Whether you’re at the beginning of your adoption journey or are already knee-deep in the process, you will find false truths about adoption around you. It is important to research and weed through what makes sense. The following are some areas that often contribute to common misconceptions about adoption.
Adoption comes with a stigma that it is unwed, teen mothers that have to be hidden and the child needs adopted. Some may think that the mother has somehow lost her way or is a bad person. This is far from the truth. The adoption community has tried hard in the last few decades to eliminate this way of thinking. On average, a biological mother is in her 20’s and may or may not already be parenting. The reasons a child may experience adoption is often a very personal. The decision to place the child on their adoption journey is difficult but selfless. The need to hide away the mother and child is no longer accepted as a social norm. Moreover, the mindset is inclusion and openness. There has been a lot of research that supports the child’s need for continuity of knowledge around their birth family to understand and feel less trauma.
Another mindset is that the children should not be told that they are adopted. This way of thinking has caused unnecessary trauma for children who were adopted. There may be a hesitation to tell a child when you believe they can handle the information. Children develop their personal history from the moment they are born. Some may believe even before that, and studies have shown children who were adopted often feel different even when they are not given the information. When a child is supported and informed they don’t feel the need to fill in the missing blanks with insecurities or lies. They will have the knowledge to process their journey and feel less like there’s a missing piece to their story.
When deciding to grow your family through adoption, the cost will come into play. Private and international adoptions tend to have higher costs. That said, there is a lot of support and assistance one can secure in financing adoption. There are special loans that are specific for adoption. Some children can qualify for grants or scholarships. Foster adoptions are often low to no cost to the families. There are tax benefits after adoption. Some children who are classified as “special needs” can come with subsidies. Others may qualify for subsidies being a part of a sibling group. It is important to check your state’s adoption support in order to educate yourself of all that is available to your family.
Who can adopt?
Many believe that adoption is only available to heterosexual, white couples. This is far from the truth. It is important to research adoption agencies to understand their policies. Also, different states can have different laws regarding who can adopt. I adopted my first two children as a single woman. I found the process to be not as hard as I thought it would be. Regardless of the family dynamics, if adoption feels like an option to grow your family, then explore it. A child can grow and learn when loved and nurtured.
It is important to feel supported during the adoption process. Researching the agency will allow you to understand what their policies are to protect you and your growing family. Many agencies are mindful of the families’ uniqueness regarding cultures, LGBQTI, and/or having accessible needs. Aligning with the right agencies allows the process to become less convoluted in the long run.
Foster to Adopt children are damaged
Did that statement make you uncomfortable? Well, it should. I can think of at least six movies that put adoption from the foster care system in a negative light. There may be unique obstacles surrounding the process, but I can assure you from personal experience the children are not damaged. They may have additional trauma, but with the right team, they can adjust. They are capable of love and attachment. I have adopted three children from the foster system and I’m not going to lie, there have been times that have been harder due to the trauma they experienced. I do not know any human who has not experienced something hard that has caused them to pause and have to heal. Children deserve to have loving families who will help them pause and heal. I do not regret for a minute my journey with my children. They have opened my eyes to a wonderful world of exploration and triumph.
My youngest child has struggled with the trauma but I can assure you that most days I’m in awe of her. She has gone through things that would make a grown person weak. She has insight that I still wish I had from her life experience. Often she is described as an old soul, but really she is just being her authentic self. She has lost so many people which allows her to cherish her daily life way more than an average 10-year-old. I cannot imagine my life without her presence and what she has taught me as a person and parent. She has shown me how to grow stronger when life knocks you down. That our journey is never solitary and having a team behind you makes you better. My child is not damaged, she is my teacher and my peace.
Can the adoption be overturned?
This question is based on fear. Once the adoption takes place you are the child’s parent. The birth certificate changes to reflect your name. At that time the child can have their child’s name to reflect the family name. When you are going through the adoption court process it is important to ask your attorney what an after adoption or open adoption plan may look like.
One of the top areas of misconceptions about adoption is that children and families will feel a loss of self. There may be feelings regarding infertility or not being with a biological family, but it doesn’t fully define oneself. Many are proud of their adoption and see that their family is a whole unit. They may have questions but come to understand everyone has questions about their past in some way. My children had moments when they questioned where they came from, but have always expressed their love for our family. They have never questioned if I was their mother, only that one can have many mothers. When the stigma of how a family should present or befalls to the side one can be open to a beautiful experience.
I am their mother, they have a mother who was before me, and I do not feel threatened. I am blessed to have grown my family through adoption. I never thought so much about personal identity until I went on this adoption journey. I have had to open my eyes and heart to all the complexities a family can bring to one’s life. I have found friends who have turned to family and others of blood that have turned away. All of these decisions have led to a more solid foundation for my children and their identity.
There are no perfect parents, not even in adoption.
I have been told so many times during my parenting journey that because I grew my family through adoption, I have no right to complain about how hard it is. This is unfair. I knew I wanted to be a parent since I was little. I also made a conscious decision to adopt. The pressure to have all the answers is real but not reality-based. Guess what, I’m just a mother trying to make productive adults with the time I’m given. It sounds simple, but it is hard. I wouldn’t change it for anything. You will mess up as a parent! There will be times you will lose your parental mind and double guess your journey. You are not alone, this happens to every parent. It does not matter how you grow your family, no one has all the answers. It is okay to give yourself permission to enjoy the imperfection of your life and grow from the experience. I often lay my head down on the pillow at night and review my day. There are moments of pure joy and then others that can cause tears. I have learned to laugh through them all as life is too short.
What will others think?
I used to worry a lot about appearances and making sure I represent the adoption community perfectly–that somehow if I appeared to have all the answers for my children maybe others would feel the pull to adopt. I worried that others may think less because I could not carry a child naturally. I can tell you that all that worrying did me no good. Only when I embrace that I have control over only me and how I react can I really be free. I stopped allowing this unspoken (or sometimes spoken) bias to affect me as a parent. Let them think what they want as they are only living through their own experience. I can assure you building your family and embracing it with acceptance provides more peace of mind.
Over the years, I have had to be aware of who I share our story with and why. It is important to allow the child to lead the journey of their story. Some with treasure and keep your child’s story sacred but others may not be so mindful. Others may pass judgment because of misinformation or their own bias. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of sharing your child’s adoption story.
Will my children want a relationship with their biological family as adults?
This is a hard misconception because at times, there is truth to this statement. We all want to belong and with adoption, there is often a sense of wanting the whole story. My oldest is 19 and often expresses searching for his mother. I have never felt threatened because I have tried to place myself in his shoes. If I had experienced being adopted I think I would want to know more. My daughter, however, doesn’t want to know more. She said that she understands why she was adopted and feels we are enough of a family for her. Regardless, I will always lend support for their feelings and allow them to answer their question for themself. I used to wonder when they were little how I would feel as time passed. Would I feel threatened or insecure? Then I remember that I have worked hard to grow my family and show my children a loving and secure family life. This is what they will carry forward regardless of where they land. I have friends whose children have left the nest and regardless of their birthing/adoption story some have stayed in contact, others not. This question is simply not specific to your adoption journey. Adults have the right to choose their path and keep connections if they want to.
What Are Top Misconceptions About Adoption?
I could go on and on as the world creates and recreates bias and fear related to adoption. I can’t stress the importance of researching the truths regarding adoption. I made a list at the beginning of my journey of what I thought adoption was and how it would affect me. I then began a soul-searching journey to find my truth. There are times when the answers were concrete and clear such as laws and policy. Other times it was more emotional as I had to understand my bias and expectations. In the end, my children led the way for my overall learning. They made so many of the misconceptions I had from this list fall away.
Heather Pietras-Gladu has over 20 years in the human services and social worker community. The need for education around adoption and trauma was evident when she worked as a social worker for the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts. She would use this passion in a most intimate way when she adopted her 3 children from foster care. As long as there is a continued need for education with humor and truth she will continue to be one of the biggest advocates within the adoption community.