It happens often, someone posts a vague question about adoption in a forum:
“Can you tell me anything about adopting a child with xx disability?”
“I am open to adopting a child with xx, but my husband is reluctant, what can I say to encourage him to consider?”
“I have always dreamed of adopting a child. What advice can you give us?”
“I want to adopt, but I want a baby with no disabilities or trauma. Where should we go to adopt a baby like this?”
These families are beginning the process; considering, researching, developing a category for something new. I send them my phone number in a private message and tell them they can call me any time. I have done this many times and I have gotten one phone call. I do this because someone did it for me. She was honest, vulnerable, and encouraging at the same time. She told me it was easily one of the top 3 decisions she ever made and she also told me that it pushed her beyond her breaking point.
I encourage adoption; I urge families to consider adopting kids with Down syndrome and other disabilities. But I am also passionate about education in the realities of adoption; trauma, anxiety, and the dangers of conjuring a made up version of a child’s identity without digging in and doing the hard work of truly knowing a child.
This is work. This love is exhausting, draining, life-changing, traumatic, lonely, alienating work. No one should walk into adoption without understanding that children from hard places need adults who are in it for the child, not for themselves. This work will not make you feel better about yourself, it will make you feel worse. This love will not make you feel empowered and like you can do anything, it will make you desperate for mercy and grace.
To this, the prospective adoptive parent might respond, “I know parenting is never easy. All children and parents struggle with these things.” They are right, of course, but it is like comparing the devastation of a strong wind to a tornado. There are similarities, but the farmer who suffered the loss of a few acres of crops should not commiserate with the farmer whose crops, buildings, equipment, home, and family were destroyed by the storm.
I want to protect the children who wait. I want to protect them from yet another rejection. I want to protect children who wait from parents who expect too much, who lack compassion, who inflict these children with further trauma. I also want to protect prospective adoptive families. I want to protect prospective adoptive families from ignorance, loneliness, shock, and further anxiety from a lack of preparation. I want to protect families from causing their own destruction by walking into a war they were unprepared and ill-equipped to wage. I want to protect families from taking a leisurely stroll directly into an ambush. This is not a vacation, though many, many families have tragically been mislead into believing they were boarding a cruise liner only to find, at sea, they were actually aboard a battleship destroyer. A person packs and prepares in a drastically different way for a cruise than for war.
Parents must also understand that children are not “fixed” and hearts can not heal from a distance. The load of pain and trauma is not lessened by adoption; it is shared by taking the burden, pain, disability, and scorn upon ourselves and matching pace as we walk next to our child in love while they walk the long and treacherous road of healing that was thrust upon them. We must acknowledge, validate, listen with empathy, broaden our small perspectives, and never give up on doing what is best for our children, no matter what. It WILL hurt.
On the other side of this battle we wage together is peace; peace found in faithful love, peace found in small victories, peace found in understanding and empathy. There is beauty in this mess. There is hope.
If you want my advice, I will give it to you. I will share honestly and I will tell you things you may not like to hear.
I will end by telling you that adopting Grace and Josie was one of the very best decisions we ever made. I don’t know how or why I get to do this, it is a privilege, an honor, and a blessing. I am better for knowing them and for having them in my life. They are worth more than I have to give and so are each one of the millions of children who wait for a family at this very moment. Adoption is beautiful. You should consider it, then reconsider it.