My partner and I adopted a newborn baby girl just over 18 months ago. She's a busy, bubbly ball of fun but, truth be told, I can't always say the same about adoption. It's worth it in the end, yes, but the venture itself is something that can be really difficult on a marriage. Over the last two years, my partner and I have learned that the one thing you need to know if you feel disconnected from your partner while you're trying to adopt is that it's worth the effort of trying to get and stay connected.
Not every adoption journey is difficult, but most have their ups and downs. Some of those ups and downs are due to birth mothers changing their minds when it comes to adoption, but some of those ups and downs are due to changes you and/or your partner are experiencing, too. As two separate humans, it's pretty impossible for you to stay on the exact same page every single step of the way.
As each situation fell apart, sometimes in dramatic fashion, we grieved differently and increasingly separately. We tried to hold ourselves together but weren't always successful.
If my partner and I had stopped after we adopted our daughter, I might not have as much experience on how disconnects can creep into your marriage in an adoption journey. Honestly, as adoptions go, her situation was so simple and breezy. When we got the call that our daughter was in the NICU waiting for us, her birth mom had already relinquished her rights and left the hospital. We walked into her hospital room to meet our daughter, whom we already knew for sure was ours, but whom we didn't know even existed until that morning. We both knew in our heart of hearts that she was ours from the moment we got the call. Neither of us had any questions, other than wondering when we would be able to take her home.
But in the year that followed our daughter joining our family, we sort of accidentally found ourselves experiencing a more typical adoption journey. Our agency needed us to take a few emergency foster placements, and they quickly began calling asking us if we were interested in adopting again. We honestly hadn't truly thought we'd get a baby the first time, so when we were asked if we wanted another, we couldn't say no. Likewise, we were so grateful that our daughter was safe and home that we didn't feel right saying we couldn't take a temporary foster placement.
That doesn't mean that every day you're happy as clams or feeling exactly the same emotions. It means that when you realize you're disconnected, you do the work to get connected again.
That's when my partner and I embarked on the real, bumpy, unpredictable, unbelievably taxing journey of adoption, and it was hard. We endured two failed infant adoptions and two failed foster adoptions. We prepared for babies and got updates from birth moms, and we were asked point blank by CPS and our foster daughter's guardian ad litem if we were prepared to adopt her as soon as humanly possible. We also prepared our hearts to love another baby, while raising our daughter through her first year of life and adjusting to the daily reality of being a family of three. Then we got hard news after hard news we had to learn how to heal and move on.
As each situation fell apart, sometimes in dramatic fashion, we grieved differently and increasingly separately. We tried to hold ourselves together but weren't always successful. We went into survival mode trying to keep our own selves whole, with little left over to care for the other person.
An adoption journey doesn't always look like that, though. I'd hate for my experience to scare someone away from adopting, because while it's sometimes filled with disappointments, sometimes you're only five weeks in when you get the call that your daughter will be joining your family. Sometimes it's simple, sometimes it's messy, and a lot of times it's somewhere in between. But the most important thing is that you and your partner remain solid — or strive to get and stay solid — throughout. That doesn't mean that every day you're happy as clams or the two of you will be feeling the same emotions in exactly the same way. It just means that when you realize you're disconnected, you do the work to get connected again.
If there is one thing I've learned through experiencing both the easy and the hard of adopting, it's that you need your partner. No one else is in the day-to-day wonder and worry and excitement of your journey except him or her. You need someone by your side when it's incredible, to pinch you and remind you it's real, and you need someone to hold you up when it's falling apart. Likewise, your partner will need you, too. Growing a family, via adoption or otherwise, can be very stressful on a marriage. We have learned over the past 18 months that staying as strong as possible, together and as a team, is our best defensive tactic against that stress and upheaval.
For us, that meant recognizing we were out of sync, acknowledging why we had gotten out of sync, and working hard to get back to a place where we felt our marriage was really strong and supportive. We committed to more time together, made sure we had both grieved each loss, and sought counseling when we knew we needed outside help. It wasn't pretty, and it was really hard to admit we needed to make changes or get help, but we knew that whatever work we did on our marriage was going to help us, our daughter, and whatever future kids came into our family. We were making an investment in our future, not just picking up the pieces of a very tumultuous year.
You need someone by your side when it's incredible, to pinch you and remind you it's real, and you need someone to hold you up when it's falling apart.
Throughout the ups and downs, it was difficult not to feel like we were falling short as we struggled to deal with each adoption failure. However, we eventually came to realize that getting disconnected in such a rollercoaster of emotions as an adoption journey is normal and not something to feel guilty about. Starting and building a family is a primal thing that comes with strong emotions and desires, so very few people can deal with those without succumbing to the stress at some point.
Feeling disconnected from your partner while you're adopting is normal, so you're definitely not the only one feeling isolated and vulnerable if you're in that position at this very moment. When you recognize that disconnection exists, though, do something. As frustrating as it might be to feel like your partner doesn't understand where you're coming from, or doesn't validate your feelings, you need to be strong as parents when your baby finally does come home to you.