*** Disclaimer- most of this post is from my experience. The parts that are factual have still been filtered through my point of view***
Adoption is a great way to build a family. I would do it again in a heartbeat. However, it is not the same as adding to a family by the usual making a baby route. There are similarities, but the differences can’t be ignored. There are many ways to adopt.
When thinking of adoption, many people think of adopting healthy newborns. People trying to adopt healthy newborn usually can’t conceive and/or carry a baby themselves. It takes a lot of work, time and money to adopt a healthy new born. Some people operate under the illusion that they have control and know what they are getting. It is an illusion. Sometimes, adoption results in the child that was expected. Sometimes it doesn’t. I adopted two healthy infants. Over twenty years later, I can tell you that Bipolar and FASD is part of who they are. We ended up in Holland, not Italy. Control is always something of an illusion, even when giving birth. Once that egg is fertilized by Mr. Sperm, there are things out of your control. Of course, you will eat right, get prenatal care, give up smoking, refrain from alcohol, and avoid sick kids. But even with all that, you may not end up with a neurotypical child. Life does not come with guarantees. The odds are probably more in your favor, but I know a lots of people who conceived and expected healthy babies and ended up with kids with special needs- from mild to profound.
People who adopt special needs newborns usually have a good idea of what they are getting into. Few know it all. When adopting a child who is not a new born, you adopt all the experiences they have had and all the experiences they missed. It is a package deal. When I was 23 and started out on this journey, I was convinced love was all that mattered. It could overcome anything. Adoption can’t work without love, but there is so much more needed.
Genetics is important. It can not be changed. Your child’s prenatal experiences are theirs’ forever. No matter how many times GB tells me she wants to grow in my belly for nine months, I can’t make it happen. The limits of their intelligence is already set. No matter how many books I read to MK over her childhood, she does not have the capabilities to do college level work. Your child’s genetics determine their skin tone, hair texture, and facial features. By themselves, these things mean nothing. But in this place, at this time, it determines, at least initially, how society reacts to them. Since they are now part of your family, you will need to deal with racism on a regular basis, be it institutional, unconscious, or blatant racism. When I chose to be an interracial family, I was young and naive. My parents were very careful not to pass their biases onto my siblings and I. We grew up with little exposure to anything other than white, upper middle class kids. Yet current events, the civil rights movements, the Kennedys, and Watergate were all dinner table topics. Equal Rights, in the abstract, were considered God given. We had close relatives who were bigots, but whenever their bigotry was expressed, they were called out on it and we were told they were wrong and ignorant. Still, when my first baby was biracial, the shock was apparent in both my parents facial expression and tone of voice. J was their first grandchild and he won my mother over quickly. My father took about 13 years longer, but it happened. My husband’s parents kept waiting for my black children and I to disappear. They missed out on having a real relationship with any of them.
It is difficult for white parents to recognize when racism is at work and when it is (mostly) other factors. When MK came home from a friends birthday party in third grade, upset because the friends mother had said she was the wrong color and they couldn’t be friends anymore, I was so taken by surprise, it was difficult to come up with a useful response. Once I digested this incidence, I decided that racism needed to be an open, continuous conversation between our family and schools, sports teams, and neighbors. It still is. One of the reason’s we changed GB’s school was because it was the same school my kids went and racism was still a much larger player at that school than at any of the other district schools. I also realized how unfair it was to my kids to always be the minority. Joel did not have another child of color in his grade (85+ kids) until he went to junior high. Joel and I joined a black church, with a strong youth program, were he fit in and I was the only white person. Several months later, the whole family switched. Some of the people I met at this time are still close friends.
Even if you chose not to go the interracial route, adopted children are estimated to have Bipolar Disorder as an adult at ten times the rate of non-adopted adults. Bipolar Disorder has a strong genetic component. If you adopt internationally, especially from some parts of Russia, fifty to seventy percent of the children have FASD. Any adoption from an orphanage raises the risk of an attachment disorder. The worse the orphanage, the higher the risk. But truthfully, in any adoption, you can’t assume you have all the information you need or even that the information you have is accurate. The paperwork on my J said he was born to two white parents. Neither parent had a history of Bipolar Disorder. As far as I was ever able to figure out, if the information wasn’t known, it was made up. I know it happens that way in some foreign countries. A close friend adopted a three year old from South America. He had the usual attachment problems. When he seemed to hit puberty at the very early age of ten, bone scans revealed that he was almost 13. My friend lost family connections, her church, and her social life while she and her husband fought to get their son what he needed.
It is not unusual to lose the support of family and friends when a child you adopted unexpectedly has special needs. Most of the time, inexperienced people, whether they say it out loud or not, are thinking that if THEY had that kid, the kid would be fine in no time. What YOU are doing is wrong and the cause of the problems. If you depend on your family’s, church’s or friend’s approval, you should reconsider adopting. If you are uncomfortable being out of the mainstream, you should reconsider adopting.
Most of all, if you are uncomfortable with change, take time consider whether you really want to adopt. Every child you adopt changes you in ways that are unpredictable. Your days are full of surprises. They bring out talents you never knew you had, hurts that you had buried deeply within yourself, strengths you were unaware of, and sort out the chaff from the grain in your relationships with other people. None of this is comfortable. It is very lonely at times. If you can do it, it can be very rewarding. I love my kids and am grateful for everyone of them. I can still imagine my life without Hope. It has only been a year. All adoptions take time to forge connections. With older child adoptions, connections take more time. The more trauma involved, the more time the connections take. One day, I will realize I can’t imagine living without Hope. When it comes, that day will take me by surprise. I will have changed without realizing it.