On our wedding day almost 10 years ago, I was sure of the future. I was young and in love and couldn’t wait to start this amazing journey with the man of my dreams. As my dad walked me down the aisle and I saw my soon-to-be husband standing there, it took all my self-control not to run down the aisle into his arms. The short ceremony seemed to take ages because all I wanted to do was start our new life. As our family and friends cheered and my dad who officiated our wedding said, “You may now kiss my daughter!” tears of joy streamed down both our faces as we became husband and wife. 

In our ten years together, not every moment was romantic and dreamy, but that love has never left our relationship. There have been seasons of grief, sorrow, and pain. There were times when we didn’t feel the fuzzy, romantic feelings. There were other times when we wanted and needed space. One of our wedding cards said something I will never forget, “Marriage multiplies your joy and divides your sorrows.” As cheesy as that sounds it has been true over and over in our life.

In these ten years, we have learned to love each other by becoming parents through adoption. We have loved each other in sickness and health, in richer and in poorer, and—wow, we had very little money. We loved through the good times and the hard times. Here are ten lessons I have learned over the past ten years about adoption and marriage. 

1. Do the work before you get married.

I might seem old-fashioned, but my husband and I waited to live together until we were married. We wanted to be sure of ourselves as individuals before we joined our lives in marriage. We spent every minute together that we could, but we still maintained our separate and full lives as well. We were friends for many years before our friendship turned to romance. We knew each other so well and that translated to a healthy and loving romantic relationship. He knew my heart for travel and international cultures before we even had a date. And on our first date, I told him I wanted to adopt someday. Since I was young and learned about the many orphans throughout the world, my plan for having children was always adoption

I was afraid my then-boyfriend wouldn’t want that future and, at the time, I was not casually dating. I had a specific plan for my career and future and I was looking for a partner with the same values and ideas. To my surprise, he had no qualms whatsoever. Now that we are well into the adoption community, I realize that men being on board right away is not always the norm. Many times, women are the ones to bring up adoption as an option, but my husband was always open to it. 

Doing the work to make sure you and your partner are compatible and want the same things for your future is essential. Too many couples fall in love fast and move the relationship so fast that they never slow down and talk about the things that are really important. We did premarriage counseling and talked about everything—and I mean everything. Some topics were embarrassing and some were just funny. We both dealt with childhood trauma and our unrealistic expectations for married life. We talked a great deal about children and how adoption would fit in our family. We made plans for protecting our marriage so that it would be strong to handle the complex parts of adoption. 

2. Surround yourself with people who share your values. 

There are so many people who just do not understand why we chose to adopt because we didn’t suffer from infertility; even people in the adoption community do not always understand us. Not all, but many adoptive parents only consider adoption as an option after struggling with fertility for so many years. While that is changing, one of the most commonly asked questions we get is, “Why not have your own kids?” While this statement is problematic, we use it as a stepping point to openly discuss adoption with people in our community. We do have amazing online communities of families that have adopted specifically from India, but those are not the people that I see and interact with every day. 

Even though many people in our family and church community are adopted, not all our friends understand adoption fully. That is ok because we all share the same values. Many of our friends go to the same church and many share our Christian faith. Being surrounded by people that have the same values is so important. Even if we disagree or do not see eye to eye in other areas, we still are good friends because the most important things matter; for the rest, we can work together to love and understand each other better. 

The other side of this coin is if you have family members that are openly against adoption. We are very blessed to have family that doesn’t see the difference between a biological or adopted child, but some are not so accommodating. I have a friend whose mother will not be in a relationship with her because of their choice to adopt. It started with the grandmother only acknowledging the biological grandchild and ignoring the adopted child. She would only give gifts to her grandchildren through blood. Sadly, she is now estranged and has no relationship with her daughter or her grandchildren. There is a difference between friends and family who misunderstand adoption (but are willing to learn) and toxic people who would tear apart your family. 

3. Do not rush into parenthood.

I had just turned 22 when we got married and I so thought I wanted babies after only one short summer of marriage. My husband just graduated college and was working landscaping, I was finishing school, and we had no money. We had a pile of student loans, we lived in a 500-square-foot apartment, and my car was literally falling apart.

So, as hard as it was, we waited. We made three financial goals before we would start adopting. 

1. We would both be finished with school and established in the careers we went to college for. 

2. We would be debt-free apart from our student loans. 

3. We would own a home. 

As hard as it was to wait to bring children into our home, the time and effort to achieve our goals helped us grow as a couple. We learned to budget and save and plan for the future before introducing the stress of having to provide for children. It took almost four years to complete those three goals; but, exactly one month after closing on our home, we started the application process to adopt. 

4. Live frugally even when you do not need to. 

“In richer and in poorer.” is the wedding vow that can challenge couples the most. When we got married, I was a student and my husband was working landscaping despite having a college degree. We lived in a tiny apartment and our car broke down once a week. We had to live frugally, but we learned to budget and take control of the little money we did have. As our careers took off and we got more and more raises, we still lived with less. We paid off our student loans and saved for a home all because we wanted to adopt one day. We knew we had to sacrifice and save so one day we could afford to adopt. When we had two incomes, we lived on one so we could save money and pay for our adoption. Later when I became a stay-at-home mom, it was easy for us to live on one income. 

5. Stay busy during the waiting process of adoption. 

Waiting is hard. There is no way around it. At the moment, we are in the process of a second adoption. We are waiting to be matched and the waiting is so incredibly difficult. I have to find a balance between anticipation and protecting my fragile heart. If I dwell on the waiting too much, I get depressed. So, I stay busy. That is easy with my 5-year-old. She has a full, busy schedule with therapy, school, and her activities. I volunteer in her class. I serve at the church at least once a week. I write every day, swim, take walks, play guitar, read books and try to keep my home clean and organized. I hit the pillow each night very ready for sleep. And despite being very busy, I still ache and cry for missing the child we will adopt. 

6. Do the adoption paperwork as a team. 

With pregnancy, there is only so much a spouse can do; but with adoption, you can do it together as a team. We divided the paperwork and played to our strengths. I am better at narratives, so I did a lot of the home study paperwork. My husband knows the numbers and is very detailed orientated, so he did the tedious finance reports. 

I am so blessed my husband wanted to be an equal part of the entire adoption process. Knowing we wanted to adopt before we got married united us throughout the process. 

7. Make time for your marriage after the adoption. 

There is a season after an adoption when a family stays home and cocoons. We needed to teach our new daughter that we are mom and dad. It was a time when we would not allow anyone to babysit, not even family members. That season was important to train and teach our daughter that we are never going to leave her. 

However, after 7 weeks in India and months of cocooning, we needed a date. It was hard to feel romantic when we were getting little sleep and spending all our energy on parenting. That is why making time for each other is so important in marriage. Make time for anniversaries, and go on dates. Get babysitters that know how to care for your child. Instead of vegging in front of the television at the end of the day, unplug and spend a few minutes talking. There are so many things we can’t talk about in front of our children, so making time for one another was essential to a happy, healthy relationship 

8. Both parents need to be caregivers. 

One thing I think this generation is doing better than our parents is men becoming more involved in the less-exciting parts of raising children. My dad had 7 children, but he changed very few diapers. It just can’t be that way with adoptive kids. While I am a stay-at-home parent, it is very important that my husband also does the caregiving because it helps with trust and bonding. If the dads in adoptive families only do the fun activities, then the children will never let him do caregiving activities like bathtime and bedtime. It is a meltdown every time mom can’t be there for primary caregiving. Making it normal for both parents to be caregivers has helped us on our parenting journey.

9. Make a big deal of family celebrations. 

Celebrating and/or recognizing adoption is so essential, but all family occasions should be celebrated as well. I come from a big family, but we made a big deal of celebrations, birthdays and holidays. My mom made sure we felt like royalty on our birthday and I remember always feeling special about it. We go through seasons of grief or busyness or sickness and we forget to celebrate this beautiful thing called life. 

So, celebrate the anniversaries! Celebrate every birthday! Celebrate adoption day! Celebrate Arbor Day and International Day of Chocolate. Not every celebration needs to be an ordeal. It can be simple and memorable but these celebrations are memories that our children will not soon forget. 

10. Plan for the future, but be flexible when plans change.

In our ten years married, this has been so hard for me. We have our weekly plans, monthly plans, yearly plans, and our long-term plans. We are plan nerds. Without plans, you will wake up and months and years will have passed without a family meeting their goals or moving towards the life they want to have. However, plans do not always go the way we want or need them to. 

We have learned through adoption, that even the best-laid plans have to be open to change. The timelines are not fixed. Laws change. Dates change. In our first adoption, we had to change countries, and three out of the five agencies we used closed during our adoption. We have to adapt and change more than I would like. We planned for the future, but we had to trust God with those plans. When we held our plans loosely, we were more flexible and had much less heartache. That is hard to do.

There are 10 lessons from 10 years of marriage. I am blessed by my family and my husband’s heart to adopt. We are more in love and happy now because of what we have learned and all the beautiful trials and triumphs that made us a family of three and, hopefully very soon, four!

Natalie Welch is a co-creator of the InstaMommas, a Christain podcast/blog that is all about motherhood and adoption. She is happily married and a mother through international adoption to her 4-year-old daughter. Natalie graduated with a BS in Secondary Education in English with an emphasis in English as a New Language and Spanish Language studies from the University of Idaho. Natalie was a teacher for many years and now loves being a stay-at-home mom. Natalie enjoys traveling the world, creating or listening to music, reading long novels, and continuing her education. Currently, Natalie is learning American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate better with her daughter who has special needs. Natalie loves to take long walks with her family and explore the beautiful state of Idaho she has called home for the last ten years. Natalie has a passion for adoption and loves to share hope and healing through her writing.