I spoke today, by chance, with two of my former adoption clients. They are very different women in so many ways, and they had very different adoption stories. One woman is married; the other is single. One adopted a boy with about an hour’s notice; the other, a girl with whose birthmother she was matched at five months. One is a stay-at-home mom; the other, a career woman. One is in her early thirties; the other, her late forties. Two very different women, but they expressed two things in common: each adores her child, and each is frightened of adopting again.
“Second adoption cold feet,” I call it, and it is something I see often. I know so many people who are over-the-moon happy with their first adoption, want to expand their families and yet are afraid to adopt again. For some, cost is a real issue: their first adoption cost so much, and they are now feeling financially stretched thin. They have real, true concerns that they may not be able to afford a second adoption if costs end up more than anticipated. I feel for this group and try to help them find affordable paths to their next adoption, but I am going to put them aside for a moment and focus on “cold feet”.
Why do people have fears that go beyond finances when they approach a second adoption? I have a few observations . . .
First, the path to an adoption is stressful. Even in the very best of circumstances, there is tension around the time of birth: birthparents can always change their plans and adoptive parents must always keep this reality in mind. So even when an adoption is going very well and results in a smooth and “uneventful” placement, there is anxiety leading up to it. People who have had great first adoption experiences still look to a second adoption with the dual worries: “What if it doesn’t go as smoothly as last time?” and “Even if we have another really good experience, can we handle the drama that it entails?”
When things haven’t gone entirely smoothly or worse, when people have experienced a fall through or other adoption loss, it is even harder to approach a second adoption. I remember one couple who adopted a wonderful baby boy whom they adore, who said to me, “We’d love more children, but we will never adopt again.” When I asked about this they explained that they were totally stressed out by the lawyer they worked with. “She made us so anxious in the process. We can’t handle it again — not with a young child at home.” Sadly, my reminders that they had many other avenues to adoption did not quell their fears.
Fears of a difficult process undoubtedly slow some people down and stop others. However, I think the real issue with “cold feet” must do with the fear that they won’t be “so lucky next time around”. By “so lucky,” parents are referring to their child. Like almost all parents, they adore their child and see him or her as the most extraordinary child. However, unlike parents whose children are born to them and who seem to assume that a second child, while possibly not quite as spectacular as their first, will be very much like the first born. They approach a second child with a kind of curiosity, assuming many similarities to the first child and curious about some possible differences.
Adoptive parents seem to see it differently — or at least, many do. They believe they “lucked out” the first time and adopted a great child but fear this is unlikely to happen again. They don’t assume that their second child will be like their first and, in fact, imagine he or she will be very different. While no one wants to admit it, thoughts go something like this, “We hit the adoption jackpot the first time and got Henry. No other baby is as wonderful. Next time our luck could turn on us and land us with ‘a dud.’”
So what happens? I have seen things go a few different ways. There are some adoptive parents who simply capitulate to their fears: “We would have liked to have a bigger family, but we are grateful for the child we have.” There are others who embark on a second adoption and then drag their feet. I know a few such families now — they seem to be slowly easing themselves into another adoption. I’m guessing that it feels like taking one step forward and another back, as they balance hopes and fears. And finally, there are some brave souls who forge forward inviting hope to triumph over fear. They are people who have a fundamental belief that our hearts expand — that as much as we adore our first children, there remains ample room in our hearts to love a second. And with this belief in the ability of the heart to expand is the knowledge that as parents, they will love and cherish each of their children for who they are. As one adoptive mother said to me, “One of the things I love about adoption is that you don’t start with assumptions or expectations of who your child will be. It is a process of discovery.”
I hope that if you are reading this and contemplating a second adoption, thoughts of a new baby to love will warm your feet . . . and heart.