One of the most common questions about adoption is will I be able to love them the same? The implied but often unspoken completion of the inquiry is ‘the same as a child you have birthed’.
When I thought of writing about this subject I hesitated. I said out loud to myself, “Easy, Stephanie.”. This is after all, a tender subject. As a mom who never completed a birthing experience I may be a bit one-sided. I won’t argue that point. There are plenty of moms who have experienced both who can speak from their own experiences. I can only speak from mine.
Rather than try to do what I can’t, I will stick to what I know. I will share what it is like to love a child who wasn’t carried in my womb, a child born to a different woman with a different ethnicity, a different medical and biological back ground. I will try to express how I love a child that possibly has memories I don’t share and experiences that I am not a part of or possibly aware of. I will in the end admit to you that no, I do not love them the same. I can not possibly love them the same. I do not love them the same as you love your child. You can not love your child the same as I love my child. Each love is unique and each parent/child relationship is different.
I have adopted three children that came to me as infants. They were two days old, two weeks old and two months old when they became our foster children. By the time we were able to adopt them I loved them so desperately I’m not sure I can describe it. You see, I couldn’t help but love them from the moment they were placed in my arms as I fed them and changed their diapers and rocked them to sleep. They were innocent, helpless, beautiful babies. Yet, as time passed and as my love grew deeper, it also grew desperate. In the recesses of my mind the clock ticked reminding me that as foster children my time as their mom was temporary. In each case, it was years before we could adopt and those were years of a desperate love. When we adopted and that relationship became forever, the exuberant love of ecstatic jubilation we experienced, I can’t fully describe. The relief, the gratitude! Oh what a love!
I’m not sure many people can relate to that level of love. Perhaps if your child had a life-threatening illness that caused that same ominous clock to tick, wondering if your time with them was limited, then you can relate and you can say that you loved your child with the same desperation. Otherwise, I doubt it.
I have four children that would be considered older child-adoptions. One was 3-1/2, one was 6, one was 7, one was 8 years old. I would not love them the same. How could I? I had lost years of opportunities to bond. I had been robbed of first steps and first words and first lost teeth and first boo-boos and first of so many things. They had been robbed of healthy loving relationships that would have them achieving milestones on time and developing emotionally as they should.
All four of these children came to us as foster children but, they came with adoption as the plan. The commitment was made to make them a part of our family forever before we knew them at all or knew them well. This love was different. This was a risky love. A love of hope. A determined love. It’s a good thing it was a determined love for determination was required. Love requires trust. They had learned (especially by 6,7 &8) that many adults weren’t trustworthy. As foster parents of 45 we had learned that many children aren’t trustworthy. They had learned that adults may betray you, abuse you and abandon you. We had learned that kids might lie profusely to you, reject you and refuse your efforts.
So, here we were, having to unlearn and relearn about trust and love. If we had not been determined we would have likely given up on each other. But, we had this element that wasn’t present with our other three adoptions. We had chosen each other. They wanted us and we wanted them. There were grief issues and loss issues and attachment issues. There were trust issues and honesty issues and manipulation issues. We had to forgive a lot. We had to forgive people from the past and we had to forgive each other and we had to forgive ourselves. But, we shared a special love, a determined love that held us together when we felt like we were falling apart. No, I don’t love them the same. But, I also don’t love them less. Can you understand?
I’m not sure you can relate unless you have been there. Perhaps if you have loved a child simply because you chose to and turned your whole life upside down to love them with no guarantee they would love you back, you can relate. Perhaps if you made yourself vulnerable by committing to what seemed an impossible and flawed love only to see it flourish and grow and blossom into a love like you’ve never seen or realized was possible, perhaps then, you can understand this determined love. Otherwise, I doubt it.
Can I tell you something? Not every adoptive parent loves their children like I love mine. Not every birth parent loves their children like you do yours. No matter, how wonderful their love is, it is not the same as mine or yours.
If you are considering adoption and looking for some guarantees, let me give you a few. Love is risky. Love makes you vulnerable to extraordinary pain. Love will turn your life upside down. Love will cost you plenty. Love is also the most powerful force in the universe. Love makes the impossible possible. Love gives you opportunity to experience extraordinary joy. Love will give your life meaning and purpose. Love will reward you with benefits that are beyond measure.
Do I love them the same? No, not the same as you. Not the same as each other, not the same from day to day. Our love is growing and increasing and being stretched to the limits every single day. It is a love of desperation and commitment and determination. It is not easy to love. However, this I know, it is easier to love than not to. Love is not to be compared or put on a scale or graded. Love is to be embraced and celebrated and lavished in extraordinary, risky ways onto those we choose to love. Whether it is a child that was formed in your body or a child formed in your heart, love is a choice and the choice is yours but, it is not the same.