Lots of people fall prey to the power of Disney: a good guy and a villain, an epic battle, a resolution wrapped up with a nice neat bow. All are hallmarks of the classic fairy tales, ones children beg to have read to them time and time again.
It’s easy to succumb to the power fairy tales wield, an influence that can have a dangerous effect on how we approach the world around us. Girls who never stand on their own two feet because they’re waiting for their prince to arrive. Boys who adapt their expectations because only rambunctious, good-looking guys get the girl. Relying on the inevitability of a pretty ending filled with shiny, happy people.
Adoption dances dangerously close to this glossy edge. We probably believed in the fairy tale when we were looking in from the outside, too. A woman has a baby she cannot keep because she’s too young or single or struggling with life. She makes the courageous decision to give her child a better life, one with parents who can provide what she wishes she could. She blesses her child with a family that will love him beyond all else, because he is their chosen child.
The perfect family story with an adoption fairy tale glow.
Except there are no fairy tales.
I think one of the biggest mistakes adoptive parents can make is to stumble into this quicksand, spinning a story filled with innocence and wonder and magic. Not that there isn’t room for those elements – the creation of every family includes aspects of miracle and awe, but ignoring the tougher facets tarnishes its real beauty.
Women have babies under all sorts of circumstances – by design, by surprise, voluntarily or under duress – and then they move forward into the world. If those babies become part of an adoption story they’re joining a family, beginning a life filled with joy and pain, gain and loss, comfort and sorrow.
I’d say every adoption story has two sides, but that’s not true. They’re more like multi-faceted crystals. When the light hits them it scatters, throwing rays in every direction. That’s an adoption story.
It’s a birthmother who’s a teenager that isn’t ready to parent, or a woman in her twenties with a life plan that doesn’t include being a mom. It could be that the child was conceived in violence, or by a couple so overwhelmed by the children they’re already raising that they can’t see how to feed one more. It’s a woman who decides to wait to begin her own family, and the one who weeps with a desire to raise this baby herself. It’s the woman who feels overwhelmed when her partner abandons her and even, Lord help us, the birthmothers who are coerced into giving up their children.
A birthmother who chooses adoption comes from every walk of life, every season of life, and makes her decision for every reason under the sun.
All adoptive parents come to this place out of a desire to have a family, but there are countless reasons behind their decision as well. Some believe in adoption as a loving choice – becoming a parent while giving a child a home. Some arrive at adoption through infertility, some by falling in love with their foster children. They could be the couple in their twenties who always knew they wanted kids, or a woman in her forties who realized she was ready to be a single mother. They might even appear as the welcoming arms for children who’ve experienced the tragic loss of their parents.
Every adoptive parent I’ve met has had a unique story, but love has been the common thread running through them all. Love for the child, love for their family, love for the biological parents who made it all possible.
But love cannot be the only thing we tell our children.
Yes, adoption is the soaring wonder of meeting your child, becoming a family, finally earning the title of “mom” or “dad.” It’s the heady rush of soft baby skin and first steps and watching them grow into the people they’re meant to be.
It’s also the pain – sometimes deeply hidden – of loss. Of knowing that there’s another family who thinks about your child and wonders how they are, and that your child thinks of them, too. It’s the question of “who would I have been if” that can never be answered, not fully, not without living an alternate existence to see exactly what life with the birth family would have been like.
At its core it’s abandonment, because no matter how pretty a picture we paint – she loved you so much that she put your needs above her own and chose the best life for you – a child will hear an echo of she didn’t keep me and the pain of that leaves a mark. And with fear of abandonment comes attachment issues: the child who feels he needs to be perfect so he’ll be kept; the child who can’t accept and give love freely because the ground feels uncertain beneath her feet.
Adoption has a lot more than two sides, and our adoption stories are far more complex than fairy tales. To treat them as such diminishes the value of the very family we worked so hard to create.