In 2010, Joyce Maynard wrote an article for More magazine announcing her adoption of two girls from Ethiopia. I read it (it’s no longer available online), and although Ms. Maynard and I had never met, I wrote her, congratulating her — and adding, as a parent a little over a year into the adoption of a child (as opposed to a baby) myself, some words of caution. Ms. Maynard had declared herself “happy, happy, happy.” I wrote knowing that even when “happy” didn’t feel like the applicable adjective for our changed family, happiness still appeared in unexpected ways.Reactions?
Adopting a child — a small, confused person with an identity and a sense of herself as a part of a family or a community that isn’t yours — isn’t simple. No matter how good the intentions are on all sides to become a family, it doesn’t always work — and “doesn’t always” is more often than you think.
Some experts estimate that as many as one in five adoptions of children over the age of 6 end in disruption, for complex reasons. A newly adopted child is apart from everything she’s ever known. She’s without any firm touchstone from her past, and her future is nothing but a promise — a promise of “forever” and “family” from someone who’s taken her from a life she never truly realized was anything but forever itself.
This is a truly difficult dynamic to surf. And the adult in the bargain is usually on completely unfamiliar ground as well, with the obvious difference being that adults sign up for the ride — and are far more responsible for an outcome they might never have realized was so uncertain. I know that I couldn’t really apprehend what had been taken from our daughter until she became our daughter. As convinced as I was that I understood what we were both getting into, I really had no understanding of how hard it would be for us to come from our different places and fall in love. There were moments when I thought it would never happen.
For Ms. Maynard, and for those two young girls from Ethiopia, it didn’t.
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