The Emotions of Adopting a Child Born In Addiction

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This blog piece is written by a guest blogger who has adopted two children through domestic infant adoption. As I mentioned further in my blog, Protecting Your Child’s Adoption Story, I believe strongly that parents through adoption should protect their child’s story, that’s why this piece is being shared anonymously. However, we hope that through this post you learn more about the difficult emotions that undoubtedly come from adopting a child born in an impossible situation - a child born to someone struggling with addiction.

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I’m totally in love with a woman who gave me so much of herself, so much of myself. And I hate her.

I struggle reconciling these opposite, intense feelings, all for one person. How can I love someone so tragically?  How can I hate her when I feel such gratitude?

It was through counseling that I learned how normal it is. It was through counseling that I learned this is what it’s like to love an addict.

My child was brought into this world by a woman who battles addiction day in and day out. A woman who succumbs to her addiction over and over again, whether or not she’s carrying a child, whether or not she has been presented with supports, whether or not she’s been given second chance after second chance. And while my eyes weren’t open for a while, they were eventually opened wide, with no opportunity for denial. I couldn’t look away because it became a part of my life. I saw the power of addiction in intimate, horrifying detail. I saw and heard and felt its radiating magnitude, its repeated waves of destruction and desperation.

In both of my children’s adoptions, we prioritized ethics above all else. We very carefully selected the adoption professionals with whom we were comfortable working. We discussed at great length the kinds of adoption situations we would be willing to engage in. We promised ourselves, each other, our future children, that whatever happened, we could declare with confidence that--throughout each adoption--we acted according to our morals and ethical standards. That we first did what was right by the child and his or her expectant mother. 

What we didn’t realize was how blurry ethics could become. How very, very gray and blurry.

I’ve never written about this. I’ve barely spoken about this with anyone other than my husband. He can’t even know it all because there is too much to tell, and it was often just her and me. I struggle in this moment whether this is even my story to share. But I’ve decided that I wish someone had told me, had shared in this complex, beautifully awful experience so that I hadn’t felt so purely alone. So, I will share what is mine to tell. And only that.

I am a mother by way of adoption. An imperfect, consumed-by-love, super-proud, kind-of-wacky, poor-at-housekeeping, exhausted, beyond-grateful mother. I wanted this life for all of the years of my life before this. What did I envision for my life when I was younger? At the top of my list: motherhood. I assumed I’d be able to plan it all out, that I’d have loads of control, that things would happen on my time. But life laughed in my face and gave me so, so much more than I could have imagined. Probably more than I would have thought I could handle. Two women chose me to be the mother of their children. I had zero control. I didn’t really get to plan anything. It was the most spiritual experience I could imagine on this earth. I was chosen for my children. Literally hand-selected. Not by God, but by another very human being. By the only person in the world who could make that choice for her child.

Even today, with all of my big, conflicting feelings, I am totally crushed by the reality, the honesty of that. Swept away. Drowning in it, really. Another woman chose me for her child. Two different women chose me. Me. I’ll never get over it. I will never get over it. 

She chose me every day. I chose her every day. And together, we chose that baby every day. But I thought it would be different. There was so much I didn’t know when she chose me. So many lies I didn’t know not to believe. So much I couldn’t have fathomed.

I didn’t know that I’d get to know two versions of her: one I loved and one I felt true hatred for. I didn’t know that I’d find bongs on the kitchen counter of the house I was providing her or needles in the living room carpet. I didn’t know that I’d watch with bated breath as she flushed a crystal down the toilet to prove to me she was done. I didn’t know that I’d have to shake her with all of my strength to wake her in time for the OB appointments I was there to take her to. I didn’t know that she would lie so desperately over and over and over again. I didn’t know that I would have to wonder her motivations every second of every day and second guess every choice I made in trying to help her. I didn’t know that she would boldly ignore, boldly turn away from life-saving medical advice for her and her child. I didn’t know the extent to which I would be manipulated and tricked and used. I didn’t know how to get that baby here safely without compromising my promise to myself of the highest ethical standards. I didn’t imagine that I’d find her house emptied mere days after our baby was born, still littered by the photos I had printed for her of our son. 

Through all of it, I tried to support steps toward something better.  I tried to love her so that she could feel it. I tried to give her hope of a different life. I tried to feel hopeful myself.

But I was terrified. Terrorized by her addiction. Full of fear and rage and resentment and sadness. 

Yet, I felt so deeply for her. Because she allowed herself to be vulnerable with me, I knew what her life had been. I knew she hadn’t really been loved like I had. I knew she had none of the same opportunities. I knew she wasn’t parented, that there was no consistency in her life, that she had never counted on anyone before. I knew she was a victim of abuse and neglect, tossed around in a state system of dysfunctional foster homes and unavailable family placements. I knew she lost her own biological parents to drug addiction. I knew her criminal history and became intimately familiar with the implicit bias of our justice system. I experienced for myself how my money talks and her poverty loses. I knew she had very little chance of a different life.

I hate her lies, her deceit, her manipulation. I hate that she endangered our child over and over and over again. I hate her ability to make me feel a level of guilt I’ve never felt before. I hate her disregard for morals and ethics and doing good. I hate that she prioritized drugs over her child, her relationship with me, her hope of getting better and doing better. I hate that even a tiny bit of me hates her.

Because I love her and I love my children, I send her pictures. I send her updates. I remind her that we are here and that we love her. I tell her about my hopes that she is okay. I share our children’s happiness and progress and love. I search the internet for her name, dreading that I may find her obituary. I pray for her. I speak her name to my children and remind them of the brave woman who brought them into the world and placed them in our family. Her photograph watches over us in our children’s bedroom.

They don’t understand any of it yet, and I don’t want them to. Not yet. And when they do, I will be here with love and compassion and empathy. I will be here with respect for who gave them life and honesty about bringing them into the world. I will be here to answer questions, dry tears, cushion blows, accept rage. Whatever it is they need to expel, I will receive it with open arms and a full and loving heart. Whatever answers they need to search for, I will support them. They are my whole, beautiful world, and it is a privilege to carry this weight. The weight of how they came to be, how they came to be with me, and all that they lost on their way from her to me. 

I reminded myself constantly then, and I often need the reminder still today… I hate her addiction. But I do love her

Katie Zimmerman