I was asked by a friend to write this out as a blog post. I was telling her about this meetup group that I just started going to for families of adoption. It's a mixed group of people who have adopted domestically, internationally, through foster care, etc and also those who are in the process of adopting.
In our last meetup, one of the women was asking why we keep talking about how hard it is at first. She said she has friends and family who have biological children, and she never hears about this struggle that adoptive parents seem to talk about. This is not to say that it's not hard for all new parents. However, there is definitely a different struggle adoptive/foster parents are dealing with.
After hearing a few people in the group miss the point of her question, I decided to speak up.
I have a friend who loves to point out the similarities we had preparing for baby. There was about 9-12 months of preparation for us to become foster parents...similar to the 9 months of gestation in pregnancy, I would have these crazy dreams of inadequacy as a parent...similar to a pregnant mother, etc. Then there is the waiting and not quite knowing when there will be a baby in your arms. There were other examples she would come up with, I just can't remember and really it's not important.
When you are pregnant with your baby, you spend that time bonding with and getting to know your baby. They learn your voices. They learn the feel of your movement. The baby is encircled and protected by mom. You are their protection, safety and comfort. That is all they have known for 9 months.
When the baby is born, that bond continues. Plus, you know what to expect. A mushy newborn. Now you get to know this baby in person and you get to see them stretch and kick at 10pm like they did when they were in your belly.
Our entry into parenthood was a rambunctious toddler dropped off at our house at 6pm on a Friday. Here are his things, I'll check in with you later. That was it. It was like a bomb went off in our lives. We didn't know what he liked to eat. We didn't know his bedtime routine or even what time he went to bed. We didn't know what scared him or what made him laugh. We had a miniature stranger in our house.
The hardest part and the real struggle that we all talk about is knowing we are strangers to him. We weren't that comfort or safety for him. We weren't that familiar smell or soothing voice. We can't just hold him and feel him relax in our arms. Luckily this comes with time.
Let me tell you, Mario and I took turns those first few weeks waking up in pure anxiety wondering what we had done. Was it worth it? would would it get better?
Before you become a parent, you absolutely know how you are going to parent and what rules you'll have...and then you have this toddler in your home screaming at the top of his lungs because you told him "no". This is when you realize that you know absolutely nothing of parenting.
Another new thing you have to learn is how to communicate with your spouse as parents...you've never communicated to them like this before. Also, as similar as you thought your parenting styles were, they are now very different when faced with a tantruming toddler.
No matter how soon after birth you have that baby placed in your arms, that baby experiences the trauma. The trauma of loosing or being removed the safety of that familiar smell and sound of the birth parent that they have known as they formed in uterus. No matter how unsafe that situation was, It's a jolt in their world. No matter how much you wish or think it won't matter...it does. You are now parenting a child who has experienced trauma and loss. This will always be there.
Luckily we all adapt to change. We learn to sooth and your baby learns to feel safe in your arms and comforted by you. You learn what the cries mean and sometimes you even enjoy those sweet moments in the middle of the night when you have to rock them back to sleep. You create a schedule and learn their favorite foods. That anxiety that woke you up making you question your decision to foster or adopt, slowly fades. Soon enough you have a new normal.