What’s your worst adoption fear? Harnessing the power of the things that keep us up at night

by Elizabeth Hunter on March 27, 2012

“The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.  But Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye.”– Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

All five of us cram onto the squooshy love seat–elbows poking tummies. each child jockeying for a comfy spot, then finally snuggling in for our family’s favorite daily ritual, the bedtime story.  Tonight the kids are dead quiet, lost in the story of how little Max sails off to become the ruler of a tribe of wild monsters.

Several hours later, Theo, my four year old, wakes up screaming, red faced and sweaty, pointing to a shadowy corner of his bed:  “scary monsters! scary monsters!” he sobs,  then collapses in a shivering heap in my arms.

For days afterwards monsters lurk everywhere. He will not sleep in his own bed. We  have to remove the offending book from a shelf in his room.

From that night on, I never read another even slightly scary book before bedtime again. Ever. I forgot how highly aware of our fears we are as children. And how open children are to

the hidden power of the stories we tell.

Monster Taming for Dummies

Did you ever notice how a child goes about taming monsters? Do you remember how you used to do it?

You don’t often hear four year olds griping with their toddler friends about how unfair monsters are. How hard it is to slay a monster. Or how expensive. Chances are, unless a grownup gets involved to tell them a more ‘logical’ way of doing it, a child will swing right into action to deal with the problem.  This is a typical gameplan (based on my four kids):

  1. hide under covers
  2. yell for mom or dad
  3. sleep in mom and dad’s bed
  4. re-dream the story with a different ending
  5. wake up. build forts and makeshift monster-fighting swords and shields.
  6. enlist the help of slblings in an epic monster battle.
  7. ask fairies and angels for assistance in said battle.
  8. draw or paint monsters.
  9. make up silly songs about monsters.
  10. shapeshift  the monster bigger or smaller, with different shaped eyes and bodies; become the wild thing, kill the wild thing, hug the wild thing, bake them cookies.

Is this how you do it?

What children know and we’ve mostly forgotten is that the story has the power to fix itself. And to fix what’s wrong in our lives in the process. Joseph Campbell and Oprah both built empires around this single concept.

Yet almost every adoptive parent I know (including me during every moment of my first adoption) is walking around with some pretty freaky & terrifying adoption monster stories in their heads. We totally think they’re real.  And we do nothing to tame them!

"That very night in Max's room, a forest grew and grew and grew..."

Instead, we try desperately to avoid them, as if by looking the other way they will not catch us. (or we repetitively gripe about them, which just solidifies in everyone’s mind the really bad story we are trying to avoid.)

But listen up. Any four year old can tell you, ”That’s not the way to tame a monster!” The more you don’t acknowledge them, the angrier they get; the more you try and make them go away, the BIGGER and more REAL they become

If you’re looking for monsters, you find them everywhere…

As your adoption progresses, certain stories become the dominant ones for you.   A lot of times these stories are filled with ghosts from the past or rumored demons lurking in the darkness (”infertility has marked me,”  “adoption is hard”).  Based on this you start to picture the outcome of your adoption in a specific way.

When a child is thinking about monsters, EVERYTHING in their surroundings supports this belief.

In the same way we are naturally drawn to items in the news or other adoptive parents in process who mirror this inner storyline we have often unconcsiously created.

"Let the wild rumpus begin"

Here are a couple of the most common fears expectant adoptive parents have:

  • the birth mother is going to change her mind
  • we will never get a referral
  • the child will have a medical problem I can’t handle
  • some part of the paperwork or approval process will reveal a flaw in us that will prevent us from adopting (this was a big one for me).
  • it’s too expensive.  we will never find the money.
  • adoption takes forever
  • adoption is SO hard
  • I will not be a good parent
  • It’s impossible to have a truly happy ending with  adoption
  • Infertility has marked me as a failure
  • I will never become a mother.   I will die alone.

What are yours?  Given the fact that we adoptive parents are not as a rule known to be be calm models of inner peace.  I bet you have one or two.

And let’s face it, there are lots of birth mothers who change their mind, there are lots of people who find it hard to afford adoption, have children with health problems, experience something going wrong in the adoption.

Grandma Cathy spinning a wild story...

So what can we do to sleep at night? And even more to the point: how can we hope to have a reasonably happy adoption ending?

There is power in the stories we tell ourselves

The more aware we are of our fears, the more power they have to deeply & utterly transform us.

I’m not saying it’s possible or even desirable to try to control every aspect of your adoption experience.  But I believe an accelerated adoption that has a win-win outcome for all involved parties happens most easily when we become highly  aware of our inner adoption storyline and use it to positively influence our real life adoption story.

How does this work?

For most people, it begins with turning towards rather than away from your biggest adoption nightmare scenario. Simply admit the inner story you are telling yourself.

You’ll then naturally become more open to questioning some of the assumptions you are making about the real world ‘truths’ of adoption. Once you do this, everything in your outer circumstances becomes less stagnant and more fluid, filled with more & better possibilities. You start to hang out with different people.  To gravitate towards more stable situations.

(note: if you’re thinking, ‘please! this is SO  woo-woo. I’m just going to continue running around chasing after that perfect agency or situation that willbring me my child. Now! I wish you the best of luck. More power to you.

But consider this: the outer story is hard if not impossible to change if the inner story doesn’t change first.

You can try all you want, but if you believe you are marked for failure by your past infertility, or adoption is crazy expensive you will probably only be comfortable with creating a very tumultuous, incredibly pricey adoption experience that ends in either failed adoption or you feeling undeserving of the wonderful child you do have.)

So here are three steps to begin using your current fears about adoption to create a different storyline (with a happier ending :)):

1. Treat stories as sacred. The ancients considered our choice of stories, as well as how and where we tell them to be medicine just as powerful as prozac. Find a truly safe setting where your fears can be witnessed but not amplified.

2.  Name it. Point to the thing you are praying will NOT happen. Scream it’s name.   Get all read faced and pouty like a toddler.  Confront it.  Know that the thing you just named has been the subliminal message you’re sending out to every single person you meet. To everyone who sees your paperwork.

3. Start to notice who you’re hanging out with adoption-wise. Are people excited to jump on your nightmare bandwagon? Or do they listen with empathy but still offer hope and new possibilities? Which stories on the internet or news get your attention? Initiate contact with people who share positive information and stories about adoption.

In future posts we’ll cover three specific tools to unlock the power of your current adoption storyline to influence an even better adoption ending. So stay tuned…

In the meantime,  get steps one and two out of the way by filling in the blank and leaving it as a comment below: “The adoption fear that keeps me up at night is ______________.” (no need to give specific info, just the general nature of the worry).

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly March 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Infertility treatments didn’t work for me — I’m afraid adoption won’t work either. I’m also terrified of an interrupted match and how/if I could handle that.

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elizabeth hunter March 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm

kelly. I had the same fear re infertility. absolutely. infertility is SO painful and it takes some doing to put it behind you and restore faith. I just kept picturing my child, the child that was meant for me, out there somewhere waiting for me. And a fierce determination grew inside me to ‘defy the odds’ and all the scary stories. Because your child needs you. I truly believe that for you. hugs. xoe

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Jill March 27, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I worry that our child will always long for his/her birth mother in a way that prevents real bonding with us or a happy, fulfilled life for him/her. I do not want my story to feed this. My other concern is health issues, primarily caused by exposures during pregnancy. Thanks for listening!

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elizabeth hunter March 28, 2012 at 12:15 am

I hear you, Jill. I love what you say about not wanting your story to feed the belief about your child longing only for the birth mother. What’s been cool for me is that once you start working with your fears directly, you don’t have to “get over” them or magically make them go away. All you have to do is leave the door open a tiny crack to the possibility of a different, more multi-layered, less black-and-white story emerging. High fives and big hugs for sharing! xoe

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Emily March 27, 2012 at 6:54 pm

I have many of the fears you listed but I have one more to add that is similar to Jill’s. My fear is that I will never really be the child’s mother and that she will grow up, find her bio family, and I will simply be an unpaid nanny who got to raise someone else’s child.

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elizabeth hunter March 28, 2012 at 12:16 am

Yes. That’s a really painful one. Gratitude to you for sharing. xoe

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c April 21, 2012 at 2:29 am

You need to give your child credit. We are capable of loving more than 2 people. You need to accept that your child WILL have 2 mothers and WILL have 2 fathers and it is up to the adoptee to decide how to feel. Your fear is very common and sadly I know many adoptees whose parents have expressed that fear making the adoptee feel guilty about wanting to know their bfamily.

I will let you into a secret. Those aparents who are supportive of their children if they do wish to meet family often find themselves CLOSER to their child – their child usually really appreciates the support.

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tim hunter March 27, 2012 at 8:08 pm

For Jill and Emily….that is a powerful concern
But also remember, nature brings kids, nurture raises them into who they will be.
Your kids will know you and your Love and that will be the most important thing to them. At least that’s been my experience.
And if they do end up finding biological relatives as well, all the better,
their world will just get a little bit bigger

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c April 21, 2012 at 2:30 am

Yes, we are all a combination of nature and nurture.

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elizabeth hunter April 21, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Catherine, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say. The context of this article is about fears, not facts. And everyone–expectant adoptive moms included– needs a safe place to express them.

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c April 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm

I do understand. I did feel it was important though to address Emily’s concern because sadly there are many adoptive parents with grown up children who still feel that way. Thankfully, mine weren’t one of them.

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Claire March 28, 2012 at 3:54 am

Thank you so much for this post. When we were pursuing adoption, I was definitely scared of a disruption. Now that that phase is way behind us, I fear repercussions from potential identity issues, possible mental health issues, depression, substance abuse, etc. I try not to dwell on these fears, but they do surface sometimes. Thank you for providing a safe place to express these issues.

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elizabeth hunter March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Thanks, Claire. I know for myself the key is find a parenting approach that neither denies my childrens’ past nor projects what this early experience will or won’t mean for their futures. Leaving the door open for the possibility that just like any other child who has difficult circumstances early in life–illness, loss of a parent, behavioral diagnoses–our children may actually go on to thrive even MORE because of the qualities that these early experiences developed in them.

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Jenny Kaste April 1, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I used to fear never being matched. Now I fear loosing my match. Like others I fear not being enough for my son and him always wanting his birth mom. A fear that has not been brought up yet that I have is kind of selfish and silly, I know, but still there in my mind. I worry that others will pity us – feel bad for our family that we couldn’t be “real”. I worry that they way we built our family will be judged by others but I keep telling myself that I set the tone and others will only feel that if I let them.

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elizabeth hunter April 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Oh, Jenny. That is not silly at all. That was one of my deepest darkest fears, that others would judge me and my family. It embarrassed me that I felt that way for a long time. But I discovered while working through it (I no longer feel this) that there is this almost primal need most of us have to belong to the ‘pack.’ Some people are by nature rebels or individualists. It’s easier for them. But if you’re not like this, this one can be tough to overcome.

It will be much easier once you hold your child in your arms. Freedom from this pain/fear comes in baby steps, as you grow to value your own unique path in life more and more. And there’s the added motivation once you hold your child in your arms: if you feel ashamed of any part of your journey, you are sending them the same message.

For now, be easy on yourself. It’s a huge step to simply share this pain. And you have helped a lot of other women by doing it.
xoe

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Pam April 3, 2012 at 9:31 pm

We’ve just started the process of adoption, and through surfing the net, I have been exposed to numerous horror stories about adoption gone wrong, and impossible journeys which lead to a failed adoption. It can be extremely daunting when you’re trying to find your way.

I’m about to be 40, and my husband is 42. We have been trying to become parents for 7+ years now, but due to infertility and circumstance, we’re attempting to finally reach our dream through adoption.

I have a number of “mild concerns”, but only one thing that worries me. Like Kelly, I’m so scared that we either won’t ever be matched, or it will take a few more years before we are. Obviously, I would rather the latter, as that’s better than not being matched at all. And I know that it’s not going to necessarily happen within a year. But I just fear that if it takes a few more years, and then we have to wait 18 mos before a second child, we’ll be unappealing as we’ll be too old.

I just want the opportunity that up to this point we’ve been denied. An opportunity that seems to befall so many others so easily, and some, too easily. Despite being devastated by infertility, there was always that little glimmer of hope, that maybe….but we always ended up disappointed. Now I’m afraid we’re faced with a new chance at parenthood, but I’m scared to be too optimistic in case in case a different approach yields the same disappointing results.

(Sorry for the long, rambling post.)

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elizabeth hunter April 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Thanks for sharing your fears. I’m glad you surfed around and found us. I hear what you’re saying about being afraid to be optimistic. On a certain level, of course that makes sense. But I would say…BE optimistic anyway! Challenge yourself to google around and search for adoption success stories. There are tons of them. Start surrounding yourself with people who have had adoption SUCCESS (lots of them check in regularly in the comments section of this blog. Many of them will be the adoption mom experts in the upcoming Pink Tent Empowerment Circle for Expectant Adoptive Moms http://www.adoptiongoddess.com/mentoring/) Abstain for 30 days from reading any adoption horror stories. Know that there is a birth mother who is looking for you just as much as you are looking for them. In the end, I truly believe that the success or failure of any adoption is about taking charge of your adoption–without being pushy. This involves doing BOTH the inner and outer work to remove any and all blocks until the job is done. Hang in there :) xoelizabeth

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Jaime April 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I am afraid my about to move in with us 8 year old will be a monster & tear our family apart!

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elizabeth hunter April 13, 2012 at 1:36 am

Congratulations. And thanks for sharing your fears. Sounds like a big transition. With every new child, the family DOES break apart. A child of any age changes everything. And the family has to be put back together in a totally new way. So you’re not alone. But an eight year old is a larger presence than a newborn, so I understand what you mean.

Bravo for taking on the challenge. Adoptive parents for older children are so needed!

Please remember to get lots and lots of support for yourself, not just the child. And remember your original motivation for doing this and keep re-affirming it when you are having a hard day.

Please check back and tell us how you’re doing and let us support you! All the best, xo elizabeth

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Donna April 12, 2012 at 9:49 am

Good question and a great blog! As we are now nr. 1 on the waiting list for international adoption, and can feel how close our dream coming true hopefully is, my biggest fear is my biannual physical (pap smear etc) which is due now. I am terrified that if something goes wrong it would not only affect our adoption but put us back many years if we could apply again when healthy, i.e. before becoming too old. It really is a crazy thought, I know, I can´t even check my breasts for lumps etc anymore in fear of finding something – and not because I am afraid of a possible health issue, but the dream of becoming a mother taken away from me.

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elizabeth hunter April 13, 2012 at 1:29 am

First of all, congrats on being #1 on wait list. You are so close!

It’s true that as you get closer to realizing your dream, the fears often intensify. My experience of the later phases of adoption (after the referral) is that you live in this heightened state of emotion all the time–both good and bad. For me, it was a time in my life I felt most alive.

And yes, I freaked over my medicals too. I really did. It was like deep down I was waiting for someone to find something wrong with me that would make me unable to be a mother. It was a story I told myself for a long time.

I have a post coming out next week that may help shift the emotion of fear and dread to something better. So check back and let me know what you think.

Thanks so much for sharing,
xo elizabeth

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Jennifer April 22, 2012 at 3:39 am

My fear happened and I’m writing the story of it on my own blog. I am still processing everything and writing this-‘Blog-Memoir’ is a way of having some sense of control over what happened. But for me, and I doubt it will change, I now fear the adoption industry itself: unethical, coercive, and misleading practices as I experienced them firsthand. Thanks for the opportunity to share. People looking to adopt should be aware of the unethical practices so that they do not end up in such an adoption situation.
Best,
Jennifer

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elizabeth hunter April 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I am SO sorry for your pain, Jennifer. Blogging sounds like a great way to work through all that’s happened.

Since I don’t know the details of your situation, I don’t claim to know whether or not your situation could have been prevented. Nor would I presume to give you advice.

I will say this. If you do decide you’ve healed enough to open your heart to trying adoption again: know that adoption is WAY too unregulated a business to quality as an ‘industry.’ I do not believe there is any sort of organized effort on the part of adoption professionals to deceive. BUT, that being said, it is ABSOLUTELY true that wherever there is a lot on the line and people are emotionally vulnerable, there are people who will try to take advantage of that.

I am constantly SHOCKED how little information people demand from the adoption professionals who are representing them in this crucial life passage. It is totally within our reach to gain all the information necessary to make an informed decision before signing on the dotted line.

We as adoptive moms to be need to empower ourselves–through a thorough and COMPREHENSIVE research phase before EVER signing on the dotted line. We should also CORROBORATE our research with SOCIAL PROOF. Which means we need to find REAL LIVE people in our EXACT situation who have adopted by this particular route in the past year and interview them intensely. Only in this way can we get a good picture of the kind of people who we are contemplating working with.

I explain the basics of this in one of the free articles on my site, “How to Choose the Right Adoption Agency.” You can read it here:
http://www.adoptiongoddess.com/2011/04/how-to-choose-the-perfect-adoption-agency-in-seven-steps/

Sending you healing and love, Jennifer

xo elizabeth

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Bridgette November 27, 2012 at 8:22 pm

First, thank you for sharing this blog and all of your experiences. As a person who has yet to start the adoption process (at least the formal, paperwork part of it) it is priceless to find such honest and candid posts and responses by your followers.

My husband and I have decided to pursue an older child adoption. However, instead of a 7 or 8 year old, which is what I was hoping for, it looks like we’ll likely adopt a 12-13 year old, simply because of the demographic of child available for adoption near us (we want a domestic adoption). My fear is that we’ll never bond as a family. We’ll have a shorter period of time where the child is with us and therefore less opportunity to create and nurture those bonds. I’m afraid that at 18 (s)he will simply go off on their way and we’ll have been nothing more than a place to sleep and eat.

Thank you for giving people like me an opportunity to both learn and share!

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Rikki November 30, 2012 at 6:43 am

I’m afraid that I’m not good enough. And I’m afraid that my AW sees that. I’m not Mary poppins or Martha Stewart, or anything that even remotely resembles them. I feel like an adoptive parent is in a whole other league than parents of bio kids and I’m just not good enough to be an adoptive parent. I’m average, not exceptional. I’m afraid that I don’t deserve my future adopted child.

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elizabeth hunter November 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Thank you for being so honest. Wanna know the dirty little secret of motherhood? ALL of us start out average, not exceptional. You get better at it as you do it. And I believe adoptive mothers are generally better than average because our children MAKE us that way, not because we’re born that way. They demand it of us.

If you are called to adopt a child, then by definition you have all the raw material to do it. That’s the way it works. No exceptions. I’m not saying you won’t be crappy at it at first. But everyone is!

I guarantee if you go into it with an open mind and heart, you will be amazed at the person you have become on the other side.

Welcome to our community. I hope you will find here the tools & inspiration to navigate through your adoption and mothering journey with power and grace. (And please make sure and sign up to receive the Freak Out Prevention Kit in the upper right hand corner here: http://www.adoptiongoddess.com. It has a lot of info to help you with some of these icky feelings you are experiencing.)

xo Elizabeth

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