Dear Adoptive Families,
This month marks the end of my first year with Adoption Advocates. I have learned so much! When I tell people outside of the adoption world what I do for work, I sometimes wonder if they imagine me sitting in my office, handing out babies all day:
Let’s be honest. That might have been part of the fantasy for me before I took this job. This past year, I have learned that there are, indeed, tears of joy in adoption. When the family who has longed for a child for years finally takes that baby into their arms, there is nothing like it. Getting to be a witness to that has to be one of the highest highs there is. But the hard parts cannot be overlooked. It seems that no matter how “with it” you are in your daily life, adoptive parents, this process is temporarily destabilizing for everyone. It wouldn’t be normal if at some point you weren’t scared, angry, sad, or shaken. Since I am yours for the wait, it is my aim to sit with you during those unsteady times. I recognize this as an honor, but since I was expecting mostly confetti, this part has been a challenge for me.
I spent much of my first year hoping that none of you would notice I was a noob to the adoption world and hoping to get a pass based on my previous social work experience. Through the course of my career, I’ve gotten really good at protecting myself from critique and avoiding personal discomfort. I’ve learned that to expose flaws, to express anything but the appropriate affect, to be uncertain, to admit mistakes – it’s all risky. You all know exactly what I’m talking about, right? You’ve been through a home study and know the pressure to hide the clutter in your house and in your psyche.
Sitting for too long in someone else’s pain without offering a solution is also really hard. When I reflect on some of the struggles of our birth parents – fears of being judged, taken advantage of, shamed, abandoned, deemed unworthy or found unlovable – I realize that these are no different from the fears many of you have shared with me. I think they are near universal fears which are made especially tender by this process. These are feelings that cannot be taken away with quick fixes or nice words. Rather, they must be fully experienced and healed through corrective experiences with another person.
Fortunately, the professionals I work with are comfortable being real and honest with one another about what’s hard and what hurts. They have to be able to sit with those things in order to do this work. The culture of safety, transparency, and acceptance in the Adoption Advocates family has been a scaffolding for me to explore my own vulnerability and to begin to extend an invitation for vulnerability to some of you. I am warming to the idea of being your companion and your guide, rather than the mystical being who will take away your pain.
Social work has the tendency to create a parallel process between the worker and the client. Those emotional challenges that are most difficult for my clients have always been recapitulated for me in my own life. Until I reach a personal acceptance of those feelings in myself, I hit a wall in my ability to be helpful. In order to be with you in this process, I have to be more real with you and I have to get comfortable, sometimes, being uncomfortable.
But that’s only half of it. The reason this all matters is the other half. This past year, after looking through several adoptive family profile books, one of our birth parents burst into tears and said, “I can’t look at how much better they are than me.” For those of you who feel pressure to be the very best prospective adoptive parent on the waiting list, I would like to practice vulnerability and imperfection with you, so you can practice vulnerability and imperfection with your birth parent. Allowing them to see that you have the grace to lay yourself bare and accept yourselves as whole imperfect people lets them know you can have grace enough for them as well.