This guest post is by AdoptiveBlackMom, an adoptive mother and blogger.
My daughter, Hope, and I have been together for more than a year now.
Our finalization anniversary is coming up. I don’t know how we’ll celebrate yet, but I’m sure we will.
This last year has been peppered with huge shifts for both of us. Becoming a mom to a teenager is…well, awesome and hard.
I wanted to adopt an older child for numerous reasons, not the least of which was because I didn’t mind skipping diapers and daycare.
While I was ready for parenthood (as ready as one can be), I did find myself resenting so much change in my life.
I rifle through the insensitive comments that compliment me on adopting while simultaneously inferring that Hope is not my “real” daughter.
Being a black, single woman has also brought about the narrative that maybe I adopted because I just ‘gave up” on marrying and having biological children.
Oh, and because we are a same race adoptive family, it’s been almost comical how easily folks just assume I’m someone’s baby-mamma, not that those sisters should be shamed one bit, but the stereotype…it’s not a nice one, and I kind of fell into it.
I adore Hope.
She has brought so much to my life, but it’s not been easy.
It has not been easy for Hope either. Our adoption meant a 3,000 move from one coast to the other.
New school, new climate, new family, new home, new structure, new rules.
Everything was new–can you just imagine? She left everything she had ever known, both good and bad.
One day, a few weeks after her move, she just tapped out from being so overwhelmed. It was ugly. It was heartbreaking.
It was really painful to watch; it was painful to endure. But we did, and life on the other side has steadily improved. In fact, in the grand scheme of things we’re doing ok.
I recently saw an article in my Facebook newsfeed. A friend posted a heartwarming story of a family’s recent adoption of a lovely young girl; the story started off by saying that her life was beginning. I grimaced when I read it.
If it’s one thing I’ve learned since I created my own family with Hope, it’s that her life did not begin with me.
She had a life before me.
She told me one that that her greatest wish was that she would still be with her birth family. This fact is so important for prospective adoptive parents of older kids to accept and understand.
When you adopt any child, the praise for your do-gooderness begins, and it only amplifies over time. It’s a common way that our friends and family offer support.
Adopting an older child seems to really bring out the wings and halos because “everyone knows” that “those kids” are so troubled and unmanageable.
It’s easy for folks to buy into this myth that adoption just washes away that previous life as if it never existed.
Well-intended champions seem dumbfounded that there may be all kinds of mayhem going on in your home as you try to help your child heal from trauma, from profound grief and from well…all sorts of change.
Hope lived 12 years before me. There’s a lot that happened during that time.
There are some wonderful memories from that time, and there are some horrible ones too.
We do not have an open adoption, but during the last year we have had contact with Hope’s extended family. During those 12 years, Hope spent summers with them.
Those memories now are tinged with sadness because a kinship adoption didn’t work out.
We observe the birth and death days of people I’ve never known, but these are people who were and are still important to my daughter.
Our home is a safe space for Hope to openly reminisce about fun, happy times with her birth parents and to cry about the not so happy times too.
I’ve learned to master a bold glare of warning to serve our companions when she reminisces publicly, and others give me the “Why does she still even talk about them?” look.
Hope is also free to talk about all of it, and how it impacts her.
I would be lying if I said that it has been easy for me to just open my home to all the folks who live in Hope’s memories. It hasn’t.
I didn’t know it would be like this–even with the training; it’s easy to buy into the hype of a “new life.”
The emergence of the first family scared the crap out of me.
I struggled to create boundaries that protected both Hope and me.
It’s been tough hearing new disclosures about horrible events. It’s been tough reconciling the things I know about Hope’s history with the way she remembers things.
But it’s in her best interest for me to get myself together and make space for all the baggage. I’m the one who has to get over it and make it work. It’s critical to Hope’s healing.
Acknowledging the adoptee’s previous life as they see it is so worth it.
With every breakthrough, it seems we lose a bit of the emotional baggage or at least find a suitable home for it.
Hope seems happy. Other than the typical 13 year old misery, she seems to feel safe.
Hope’s life with me may be a new beginning, but it is not the beginning of her life.
It’s just a new chapter in her story, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
AdoptiveBlackMom and her daughter, Hope, live in the DC area with their dog, Yappy. ABM blogs about her adoption journey as a single parent to a teen adoptee at www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com.
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