Adoption is Layered

This is the fifth blog in the series “Adoption Is” for National Adoption Month 2019. Read the entire series.

In my past professional life, I got to do some really fun things. One of them was planning public celebrations when a new airline started service at our airport. For a while, we would order elaborate 3-D cakes. But, beneath the fondant, things weren’t always as they seemed. Just like these cakes, adoption is layered.

Take this beautiful cake that was crafted for Alaska Airlines’ nonstop service launch to Seattle. It’s been a few years, but if memory serves, the trees are marshmallows, the mountain is styrofoam, the coffee cup and and ferries are rice krispie treats and the support for the Space Needle is wood.

The main part of the cake, which served about 300 that day, was a delicious vanilla covered in buttercream and fondant. Why am I detailing the structure of this cake? Because it’s much easier than explaining the nuanced layers of adoption.

You are on cloud nine. For years you have dreamed of welcoming a child into your home. Years of infertility. Maybe several miscarriages. Watching all of your friends have their first, second, third little ones. Then, thousands of dollars, months of paperwork and an extended period of waiting. Today, he arrives. The house is perfect and you were so excited you didn’t sleep at all last night.

On one hand you have a child going through the biggest transition of their life. It doesn’t matter if the child is four, nine, 14 or one. Even if they’re too young to mentally know that their life is changing, the body knows. It might be the happiest situation for you and an older child may show joy on the outside, but adoption is inherently traumatic.

On another hand, you have a biological parent making a most difficult decision. It’s a permanent choice to hand their child over to another family. These are the people who gave this child life and will be tied to you forever through the child’s story and biology. Even, in the case of adoption from foster care, the parents will live with this life change each and every day for life.

On someone else’s hand, you have biological children that are welcoming in a child to the home. They can see how long you’ve been walking through this process, how much time and energy and sacrifice you’ve made to bring “gotcha day” to fruition. But they have thoughts, fears, concerns, worries, emotions and opinions they’re nervous to share. They’ll bottle them up for now because they see how happy mom and dad are.

And then there’s the other family members who are outwardly smiling toward the new mom and dad. Inside, they’re struggling to not say the honest, perhaps too honest, opinions about everything from the child’s background and demographics to also how you should discipline or dress them. If you’re really lucky, they’ll say it all… in front of the child.

Down the street, inside that house on the corner, there’s a mom and dad pleading with their adopted child to take a breath. It’s been eight months since she came home with them and the shyness has long since worn off. The child is really struggling with their feelings and emotions and in that tiny body, those struggles come out as behaviors.

Cake representing the skyline of Seattle

Two cubes over from yours in the office is Gary. He’s great at his work, but pretty introverted. You don’t really know much about his personal life. Your coworkers are throwing you a little adoption party, but he isn’t able to be there. Truth is, Gary was adopted and for him, the experience wasn’t all too pleasant. It’s hard for him to be happy for you, though he is sure you’re going to be an excellent parent.

And on and on and on. Adoption is a wonderful thing, but it’s imperfect. Below the surface there are lots of issues and concerns and worries and feelings and emotions that cause the whole experience to be filled with nuance.

One of my most favorite movies of all time, Shrek, features a scene with Donkey and Shrek discussing the makeup of ogres. Struggling with the description, Shrek tells Donkey that he has layers. So I guess, just like ogres, adoption is layered.

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