6 Things I Learned About Adoption During Our First Month Home With Our New Child

I have three kids: two from China, one from the vagina. Image: Jill Robbins

I learned a lot about myself through bringing these children into our family.

Most people regard adoption as a happy thing. Just look at the Internet: We see memes and status updates and blog posts peppered with “chosen” and #blessed.

And while (for the most part) adoption is a happy thing, it can also be a very difficult thing.

Raising humans is just tough sometimes, right? No matter how you happen to come to parenting, it’s stressful and messy right alongside fulfilling and joyful.

Parenting is complicated. Adoption just adds extra layers.

I should know — I’ve been exposed to adoption all my life. My brother is adopted, and so are three of my cousins. Growing up, adoption was just something I accepted as part of how babies come to be in families.

I’ve carried on the family tradition, although that was a more of a late-in-life twist than part of “the plan.”

I have three kids: two from China, one from the vagina. We adopted in 2012 and again in 2013. Life is pretty normal now — whatever that means — but I’ll always look back on our first few weeks home with our newly-adopted kids and compare it to surviving some kind of parenting boot camp or extended sorority hell week… Neither of which I was up for in my mid-40s.

Here are six things that I learned about life, adoption, and myself during the first month home:

1. Post-adoption depression is real.

If you hear someone talk about post-adoption depression, don’t roll your eyes or dismiss them — it’s a real thing. The life changes, upheaval and the sometimes anticlimactic settling into “regular life” after the buildup of the adoption can be a catalyst for depression and anxiety.

And if you’re the adoptive parent experiencing those feelings?

Talk to someone. Don’t dismiss your own feelings.

I repeat: It's a real thing, and it’s so much easier to maneuver through if you don’t keep it bottled up.

2. I needed people to treat me like a new mom…

…and it was disheartening when they didn’t.

I understand adoption isn’t the same as pushing a whole person out of your hoo-hah, but there are similarities.

Sleep issues (yours and theirs). Adjustment issues (again, yours and theirs).

A welcome-home shower or even just a couple of casseroles would have made all the difference to me. I wish I’d have spoken up and told people I needed that kind of support.

3. I learned who my real friends were.

Adoption changed my friendship landscape. Friendships that were rock-solid before my two boys exploded on the scene, slowly fizzled.

The person who was the most present for me was someone with whom I hadn’t thought I had much in common: the wife of one of my husband’s coworkers.

Because she was one of the few people that didn’t bail, I got to know her. As it turned out, we actually have plenty in common after all.

4. It doesn’t matter how you arrive at parenting — parenting is freaking hard.

Dealing with sleep deprivation, a grocery store melt-downs (OK, maybe yours) and trying to keep track of all the tiny little socks that have invaded your washing machine is hard. Adjusting to becoming a parent (or becoming a parent again) is not a cake walk.

I had a little bit of a Pollyanna-ish view of what life after adoption would look like. I thought things would be a snap.

I was an experienced parent, and we weren’t bringing home infants. How hard could that really be?

Uh…no.  

Image: Jill Robbins.

5. Insensitive comments and nosy questions bothered me way more than I expected them to.

I got the “Why China and not an American kid?” and “It’s so great that you’re saving a child” comments aplenty while we were waiting to finalize our adoption.

I had my canned responses which fluctuated between “MYOFB” and the eye-roll/snort combo, which is my own personal version of the bend and snap.

Things were different once we had the actual kid. I guess people were curious about our decisions and the makeup of our family — people we knew casually and strangers at the supermarket alike.

Curiosity isn’t always friendly; nice people sometimes ask insensitive questions.

Maybe it was because I knew my kids at this point, and the questions about our motive to adopt or the birth mother’s decision struck a nerve. Maybe the wonders of new motherhood (also known as massive sleep deprivation and depression) heightened my sensitivity, but I didn’t expect people’s words to upset me so.

6. I should have read the attachment books.

Our pre-adoption parenting class glossed over attachment and bonding. We got a recommended reading list, which I never bothered to read. I thought the suggestions were over-the-top and too “new age” (skin-to-skin, cocooning, and baby-wearing) and I was confident in my ability to bond with my children. I knew what I was doing.

As it turns out, I should have peeked at those books. While both of my adopted children attached to me relatively quickly, I had difficulty attaching to one of them. The maternal feelings were slow to come, and the guilt, pain and frustration of not feelin’ it for my child spilled into other areas of my life.

While I wish I could turn back time and tell four-years-ago me these things, life doesn’t offer do-overs like that.

I learned a lot about myself through bringing these children into our family, but the most important lesson, reinforced, is that you can never know all the things — and that little things matter a lot.

While adoption might have been my second choice, it is not second-best.  

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