Labor Day weekend marked 3 years since Leo became part of our family. I don’t write as many personal posts on the blog now that it has transitioned from a travel blog for family and friends to a public blog for those considering adoption from China. However, I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on what I have learned through this three years of adoptive parenting.
Yes, you can love the children you adopted as much as the children you gave birth to. More and more families are adopting after having biological children. A frequent concern is that it might feel different. People always laugh when I say this, but despite having 6 kids, I don’t actually like little kids that much. I’ve never wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, so you can understand how this was a big concern for me. While adoption might seem at first like babysitting the neighbor’s kid, I was surprised by how very quickly each of my sons felt right in my arms. I think the months of paperwork with seeing pictures and getting updates serves as the “paper pregnancy” preparing your heart. No it isn’t instant, but for most families their adopted children are simply their children, whether they also have biological children or not.
Special Needs adoption does not require you to be a super parent. So many people are intimidated by the “special needs” label. We were already parenting children with special needs before we adopted–they needed glasses and braces. In the China program, you can choose which medical needs to accept and only receive referrals meeting that criteria. Sure, Leo’s weekly speech therapy, quarterly ENT nurse visit, bi-yearly ENT visit, and annual cleft clinic visit takes up a few more squares on the calendar, but not any more than squeezing in piano or baseball between the pediatrican-dentist-optometrist-orthodontist. August’s limb difference is going to require some intensive surgery this year, but after the initial correction his need will be less time intensive than Leo’s. Yes, these things take time and money, but you do it because it’s your child. We now know these waiting children aren’t “special needs kids.” They’re simply children whose biggest need is a family.
The other kids will be fine! Another common concern we had was how adopting might effect the children already in our family. Were we going to ruin their lives? However, from the very beginning our children embraced the idea of adopting a sibling. It opened their eyes to the fact that there were children who didn’t have a family. While we in no way approached adoption as a charity project, through our many conversations on the hows and whys they have become more interested in ways they could help children in need. Several of our children sponsor a child to help preserve a family, and two of our older children have written papers on adoption for school. I was so impressed by how understanding they were in the early days with grieving or tantrums because they understood what a huge scary change in was in the life of their brothers. Our children have become more caring and compassionate. Adoption changed the lives of all of our children for the better.
Don’t let fear hold you back. Many people consider adoption but few actually adopt. I don’t know what it is that makes some people take that step forward but I know exactly what it is that holds so many people back. Fear. It took us so long to decide to adopt, but before we had come home from China we knew we’d be going back. It changes you that quickly. Less than a year earlier, we had sincerely explained to our social worker that we would be adopting exactly one child to complete our family. She was skeptical. As many have said before, adoption is hard to start but harder to stop. When you plan your biological family, you ask yourselves many of the same questions–does everyone have enough time and attention, can we afford another child, do we have another bed and seat in the van–but somehow there’s a greater urgency to the question when you’ve seen all those little faces. When you hold a child in your arms while the orphanage director says “This child needs a family.” After you’ve made that trip, it’s easier to understand why some families adopt over and over. (The children in this photo are home with families now. However, one of the little boys we met on this trip had a limb difference. Meeting him caused us to check the limb difference box during our second adoption, which led to August becoming part of our family.)
At this time, we feel our family is complete and have no plans to adopt again. (Famous last words, I know.) But I still remember how it felt to be trying to make the initial decision. How we went back and forth asking if we should or if we shouldn’t. We had so many fears. What I have learned from saying yes is that if you let fear make you say no, you’re saying no to letting your life change in a wonderful way. Saying no won’t prevent bad things from happening in your life. That happens to everyone. Saying yes WILL cause changes in your life. You’ll learn that you’re stronger than you think, what’s really important in life, and your family will be enriched beyond measure by the children that you didn’t know you had until you saw them in a photo.