1. Your friend is not crazy. (She is adopting.)
There is, I will admit, a fine line between those two, but still, it's good to remember. The international adoption of a child requires enough paperwork to kill a small forest. And more governmental red tape than you can believe. Imagine your longest, most frustrating trip to the DMV. Now quadruple that, add in twelve more governmental agencies in two countries, and remember it's not a driver's license you're waiting for, but the final piece of paper that says this family you're creating can finally, finally be together. Yeah. Not crazy. But close.
2. She loves a child she's never met.
It's possible. So possible. It's irrational and crazy but it's reality. Does she love them like she will once she gets to know them? No. But she loves them. She wakes up loving them and goes to sleep loving them. She drives to the grocery story and aches to have them safe and snug in the carseat waiting for them. She pushes her cart around the store and hears a child cry and her heart pounds, wondering if her child is crying? Alone? Hungry? She might even have to leave an entire grocery cart full of food in the yogurt aisle to go home and cry because it just is too hard. Way too hard.
3. It's difficult having your heart on the other side of the world.
To people on the outside, they don't look like our kids; on paper, they might not be our kids yet. But in our hearts, we love these children like they are and yet, we're not together. We're moms without children. It's an ache that doesn't go away. It starts before we see their faces and only ends when they're in our arms. So, we walk about with half our heart missing. It's hard to breathe, to think, to speak. Something always feels missing. Because they are.
4. She is addicted to her email.
It's OK. This is a temporary condition and most make a full recovery. It can be diagnosed by refusal to allow separation from her smartphone, or glassy-eyed concentration as she clicks "refresh" over and over and over on her computer. Other signs may include: waking up in the middle of the night to check because it's X time over there and muttering aloud, "must get home, must check for update, must get home," while out in public.
5. Her child has been through trauma.
If she's like a lot of moms, she won't be advertising that fact everywhere because she respects her child's privacy. But children don't come to the place of needing a second family because they were placed in a cabbage patch by unicorns and leprechauns. Adoption comes from loss. Loss she will see in her child's eyes and in their heart. Loss that as a mama, can make your soul curl up in a ball for an ugly cry. So, don't tell her the kids are lucky. You wouldn't tell a person who lost an arm that they're lucky to have a prosthetic one, would you? I mean yeah, they are lucky to have that replacement. But you know what would be luckier? Not losing that arm in the first place. So please, be understanding. Also, maybe instead of asking for her child's story outright ask "are you sharing about his history before you?" That gives her a chance to either answer you or bow out graciously.
6. Adoption isn't pregnancy.
It just isn't. Well, it is in that at the end of it the hope is to have a new son or daughter in your arms. But I've yet to meet a pregnant woman who wonders how old her child will be upon entry into the family. Adoption is different. There is no due date for us. Let that sink in. No due date. And even given preemies and late arrivals with the baby by stork method, you have a narrow months-long window of time in which the baby will arrive. That brings us to point number seven.
7. She probably doesn't know when the child is coming home.
And she has probably been asked this approximately twelve times that day. Because you, her awesome friends, care about her! (And also, you secretly worry she's going a little nuts, see point #1.) And I get it. It's hard with adoption because you don't know what to ask. I feel that way with pregnant ladies, like what am I supposed to say? "Your ankles really don't look that bad do they?" Recently, I learned the always safe phrase "you look great -- how is baby doing?", the adoption equivalent is "I know you must miss your kiddos, how is the adoption going?" Or, if you don't have time to have her break down and cry all over you try the even safer, "can I see your latest update pictures?" and then ooh and aww over their cute faces. Even if the pictures are horrible, say something positive. I mean I don't tell people that their sonogram pictures sometimes look like aliens made of bread dough. (Except yours, Amy B. Yours is the cutest thing I've ever seen.)
8. She isn't sure they're coming home.
This is the part of the adoption process that makes you want to crawl under your bed and not come out until it's safe again. This is the part that tears your soul in two. This is the part that you wake up in the morning remembering and going to bed at night fearing. Because there are no guarantees. And that's hard. No, not hard. It's gut-wrenching. It's not just the fear that your child might die before having a family, it's that this child you love with every ounce of your being might grow up in an orphanage, on the streets, or worse.
9. Your friend is kind of stupid.
I know. That's harsh. But it's true. You try operating on a daily basis with only half your heart and half your brain, because that's what it's like. 'Cause the other half of you is wrapped up in a tiny person who is half a world and what feels like a lifetime away. Also, because of the time zone difference it means that half of you is awake pretty much all the time.
10. She doesn't need to hear your HAS (horrible adoption stories.)
Yes, I know, everyone knows of someone's uncle's neighbor who adopted a child and then the child burned down the school with the power of her mind after her classmates dumped a bucket of pig blood on her. (Oh wait, that's the storyline of Carrie, isn't it?) But sharing these stories is the equivalent of telling someone hopping in a plane for their first sky-diving session, "I watched this video on YouTube where a guy skydived. He died. And his body was all smashed and stuff." Maybe it's true, but it's also not overly helpful. Unless you're the kind of person who also goes up to pregnant woman and says "I know of a lady who got pregnant one time, she gave birth to a kid who became a serial killer and sewed a suit of clothes out of his victims' skin." (Shoot, that's the storyline of Hannibal, isn't it? Well, I tried.)
Do "Adoptive Kids" sometimes grow up and do horrible thing? Yep. You know who else grows up and does horrible things? "Vaginal Kids." So really, the warning should be more along these lines: "You're going to be a parent huh? Good luck with that."
11. She has probably done her research
Don't assume she's going into this because of a driving urge to be mistaken for Angelina Jolie. Unless she is also demanding everyone call her husband "Brad," it probably comes from some deeper place. Or you know, her husband's name really IS Brad. Chances are she's read books on adoptive parenting, has agonized for hours over which adoption agency to choose from. Made a decision. Then agonized some more. She's thought about the ethical questions. And if you don't think she has, then maybe ask. "How did you pick your agency?" "What led you to X country?"
12. She looks brave on the outside, she's brave on the inside too. But she's also a mess,
Which, I think is what mothering and loving is all about. Being a mess. Throwing your love out there and not knowing if you're ever going to get it back. It's scary. It's vulnerable. It feels like you can't breathe and when you can it hurts to do it. And you don't want to complain about that because you picked it. So, you pick up the pieces of your heart and you keep going. You keep going because at the end of the day what you go through as an adoptive mother is nothing compared to what children go through when they live their life without family. And that's what this journey is all about.
From "30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days," a series designed to give a voice to people with widely varying experiences, including birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, waiting adoptive parents and others touched by adoption:
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/02/cindy-williams-birth-moms-adoption-portrait_n_2396938.html">Cindy Williams: 'I Didn't Know My Sons For 11 Years'</a> "I don't remember exactly when I found the online support group, but I am so glad I did. I really think that no one understands a birth mom like another birth mom. No one else has ever had the kind of experiences we have had. I can see that all the feelings that I had over the years were normal, and that I am very lucky to have met my birthsons."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/intra-family-adoption-story_n_2403300.html">Why Do I Have To Be Adopted? A Story Of Intra-Family Adoptions</a> "Adoption was shameful back then. Terminology like “real mother” was de rigueur. Women who couldn’t have their “own” children were lesser, and the only reason a fertile woman wouldn’t raise her “own” child was her own inadequacy. And if she was pregnant “out of wedlock” (another popular phrase), then it was clearly all her fault. Never mind if she was only twelve."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/04/why-we-will-adopt-story_n_2405249.html">Michelle Mercurio: 'We Realized That We Couldn't Wait Any Longer To Adopt'</a> "Our nephew is at the heart of our adoption story not because we lost him, but because of the love and connections that grew in our hearts because of him. We know now, more than ever before, that we would be compassionate parents who would fiercely love and protect a child to help him or her grow into an amazing adult."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/05/imaginary-redhead-adoption-story_n_2405298.html">Adoption And Family: How Everyone Is Affected, Not Just 'Us'</a> "As an adoptive parent, I struggled with the loss of privacy, the loss of control over this aspect of my life -- becoming a parent -- and the loss of my imagined child -- that redheaded basketball player I had expected."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/05/clarks-voice-adoption-story_n_2405407.html">Jay D. Lenn, Adoptive Parent, On Helping A Child With Speech Delays Find His Voice</a> "Biological parents cannot, of course, control everything about their children’s development. I suppose a primary difference with adoption is learning to accept that loss of control before you even start parenting."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/grey-market-adoption_n_2424888.html">Searching For The Truth About My 'Grey Market' Adoption</a> "My adoptive parents are the ones who raised me -- they changed my diapers, fed me, and listened to my terrible teenage poetry. The fact that they didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth is the only part of the past year and a half that still hurts."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/08/adoption-portrait-foster-adoption_n_2432547.html">Gina Sampaio, Foster Parent, On Navigating The Birth Mother Relationship</a> "I still have no guides to navigating this relationship, but at least for now, I think we’re doing alright forging our own path."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/09/15-and-pregnant-adoption-portrati_n_2440974.html">15 And Pregnant: Why I Chose To Put My Baby Up For Adoption </a> "I knew this was why this horribly terrifying thing was happening to me. It was supposed to happen; it was my job to give someone a baby that they could not have on their own. I was strangely at peace, or at least as peaceful as you can be when you find out you are pregnant at 15."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/10/how-being-adopted-as-a-child-affects-me_n_2447477.html">I Was Adopted As A Child, But That Doesn't Define Who I Am </a> "Having been adopted is part of me, and will probably always have some kind of impact on me, but it doesn't need to define me. I am who I am. Does knowing I was adopted change that?"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/11/merrin-donahue-a-letter_n_2447681.html">A Letter To My Son's Birth Mother </a> "You and I will always be connected: the mother that carried him and gave him life and loves him from so far away, and the mother that has been blessed with the unimaginable gift of being called “Mommy” and being here to kiss the boo-boos and chase away the bad dreams. You are my sister, and although I will never meet you, I have more love for you than you will ever know."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/12/stop-asking-adopted-kids-real-parent-question_n_2449836.html">The 'Real Parents' Question To Stop Asking Adopted Kids </a> "My real mom is an accomplished author and teacher. That’s my mom. There’s no such thing as a REAL mom and a fake mom. Sure, there’s my birthmom, but I don’t ever care or think about her. She did a very selfless thing to give me up, so why would I want to bug her? That’s incredibly selfish of me."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/13/foster-mothers-love_n_2450107.html">How My Foster Mother's Love Saved My Life </a> "It is the love, attention and support of a parent which can make or break the people we turn out to be. Although my foster mother died when I was at a precarious age, the substance she raised me with has been a foundation upon which my life has been built."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/14/adoption-portrait-never-called-mom_n_2450459.html">The Grief In Knowing My Son Will Never Call Me 'Mom' </a>
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/15/foster-parenting-and-connection-adoption-portrait_n_2457370.html">Saying Goodbye To The Foster Child I Fell In Love With </a> "I did not enjoy a very real Rayna shattering my “mother fantasy.” I realized I subconsciously had hoped not to like her. I was forced to admit quite the opposite after that first phone conversation."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/adoption-portrait-open-adoption_n_2459132.html">We're Still Learning What An Open Adoption Looks Like</a> "To be the adoptive parents there are no descriptions of your relationship with the birth family, no rules, no prescribed etiquette. There’s this tiny person who cannot talk and her mom tethering you to them and them to you. In other words -- you wing it."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/17/looking-for-birth-mother-adoption-portrait_n_2489262.html">How Becoming A Mother Changed My Mind About My Own Adoption</a> "I was also very aware that I was opening myself up for a potential One might ask why would I subject myself to this -- Talia was the reason. She was my only daughter and literally the only blood relative I knew at that point in my life."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/18/foster-to-adoption-process_n_2496567.html">What A Foster-To-Adoption Process Is Really Like </a> "I do not think there is any amount of training that can truly prepare a person to understand the opposing elements of fostering-to-adopt, and the State’s number one goal, which is reunification of families. Sure they warn you, sure your head “understands.” Logically you can spout off to any person who will listen that it is important to keep families together. Realistically, though, to the heart, it is a different matter."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/19/meeting-your-childs-birth-mother_n_2506000.html">Meeting Your Child's Birth Mom: When The Challenge Isn't What You Feared At All </a> "My insecurity and fear are more real to me now than ever. I am afraid. That’s what it boils down to. I am scared. Here’s the thing, though: she gave this precious boy life and decided, for all her many reasons, that she wanted me to be his mommy. This fact doesn’t lessen her importance, in fact, it magnifies it. She did something AMAZING. Something I know I could NEVER do. And now … I am at a crossroads."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/20/adopted-son-dad-greatest-moment_n_2507385.html">Hearing My Adopted Son Call Me 'Dad' Was The Greatest Moment Of My Whole Life</a> "But then the greatest moment of my whole life occurred. My son came home and came out onto the back deck where I was hanging out. We talked a little about nothing in general. Then he turned to me and said: “He is okay as a buddy, but you are my Dad.”"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/21/the-adoption-process-letter-to-birth-mom_n_2507449.html">The Adoption Process: Trying To Write The Perfect Letter To A Birth Mom</a> "The next stage for us is to create our profile, our family marketing plan, if you will. It is this profile, we are told, that will attract our birth mom or birth family. This profile is our best tool to find the proverbial needle in a haystack –- a birth mom who believes we are capable of parenting her child in a way she cannot. This is beyond humbling and mythic in its emotional proportions."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/22/adoption-painful-struggle_n_2507454.html">Our Painful Struggle Over The Son We Desperately Wanted To Adopt </a> "Before she went any further, I felt a warmth rush through my body. My heart started to race and I choked on tears. She hadn't said a word more but something was telling me, almost like a whisper in my ear, "This is your son. Go get him." (I still get chills when I think about it.)"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/23/adoption-walls-of-secrecy-dissolved_n_2528692.html">'The Click': How I Knew I'd Found The Right Family To Adopt My Baby </a> "A few days later, I signed over my parental rights, and William became Jim and Lynn’s, legally. I cried. She cried. Everyone cried. I was so sad and empty going home without him, but I was equally relieved and happy that he was with these amazing people."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/this-crazy-wonderful-hectic_n_2536739.html">Notes From A Birth Mom: 'I Have Been Very Fortunate To Be Allowed In Katie's Life' </a> "Our annual visits get easier for me every year, and I think that ease comes from knowing my place with Katie and her knowing that I love her as much as I love E and D. When I saw Katie this past summer, she had changed so much. She had cut her hair shorter; she was wearing braces and she was almost as tall as Carrie."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/25/adoption-stigma_n_2542717.html">I'm Still Waiting For The Stigma Of Adoption To Go Away </a> "And those family ties count for a lot -- more than you think. Just recently I got into a discussion with someone about tracing my birth family. "Why do you need to know?" she asked. And I answered: how often have you heard or said among your family, "she looks like her dad" or "that runs in the family" or "he's just like his grandfather" or "it's in his blood.""
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/26/why-my-son-has-a-closed-adoption_n_2544287.html">Why My Son Has A Closed Adoption </a>
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/27/friends-becoming-grandparents_n_2544289.html">My Friends Were Becoming Grandparents And It 'Often Felt Like A Stab In The Chest' </a> "She was tired of the drugs, shots, doctor appointments, rude questions from people, and the whole ball of yarn. She wanted to start a family and didn’t want to wait for more tests, more failed pregnancies and more heartbreak. She certainly put things in perspective. How could I blame her for having had enough? Having had two successful pregnancies, I certainly didn’t understand entirely what she was going through both physically and emotionally. She was pursuing another specialist, but she also wanted to pursue adoption options."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/28/we-didnt-get-to-keep-the-other-baby_n_2544377.html">'We Didn't Get To Keep The Other Baby, But This One Is Ours Forever' </a> "We are invited into the room where Cammi is with her son and her family. There is a reverent feeling and lots of tears. I sit down and then think better of it and rush over to give her the biggest hug. This girl, there are no words to express our love and gratitude."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/giving-my-baby-up-for-adoption_n_2567272.html">I Finally Understood My Birth Mom When I Gave My Own Baby Up For Adoption </a> "There are so many things I wish I could tell you. The most important of all is that I love you. I've loved you since the day you were born, and I miss you terribly. I spend a lot of time wondering if you know that. I spend a lot of time wondering if you're happy. I pray that you are."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/30/adoptive-father-and-daughter_n_2575154.html">Andrew, Adoptive Father: 'Love And Devotion Do Not Require The Same DNA'</a> "I cannot imagine not being able to feel her hugs or see her smile. Her expressions of love, often in the form of a note or a picture, have always affected me. She is so very complicated, so fiercely independent, and so vulnerable. I love that she wears a storm trooper costume on Halloween and then wears footie pajamas to bed. I love when she talks about her imaginary team of unicorns that pull our car along as we drive. Mostly, I just love her."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/31/getting-in-touch-with-birth-parents_n_2575254.html?utm_hp_ref=parents&ir=Parents">What I Never Expected When I Met My Birth Parents</a> "bMom broke away from bDad and ran the last few steps, grabbed me in a hug. I lost it. Tears steamed down my face. I remember seeing bDad walk up. I heard him say, “What about me?”