Recently, mamapedia.com published a post I had written about
the process of completing an adoption home study. One of the topics I discussed was how there are no papers to file
when you make a baby the old-fashioned way, but if you want to adopt, you must
jump through multiple hoops to prove you are fit to be a parent.
There were many comments on the article, but one has really
stuck with me. A birth mother named Jen
wrote the following:
"I'll tell you why I think adoptive parents are picked apart
to test for parenting abilities...its because someone who doesnt see themselves
as a fit parent is choosing YOU to raise their child. i am a birth parent and i
did want to be sure that the parents i chose for my child were going to be able
to give her more than i could. it does seem unfair, that i, as a fertile
person, "spent one night" with my partner and became a parent,
without so much as a quiz or background check, but you are in a position of
asking for someone else's baby, and if you want another mother to hand one
over, you better be able to prove you can do better than her."
Over the past few weeks, I have reflected often on the last
part of her comment - you better be able to prove you can do better.
Jen, whoever you are, whatever your story is, you are
right. If I want another woman to give
me her child, I better be able to prove that I can do a better job.
It is a sacred responsibility.
You have touched on something deep inside me, a feeling that
I have carried since adopting Katie.
I am more conscious of trying to do right by Katie than I am
with my other two children, who were not adopted. I am keenly aware that someone else gave Katie to me, and I live with
a self-imposed pressure to "do a better job."
Katie's birth mom, M, picked me to raise Katie, and we have
an unspoken contract. It is now my job to teach Katie how to share toys,
cross the street and brush her teeth.
Andrew and I made a promise to keep another woman's child
safe, warm, fed and clothed. We made a
promise to love her as if she were flesh of our flesh.
I have a running mental checklist of goals for Katie. When Katie learned how to swim, read, tie
her shoes, and, just this week, ride a bike, I wanted to share it with her
birth mom. I wanted to reassure M that
I am fulfilling my promise to teach Katie all the life skills that have
been entrusted to me.
Andrew feels the same way.
"Every time we give Katie the experience of going to a White Sox game or
seeing a play at Navy Pier, I feel a sense of accomplishment because we are
making good on the promises we made in our Dear Birthmother letter," he told
Katie takes piano lessons and dance classes, plays soccer
and studies Spanish. She does these
things because she enjoys them, and also because we made a promise to M that Katie
would have every opportunity.
When I speak to M on the phone, I like to give her a "progress report" of all the new things Katie has learned to do. Earlier this year, I sent her a video of Katie performing at her piano recital.
We regularly take Katie to museums, children's concerts and
amusement parks, not just because it is fun, but also because she would have
less access to these experiences if she were living with her birth family. Her birth mother has never been to Disney
World, although it is her dream vacation.
My parents take Katie to Disney World every year.
We made a promise that Katie would meet Mickey Mouse.
In some ways, M lives her dreams through Katie. In other ways, M is able to pursue her
dreams because she gave Katie to us.
We travel frequently, and I post pictures so that Katie's
birth mom can see that we have taken her to places such as Grenada, Mexico,
Jamaica, Germany and England. I want M
to know that Katie is exposed to different places and cultures around the
There are other ways in which I am conscious of my promise
to M. When Katie misbehaves, and I feel my own temper rising, I imagine how M would feel if she saw me yelling at Katie. I promised to do better than that. Most of the time I remember my promise, but not always.
Sometimes it is hard to parent in the shadow of a birth
parent. I have unrealistic expectations
of myself, and I feel too guilty when I do occasionally lose my cool. Although adoptive parents need to prove they
can do better, they also need to cut themselves some slack. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. I remind myself of that when Katie asks to
When we adopted Katie, I set a rule that she would not watch TV. I felt
that I would be shirking my responsibility to Katie if I let her zone out in
front of the television. Katie's birth siblings
both have ADHD, and I was especially committed to avoiding the TV, because some
studies have shown a correlation between early TV watching and ADHD.
For the first four years of her life, Katie watched no TV at
all. When I cooked dinner, I kept her
at the counter with me, and she played with playdough. When she needed down time, I read books to
her or did art projects with her.
When Katie turned five years old, we allowed her to start
watching thirty minutes of TV on Saturdays, but that was it.
When Katie turned six years old, we allowed her to start
watching a full-length movie on Saturdays, but she still sees no regularly
programmed TV during the week.
This summer, with a new baby on the scene, I have loosened
my standards, and Katie and Annie Rose are now allowed to watch a DVD once
every few days. I have stopped feeling
guilty about giving myself a little break for a few hours while they watch a
movie. I figure that two hours of
screen time several times a week is not going to give Katie ADHD. (But I am still cognizant that I could be
doing better when she is in front of the TV).
About a year ago, Katie developed a fear of fire and
expressed concern about how she would escape if flames erupted in our new
home. I remembered that one of the
requirements in our home study was to prepare a fire escape plan.
We made a promise to keep Katie safe.
Andrew conducted some research and purchased special rope
ladders that are designed to allow people to escape from second and third floor
windows in the event of a fire. We now
have one stored in the closet of each upstairs bedroom.
In remembering our promise to Katie's birthmother, all of
our children benefit, not just Katie.
Annie Rose watches less TV than she would if I had not made a promise to
do better. Baby Cleo has a fire escape
ladder because I made a promise to do better.
My girls have a mom who thinks twice before screaming because I made a
promise to do better.
There is some burden to the promise. There is some obligation to the
promise. But there is also some beauty
in it. There is a reminder to always hold
myself to a higher standard, a reminder that every child is a gift,
if not by the grace of God, then by the grace of a birthmother.
I will honor my promise.
I will always try to do better.