"To Those Still Waiting"

The road up to–and after–adoption is full of conflicting feelings. One adoptive mother reflects on her experiences, and shares the lessons she's learned along the way.

Conflicted feelings

Our “adoption journey” was not an easy one. No, our road was bumpy and dark and full of unmarked turns that were gently referred to by our social workers as failed matches or changes of heart. With every disappointment we endured, I struggled with what I call the both/and—holding two conflicting feelings at once. Every time a baby was born and a mom said, “I can parent this baby,” it was there. Both the true happiness I felt for her and the terrible sorrow I felt for myself. This baby was not my baby. This baby had never been my baby. I knew this and yet, I longed for my baby. I wished that this baby had been my baby.

So often those conflicting feelings felt like a challenge, a choice. Even a betrayal. It felt as if those feelings should have been an either/or. A good person wouldn’t be so selfish, I’d berate myself. A good person wouldn’t think, “What about me?” A good person, upon hearing of another’s short adoption wait, wouldn’t secretly think, “But it’s not fair.” My guilt didn’t take away the both/and feelings, though. It just made me feel like I wasn’t the kind of person I wanted to be.

When our son finally, finally arrived, it felt as if I was putting all the pain and loss behind us. How could I be anything but overjoyed? He was worth every moment of sadness, every sleepless night spent wondering, “When?” Yet the both/and was still there. I would hold my beautiful baby and feel both grateful that I was his mother and so sad that his life began with the loss of his first mother.

As my son has grown, so has my list of both/and. I both treasure the ways in which his birthmother is part of his life, and mourn the ways in which she is not. I both admire his determination and energy–so different from me!–and am exasperated by his stubbornness–so different from me! And I both am glad for the challenges along the way that have strengthened me, and wish it had been easier.

Over the years, I’ve also learned that the both/and is not a sign of weakness. Either/or seems neat and clean and simple, but adoption and parenting and life are not neat, are not clean, are not simple. My feelings, however complex and contradictory, are true. So instead of pushing those feelings down, I try to pull them close.

For those of you still on your journey to parenthood, here is what I want to say to you. Grab the both/and with both hands and hold it close to you. Embrace it. Sometimes the and eclipses the both in a way that feels ugly, in a way that you wouldn’t want to admit to others. Sometimes the “It’s not fair” hurts so much that it is hard to keep hold of anything else. And you know what? It’s not fair. The terrible truth is that there is a whole lot of “not fair” in all of our lives and someday you will hold your baby and it will still not be fair that loss and love are forever linked for you and for this child and for this child’s other parents.

I also want to say, I both understand because I have been there; and I don’t understand because my journey and your journey will never be the same. But there will be an end to this. As you’ve been told too many times, there will be a day when you hold your baby. Then you will look back and it will have all been worth it. And know that, right now, I am both happy that that day is coming for you and I am sad. Because, where you are right now? It is sad. And so today, and each day you do not hold your baby, be gentle with yourself. Be honest with yourself. Be accepting of yourself and all the both/and in you.



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