So, you’ve decided to adopt … or maybe you’re thinking about it … or maybe you’ve just signed a contract with an agency and you’ve already picked out bedroom furniture online. Congratulations. Good for you. But not so fast. There are some things you need to know.
When you first looked into adoption, you probably saw the photos of the white parents walking hand-in-hand with their black child – painting the perfect picture of racial reconciliation; had a friend who had a friend who brought a baby home from China in a cool six months; and fell in love with the story of the mom who instantly bonded with her baby (just like you think you’re going to do). Or maybe, you were told to adopt by the Big Man upstairs, and like me … you were freaking the heck out.
Deciding to adopt is a huge decision. It’s going to change your life, your family dynamics, your finances, and turn you into a better version of yourself – which is both amazing and painful at the same time. It will test you, refine you, help you grow, and push you to your limits, so much so, that you’ll be a different person by the time you get to the end of it.
All of the stories and pictures are great, but I wish someone would have sat me down and given me a reality check, because what I thought the adoption process was going to be like – was not even remotely close to what it was. If I knew then what I know now, it wouldn’t have changed my decision one bit, but it would have helped me get my act together and keep my unrealistic expectations in check.
Luckily, you have me. If you’re gearing up for the long haul, here are 7 of my 600 things you need to know:
1. You aren’t going to bring your child home tomorrow.
If you’re thinking about adopting, you should expect that it could take 1-3 years to actually bring your child home. Sure, there are a few exceptions to the rule who seem to just breeze through the process, but if you’re adopting internationally, that’s probably not going to happen.
You’ve got a mountain of paperwork to complete, a home study, fingerprints, background checks, and a DNA analysis. (Okay, not really, but it will feel like the government knows that much about you by the time you’re finished.) You might also have to wait for a foreign country to get their act together, because they run on their time, not yours.
Just set out from the start with the expectation that it could take longer than five minutes to bring your child home, and you won’t be disappointed if it does.
2. Adoption is a full-out spiritual battle and if something can go wrong, it probably will.
If you’re not good at prayer and struggle with patience, control, faith, and all of those other attributes that just don’t come natural, be prepared to up your game because rescuing a child from their life as an orphan is no easy feat. You’ll hit roadblocks, get tired of waiting, experience frustration, will have to fight against the system, navigate racial and cultural differences, and may even have to address your own family’s less than enthusiastic response to adopting a child that looks different from you. My advice?
Grab your gear and mount up. You’re going into battle, but you’ll be a stronger person when you get through it.
3. Don’t adopt because you want to be a super Christian.
If you’re adopting because your ego needs a boost and you want everyone to tell you how great you are, please sit down. Adopt because you feel that’s what God wants you to do or because you have a true desire to do so, not because you want to be a super Christian.
If you get in it for the glory, you’ll find there’s a lot more guts required and your balloon will deflate faster than the speed of light when reality sets in.
4. Adoption is expensive, but if you’re supposed to do it, the money will be there.
I know it sounds cliché to tell you to go forth with your adoption and give no heed to the small fortune its costs to do so, but I will tell you this … if you’re supposed to adopt, the money will be there. There are numerous programs and grants you could apply for (whether you adopt domestically or internationally) and there are many people who feel called to care for orphans by helping other families financially afford to do so. I can’t count how many random checks for thousands of dollars showed up at our door, at just the right time, from people I still don’t have names for.
When it comes to finances, take it one step at a time: Be smart, but allow for an element of faith (i.e. revolving around what God has told you to do, not the budget you can’t envision balancing a year from now), apply for the programs that could help you, talk to your church, hold a fundraiser, and invite your friends and family to be a part of the adoption process with you.
5. You Don’t Need to be Perfect to Adopt
Forget the perfect pictures and stories of people who were born to adopt, and don’t cut yourself short. You don’t need to be married, have a million degrees, or even have it all together to adopt a child. You just need to be willing to love.
These children don’t need perfection, they just need you.
6. No matter how prepared you think you are … you’re not, and you won’t be, and that’s okay.
When we first decided to adopt two children under two, I had a husband, a bright financial future, a house, a two-year-old, and one on the way. By the time my children came home, I had a four-year-old, a two-year-old, a six-week old, was living in a 3 bedroom apartment, was working full-time from home, and the father they thought they were going to have, bailed. I ended up with two sets of twins (the two adopted twinned the biological), two who couldn’t speak English, one with special needs, and a newborn. In case you’re having trouble keeping track, that’s five kids, age four and under. Let me tell you, the home study lady did not see that coming (and neither did I).
No matter how well you have it together, how much money you have, or how many books you’ve read, you’ll never be “prepared” to adopt, and if you wait until you are … you’ll never do it.
7. Love at first sight does not exist.
I know that not everyone shares my adoption experience, but here’s the truth as I see it: You’ll “know” when you see that referral come through your email if that child is for you. I can’t explain it, but there will be signs and confirmations that fall from the Heavens when you’re supposed to say “yes.” But when you see that same child for the first time, you’ll feel overwhelmed, inadequate, nervous, awkward, guilty, and maybe even a little rejected. You’ll probably even second guess your decision. Do yourself a favor, and “don’t.”
Love at first sight does not exist and it’s not supposed to, because if it did, you would miss out on a really important lesson about love.
Caring for orphans is a COMMAND and love is a CHOICE and sometimes just being obedient to that command is LOVE.
Love is an action … not a feeling, so if you base your decision on feelings, they’ll steer you wrong every time. Feelings of love follow the act of loving.
Don’t confuse those butterflies you got when you first met your spouse and just “knew” he was the one with love. That was lust (attributed to a whole concoction of hormones), and a choice you made from that day forward to make him your own. Love occurred when the butterflies disappeared and you smelled the morning breath and saw him at his worst and still chose to stick around for it.
Same with your kid. You’re going to beat yourself up or freak the heck out when you don’t feel that rush of hormones you had when you met your spouse or held the baby you grew for the first time, but love will come if you choose it. And like me, you may have to choose to live it for a long time before those feelings follow.
8. You may not need help, but you’re going to want it.
Have you ever heard of a postpartum birth plan? You know … it’s like a birth plan for a baby, only it’s after the baby is born and all about the mom? Girl, get you one of those. We’ll call it a “post-adoption” plan.
Have people hook you up with eats, house cleaning, or just get a few of your favorite people to come sit in on your life so you don’t go crazy and feel like you’re in this alone, because you’re not unless you choose to be.
Adoption is great, but it’s also full of ups and downs, unpredictability, heartache and joy, exhaustion, and love, and the more prepared you are to roll with the punches, the smoother the process will go … or maybe, you just need to lower your expectations so you surpass every one of them.