Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Letter to a Woman on the Verge

Dear A.,
Thank you for getting in touch.
You have asked me several really big questions, and I can't really answer most of them. I can only tell how how it has been for myself. My wife and I were never biological parents, so I can't be sure of this, but adoption for us has seemed to be much like other kinds of parenthood in many ways. There's a lot of uncertainty, stress, and challenges to your dignity (and sanity.) All you get out of it is some of the most amazing experiences in the world.
You say that if you adopt, it really has to work. That's exactly right. From my perspective, adoption works because it has to. Once you commit to a kid, you won't fail because you won't let yourself fail. You will make sure you succeed. Maybe everything won't be perfect, maybe you'll do a sloppy job of some things, but as one of my freelance bosses once said, 'You muddle through it.' It's the same if you have a biological child.
Your situation may be more challenging if you are adopting a four-year-old, because there may be some attachment issues, and other difficulties. I can't speak on that, though, since we adopted our first daughter when she was eight months old. But I think even these challenges are something many parents can handle, if they have thought it through and made a promise to themselves and to their child.
You mention your concern that since you're a freelancer, your life might be too uncertain or stressful for parenthood, and this may be true, but again, if you want to make this adoption work, it will. That's one of the magical things about it--you go halfway across the world and you meet this little stranger and you fall in love with her or him. That seems to happen in about ninety percent of the adoptions I've witnessed or heard or read about.
But after reading your mail several times now, the biggest question which seems to be running through it is, Should you have a child or not? And that's not something I can answer.
When I was trying to answer this question for myself, we lived on the Lower East Side of New York City. The question of whether we should adopt or not had been under my skin for a long time, but I couldn't quite face it. Then one morning, I woke up a bit before sunset (which seemed--pre-parenthood--like a really ungodly hour.) I couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up and walked part of the way across the Williamsburg Bridge. I sat down and watched the early morning sun. I asked myself if I wanted to be a papa. I liked the way parenthood had changed some of my friends. I felt that I had had an adventurous life, and that I had experienced a lot of intense, crazy things. But I finally realized that parenthood was something I wanted to experience for myself. It was something I wanted selfishly, not something I wanted to do for any other person.
After I realized that, I made my decision, and everything fell into place.
I hope this is of some help to you, and no matter what you decide, I wish you all the luck in the world.


Elizabeth said...

Pat - Wonderful post. So deeply thought. I have lots of thoughts, and I'll let you decide whether to put it up to be read by others. As you so rightly said, you adopt because you want a child, plain and simple. I'd like to add that, as a person who's has both adoptive and biological kids, once a person puts a baby in your arms - whether it's a labor and delivery nurse or an orphanage worker - that baby is 100% yours, and the love, the worry, everything, is the same.

Adopting a four-year-old child, however is adopting a person with a history. Not knowing the history in this situation, I can't speak to the specifics of this situation. But adoption of older children, while a wonderful thing to do, should be undertaken carefully and thoughtfully. Many think an older child will be "easier" than a baby. Nothing could be further from the truth. Potty training and sleeping through the night are a cake walk compared to the complex challenges of adopting an older child. Attachment issues are huge, difficult, and often require LOTS of professional help. Good luck.

Flashtrigger said...

I was adopted when I was 14: old enough to fake being okay while also having the choice not to tell my history. Years of that really did a lot of harm, and no one told me to hide, it was something I chose to do, "for the good of the family".
Not having children myself I can't relate to you quite so much in that manner, but I wanted to thank you, and all other adoptive parents or even those thinking to adopt, especially older kids. It's tough but you're giving the kids something that can't be manufactured or bought. Giving a child the opportunity to trust and hope can help ease the searing rawness of their Before can't erase it, but it does help. As for adopting kids who may be too young to have or remember Before years, you're giving them them the opportunity to trust and hope that they may not have otherwise received.
Okay I'm going on and on, for that I apologise; I'm just wanting to give my appreciation. Thank you.

pat said...

Elizabeth: As always, thank you for reading (and thinking seriously about) what I wrote. I think you're right, and adopting an older child would mean some difficulties we just haven't had. I hope I didn't underestimate them in the letter I sent to this prospective mom....
Flashtrigger: Thank you for your thoughts. Your phrase "Before years" is a pretty amazing use of words, and your comments are very much appreciated here at Euro Like Me. Please come again!