I recently came across a guide on the Internet titled "A Really Big Number of Things You Should Do to Prepare For Adoption." Or something close to that, anyway. On the one hand, it linked to a cornucopia of resources, showed that the family in question was more prepared than maybe any family in the history of the adoption world, and provided material help to anyone who stumbled upon it. As Olaf the snowman would say, "All good things, all good things."
On the other hand is everything else. I'd have had a cardiac event if I'd bumped into that corner of the Internet six years ago. In addition to all the dotting of i's and crossing of t's already required for adoption? After I get fingerprints, write checks, attend agency/organization meetings, and wander down a paper trail that feels like it will never, ever end? THEN you have dozens of webinars I should watch, meetings I should attend, books I need to read, movies I need to buy and dentists I need to find? (Because, yes, according to this helpful guide, if you're adopting transracially you should find a doctor and dentist for your child that fit his or her heritage.) It also linked to handouts that should be given to extended family members and friends as well as a reading list for them.
I know it sounds like I think preparation is a waste of time (I don't) and that we didn't prepare (we did). It's just that we are exactly six years into our adoption journey and if I've learned one thing it's that YOU CAN'T PREPARE FOR WHAT'S ABOUT TO HAPPEN. Notice I didn't say you SHOULDN'T prepare. There are so many resources out there for adoption and, certainly, getting your hands on some of them is only going to help. But what I said is that you CAN'T prepare. Not really, anyway.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
You can't prepare because you don't know if your child is going to sail through life with minimal adoption related issues or be the poster child for the experience of the primal wound. Maybe yours will have reactive attachment disorder or maybe she won't. Your kid could sail through childhood and suddenly begin to grieve their loss as a teenager or it could be the other way around. There are so many variables and for everyone who says that his life was ruined because he was adopted is another person saying she wouldn't have it any other way.
There isn't a book that could have prepared me for the experience of watching my husband take care of our son's every need during his first night of life while I violently threw up, over and over again, my body attempting, hopelessly, to rid itself of the stress and grief that had washed over it when an AWOL birth father suddenly wanted custody. Still, as I looked at that newborn boy and knew it would almost kill me to lose him, I consciously told my heart to, "Love him. Love him as fiercely and as completely as you love your other son. LOVE HIM. EVEN IF YOU LOSE HIM."
There isn't a book or a seminar that could have prepared me for what it felt like to love Matthew. I knew, through the mismatched feelings of numbness and terror, that if they took my son away, I would not come out on the other end stronger and braver and better. I would, undoubtedly, be disfigured, jaded and weak. My heart would forever be cracked, love spilling out for him with no where to go. Still, with all that I felt for that child, the love was different. I wasn't prepared for that. I hadn't bonded with him for nine months prior to his birth. In much the same way that he learned my voice and my smell and began to identify me as his mother, I learned that philia--general--love can twist and turn itself into storge--natural affection--love. I didn't get that from a pamphlet about adoption. My son taught me.
There isn't a conference that can teach you about how sometimes your child will want to talk about his birth family with frequent regularity and sometimes he won't want to talk about them at all. Sometimes he'll ask if he can call them or move in with them or at least visit them. And, at five, he won't mean, "I HATE YOU AND I WANT MY OTHER FAMILY!" He'll mean, "I'm small and adoption is a little bit confusing and I'd like to see my mother but I still want you to snuggle me and scratch my back." Sometimes he'll talk about being in his mother's tummy and how great it was and sometimes he'll sob, great wounded gasps, in your arms because his brother lived in your tummy but he didn't. A book doesn't prepare you for that because a book can't set the tone. Only your child can do that.
There isn't a handout on the planet that can ready you for the personal attacks. Thankfully, our hateful experiences have been extremely limited. Still, even if I'd read about hurtful scenarios, it wouldn't have made Downtown Disney any easier. As Matthew happily squealed in his stroller, I pushed him quickly toward the Rainforest Cafe. My parents, husband and other son were up ahead of us. A woman briskly walked toward me. Just as we were set to pass each other I smiled. She continued and, once past, grunted, "You'll never be that child's mother." Nothing prepares you. Your stomach drops out. Your skin prickles. You think about turning and running after her. You think about how you'd like to take a swing at her jaw. You think about how she has tried to redefine your relationship with your child by using hurtful words. You do NOT think about the helpful handout you read. In the end, you keep walking, tears stinging your eyes. Because it isn't worth it. He's worth it. That woman is, decidedly, not worth it.
A book can't tell you how your open adoption should look. Your child (and sometimes a court agreement) defines the terms.
A website doesn't know if, when, and for how long your child will need counseling. Professionals, parents, and the child are the only ones who can answer that.
Literature on the subject can't tell you which adoption groups to join, which events to attend, and which foods to cook for your kid. These are the things that you figure out as you go.
We didn't know, when we went with our transracial adoption playgroup to a private screening of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" that our then three-year-old would grow exceedingly quiet and ask, when it was over, why he didn't have leaves on his legs and inquire as to whether he might have to go back into the garden someday. We didn't know, when he viewed it for a second time, just the other night, that he'd be past wondering about leaves and gardens but devastated by the fact that Timothy doesn't stay. Great, heaving sobs of grief and anguish. We didn't know, when we assured him that he would never leave and asked if that's what he was worried about, that he would look at us like we were bonkers and say, "NO!" before continuing to mourn the loss of Timothy.
We don't know what the future holds. We can't learn it in a book. It hasn't been written.
Literature, conferences and seminars are great. Certainly, they are tools for us to use. But so much of adoption--just like parenting a biological child--is trial and error, ups and downs, right moves and wrong moves. It's listening to your child. It's letting him think and speak and process. It isn't putting words in his mouth. It's teaching offense so that we can minimize the times when we have to be defensive with others. It's knowing that there will be issues and that we will do whatever we can to heal them.
It's saying, "You are mine and I am yours. Forever." It isn't checking off a list of everything you've read that somehow qualifies you to be an adoptive parent. It's love. Pure. Simple. Sometimes not so simple. Love.