Adoption Fairy Tales
Once upon a time, there was an adoptive couple who did everything right.
They went the extra mile to prepare to be good parents. They did their homework. They took babycare classes and went to counseling and went to adoption support groups to learn about birthparent needs and they took a parenting course and they prepared their relatives to use open adoption language and they childproofed their house, all before they ever even got matched with a prospective birthmother.
Their homestudy worker couldn’t say enough nice things about them, and wrote them a glowing report. Their adoption profile clearly depicted the good people that they were, and it attracted no small response from expectant parents considering adoption. So they talked with a variety of prospective birthparents, and several exciting placement opportunities came their way, rather quickly.
They chose the situation that seemed right for them, and fell madly in love with the potential birthcouple. They built a caring friendship during the pregnancy, and they were in the labor & delivery room when the baby was born.
Two days later, all the paperwork was done and they took their new baby home. It was a glorious and exciting time for the adoptive couple as they learned the ins and outs of being new parents.
And no matter how busy they were, they never forgot to check in with the birthparents, to express concern for how they were doing, even though the birthparents seemed to take longer and longer to return calls or respond to texts. They got plenty of sleep and they couldn’t have been happier.
The adoptive father went back to work, and the adoptive mother resigned from her job, to stay home full-time with the baby, who was the child of their dreams in every way (except for having no biological connection to them, of course.)
Well, yes, but…
This tale should end happily-ever-after, right? Isn’t every adoption like a fairy tale of sorts?
Well, yes, but that’s not really how real life works, usually. It probably looks to the rest of the world like this is the perfect adoption story, but in actuality, there’s no such thing. (And any family would actually be an anomaly or an oddity in modern society if their lives were perfect.)
The real fairy tale ending is that they will eventually deal with the same imperfect factors everyone else may face in life.
The baby may be terribly colicky, or adoptive mom may suffer from post-adoption depression, or the birthparents may struggle terribly with post-placement grief, or the adoptee may question the choices made for him/her, or the adoptive father may lose his job. Down the road, the adoptee may have delays, or the birthparents or the adoptive parents may not remain a couple, or medical challenges may befall them or their economic situation may change, or a natural disaster may strike any of them… who knows? Any of these challenges don’t make an adoption less successful; it just makes it real, which is ultimately better than any make-believe adoption, after all.
In the end, if that adoptee grows up secure in the certainty that he or she has four parents who love him or her, whether he or she is pleased with their adoption, that is in itself a fairy tale ending. If the birthparents are at peace with the tough decisions they made at a time when life may have felt nightmarish, that is a fairy tale ending. If the adoptive parents have parented their child in a way that enabled their child to know the truth of his or her adoption story from the start and have support him or her in seeking any needed answers to questions along the way, that is a fairy tale ending.
Because life is a journey, and adoption is simply one of the way stations along that long and winding road. Real-life fairy tales don’t always end with “happily” before the ever-after; sometimes, they conclude with “complicatedly ever after” or “unexpectedly ever after” and even so, there is still joy to be found along the way and throughout each family’s story.
Need a Fairy Godparent?
Here’s the thing: adoption is messy, even when it’s properly done. After all, nobody signs up to do an adoption because their lives are perfect. Adoption is a human construct borne of loss and need, and these are components that require great adjustment on everyone’s part. Plus change is never easy– not for anyone– regardless of whether you “signed up for it” or not.
(And even in fairy tales, there are complications, like grandma-eating wolves or grumpy trolls or witches with hot ovens or wicked stepparents or fire-breathing dragons, so how terrible can nit-picky social workers or lengthy Compact delays or even the occasional dashed hopes be, really?)
This is not to make light of the very real challenges and risks that adoption can sometimes entail, of course. Children placed for adoption as newborns and as older children can struggle with separation and loss, as well as bonding and attachment issues. Birthparents may spend years learning to negotiate loss and grief after relinquishment. Adoptive parents may be confounded by parenting issues they never even anticipated, even despite having had the best of pre-placement training and education. And broken promises are hurtful for everyone.
Yet unlike Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty or Hansel & Gretel or Goldilocks, those who find adoption to be less than a fairy tale are never required to go it alone. While some adoption-related issues may feel very isolating, there are resources available to offer help and support to birthparents, adoptees and adoptive parents at every stage.
Birthmothers nationwide can find post-adoption support online. In Texas, adoptive families can receive post-adoption assistance for up to two years after placement, or nationwide, check out find a parent support group here. Adoptees in need of post-adoption services across the country through American Adoption Congress. And there are plenty more resources to be found, so like the Prince with the glass slipper, don’t give up– keep searching, until you find what (or who) you need.
Because any adoption story can result in new growth with time, patience and effort… even without any guarantee of a “happily-ever-after” ending.