When my husband and I were dating we talked about all kinds of things during the long drive from Seattle to my parent's house in Oregon. We talked about our lives together, our pasts, and our goals and hopes for the future. As things got more serious we starting talking about kids; how many we wanted, names we liked, that sort of thing. One thing we quickly realized was that we both had the desire to adopt. He only wanted to adopt kids, but I wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth. So, on one of those long car rides, we decided that one-day we would have a child together, and if we wanted to expand our family any more we would adopt.
Fast forward a few years and we were married with our son's second birthday approaching. We had decided that more kids were in our future, so soon after his birthday we started filling out the paper work. For a number of reasons we decided to pursue domestic adoption. We found an agency in Seattle that facilitates both foster-to-adopt (through the WA foster care system) and the placement of infants who are relinquished by their first-moms. This was the only agency I found that offered both (though I'm sure there must be others) and it felt like a good match for us. Nine months later we became a licensed foster home, created a book about our family for first-moms to look at, and then we waited.
About a month after we were licensed we were placed with an awesome six-month-old little girl. She only stayed with our family for two short weeks before she was placed with one of her family members, which was heartbreaking to say the least. But uncertainty is part of this process, so we moved forward the best we could.
About two months after that 18-month-old M was placed with us. Our family hung out in the foster phase of "foster-to-adopt" for almost exactly one year, which is fairly typical. Much to our joy and relief, we finalized our adoption of M in October 2012. Throughout this two-year process we learned and discovered a number of things. Some were expected; others have come as total surprise. Here are just a few:
It is totally exhausting and overwhelming to watch your family change before your eyes
The first day M was at our house went better than I imagined it ever would. He was happy, ate everything in sight, and went to bed easily. But that night after both boys were sleeping I sat down to talk with my husband and just started crying. It turns out that watching your family change in an instant is exhausting and overwhelming; even if that change is something you've been wanting and waiting for.
The first few months M was with our family were difficult; not horrible, just challenging and very exhausting. We were learning how to parent two small children (our son was three when M came), helping M figure out his whole new world, and helping our son understand why this little kid had suddenly appeared in our lives. I remember when my older son was just a few days old and I was up in the middle of the night nursing and thought, "What have we done? I am so tired. Maybe this was a mistake…" I must admit very similar thoughts ran through my head sometimes during those first few weeks after M's arrival.
Having no idea who is to expect is tricky.
Since we were open to both foster-to-adopt and infant placement, we had no idea who we would be matched with. All we knew was that the child would be two years old or younger. This made it difficult to plan and get things ready. We didn't know what size clothes or diapers we would need or what kind of toys would be appropriate. We talked about foster care and adoption a lot with our son, but it was difficult to figure out what, exactly, to tell him. Do we get books about having a new baby at home? Should we learn more about families of mixed ethnicity? When we found out a little 18-month old boy would be coming to our home we had less than 24 hours to wrap our heads around having two toddlers and what that was about to look like.
"He looks just like you!"
It happened again the other day. M and I were hanging out together, he came running toward me and I scooped him up while he threw his head back and laughed. A woman who was watching us smiled and said, "Wow, he looks JUST like you!" She was not the first person to say this. Not only do we share the same race, we share the same hair color and have similar features. I just smiled and kept on playing with him.
While these comments aren't a big deal, the fact that M looks like my biological child put me in a few awkward situations during the year he was in foster care with our family. Every once in a while someone I didn't know would be chatting with me and ask a question about M like "What's his favorite food?" or "Does he have any allergies?" When M first joined our family, I had no idea what the answers to these questions were.
When I took him for a haircut a few weeks after he was placed in our home the stylist asked if it was his first haircut, and I had no idea. When these things happened I felt like I had two options; 1) look like an idiot for not knowing some basic fact about a child everyone assumed was my son, or 2) tell a relative stranger he is in foster care and then have to deal with additional questions about this very personal situation ("Doesn't his mom want him? Why is he in foster care? Do you get to keep him?" etc). I rarely went into any detail about M's situation with people I did not know, which worked out fine but left me with the feeling that I was being slightly dishonest about my family, which felt a little weird.
Our foster-to-adopt experience was, over all, smooth and without much drama. It was also stressful, cloaked in uncertainty, and at times scary. I think deciding to add children to your family is always a leap of faith — there are no guarantees that things will go smoothly, or even work out at all. But, all that scary uncertainty fades into the background when I watch my boys play together, argue over toys, and call me Mommy.
We are a family, and I can't imagine it any other way.