15 minutes or so. And those were just a few of my pregnancy woes—not only did I have a long list of others, but I also had labor and delivery and the postpartum period to look forward to. At that moment, all I could think about was how nice it would be to get a kid without all the pain and suffering.

I’ve grown out of that myopia, to some extent at least. Thanks to women who have shared their experiences with me, I’ve realized that adoptive mothers endure their own brand of difficulty. I now see deep humility and faith in the act of making another woman’s child one’s own. I can only imagine the patience and strength required for the adoption process—the waiting, the scrutiny, the instability. And I suspect there is great vulnerability in mothering a person who had another mother. But I’m still pretty clueless about the unique sacrifices made by mothers of adopted children—and mothers of foster children. 

So. Educate me. What are the unique challenges of adoptive and foster parenting? Those of you who know first-hand, what do you wish the rest of us understood? Those of you who have watched loved ones live this experience, what have you learned?

About Kathryn Soper

(Founding Editor) is the author of the memoir The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press, 2009) and the editor of four published anthologies. She contributes to Mormon forums from Meridian Magazine to Sunstone on a variety of topics including gender issues, disability, mental health, sexuality, family life, and spirituality.

19 thoughts on “A Living Sacrifice, part V: Adoption

  1. If I may answer your question indirectly, I would like to. I was a birth coach and partner for a woman (I’ll call her Ann) who gave her daughter up for adoption. Ann came from several pained experiences, which ultimately led to this choice, the most pained one of them all.

    As we met together with the family that would eventually adopt her baby, both Ann and the adoptive family knew, and I mean KNEW, this child wasn’t Ann’s. I was there, and can really testify to the strength of this feeling and knowledge. This child was theirs. The Lord knew. As we sat together in the Family Services office, Ann still pregnant, tears streaming down our faces, the Spirit helped heal Ann through this pain, and it confirmed with great power that the Lord’s hand placed this baby in the right home, the home where her parents had been waiting for her.

    I haven’t adopted any children myself, but I know that child was a part of that adoptive family — no matter how it came to them.

  2. And I suspect there is great vulnerability in mothering a person who had another mother.

    Haven’t we all had another mother? When I look at my sweet daughter I feel lucky to be her third set of parents. Her Heavenly parents, her first parents here on earth and we are her third parents to share in her life. What a gift! There is in no way feelings of disappointment that she isn’t a mini-me, that she didn’t come from my womb, that she doesn’t look a thing like me. There is so much more to parenting and being a family than this.

    I don’t feel that it took faith to “make another woman’s child my own”. It took faith to listen to Heavenly Father to lead me and be patient as I waited for our daughter to join our family. Its not a manner of ownership. We are given stewardship over our children—our brothers and sisters—to raise them in love and righteousness so that we can all return and be with our Heavenly Father as a family.

    I honestly feel honored to share our daughter with her parents—both Heavenly and on earth.

  3. I have watched as a dear couple have waited over 5 years to finally adopt their baby. During that time they had to endure all kinds of humiliating physical and personal inquiries and tests, had their personal space totally invaded, every aspect of their lives chronicled, charted, filed, inspected, and scrutinized (often without appoints or warning). I mean really, how many birth parents have their medicine cabinets locked up or so much square footage personally devoted to the expected child?

    I personally have gone through a miscarriage. I feel that the “promised” babies my friends expected and planned for, then lost at the last minute, were just as painful; if not moreso because I knew that I could concieve again. And frankly I have never gone through a 2 1/2 year pregnancy.

    Another friend of mine has two children she adopted at birth. Both were addicted to drugs and struggled to survive. Now as young adults both of these kids continue to struggle with issues related to their birth mothers.

    As I watch their adoptive mother walk with these young people and try to help them be successful and happy I have come to know that her life has been one full of much more hardship and sacrifice than my own. She is constantly questioning if her children’s struggles are because of their genetics or her parenting. She is such an example to me of unconditional love.

  4. Justine, what a poignant story. Thank you!

    Susan, thanks for the reminder that all of us have our children “on loan.” Beautifully put. I should explain what was on my mind when I wrote this post: currently in my family there’s a very complex and painful situation due to the interactions between an adopted child and her two earthly mothers. All three parties are having heart-wrenching experiences. So that’s one take on the vulnerability I was referring to–making the choice to adopt with the knowledge that situations such as these might evolve in the future.

    As for the line about needing faith to adopt, here’s where I’m coming from: There was a time my husband and I seriously considered adopting two children. It required tremendous faith for me to even explore the option. I realized I’d be taking into our family the choices of two other people, choices that had harmed these children and would have repercussions in my home. I couldn’t move forward without the confidence that comes through the spirit. (As it turns out, another family stepped up to adopt these children, before we had to make a final decision.)

    Thanks again for sharing these perspectives.

  5. S’mee, I was typing while you were posting.

    I know a woman who has raised two damaged-in-utero children, and I have the same awe for what she has done.

    I’ve also heard adoption-strain stories like the one you shared. And your point about failed adoption being like miscarriage was profound.

    Thank you.

  6. friends of ours adopted, had the baby sealed, and then had the birth father fight through courts (nearly three years later) and win rights. they are on pins and needles and wondering if they will be able to keep their child.

    i have watched other friends wait for years until they actually felt right. adopting is no picnic for many reasons.

  7. I am writing as one who has been trying to adopt for several years, with no success . . . yet. :)

    Kathryn, you pose some good questions. My thoughts are kind of heading in a specific direction . . . hopefully not too far off track of what you are asking. I hope you don’t mind if this is long.

    On the lighter side of things, sometimes I’ve thought it would be a good idea to clear the gene pool, so to speak. :) It would be great to decrease the risk of OCD, depression, anxiety, social phobia, schizophrenia, auditory processing issues, facial tics, back problems, diabetes, and whatever else could show up via our various distant family genes. Of course, we’d be taking on a whole new set of genes that might have issues we have no experience in . . . but a clean slate has sounded inviting at times.

    Also, before we realized it would take so long, I did think this was the easy way to motherhood, paperwork and process notwithstanding. To help myself feel better about adopting, I would remind myself of all of the horrific body changes and pains pregnant women have to go through. “Epesiotomy? Not me, thank goodness!”

    On the more serious side . . . when we first decided to adopt, the question of would we be able to love another woman’s child seemed an easy answer: Of Course! My husband had helped a friend raise a daughter and felt very fatherly towards her. I had loved many children I’d tended through the years, and easily could imagine them as my own.

    As we’ve worked through the pre-adoption process, I’ve learned that that initial “of course we could love somebody else’s baby” isn’t as simple as I first thought.

    I DO strongly believe that, as Justine described, if we adopt an infant or child, it would be meant to be ours. I have complete faith in that. Justine expressed it so beautifully that I don’t think I need to elaborate.

    But “meant to be” or not, what about unmet expectations and potential problems?

    One of my earliest reactions to the thought of adopting was fairly superficial: “What if they aren’t as smart me?” Ignoring any presumptions about my intelligence or gaps therein, :) I had to remind myself that genes or not, there were no guarantees that a baby “of my own” would have any specific level of intelligence or capacity or beauty or what have you. I saw how I needed to let go of baby/future expectations whether or not I gave birth or adopted.

    I experienced a similar thing when a friend showed me a picture of a 12-year-old Russian girl up for adoption: “What if she never joins the church,” I thought. Again, I had to check my assumptions. Raising a child in the church would not necessarily predispose them to love and live the gospel.

    With these kinds of issues, adoption has become a non-issue. My own ability to love unconditionally is the issue. I think I have worked through a lot of those things.

    Then, earlier this year, we considered doing foster care. We are still considering it. Most of my professional career has been doing therapy with foster children, so I have seen some of the most challenging (and heartbreaking) situations, as well as one happy adoption. I have no rose colored glasses on about it.

    As their therapist, I grew to love even the most challenging children. I have secretly wished I could adopt at least a couple . . . of the easier kids. But some, who I’ve love the most, I would never want to have their “problems” in my home. I do not know how people choose to adopt such scary, emotionally exhausting, potential-to-harm-other-children, drama-filled little souls.

    It’s kind of strange, really, to think that the same exact problems could enter our home whether we gave birth, adopted a newborn, or adopted a child with a history of abuse. The odds are worse for foster care, because of trauma . . . but the possibility is there with ANY child.

    One question is, do I want to go in with my eyes wide open via foster care, or do I want to have better odds with a newborn and keep my fingers crossed. Could I knowingly walk into an extremely stressful situation like that? Would I be crazy to do so? Does that make sense?

    There are some obvious things: I wouldn’t knowingly adopt someone who is a sexual perpetrator or has the strong potential to be one, whether or not we had kids in the home already. And if we had kids in the home, the list of “won’t take that situation” would grow incredibly.

    Yet . . . the moms I know who are adopting kids from some of the most horrific situations, who already have birth children, still say it’s worth it. Could I do it? While I may have unconditional love for these children, do I have the strength to handle their problems and stay sane? Would I even want to try?

    And again, couldn’t I be asking myself the same questions with birth children?

    I think, for me, the most important answer seems to be to get in tune with the Spirit and make the decisions through prayer. I have to have enough self-awareness to recognize when it’s my bleeding heart (perhaps leading us in a direction we should avoid) or when it’s the Spirit saying, “Yes, you can do this. This is a good step to take.” I also have to have faith in myself, my husband, and the Lord enough to not be afraid of a stressful situation.

    ***I would LOVE to hear some adoption and foster success stories sometime.***

    Oh, and Kathryn, I think I know what you’re getting at with your family situation between the two moms and the daughter. I think I’ve gone on enough for now, but I think it takes some great strength as an adopted mom to be comfortable with your adopted child wanting their birth mom in their life. I can only imagine how yucky that could be, depending on how the birth mom handles herself, etc.

    ‘nough said…if you’ve made it this far, thanks for your time and patience!

  8. Wendy,

    Thanks for your comments! So many of the things you said reflect my own thoughts as we went through the process of being approved for adoption. Having children biologically is no guarantee on any of these issues, though people often assume it is. Good luck in whatever comes your way!

  9. Thank you so much, Wendy. Don’t worry about posting long comments–your words are much appreciated. I’m learning lots as I consider your perspective.

    Thank you, anon and Inexperienced Mom, for chiming in.

  10. Adoption is important to me– I was adopted and I always thought I would adopt because I figured I could relate to an adopted child. I wanted to believe that I could recreate some of my own positive experience with adoption. But then I became a mom and realized how conceited my ideas were.

    My parents were not adopted. And they are amazing parents. My birth mother was also adopted (so I’ve been told) and that ended up causing some problems for her. I am (obviously) grateful for her mature handling of these difficulties.

    I have not adopted. My reasons are complicated due to my difficult pregnancies and recurring pregnancy losses. And yet, after seven pregnancies, I do have three children.

    Honestly, I feel that if I adopted, I would be saying that I didn’t want to go through the hard work my pregnancies require, while knowing so many couples, for whom the hard work of difficult pregnancies isn’t even an option.

    I don’t think adoption is the easy way to have a family, just as I don’t think that enduring my type of pregnancy is an easy option. I feel that the sacrifices may differ, but pregnancy and adoption include immeasurable sacrifices nonetheless.

  11. I have always wanted to adopt, probably because of being adopted myself. The need for adoptive parents now is strongest with older children. Being a social worker has made me much more cautious with that age group, though. I have seen many cases when adoptive families were not given the full information they should have had access to when making a decision to adopt or the support they needed after the adoption. It is still something I will consider, but not until my own children are older, because I am painfully aware that despite my best efforts I could put them at risk in bringing an older child into our home.

  12. My husband and I have three children that we adopted at birth. I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier. It’s just a miracle.

  13. There is nothing easy about adoption or birthing a child you intend to parent. However, consider this: you carried the physical burdens of a child for 9 months. I would gladly endure 9 months of anything to make my children and myself feel and know the permanence and “ease” of being raised by biological parents. That will stay with us all for a lifetime.

    The world does not see them as “ours”. How can I possibly make my children believe that they are? If you think that’s “easy”, try explaining to your child why our skin doesn’t match, why people stare, why she has to have extra medical tests, why why why. And those are the easy questions. The hard ones are yet to come and we all pray to know the answers when they do.

  14. My comment might be a little off topic but when you said “And I suspect there is great vulnerability in mothering a person who had another mother,” I just couldn’t help but think about my sister who is lovingly mothering two stepchildren. I think the vulnerability is even greater when the other mother is still in the picture and intent on demonizing the “stepmother.” My sister has made many sacrifices. Her life is constantly unstable as her stepchildren are shuttled back and forth between homes. Her reality is far different than her lifelong dream of a family. Try explaining to a 5 and 3 year old why their brother and sister don’t live with them half the time. And the world for sure doesn’t see stepmothers as true parents. Just take a look at our fairy tales. My sister is constantly reminded by the court, by the x -wife, and even sometimes by her children that she is only a “stepmother.” But she doesn’t see herself that way and she goes on trying to be the best mother that she can be to all of her children.

  15. Being somewhat new to the blogging world, part V on adoption has introduced me to the entire “A Living Sacrifice” thread. I have spent what time I had over the past few days reading through every post and all the comments.

    I have just one thing to share, and I hope it doesn’t digress too much from the questions posed. There are those who deal with the frustration of “what have I done wrong?” and “why?” in terms of infertility and being single. There are waiting games of “is this one going to be the one that makes it?” in terms of miscarriage and of “will this ever really be finalized?” with adoption. (I’ve watched and listened to sisters and good friends go through these nail-biting experiences.)

    There is a flip side: The quiet unspoken (mostly unconscious) relief and the guilt (considerably on a different level) of having had 6 pregnancies resulting in 6 rather healthy, normal kids. Why me? Why my kids? I’m not any more special or spiritual or righteous than any of you. We are all daughters (and sons) of a loving God. I don’t deserve this relative parental “easiness” any more than you deserve your agony of waiting and wanting.

    I spent most of my last two pregnancies absolutely paranoid, almost to the point of emotional paralysis, that this was the time my “luck” would run out. What are the chances that one woman can escape the percentages of miscarriage or birth defects — SIX times? It was agonizing. I cannot imagine how exponentially worse it must be to keep trying and hoping and waiting.

    As I continually grow and learn, I gain a greater understanding of my limitations, strengths and abilities. I recognize and appreciate my blessings.

    I dislike generalizing for all of us in my similar situation, but I believe there are mothers who wonder how we slipped under the radar and missed those not-unexpected chances. We are the ones who are atypical…

    We each have our challenges. We each have our blessings. I believe the key is to take these experiences — each one that molds and perfects us, whatever form they take — and, through the love and grace and atonement of our Savior, make of them and of us an individual and lasting Living Sacrifice.

  16. Enlightening comments, all. Thank you for posting.

    Michelle–“We are the ones who are atypical…”–so true. I know that uneasy feeling of having things go too smoothly. Interestingly enough, it was shortly after that that I had some major crises come along–so watch out!

    Heather, I can’t believe I’ve neglected stepparenting in this series. I will do another post about that. Thank you for bringing up the topic. I lived in a stepfamily myself–where’s my head???

    b.–“I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier. It’s just a miracle.” –Absolutely.

    And Rynell–“I feel that the sacrifices may differ, but pregnancy and adoption include immeasurable sacrifices nonetheless.”–My thoughts precisely.

    Fredericka–your remarks highlight some of the “hidden difficulties” of adoption that I’ve been thinking about. Thank you.

  17. We adopted our daughter Hong Mei on Mother’s Day 2007 in The Peoples Republic of China. We are the proud parents of four biological children and one adopted daughter. Having had biological children and now an adopted child I can witness that I had the same feelings while “paper pregnant” for my adopted daughter as for my biological children.

    We purposely wanted to adopt an older special needs orphan from China. We were careful to do lots of research on various special needs and China. There are many reasons why I was drawn to China; the most important reason is that I knew my child would be born in China and that I needed to go and get her. There were other practical reasons: for Chinese women the prenatal exposure to alcohol, illegal drugs, and cigarettes is rare; the spare diet is healthy, and for whatever short time her birth mother would have our child she would be breast-fed. Because of these factors the girls (and a few boys) that are adopted from China are usually healthy in both body and spirit. We wanted to be comfortable with whatever need our child would have. We also did lots of reading on toddler adoption. I can honestly say that toddler adoption is not for wimps. We had a difficult first month. In the three months since our “Gotcha Day” we can not believe the progress she has made. She is happy, loving, bright, energetic, funny and a wonderful daughter and sister. She has blessed the lives of our other children. My other kids are well aware of the great blessing of family. They understand that not all children have parents, food to eat, or warm beds to sleep in. For them they know that they are truly blessed. She is loved by her family and she tells us that she loves us as well. We are so thankful to God for giving us the miracle of this child.

    Hong Mei was in generally good health when we got her. She weighed only 11 kilograms (about 24 pounds) and was the skinniest 3 year old we had ever seen. She had been classified as “special needs” because she is Hepatitis-B positive. Because of the research I had done, we noticed her funny dimple on her tail bone area and knew that she probably had mild spina bifida. Our suspicions were confirmed when we consulted with doctors in the states. We look at adoption the same way we do natural child birth. There are no guarantees in life. In our eyes, Hong Mei is perfect.

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