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What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Adoption

I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” back in 2002.  Within days of ditching my birth control pills (totally didn’t need those), I read it cover to cover, convinced that I’d be pregnant any moment.  I learned several new words in that last section, and if I had a re-do, I would wait till I actually was pregnant to finish it.  No woman should know what an episiotomy is unless she has to have one.  Nightmares.

Those of us waiting on adoptions have our own set of things to expect, some similar, some different.  With one pregnancy, one adoption, and one adoption on the way, here are some things I’ve learned to expect:

SAME:  Nesting.  With Elliott, I focused most of my nesting attention on the adorable little cloth diapers that I collected in a drawer.  I’d pull them out and smell them, caressing my face with their soft, fuzzy goodness.  I couldn’t picture the seedy splatter poo to come, filling car seats and nostrils.  Elliott would store up his payload for a week, then drop it when we were out on an errand, saving shoppers from purchases they didn’t need as they fled to get out of the blast zone.

As we worked on paperwork for Evie’s adoption, I decorated the playroom.  I envisioned cozy days of reading and craft projects.  I knew for sure that my home would turn into a scene from one of those amazing homeschool blogs.  I hung a sign that says “Dream.”

NOT SAME:  Length.  Paperwork kept expiring as our predicted one year adoption turned into two.  We failed court multiple times and our case stalled on a pile for half a year with no indication of when or if it would pass.  With pregnancy, it’s pretty much the ninth months, give or take a few weeks.  For us, a little sooner, when they airlifted out my son six weeks early.

SAME:  Cravings.  I craved Ethiopian food with Evie and now Indian food with the next kids.  I just want to snuggle in as close as I can, and eating the same flavors helps me bridge the gap.  I practically snorted Ethiopian coffee, imagining that was how she actually smelled.  (When I finally met her, I leaned in for a sneaky sniff without freaking her out, and the top of her head smelled like cocoa butter.  I thought I’d pass out from happiness.)  Tonight I called Alex at the grocery store and had him pick me up a bag of Sour Patch kids.  They have absolutely nothing to do with India, but I’m stressed and needed junk food.

With Elliott, I craved Panera’s French onion soup.  I got a “group soup” and drank the entire thing myself in one sitting.  I also had unfulfilled waffle cone and watermelon cravings.  I waited in line at Ben and Jerry’s in Old Town Alexandria for 45 minutes only to be told they were out of waffle cones.  RAAARRR!!!  That should’ve been posted at the door!  Baby needs a SNAAAACK!!!  Whatever.  I’m dairy free now.  That’ll show ’em.  Watermelon just flat out wasn’t in season the entire time I was pregnant.

NOT SAME:  Reactions to the news that you’re expecting.  Pregnancy USUALLY equals excitement and maybe a question about a due date.  Really rude people ask about conception details.  I loved those questions because I could destroy everyone with details about blastocyst transfers and speculums and a big turkey baster filled with Dale Spawn.  With an embryo transfer, you have to drink a bunch and then hold it so they can get a clear view through your bladder with the ultrasound equipment.  I am an overachiever; therefore, I drank more than I needed to and held it longer than I was supposed to.  It’s a mercy of the Lord that I didn’t spray down the medical team like an over-pumped Super Soaker as they pushed on my bladder.  You want conception details?  Oh, I’ll give you details, though they’re less sexy and more stirrupy.

Adoption equals lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lotssssssss of questions.  Lots.  Some leave me with my mouth hanging open and my eyes bugging out of my head.  Mere acquaintances can tackle topics of race, attachment, special needs, family size, and fear of the unknown like they’re trying to pound me out with a meat mallet and I am brisket.  What I’ve learned through this process is that most people have real fears and when they hear about our family choices, those fears bubble up and they externally process them at us.  I try not to take it personally.  I’ve written a few snarky blog posts that I read out loud to Alex, then delete.  It’s my own little catharsis.  The patience that we’ve developed through the questioning phase has helped tremendously in the parenting phase, as many people have a whole new set of questions.  I try to do the following: don’t get defensive, take time to respond, give grace, and stand firm.

SAME:  Sickness.  With Elliott I dry heaved over the kitchen sink for weeks.  And also, well, the whole infertility human lab rat thing, then in vitro, preeclampsia, interuterine growth restriction, partially abrupted placenta thing.  I had track marks and bruises up and down my arms, scar tissue around my belly button and on both butt cheeks from shots, and all the drugs made my body think it was pregnant, menopausal, and definitely psychotic.  Then came bedrest, peeing in a jug, hospitalization, and they ran out of places to poke me and had to take blood out of my feet.  After my c-section, when the doctor was bent over my stitches watching as blood spurted out like a drinking fountain for a tiny vampire, she said, “Huh.  I’ve never seen that before.”  Low point.

I thought for sure I’d dodge sickness with an adoption.  When we traveled to Ethiopia the first time, we were told that about half of the people in our program got sick.  Frankly, I just assumed that they were morons.  I mean, eat where they tell you to eat, don’t drink the water, wash your hands, use bottled water for teeth brushing, and keep your mouth shut in the shower.  Please.  We’d been to rural Uganda and had no health issues.  In Addis, one of Africa’s largest cities?  We’d be fine.

Alex was hugging his porcelain BFF by the second night.  I just assumed that HE was a moron.  He ordered a steak medium.  We saw slaughtered cows hanging unrefrigerated around town.  Moron.  (In his defense, we ate at a restaurant recommended by our agency for its steak!)  Statistically, if half of all the people in our program got sick, then thanks to Alex, I should be in the clear.  On the second to last day in Addis, we met friends at a restaurant popular with Americans and recommended by our agency.  I needed a break from meat, so I ordered a bean tortilla thingy that was fried.  And I didn’t stop throwing up until Every.  Last.  Bean was out of my body.  I’ve never felt so sick.  I thought I was going to die in Ethiopia.  The altitude and air quality in Addis combined with the Beanchanga of Death left me throwing up in our tiny trash can while simultaneously spewing in a southerly direction into our porcelain friend.

I felt so terrible for the housekeeper.  Alex barf-hosed down the bathroom at the beginning of our trip, we spent the entire day in the dump halfway through our trip and brought its olfactory presence back to our room, and then I juiced up our poor bathroom at the end of the trip.  I really couldn’t make eye contact with her by the end of the trip.  “I’m sorry.  Not all Americans are this gross.”

(Please note that I adore Ethiopia and its amazing food.  We felt GREAT every time we ate Ethiopian food, even on our second trip when we ate the raw beef tibs accidentally the night before we flew home.  The only times we got sick were when we ate American food in Ethiopia.  Next time we go, we’ll stick with injera and wat.)

NOT SAME:  Exhaustion.  With pregnancy, you’re making a baby.  Of course you’re exhausted.  You look exhausted.  You feel exhausted.  Everyone expects you to be exhausted.  That’s why they have parking spaces for pregnant women right up front.

With adoption, you look the same, so people don’t expect you to be exhausted.  I don’t know about you, but adoption exhausts me!  The paper chase alone is enough to make me not want to get out of bed.  The constant trying to prove to everyone from here to around the world that you’re good enough on paper to parent a child is EXHAUSTING.  The act of juggling paperwork with any kids that you already have at home, the notarizations and apostilles, the mountains of FedEx envelopes.  And the praying and hoping and waiting and sleepless nights and conference calls with bated breath for any news and waiting for emails waiting for phone calls waiting waiting waiting.  It takes a toll.  Just like pregnancy, it’s all worth it and part of the process.  And just like pregnancy, it takes a toll.  It’s exhausting.  And no one sees.  I am still learning to recognize when exhaustion is creeping up on me and do something about it, instead of soldiering on till I’m wild-eyed and screaming.    With pregnancy, it was easier for me to take care of myself because I saw it as taking care of the baby.  But with adoption, I somehow think it’s fine to beat the crap out of myself, drink too much coffee, get too little sleep, and help everyone else, but never accept help when it’s offered.

I have learned and continue to learn to pace myself.  I have adoption books around the house and read them in spurts. I have to mix in unrelated books to pop myself out of that world from time to time.  Find a biography with an incredible story and spend half an hour in someone else’s amazing life.  It’s refreshing and motivating.  I grab time with my husband once a week before small group, too.  We do dinner, get eyeball to eyeball without kids using us as jungle gyms, then head to our small group where we get with other couples and encourage each other, pray, and talk about Jesus.  We surround ourselves with other adoptive couples, too, people who understand.

In the pregnancy world, the message I heard was “treat yourself gently.”  In the adoption world, I get more of the “maybe you can’t handle this” vibe if I have a tough day.  Like if you show a chink in the armor, you aren’t fit to choose the hard road of adoption.  Well, bring your chink-ful armor over my way, cuz I’m a big fan of crazy.  It’s a road, and find people who can walk it with you.  If you’re having a tough day, pregnant or adopting, click the “Hug Me” button on my home page.  Let’s hug it out.  If you’re not really a hugger, you can just give it a quick click then move on.  If you’re like me, you might want to click it and then stand there for awhile until it’s making everyone in the room uncomfortable.  I like to talk to the person right in the ear, and then maybe grab a cheek kiss on the dismount.

SAME:  Fear.  After trying to get pregnant for four years, I definitely had some anxiety once that precious embryo climbed onboard.  Suddenly just getting in the car freaked me out a bit.  D.C. traffic had never worried me, but all of a sudden I was yelling, “BABY ON BOARD, PEOPLE, BABY ON BOOOOAAAARRRDD!”  My anxiety peaked around 12 weeks as I sifted through my enormous pile of prego books and read and read and read.  I ended up sobbing in the bathroom, felt my uterus contract, took a deeeeeep breath, came out, and stopped reading.  I was done.  In the information age, we know too much, and it robs us of the joy and hope that we can enjoy.  I opened my hands to God, said “This baby is Yours,” and I’ve been doing that ever since.  Yes, I read.  I do.  But I don’t obsess.  Hands wide open.  His.

With an international adoption, the fear is of the unknown.  Whereas with pregnancy, my child was in my belly and I knew he was alive because he was kicking (Toward the end, when my body was trying to kill him, I counted kicks constantly and couldn’t wait to get him out and into a less hostile environment.), with adoption, I never knew, and I don’t know now.  With Evie, and the ever-changing system of hoops, it seemed like at any moment, a curtain could come crashing down and we’d lose her forever.  My faith grew deeper than ever, because it was all I had.  And on the day when we really did think she was gone, I really did open my hands to God and say, “You are good.  In this, too, You are good, and You are enough.”  I choked it out through sobs.

In our current wait, we are in a pilot program where the information is scant and the timeline unknowable.  Last week, some fear crept in and I felt my frustration growing.  I took the fear in my beefy fist, like Hulk took Loki, and banged in on the floor until it moaned and got its broken, sneaky ass back to Asgard.  But it’ll be back.  Loki will always come back.  Best villain ever.

I could go on, and maybe at some point I will.  But this post is long enough, and besides, I probably lost most people at vampire fountain.  If you’re expecting, pregnant or adopting, my heart beats for you and with you.  God loves you so much, He knows every hair on the head of your child, and He alone knows what to truly expect.  I find comfort in that.  He sees our families.  He knows our kids.  And oh how He loves us.