If there’s one ugly monster lurking under the proverbial adoption bed, it’s this one: the illusion of control.

The illusion of control is a tricky little beast. He smiles nicely in front of company. He acts as if everyone and everything will go as planned. Yet in private, he gnashes his teeth and spews cortisol. Meanwhile, he plots and schemes to micromanage every moving part around him.

It’s normal to want to be instantly in charge of our lives. But it’s even more important when it involves our own bodies, or our innermost hopes and dreams.

Infertility and hyperfertility both shatter that illusion of control. And the adoption process can, too. The perfect adoption doesn’t exist. However much you want an adoption plan to “work out,” nobody can control the adoption process in every aspect. 

Adoptive Parents Don’t Have All the Control

Infertility feels like the cruelest of blows to those who long to become parents. To think those most ready to love and nurture a tiny human being are denied the chance to grow one of their own– for no “good” reason at all– shatters our sense of control.

To then face a gauntlet of adoption paperwork and endure the indignities of matching challenges anyone’s sense of sanity. It’s humbling to have to entrust your family’s future to someone whose own life circumstances may be less than optimal. (Whether due to poverty, addiction, mental health, poor life choices or whatever else.) This frames your lack of control over your own destiny in neon colors.

It’s no wonder, then, that adopting parents grasp the illusion of control like a life raft in a turbulent sea. We see this in the actions of adopters who seek to dictate the pregnancy care choices of a prospective birthmom. They want to attend every prenatal appointment, and monitor the mother’s every move. You see it when adopters want labor induced on demand, or seek to “room in” at the hospital with a baby not yet theirs. It’s obvious when folks violate the adoption plan by seeking to control the birthparent’s final decision. To solicit repeated assurances that somone won’t change their minds or to offer payment for placement, in hopes of controlling the outcome, is wrong.

The truth is that no matter how a child becomes yours, nothing will ever shatter your illusion of control like parenthood will. Maybe, then, the true purpose of this is to learn to accept that control is an illusion. The only real control we have is our ability to cope with life’s uncertainties and embrace its surprises.

Birthparents Don’t Have All the Control, Either

For birthparents, the very condition of pregnancy (planned or unplanned) is a stark reminder of the illusion of control. You can be use birth control faithfully and yet find yourself knocked up. Get the very best of prenatal care yet you may still birth a child with unexpected complications. Walk five miles a day in your final weeks of pregnancy and you may still go past your due date.

You can use street drugs all through pregnancy and still deliver a baby who turns out to be an honors student. Or you can choose a picture-perfect adoptive couple, yet still see the adoptee end up in a home broken by divorce.

You might place your child and all your trust in an adoptive family who promises to keep in touch before the papers are signed. Afterwards, though, they could still forget all those promises once the ink is dry on the adoption decree.

So here’s what you can do: prepare the best you can. The illusion of control reminds all of us that the best-laid plans can go awry. Our daily efforts to control the factors are around us are all too often exercises in futility.

(And birthparents typically understand this better than anyone.)

Adoptive Agencies Can’t Control Everything Either

Adoption agencies have effectively built an entire industry around the suggestion that they can somehow harness life’s hardships and bring about order and success, at least on behalf of the children involved. Sometimes, they make such a good show of control that they believe it themselves.

Many adoption professionals bristle when reminded of the truth that “adoption cannot guarantee a better life, only a different one.” Yet in truth, agency employees control very little. And even the most compassionate of adoption workers shouldn’t have the power to substantively alter the outcome of the placement decisions being made by its clients.

Prospective adopters and birthparents alike want adoption professionals to assure them that their stated goals can be easily reached via compliance in adoption planning. Such assurances merely feed the illusion of control in a process in which the unexpected must be expected– before and after placement does (or doesn’t) happen.

So What Can I Control?

To exercise true control, remember that anything worth doing is worth doing right. Remember the line from the movie Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.” This is less about self-manifestation than it is about taking control of your own power to make good choices on behalf of the future.

You cannot fix the world’s problems, but you can make good choices to address your own. There’s no way to cancel an unwanted diagnosis, but you can still learn all there is to know about it so you can deal with it. There’s no controlling what others will do, but you can influence others’ behavior through your example.

The pain of disappointment when a match or placement plan falls apart is unavoidable, but you’ll learn about the depths of your own inner strength by weathering it. You can’t prevent the adoptee from ever facing issues in life, but you can equip yourself to love and support them through anything.

Remember: your ultimate superpower is the ability to do away with the illusion of control. In doing so, you just might find you gift yourself with real control over your own fears of the monster under the bed, which is little more than a dustbunny.

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