Lately, my husband and I have been announcing to our friends and family that we’re starting the process of independent adoption. Many friends are simply excited for us. Reactions like, “What an awesome season of life for you!” and “That’s so great!” abound. These are both the simplest and, honestly, the best responses we get. It is exciting, and we are thrilled about it. We explain readily what the adoption process will be like and how long we expect it to take, sharing with anyone who seems to authentically want to hear about it.
However, there have been at least two reactions we didn’t expect and don’t really love. They come from people who love us and simply want the best for us, but they exist nonetheless. The first comes as a question about why adoption as opposed to biological children. They tend to be phrased semi-delicately, like, “So, are you not interested in biological children?” or “Do you also want biological children?” which are way more complex and difficult questions than they seem.
We have considered biological children, we have thought about having both, but the questions seem invasive, and more important, they seem to imply biological children are a better default. If my friends also asked every pregnant woman, “Are you also going to at least adopt one kid?” it’d be considered pretty strange, so by that benchmark, I wish people would leave the biological question out, even though I’m happy to talk it out with those I care about most on my own terms. Wrestling with the questions of procreation is great; assuming a biological default is a little frustrating.
The second reaction we’ve gotten has to do with control, specifically the lack of control we have over many elements of the process. These reactions basically imply we haven’t thought this through in some way: “Do you get to meet the birth mother first?” or “Do you have to take the baby they place with you?” or “What if the child has [any number of possible medical conditions]? Do you still keep it?” There is a context in which these questions come from a genuine place of curiosity, but there are also instances when, if the questioner was honest with himself or herself, they are simply telling us this sounds like it’s not the best idea.
The truth is we don’t have to be reminded there are so many things we can’t control in our process of adoption. This child will live for at least nine months in the care of someone else, who will be in charge of her own prenatal care, behaviors and environment. The child will come with a genetic history that is different from ours and maybe a totally different family background, culture or race. We soberly reviewed the “preferences sheet” adoption applicants fill out: Do we want an infant only, or would we take a 2-year-old? Would we consider twins? The questions plague us, partially because every limitation we place increases the time it takes to find us the perfect match. They also plague us because of things we don’t know. When the form asks for our preferences regarding “drug exposure,” we have to do research; we don’t actually know what the consequences of drug exposure are, especially because it really matters which drugs you’re talking about. Some have virtually no impact on the baby, and others can be really impactful, generating long-term medical needs. Like so many other parents, we are having to make choices, but many of the choices aren’t clear.
What I’m coming to realize is that no one gets to fully control who their child is or who he or she will become; we know this, usually, but I think people in the thick of becoming parents realize it anew. We make the decisions we can after research and thought, but the family choices we make might be really different from ones our friends or family would make. As we move step-by-step through our training, evaluation and many (many) forms, we are becoming the adoptive parents we are going to be, and we are open to changing through the process. However, no one is promising us an adoption process without surprises; no one can promise a surprise-free life to child-free couples or to parents of biological children or to single folks, either.
Environmental and genetic factors, the ones adoptive parents seem to have less control over than biological parents do, have an impact, but I am not knowledgeable enough to be certain. This loss of control can also be thought of as freedom: the freedom to do the best we can, get rid of our biases as best we can and move forward. I will continue to attempt to answer the slightly-too-invasive or slightly-too-leading questions with as much honesty and kindness as I can, but I will also push back gently when someone I know well implies I can somehow “control” a biological birth but that an adopted child is a wild card. It’s simply not true; we all get thrown curveballs when becoming parents or participating in many other parts of life.
Above all, I’m so excited about this possibility and freedom of getting to know my adoptive child. While history and environment, both before and after adoption, are likely to have an impact, I’m ridiculously thrilled I get the privilege of getting to know this child on his or her own terms as he or she grows into a complex, interesting, imperfect person. As a parent, I can think of no greater honor than to be surprised by my future kid.