Adoption seems like such a foreign concept to many people but as a mother of both an adoptive child and a biological child, I can truly attest to the fact that the journeys are more alike than you'd think.
1. Time - From the time we started our home study until Josie was born, it took exactly 3 months. Seriously! It takes about 3 months to finish the home study so we received placement almost immediately thereafter. From the time Merryn was conceived to the time she was in our arms, it took 40 weeks and 5 days...but who's counting? I am. Because I was MISERABLE! The average adoption (not necessarily special needs - all adoptions) takes 1-2 years. When you factor in how long it takes some couples to conceive a child and the additional time the child spends in utero, those time frames are remarkably similar.
2. Cost - Yes, adoption can be expensive. But that depends greatly upon the type of adoption you pursue. For example, the majority of families who adopt from foster care receive a monthly subsidy. There is also an adoption tax credit as well as adoption assistance programs available. In the case of an adoption of a U.S. child that a state has determined has special needs, you may be eligible for the maximum amount of credit or exclusion for the year of finality, even if you paid no qualified adoption expenses. Did you know that adopting a child who is older, of a minority race, or part of a large sibling group can be considered a special needs adoption and therefore eligible for maximum adoption assistance benefits (source)?
There are too many variables to generalize, but it is worth considering that in terms of cost, adoption and childbirth may be more similar than you think.
3. Getting intimate with strangers - Adoption involves opening up your lives to a group of people so that they can understand who you are and determine if you can provide an environment that is suitable for a child. From filling out pages and pages of paperwork detailing every aspect of your childhood, personality, and values, to providing proof of assets and income, to opening up every corner of your home to be inspected by a social worker, the process can seem rather invasive.
Anyone who has ever filled out pages and pages of medical forms at the OB's office, been interviewed about their sexual activity and venereal disease history, and laid perched upon an exam table with feet in the stirrups with a light flashing where the sun don't shine can tell you that childbirth can be pretty invasive, too! Don't even get me started about the group of strangers in the birthing room at the hospital who will see you contort in ways that Miley Cyrus wouldn't even attempt while expelling fluid and writhing in pain. Forget the medical staff - my husband saw sides of me I never wanted him to see. Leave your dignity at the door!
Once again, in each scenario you will find yourself getting intimate with strangers in ways that you never anticipated for the end result of holding that beautiful child in your arms.
4. Feeling Guarded - Adoption is fraught with anxiety. Will a birth mother choose us? What if she changes her mind and decides to parent? What if she hands the baby over and then decides that she wants it back? It is completely normal to feel guarded during the initial stages of the adoption process. Until the relinquishment forms are signed and a judge finalizes the adoption, there is a degree of uncertainty that comes with the territory.
Pregnancy is also accompanied by anxiety. Why is it taking so long to conceive? Is something wrong with me? Is something wrong with him? What if I miscarry? Is it okay to eat this? Was that cramp normal? What if there is something wrong with the baby? What if something goes wrong in childbirth? There is a reason many people opt not to announce a pregnancy until after the first 12 weeks - the risk of miscarriage is greater, and if, God forbid, we do have to suffer that pain, many people would prefer to do it privately. And for many of us, we don't truly let our guard down until the doctor places that baby in our arms and we are able to count all of those fingers and toes and receive confirmation that our little darling is healthy.
Neither adoption nor childbirth come with a guarantee. Vulnerability is part of the journey towards parenthood.
5. Expect the Unexpected - We went into our adoption expecting a closed one. It became an open one. I had a preconceived notion of what the biological mother would be like. She was nothing like that. I assumed once Josie's heart was repaired that it would be smooth sailing for her health-wise. I was so wrong.
My family and I just knew that I was carrying a boy. Merryn is 100% girl. I thought I would eat right and exercise and be size 8 immediately after giving birth. Instead I gained a billion pounds and felt like a beached whale for a LONG time. I knew that labor and delivery would be a piece of cake. In fact, I was so confident that I declined all medications and climbed into that bathtub intending to demonstrate my ability to naturally do what mothers have been doing since the beginning of time. I ended up in an operating room at 2 am receiving a spinal block and having my abdomen sliced open to retrieve this baby in the most unnatural way possible.
No two adoptions are the same and no two childbirths are the same but the one thing you can count on is to expect the unexpected.
6. A Family is Formed - When I first laid eyes on Josie I cried. She was laying in the NICU, tethered to a bunch of beeping machines, completely vulnerable and needy. I'd never even been in a NICU before, I had no idea what these machines were for, and the language the staff was speaking may as well have been Chinese. But I was committed to learning how to fulfill her every need because in that moment, I became a mother.
You know how they say babies don't come with instruction manuals? Well, even though I already had one baby, I still felt completely helpless and lost when we brought Merryn home. She's not tethered to anything. She didn't come with a monitor that's going to tell me if she stops breathing. How in the heck does this nursing thing work and how much is she supposed to eat and when?? But once again, I was going to figure it out because I was her mother.
What I learned after having both an adopted baby and a biological baby is that the maternal instinct that kicks in when tasked with the responsibility of caring for a helpless child who needs you is in no way dependent upon biology. The way the four of us got to know one another, anticipate each other's needs, and support one another with a routine that is entirely unique to us has nothing to do with genetics. We are family complete with our own distinctive characteristics and quirks and we are united in love - just like every other family.