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Can Your Marriage Survive the Truth of Adoption?
An honest first-person account of adoption truths and what every couple should prepare for before beginning the process.
If youíre looking for a situation to test the strength of your marriage, I recommend an affair. An adoption might be a little too much.
Seriously, adoption brings serious stress to a marriage. Much of the anxiety comes from the unknown. Being a father to children my wife, Amy, and I created biologically, as well as to others whom we adopted, I can tell you that adoption, at least for us, was more stressful.
With the children that came from our own genes, we knew when they were coming. Once the stick turned blue, we were on a nine-month countdown. When we talked to the adoption agency, we found out that sometime, in the next couple of years, we would probably bring at least one more child into our home.
During that time we were as anxious for the family expansion to happen as we were for the births of our other children. This time, there was no advent calendar with little chocolate prizes each day before adoption day. We had the stress of wondering if everything was alright with our child (of course it was never considered that the child wouldnít be ours until after adoption day). We realized that all might not be well, or why would the child be available in the first place?
Still, we knew there was nothing we could do.
Well-meaning friends unintentionally aggravated the situation when they ask when we would get our new child. We had to answer, time and again, that we simply didnít know. For me it was irritating. For my wife, it was painful. As the time progressed, our emotions ran high. For every reaction there was an over-reaction. We always took out our frustrations on those closest to us. I always tell men considering an adoption to first get a high-quality couch so they can always get a good nightís sleep.
Judgment day is tough, too. The agency had us fill out paperwork on what types of conditions we would accept in a child, what we would consider, and what we refused to accept. I remember rolling my eyes when Amy began reading off the list that started with a child needing glasses. It ended with HIV/AIDS babies and children on feeding tubes. Somewhere in between, we drew a line. I had always thought I was a better person than where I set the mark.
The day you have to judge yourself is a tough day. It would be even more difficult for couples that couldnít agree on where the line should be drawn. I would have been crushed had I felt that my wife was judging me even more harshly than I was judging myself. It would not have brought joy to our marriage. When you have a child biologically, you get what you get and you deal with it. When you adopt, you have to face judgment day.
Eventually adoption day comes. Thatís when we thought we had it made. There was a honeymoon. There always is. The other sure thing is that honeymoons donít last forever. In our new five-year-old daughterís case, her birth mother had horrifically abused her, but the useless father had never intentionally hurt her.
To our daughter, this meant that fathers were fun, funny and cute. Mothers were evil and there to be despised. The most difficult times in our adoptions were before I learned that my wife was right. That cute, sweet, little princess we had both always wanted, really was trying to come between us. At first, I didnít want to hear about it. Sarcasm became my language of choice. "Okay, Iíll make her like you," I remember barking in response to my wifeís request for help. The tears that had been puddled in her eyes spilled down her face.
Our first domestic adoption involved a baby boy with Down syndrome. The agency had agreed to a significantly reduced fee because of the condition, though we never got it in writing. Two days after we brought our baby home, the representative from the adoption agency came to our house to settle the account. When the demand was made for the entire fee (more than four times the agreed upon rate) we protested. The representative pretended not to remember our agreement. I told him to take the child with him until we could resolve the issue, but my first stop would be with network news agencies. Amy shrieked and pulled Jack, our new son, toward herself in a death-grip. The agent backed down. Amyís trust for me was damaged. It took a while for it to be fully restored. I have to say, that was more difficult than adding to our family in a delivery room.
The youngest child we ever adopted was one month old; the oldest was fifteen and a half. Without exception, of the six children we adopted, the difficulties we experienced increased with the age that they joined our family. Simple lies, disrespect and defiance that children deal out to parents in any home are easy these days. Itís tougher when a child is asked why she attacked a sibling and she will only say that it was because she is angry. She canít even tell you why. Then, half an hour later you get the question. "Why did my birth mom light my sister on fire?"
Any adopted child comes with issues that other children donít have. As mammals, our minds are pre-programmed when we are born, that our mothers are supposed to care for us. When that doesnít happen, our mind struggles to understand. While explanations are made, hugs are given, and an increase of love expressions are used to try to compensate, there are still times when children struggle. It is always difficult for any parent to watch a child suffer. You wish you could take the pain, yourselfóbut you canít. All you can do is try to help them to endure and try to help them to find true and lasting happiness.
Some of the most trying times in my marriage have come as a result of our adoptions and particularly as my wife and I try to navigate the hazards and work as a team, even (and especially) when we donít necessarily agree. Still, the greatest accomplishments we have ever shared has been to watch our children grow beyond any place that we ever thought they could. Our greatest challenges have become the biggest accomplishments that we hold most dear. Our love for each other has matured as we watch the sacrifices we each make for our children.
Adoption isnít for everyone and that method of family building comes with unique challenges. Building a family, by any means, is never easy, but nothing rewarding ever is. I think that the things we appreciate and love the most are the things that require the most from us. On that note, I think I would say that anyone can succeed in building a family through adoption. You just have to want it bad enough. If both parties in a marriage want a family that bad, their relationship can survive an adoption.
John M. Simmons is the author of "The Marvelous Journey Home" (2008), winner of the Utah Best of State Awards - Fiction category. Based on actual events, the novel tells the remarkable around-the-world journey of parents and children coming together. Look for his upcoming non-fiction, To Sing Frog, chronicling his Russian adoption experiences in Summer 2013. John and his wife have adopted both domestically and internationally, with five adopted children from Russia. He is the President and CEO of White Knight Fluid Handling, Inc., an engineering company that manufactures pumps for the semiconductor and industrial chemical industries. He lives with his wife, Amy, and their children in Kamas, Utah, a small mountain valley east of Park City.
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