Monday, April 20, 2009


How long did it take you to fall in love with your spouse? For some it may have been very soon after you met. For others it may have taken months. For yet others years or even decades. I would imagine most people are somewhere in the middle of "soon" and decades. Imagine if you were so excited to be married some day and how you might cook up some fantasies about what that would be like. Then imagine you met your current spouse and for various reasons needed to marry him right away. Can you imagine being married to someone after having known them for just 48 hours? What if in addition to marrying your whole schedule was changed and you weren't able to get out much. Trapped! Maybe he snores and you wake up endless times during the night and wonder, "What have I done?"

I'm reading a book called "The post-adoption blues: Overcoming the challenges of adoption" by Karen Foli and John Thompson. As a result of this reading (and as a result of watching two neat friends who are new adoptive parents and soon-to-be adoptive parents), I've been thinking about why it was hard to be a new adoptive parent. The gist of the book is that we enter parenthood with certain expectations that may or may not be met, or may or may not even be reasonable.

One example of an expectation that may or may not be met is instant bonding with our new child. We expect because we waited so long for a baby that all of the wonderful feelings of motherhood or parenthood will hit us the minute we pick up the sweet innocent creature. We picture ourselves nurturing the baby through long nights, receiving sweet smiles in a month or two, and showing off our baby to everyone who will look. We know it's going to be challenging and we're going to be sleep deprived and our whole lives are going to be turned upside down. Or do we? We do, but we don't quite.

I would say I loved BB from the minute I held him. I did. I had chosen to love him because we were adopting him. But I wasn't in love with him. I didn't long for him when I was away. Nor was I in any way prepared as to how he would change our lives and our marriage. I had no idea how scared and empty I would feel in the middle of the night when it seemed like the only thing I would really ever know again was this tiny, helpless, screaming, hurting baby. He just took over. Babies do that. I didn't know I would feel like my husband and I were separated because we didn't spend as much time together as we had before baby.

In addition, in our adoptive relationship I really did feel like he was so alien to me. I had not birthed him, had not felt him move and shift in my womb, had not talked to him in the middle of the afternoon as he cooked, and had not known him before October 26th, 2006. Then on October 28th he was everything and required my every attention. Sometimes it felt like to much. I never really thought we'd made a mistake, but sometimes in the middle of the night for a moment it did feel like that. Why had we totally interrupted our lives for a person we didn't even know? I'd married a stranger and promised to love him forever. It was weird. And hard. And wonderful. I'm so glad we did it. But I imagine it is a little bit like entering into an arranged marriage. I know without a doubt that BB and I bonded at about 6 weeks of age when that sweet boy screamed in my arms in the middle of what seemed like a sound slumber. From that minute I would have easily given my life for his. Before that minute I probably would have, too, but I might have had to talk myself into it.

An example of unreasonable expectation is figuring that since we worked so hard to become a parent, because maybe we're older or because we anticipated parenting so excitedly, that we should be the best parents ever. Talk about unrealistic! I know how I feel when my plans are thwarted. I feel angry and resentful. The other day I was expecting to see "after" pictures of makeovers at the end of Rachael Ray and what I got instead was a 30 minute monotone weather report. I was livid - and for something so petty! But as irrationally angry as I was, it had nothing to do with me as a person or with my abilities. It's not that I expected to be a perfect parent, but I didn't expect to hear myself say, "I can't wait to drop off my baby at childcare," or "I just need an hour to myself!" or "Shut up - stop crying!" Then when I did say those things I felt guilty for being a bad mom. I should be a great mom because I wanted it so much. I was doing it wrong, and if I made a mistake, it meant that I was not good enough.

I kind of hope my new adoptive parent friends and my expecting by adoption friend don't read this because I might cause mass hysteria. But, this was my reality. It might not be theirs, it might not be yours, but it sure began to feel like reality to me as soon as we returned home from the 4 hour drive from Dallas with Alien Baby in the car with us.

Hours of therapy have taught me that good enough is good enough when it comes to parenting! Can I get an Amen? This is an interesting book, "The post-adoption blues," but a lot of it is catered to international adoption, kinship adoption, and foster-care adoption where your "baby" may be an older child with a difficult past. Not that infant babies don't have grief and loss, but those hurts aren't as clearly manifested when they are a newborn. By the time they're two like BB you have no idea if their issues are adoption issues or toddler/school-aged/fill-in-the-blank-here issues.

Adoptive parenting is just like regular old parenting with an additional dimension. We have our unique issues, but so does parenting any other child in our home. It's a wild ride, parenting, isn't it? Wheeee!


Flakymn said...

Amy, I love this post. I totally love it. I have said to JB many times that I don't regret adopting and having a baby, but I often think, WHAT THE HECK DID WE DO? ... then I feel tremendous guilt and feel like I can't say this to anyone because we wanted this for so long. I felt every word of your post.

Jess said...

...good enough is good enough. AMEN. I'll say it! If everyone is alive and cleanish, and has eaten that day, it's a GOOD DAY! :)

When we brought home our daughter, we'd been in the NICU for a little over a week with her, but STILL as we got into the car and started the drive home, I looked at Travis and said "Oh my gosh, we're taking someone else's baby."

And I meant it! It felt like taking someone's kid! I KNEW with my head that she was ours, but my heart was worried, scared, and cynical. AND not only were we taking their child as our child, we were taking on a whole new family into our extended family. Responsibilities NOT TOO MANY OTHER PARENTS have to deal with. Whooo boy.

I don't think, though, that being 10w pregnant really HELPED those feelings, though, either. :)

Honestly, though and I know some of you would agree with this...I almost felt worse when our son was born. I thought OH MY GOSH our daughter is going to HATE US NOW. I could barely do anything with her, and I felt like I'd screwed up our perfect family. I wasn't super bonded with him yet because I'd spent the entire pg preparing myself for the worst. So it goes both ways, too. I think many people, both adoptive and bio parents, feel that way about a new baby.

I think people just don't admit it. :)

Allison said...

You took the words out of my mouth!

I did feel like that with Mac when we brought him home. It takes time.

And, it's the same whether your adopted child is your first or second. I knew how to parent - just not parent him! He was completely alien compared to SB.

Thanks for sharing.

NotTheMama said...

Thank you for being honest! :) No mass hysteria here. We are now just a couple of weeks shy of being one year away from starting the adoption process... Books are great, and I'm probably about to get "grounded" from book-buying again (there are worse things to horde, right?... BUT it is the real-life experience from bloggers and friends who have adopted that will probably be the most helpful. Thanks for sharing!! :)