A waiting adoptive mom's musings
It’s hard to figure out where to begin when talking about the journey to our awaited child. I guess I should start with my own dream of becoming a mother.
The truth is, not all women dream of becoming mothers. Or they become mothers at a time when they are not yet ready. Sometimes, women become biological mothers by accident or even by force. This is the reality at the heart of the orphan crisis in the Philippines, and in many other parts of the world.
But to be honest, when we started this journey, we had no inkling of the orphan crisis at all. In the beginning, it was purely OUR crisis.
My husband and I started married life with exceedingly average expectations. We were cruising along in our late 20s to early 30s, buoyed by the belief that in a couple of years, we would have our first child, and a few years after that, our second—a small, modern family.
But years passed and we remained a small family of two (later on a family of three, when we welcomed our adorable baby dog B into our lives).
Because we were the type of people who dealt with problems head-on, we tried to get to the bottom of our infertility challenges early into our marriage. I remember being told by the doctor that we had less than a 1% chance of conceiving naturally. Immediately, we set our sights on the only other option for having biological children—that massive gamble called IVF treatments. A gamble, because it costs an arm and leg without any guarantees of success.
We managed to afford two rounds with the generous support of our families and a shifting of priorities on our part. But after two early miscarriages, we were left financially and emotionally depleted. Still, ever the optimists, we slowly and gingerly prepared for another round of IVF when the pandemic hit.
Then, like billions of other people across the world, we were stuck in time.
I watched helplessly as my “biological clock” ticked closer to forty while hospitals filled up and cities were locked down. Another round of fertility treatments suddenly was out of the question. But the pandemic also gave us plenty of time to think more deeply about that other possibility often unfairly called the “last resort.”
I remember listening to a podcast in which the question was asked, “When do you know when you are ready to move on from your infertility issues to adoption?” The given answer—which at that time sounded unsatisfactory to my still grieving heart—was simple: “You will know.”
Then, in January 2022, after two years of being in limbo, the Domestic Administrative Adoption Act was passed. For many years, childcare advocates had fought for this law which simplified the adoption process. It was exactly what we had been waiting for. We attended ROHEI Foundation’s Pre-Adoption Forum in March, found the requirements reasonable and the staff really helpful and encouraging.
Then, we just knew. It was time.
Our biggest revelation throughout the process came when we were asked about our child preferences—limited to age, sex, health, developmental status, and some aspects of family background. Turns out, it was not so easy after all to decline children with special needs, or who were victims of neglect and abuse. Were we willing to accept an older child, a child borne out of rape, or a child with unknown parentage (foundling)?
For the first time, I started imagining what it would be like if I were in my prospective child’s shoes. What would it feel like if I had totally no traceable information about my birth parents? If I knew that I was born out of an act of violence? It was a simple mental exercise that turned my world around.
I then began to understand that adoption is primarily about the child who needs a family simply because he or she is a human being who deserves one, regardless of the circumstances into which he or she was innocently born.
Child preferences are not about having a certain child meet a list of attributes that you desire. It is about honestly weighing your own willingness and capacity to meet a certain child’s needs and then fully embracing him or her as your very own.
Despite all the flaws and frustrations of the legal process, we are here because we are thoroughly convinced that the law has the rights and interests of the adoptive child in mind.
It becomes easier to accept that adoption is not so much about playing out our own child-rearing fantasies, but about giving children a home—and therefore a real shot at becoming secure, attached, and loving individuals.
But yes, it does allow for some parental fantasies to come true! After avoiding the children’s section in the department store for years, we finally bought a few clothes for our future child. When we travel, we now start to collect toys and other knick-knacks for her.
We asked a visiting aunt from the US to bring us some children’s storybooks on adoption. We set up an Instagram account for close friends and family whom we want to update on the process. This kind of modest preparation already makes us extremely happy and sates some of our longing while waiting.
We also had some self-discoveries throughout this journey. For instance, I discovered that I could be patient and understanding, even though half a year has passed since our first matching conference and almost a year since we started processing our documents. We are still waiting.
When before I would feel the fight-or-flight stress response take over whenever someone well-meaning asks “Pwede mamili ng bata?” (almost equivalent to the dreaded “Kailan kayo magkakaanak?” question), I now find myself calmly explaining how children are not like fruits you pick out at the market. Or when I ask in return, “Do people get to choose their biological children?” I do so now with less sarcasm and with more sincerity in wanting them to understand and think it over.
We have learned to trust and respect social workers who are such an important part of the adoption constellation.* The idea of a bunch of strangers essentially “choosing” your child for you can be deeply unsettling at first.
But once you learn to accept how much of life is really beyond your control—that even your own biological make-up is pretty much a random toss-up of your parent’s genes and environmental factors that you did not get to choose—it doesn’t really seem much of a big deal.
Adoption has also anchored us much more to social realities, and to the fact that so many children have had such a rough start in life. No one else but us—adults with enough resources and capacities—can help alleviate the orphan crisis. All children are born into a world in crisis.
Only when surrounded by a loving family can they be taught how to live successfully in such a world, and perhaps to try to make it a better place.
Finally, adoption has kindled in me a new interest and fascination with neurobiology, specifically the science of how children, or people in general, can be damaged by early deprivation and trauma, and how they can be healed through the right intervention.
I’ve come to realize that the decision to adopt IS an intervention—to heal the child, primarily, but ourselves too.
Having navigated so many complex thoughts and emotions throughout the years, I believe that this simple act of choosing to love a child of the universe completely and unconditionally has already healed us in so many ways—and our real journey has not yet even begun.
*Adoption constellation is an inclusive term for all individuals touched by adoption
Isabelle (real name changed for privacy) is a communications specialist based in Metro Manila. She and her husband are Prospective Adoptive Parents waiting for a match.