Aren’t adoptions supposed to be happy?

13 Aug

I recently ended a 7-year journey as an adoption social worker in the child welfare field.  I was involved in almost 200 adoptions, and I was ecstatic for every single one.  So, when it came time to adopt my 2 stepdaughters, I was dumbfounded as to why I didn’t feel that same excitement and joy.  Some may even pass judgment on me for it.  These feelings even upset me until I figured them out.

In a child welfare adoption, that day in front of the judge has been highly anticipated by many of the parties involved for many months or years.  A child who’s spent years in the system being repeatedly abandoned and rejected, a couple who experienced infertility now has children who call them Mom and Dad, a relative caregiver or foster parent who cared for a child throughout an unpredictable and slowly-progressing dependency case.  All of these scenarios involved uncertainty, and most of them involved a conclusion that had been hoped for.

A stepparent adoption doesn’t necessarily work that way.  I will only comment on my own experience which may or may not be typical.  When I met these girls almost 3 years ago, I never envisioned becoming their mother.  In fact, I only had one birth child because that’s all I wanted and thought I could handle.  I did not mind being a stepmother (crazy behaviors aside), and I encouraged the girls’ relationship with their birth mother.  I even tried to help her, but her lifestyle choices were not compatible with parenting. (I am not sharing the details here in the event that the girls someday find this blog; I don’t want them to learn about the circumstances this way.)  About 2 1/2 years into my relationship with my now-husband, she decided to surrender her parental rights with the knowledge that I would adopt them.

Telling 2 young girls (ages 6 and 8) that they may never see their birth mother again, even with a therapist present, is about as horrible as you may have guessed it is.  I did not expect the blow to be softened by the news that I would adopt them, and I doubt it was.  

About 5 months later, we were all in a courtroom finalizing the adoption.  Like the weeks leading up to the occasion, I did not have any of the feelings I did at the adoptions I’d been a party to professionally.  In fact, everyone was quite blase about it.  Nothing felt different.  The younger girl had been calling me “Mommy” since I’d broken the news to her (I told them they could call me whatever they felt comfortable with, and they could change their mind anytime).  The excitement surfaced when we pulled up to Yogurt Mountain for a post-adoption treat.

So, why the lack of excitement?  I couldn’t muster up any excitement for what I feel is a monumental loss for them.  The only reason we were in that courtroom is because of their birth mother’s inability to care for them.  How could I feel joyful about that?  Of course, adoption means a lifelong commitment, but I’d already made that commitment when I married their father.  So, they didn’t gain anything; rather, they lost a parent.  The adoption made it official.

I suspect that I will see future adoptions I attend a little differently now.  It reminded me of the time my supervisor told me, “adoption is sad.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I understood that an adoption was preceded by a loss, but I never believed that the loss could overshadow the joy of adoption.  Now I understand.


2 Responses to “Aren’t adoptions supposed to be happy?”

  1. Neefer August 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Oh, Nikki – It is sad. I have 2 bio sibs and 2 adopted sibs. My sister has often yearned for … something. Finding her birth mother? Answers for all those whys? A certainty about her place in the world that I have and she doesn’t? Or maybe it’s that adoption opens up a hole. My brother hasn’t expressed these things, so I don’t know what his thoughts and feelings about this are. His first two years were really rough, so he has all of that and losing his birth parents.

    I know that I am glad that they are my sibs. My life would be less without them. If I could, I’d help her find an answer for that yearning.


  1. How social services are paid bonuses to snatch babies for adoption | Global Clarity - August 16, 2013

    […] Aren’t adoptions supposed to be happy? ( […]

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