3 Things I Didn't Expect About Adoption

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Expect the unexpected! Here's why the unexpected surprises of the adoption process will prepare you for the unexpected surprises of parenthood.

In our seventh year of marriage, my husband and I made a huge, life-changing decision: we chose to add to our family through adoption.

To make a long story short, about two years later, we became the proud parents of a beautiful little girl from the Marshall Islands.

But I have to be honest—the adoption process was really hard. We couldn’t have been more grateful—and relieved—when we finally reached the blessed destination of parenthood. Looking back, I think we can credit three little words of wisdom for carrying us through. While many other aspiring moms and dads depend on the classic What to Expect When You’re Expecting, we leaned on the advice of a dear friend and fellow adoptive parent: “Expect the unexpected” during the adoption process. With our story, those words particularly rang true in three key areas …

I didn’t expect all kinds of hurdles

Once we finally chose an agency and committed ourselves to an adoption plan, the forms piled up on our dining room table like an old-fashioned phone book. Completing all that paperwork was no easy task, particularly when it came to dredging up information on our pasts, notarizing numerous documents, chasing down certificates, etc. But, in the grand scheme of things, this kind of stuff was hardly a hurdle.

During the time when we were waiting for our child, my husband was suddenly unemployed for several months. We worried that certain pieces of our health histories would work against us. The government mixed up our fingerprints. And, of course, there were the hefty financial obligations of our adoption. We’re talking thousands of dollars to cover agency fees and the legal end of things, plus almost double that for travel, lodging and food to go overseas to bring our baby home.

In short, there are challenges, no matter who you are. The trick is to plan where you can so that you can address the rest with some level of confidence. And don’t forget—even if you manage to blaze through the paperwork and other administrative details, there’s an emotional side, too. In my opinion, that’s the biggest challenge of all—especially if your usual support network doesn’t seem… well… very supportive.

I didn’t expect people to say such weird things.

No matter their relationship to us—from our closest friends to casual acquaintances—people continue to surprise us with a wide variety of questions and comments about our child and the adoption process. More often than not, their care and interest in our adoption journey touches our hearts. But, to this day, conversations sometimes take a rather awkward, even hurtful, turn. Sometimes other people’s words border on the rather ill-informed to the very intrusive to the downright offensive …

“You must not be able to have children of your own.”

“What if her real parents come and try to take her away?”

“She must be behaving like that because she’s adopted.”

Despite the sting of such statements, my husband and I decided early on to wear two hats in such situations. One hat is “Advocate.” In becoming adoptive parents, we realized we were also signing up to promote the option of adoption and, of course, to protect the welfare of our child. The book In On It by Elizabeth O’Toole remains a tremendous resource in explaining our adoption journey with others. In sharing the book with family members and other loved ones—the community who now surrounds our precious daughter—they become advocates with us!

The other hat is “Grace.” We could allow the pang of painful comments to become destructive and divisive within our relationships. Instead, we try to remember how naive we were to the realities of adoption before experiencing it firsthand. Though we’ll always come to our daughter’s defense, we hope to couple that with some restraint, understanding, and grace. We hope this approach sets a good example for our child. After all, she means the world to us… and so much more.

I didn’t expect to meet the love of my life

I must admit … I was apprehensive about how our adoption would work out in the end. What if we regretted the path we chose? What if we didn’t bond with the baby? What if she didn’t feel like “ours”?

In our case, these questions proved to be absolutely absurd! Rarely a day goes by when my eyes don’t mist over thinking about just how precious this little human being is to me. Sure, these waves of emotion sometimes relate to all that went into building our family through adoption. But, more often than not, they have everything to do with knowing and loving our daughter today–they have everything to do with how she’s touching our hearts in the here and now.

I’ve come to believe that the unexpected surprises of the adoption process prepared us for the unexpected surprises of parenthood. The journey didn’t end once the adoption was finalized. Rather, it was just one chapter in the story of our forever family … and who knows what we can expect in the years ahead!

Written by Barbara Farland

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