Ann Prine Sorkin
I’ve wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. This, in itself, is nothing unique or surprising for a girl growing up in the 1960’s. I grew up in a household with two supportive, stable, and loving parents. My mother and father provided everything I needed to grow up to be healthy and feel secure. I had educational opportunities, travel experiences, and never was deprived of any necessity. It’s no surprise that these early experiences of mine influenced my beliefs about parenting, and what it takes to do it well. Learning to live in a family where all members are respected and loved also shaped how I relate to others. I took these gifts for granted, as most people who enjoy this privilege are apt to do. It wasn’t until much later that I realized just how blessed I was to grow up the way that I did.
In spite of achieving a great deal of satisfaction from my career in education, I had a persistent, growing sense that something was missing. Deep down, I knew that I couldn’t be truly happy until I was a mom. Due to unresolved issues in my first marriage, it wasn’t realistic for me to believe I would ever fulfill that wish. With the support of family and friends I eventually summoned the strength to end the relationship. By this time, I’d put the idea of parenthood aside; it was good enough to just be out of that dysfunctional situation. Single parenthood didn’t feel realistic for me, so I endeavored to make the best of a life without children of my own. Then I met the most amazing man; he was truly my soulmate. He understood my desire to be a parent. We decided to pursue adoption after two years of being married. (I was 46 years old at the time.) Soon I was going to be a mom, or at least that what I thought at the time.
In short order, we learned that the process was not what we had hoped it would be, but rather an overwhelming, expensive, frustrating, and (at times) heartbreaking experience. We encountered several disappointments and dead ends on our journey, which necessitated our redefining our goals (International or Domestic? Multicultural? Infant or toddler? Special needs? Non-English speaking?) Then, of course, there’s the licensing and training requirements, home studies, background checks, etc. And to make things even more difficult, our ages worked against us; we were literally competing with much younger parents. The situation was discouraging and frustrating: I have so much to offer, why isn’t this working out for me? The system is rigged, it’s not fair, we’re doing everything we can, why aren’t we getting a child of our own?! I’ll NEVER be a mom!!! Like I said, it was a profoundly challenging process, requiring a lot of faith and stamina. However, I felt that abandoning my dream was not an option (though the possibility of doing so did occasionally cross my mind).
Some of the people closest to me were very supportive: Hang in there, it will happen! You’ll be a mom. However, there were also well-meaning friends and family who unintentionally fanned the flames of doubt: You don’t know what kind of problems you’re going to get with adopted kids, you’re only putting yourself through heartache. Just think how old you’ll be when the kid’s in high school! All the babies go to rich people who have connections, you don’t have a chance. The naysayer’s words dominated my thoughts. Each time we weren’t chosen by a birth mom or told we were the wrong age or ethnicity, it reinforced my doubts. My 50th birthday came and went, and I still wasn’t a mom! I felt like a failure. I felt cheated. I was losing hope.
Around this time, I was still attending adoption classes. One Saturday, while sitting through a presentation about adoption law, I had the good fortune to meet a social worker who told me about a local agency that was specialized. Translation: This organization worked exclusively with children who were victims of unimaginable trauma and neglect. The children in the specialized agency’s care presented various developmental delays, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. They were wards of the state, and–through no faults of their own–had difficulty getting a foot in the door of any foster home. Their chances of being adopted by a stable, loving family were much fewer than the odds for most homeless children. The kind of family life I experienced (the nurturing all children deserve) was utterly foreign to them. Foster and adoptive parents were very much in demand; needy children were waiting.
We decided work with this agency. What did we have to lose at this point? We’d tried to adopt from China, Vietnam, and another domestic agency; for all our efforts, we had gotten the runaround and had our hopes dashed repeatedly. For the first time in a long time we could see a realistic path to parenthood. Within 4 months we were matched with an eight-year-old girl! We happily prepared for the day she would move in with us. Within two months after she had lived in our home as a foster-to-adopt child, things rapidly began to fall apart. Sadly, the placement I had pinned my hopes on turned out to be disastrous. What I thought was to be a dream realized became a gut-wrenching nightmare. This particular child was not ready for placement; instead, she required intensive psychological interventions as well as eventual placement in an institutional setting.
Cue those well-meaning family and friends once more: Maybe now you can stop this heartbreak and get on with your lives, and I told you this might happen! At this point I began to regret my decision to adopt a child as it only led us to dead ends. And, as the expression goes, I wasn’t getting any younger. It seemed that I had devoted a great deal of time and energy to something that just wasn’t meant to be. I felt foolish. My feelings of hopelessness returned.
My husband, ever the logical and reasonable half of our marriage, suggested we take a break from this nightmare for a while. He recognized what this experience was doing to me in ways that I did not. During this period, I considered giving up the chase. I told myself that parenthood wasn’t in the stars for me. Maybe I needed to move on with my life and be grateful for what I did have. But the thought of actually letting go of my desire to parent was even more distressing than the adoption process—I was faced with a difficult dilemma. I asked for guidance, I prayed, and yet I was still undecided and ultimately miserable.
One Friday afternoon, after 5 months of taking a break from the adoption process, I received a telephone call from a social worker representing the specialized agency—they needed a family willing to take on the temporary placement of a 13-year-old girl. They were hoping that, with a few months’ time, they would be able to place her in a permanent situation. Evidently, they had one week to find a temporary home for her. The situation was dire. My husband and I briefly discussed this opportunity and concluded that we definitely had the means to take her in. We liked the word “temporary” because it implied that there was little chance of disappointment. After all, weren’t we just doing a good deed?
She moved in the following Friday. Her room was what had once been a nursery, hastily redone to be appropriate for a much older child. I got rid of Winnie the Pooh decor and replaced it with her favorite color (purple) for the bedding, rugs, and curtains. Maybe we weren’t destined to be adoptive parents, but at least we could help a young person who was in a desperate situation.
At this point in the story I’d love to report that she called me “Mom” on that first day, and from that moment on we lived happily ever after as a family. But, this is real life, and in real life things seldom work out that way. I can report that, despite some challenges, she is still with us almost four years since that phone call. It turns out that her “more permanent placement” was with us! We enjoyed having her in our home and sharing our lives with her, so when school ended we sought to extend her stay.
Like many kids with complicated histories, she presented us with many challenges we couldn’t have anticipated! As the mother figure, I became the target of her of anger from past hurts. I bore the brunt of her daily struggles with the difficult process of attachment. It was primarily my job to earn her trust, and convince her that I would not abandon her as her bio mom had. It wasn’t all bad though…she’s an amazing kid…she can be very loving, and has a wonderful sense of humor. She’s very intelligent, shows empathy for others, and is generally fun to be around. She tries very hard to appear tough and invulnerable, but I know better; her abandonment issues have left wounds that may never fully heal. We have good days and bad days. She tries my patience often and is no angel, but she’s loved unconditionally and she’s finally at home. She feels overwhelmed and discouraged now and then, but giving up is not an option she would consider. She has learning disabilities and must work harder than most kids her age, but she will graduate from high school this spring and plans to attend college to study psychology and fine arts. It seems that she wants to be an art therapist, helping kids like herself. 🙂
I read somewhere that, “The only losers are those who quit.” Truer words have never been spoken. With support from family, I hung in there through some very tough times. Along the way I’ve learned to be more patient, and I’ve even learned to be grateful for the trying period before our daughter came to us. I’m grateful that I didn’t let negativity overshadow my aspirations to be a mom. I have tremendous gratitude for my husband, who never left my side through all of it.
In my wishful just-want-to-be-a-mom mind there was no room for the hard realities that go hand in hand with being a parent. There are daily struggles, not unlike those I faced as a teacher, but they are absolutely worth the effort. Realizing my lifelong dream to be a parent has been rewarding beyond words!
If I’ve learned one sure thing from my experiences it’s this: What you aspire to be is always worth the time and effort you put into it, worth the heartache and disappointments you may encounter. There is no other option because the only way you can lose is if you quit.
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