Thoughts on Normalizing Adoption Experiences

Hope didn’t arrive yesterday.  Instead Snowstorm “Janus” arrived and dumped about 5 inches of snow and brought a bunch of wind with sides of single digit temps and below zero windchills.  When did we start naming winter storms, anyway?

Bollocks.

It was frustrating on many levels, including the social worker who kept asking “Is it really all that bad out there?”  Lady, I’m not a meteorologist, but they’re saying its bad and flights are cancelled.  You are bringing me the most precious, important delivery I’ve ever received, so can you take a chill pill and roll with it.

I travel a lot.  Weather happens, and it messes plans up.  Yep it’s annoying as hell, but it’s beyond our control.  You take a deep breath; you rearrange plans and you post up somewhere with a beverage and get over the self-importance stance that the universe is somehow targeting you.   It’s so not about you.

I spent the day on the couch, doing some writing and answering emails while enjoying good glasses of red and some gourmet popcorn.  I even took a nap; I can’t tell you how rare that is.

So today we get to do a do over on the placement.

Responses to the delay did make me emotional in other ways though.  I’ve been kicking around writing about this emotional slice for some time, but it feels touchy and sometimes ouchy, like I’m b*tching about not getting support, but getting it and it not fitting right for my needs.  That’s true sometimes, but it doesn’t feel like a polite thing to say to people who care about me.  It’s a topic that in some ways feels isolating and hypocritical, and like I’m trying to make a comparative statement on my family drama.  That said, I imagine that a lot of other adoptive parents feel these emotions and fellow blogger, Mrs. Family of 5 posted a great blog yesterday, Things that Matter, that touches on some of the stuff I think about and feel these days.  I thought about writing a redux on my Ten Things post from months ago, but decided that this probably needed a different approach.   So here goes.

I find that non-adoptive folks are eager to normalize my experience of becoming a mom in ways that feel, well, weird and sometimes, oddly dismissive.  I’m grateful for the sentiments, but sometimes behind the mask of strength there are some real tears.

What do I mean by “normalize?”  Well, take for instance the snow delay…a wonderfully supportive friend said, “Well it’s like an extra-long labor in giving birth.”  (I feel like I should apologize for saying this was painful, but it was. Gosh I have guilt about being offended, sigh.).   I’ve never been in labor so maybe it is like that without the physical pain.  But why did the comment tickle my innards?

Well, even though I always wanted to adopt, always knew this was a part of my journey, I thought I would have biological kids, at least one.  As I was approaching 40, I looked back and saw a minefield of gyn issues that might make it challenging.  Then a surgery 18 months ago that was critical and urgently necessary was so invasive that it wasn’t until after the surgery that my primary care doc and a reproductive specialist said that having a biological child was now not an option for me.  I no longer had that option, and I hadn’t even seriously tried for so many reasons.  Now I couldn’t.  I felt and continue to feel robbed.  Being reminded that my “laboring” isn’t ever going to be physical because somehow my body failed me is piercing.  It hurts.  And it happens with a level of alarming frequency.

Sure, I probably have fed it with my paperwork pregnancy t-shirt (I’ll own that), but the back story of infertility for a lot of adoptive parents remains painful even after a child has come into your life.  You don’t forget it.   People don’t mean to be insensitive, but they just don’t know because you don’t go around blabbing all of your business all of the time.

But this isn’t just about infertility, the desire to normalize my new mom experience happens in many ways.  Hearing a snippet of my confabs with Hope often trigger things like, “Oh that’s normal; you don’t need therapy for that.”  “Oh, you’ll get used to that, that’s just what teens do.” “I’m not sure why that freaks you out, it sounds normal.” “You don’t need to make a big deal of any of that, you just need to love her through it.”

Sigh. I often just try to hide the grimace of pain and just put on my mask, nod and reply, “Yeah” and wait until I get off the phone or go home to have a controlled cry about it.  I don’t want to say anything in response for fear of pushing folks away and being more isolated than I already feel.

It’s rare that I am able to share the backstory that led the conversation because to do so reveals so much of Hope’s sad story that isn’t my business to tell.  The story is riddled with so much trauma and loss.  I’m not sure I could’ve survived Hope’s life up to this point.  I know that on the surface our interactions may seem normal, but sometimes they really are not normal at all:  The sadness in driving past a cemetery triggers loss memories that take days to deal with.  A flip through a photo album of happy Christmases is a reminder of the many schnitty holidays she’s endured.  A visit to the local shelter triggers a memory of a lost puppy in the middle of a really chaotic life that leads to hours of cry filled rages.  The anxiety words that seem so random in conversations that make outsiders look at me with confusion or exasperation because Hope seems rude and disruptive when she’s really anxious and perhaps scared and I’m not even sure why.  The endless negotiations that are necessary to try to avoid more loss and trauma for her.  The self-censoring that is necessary because your parents and friends get offended when you refer to your traumatized and sometimes verbally abusive kid whom you adore as “my little dragon” (not  in her presence) because she spits hot, blazing and, sometimes painful, fire.

These are just a few things I and others like me don’t or can’t share.  It’s not normal, but it’s our normal.  It’s not that we don’t want to be everyone else’s version of normal, but often we just aren’t, and getting to that kind of normal and “happy” is a way off dream for a lot of us.  And society just doesn’t do abnormal very well.  So even when there are efforts to be inclusive and to reach out, we withdraw.  The cost-benefit and risk assessments just don’t bear out enough positive data for us to step out into a space that is really going to see, appreciate and make room for our versions of normal.  There are just too many qualifiers necessary to make it work.

One of those qualifiers is that so many people like to think adoptive parents of older kids are in line for sainthood, and so we, somehow, must be able to handle the messiness with the grace of other would-be saintly people.  Not really.  Nah, we’re just regular Janes and Joes who wanted a kid and thought, “Hey an older kid!  I can do that.”  We are not saints and being saintly is just way too extra.

So we seek out others like us and relationships that give us that space to just be as abnormal as we can be.  We are grateful for those connections but it also means that we experience loss in withdrawing from meaningful relationships that we’ve loved for so long.  And we can’t talk about that loss either, it seems like whining because everything on the outside is supposed to look normal, remember?

Sure everyone has their ish that they deal with behind closed doors.  None of us is really normal.  But the quest to be and to make everyone around us assimilate to that faux standard is really hard.  And messy, really messy.

In my day job I am constantly beating the drum of diversity, the need to celebrate it, to embrace it and to respect it.  I realize that those lessons are valuable here as well.  We want to find our space in that place called “normal.”  We are families that can be a bit different.  We’re different, and we would love for that difference to be acknowledged and respected.   There will be shared experiences that transcend all this stuff I’ve babbled on about.  But there will be experiences that are really different as well; they may be behind the veil.  This is true for all of us, bio, adoptive and various forms of blended families too.  Let’s respect one another and in our quest to be supportive, let’s not always default to normalizing.

Besides, isn’t normal overrated anyway?

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.   And thanks Mrs. Family of 5 for unwittingly giving me the courage to finally write about this topic.  I thank you for your courage to write about grief and loss.

Back to waiting—Hope’s ETA is 9:30pm EST.  I will be there With. Bells. On!

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About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted tween a few years ago, and this blog chronicles our journey. Feel free to contact me at adoptiveblackmom@gmail.com, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com, 2013-2016. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

4 responses to “Thoughts on Normalizing Adoption Experiences

  • thefamilyof5

    Wow! Just wow!
    Really enjoyed reading this! And by enjoyed I mean, it made total sense to me x

  • Instant Mama

    Yes, yes, yes! I need to do a post like this too. Just the other day I was talking with an adult who needed to be aware of behaviors, triggers, and responses for one of my kids (but has no business knowing the backstory). And was met with about three potential diagnoses (hey, that sounds like ADHD. No, well maybe it’s…). Then that was followed by the comments about all kids going through these “stages.” So then I just said it. “Yes, well, being an adoptive parent is hard. Actually, the number one thing I hear from my other adoptive friends (that’s you and other bloggers, mostly!) is that everyone else is always trying to excuse behaviors and make them normal. My husband and I have experience with normal and troubled kids, we’ve done trainings about these things, and our degrees are related to these areas. We know when what our children are doing is just normal, and when it is so much more. No one else can really tell the difference, but we can. So it can be pretty challenging at times.” He didn’t offer any more pat answers after that, and I was glad. And I asked my hubby later and he said I didn’t even sound rude at all. Score!

  • AdoptiveBlackMom

    Good for you, Instant Mama! I do think that the intent behind normalizing is an attempt to be supportive, but I also think that it’s hard for some folks to wrap their heads around what these kids have endured and what its affected them. It’s tough because you don’t want to come off as snarky or rude when you try to add some context so we just suck it up. Please do write about it! 🙂

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