Jan and baby boys

The great ruse of adoption is that except for the fact that an adopted child isn’t biologically born from the person mothering them everything else is the same. It isn’t.

The Hallmark cards with the beautiful cursive verses that talk about a child being from the heart rather than the womb are lovely but they were written by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

Adoption is about being a mother to a stranger.

Think about that. An adoptive mother takes on a lifetime commitment of the most intimate, enduring kind when she holds out her arms to a stranger and believes she can make the stranger become her child.

She can and she can’t.

When a woman gives birth to a child, there is no doubt that the child is hers. With adoption, there is always doubt. There is doubt on the mother’s part and on the child’s part. The certainty that biological parents and children have, that they never think about, that is a reflex like breathing? Adoptive mothers and children don’t have that. They think about their doubts all the time. The doubts are caulked with gratitude and joyfulness but they are doubts just the same. How tenuous and thin is the bond? Sometimes, it’s as weak and frayed as the raveling thread of an old sweater.

To say adoption is hard is to say one thing. To say it is a thing to regret is another. There have been times when I’ve regretted being an adoptive mother and it wasn’t always because I thought my children could have done better, ended up with another mother, been better cared for, more carefully nurtured. Sometimes, my regret came from a place of wanting to be free from doubt and from the competition with memory and the imagined than the doubt implied. Being an adoptive mother is often about being the runner-up, the understudy, the powdered substitute for real cream.

It is in the constant proving of oneself that regret finds an opening, when the fatigue of apologizing for being the substitute weighs too much, overwhelms the ever-present urge to rise above and do better. When can an adoptive mother take her children for granted? No one but another adoptive mother will understand this, this feeling of constant consciousness. It hangs on her arms like too many bracelets.

You see, adoption is an edgier business than it appears and it lasts a long time. The people in the adoption triangle – mom, child, adoptive mom – are expected to be extraordinary. And they aren’t always. Sometimes, they fall short and disappoint. They don’t live up to the cursive writing on the Hallmark card. But then again, sometimes they do.

Adoption is enormously more complex and difficult than people want to imagine. Yet I encourage adoption, support adoption, admire people who adopt, love their babies and hope for the best.

It’s what people who I think knew the whole truth did for me. So I pass it on.