Thanksgiving has made November the month for blogging about gratitude. In the weeks leading up to today, I’ve seen quite a few blog projects and posts about what people are grateful for–some of them with a day-by-day theme–from a variety of people I follow with some regularity. Until now, I have withheld from the conversation, noodling over the concept of gratitude and, more specifically, the ways in which gratitude is a part of the adoption process.
Wikipedia defines gratitude (or thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation) as “a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit or assistance that one has received or will receive.” At first thought about the connections between adoption and gratitude, I focused on an event further along in the process than we are: the actual adoption. Adoptive parents are grateful for the opportunity to parent a child. Grateful to the birth parents for choosing them to do so. Grateful to the professionals that helped them make their dream of becoming parents a reality. Grateful for the openness that will connect their child to their birthparents. Gratitude is there in each step of the process. And of course, in just about every adoption story I’ve heard or read, there are often hang-ups, snags, and this-isn’t-what-I-thought-it-might-be moments along the way, some that cause delays or even de-rail the entire process – times when gratitude might only be present because of the ability to move to the next step.
My Wikipedia “research” presented another thought about gratitude: the difference between gratitude and indebtedness. Feelings of gratitude are set apart from indebtedness, where a person feels obligated to make compensation for help received. “Indebtedness,” says Wikipedia, “can motivate the recipient of the aid to avoid the person who has helped them, whereas gratitude can motivate the recipient to seek out their [supporter] and to improve their relationship with them.” Anyone else see a link with open adoption there? Gratitude–not indebtedness–as what draws adoptive and birth parents together. It’s an interesting thought, one that could provide a great deal of insight into the interactions between birth parents and adoptive parents. Something to ponder while that relationship still exists in the abstract for us.
In the past few weeks, my wife and I have thought quite a bit about gratitude–toward the expectant parents that we will someday meet, and about how grateful we are, for where we are in our adoption process right now (two months into the official wait to be matched). We began to realize how much we take for granted–we really do have a lot to be grateful for: that we are even able to consider adoption in the first place and that we both agree that adoption is our path to parenthood–there was no need to convince one or the other of us about that–both of these are high on our “this is not lost on us” list. We have supported and continue to support each other over the (thankfully small) bumps along the way. Our families and friends wholeheartedly support us and we’ve learned new things about them as we’ve started conversations about our hopes to adopt. We’ve met some really great people we might never have encountered if not for our common link to the adoption process. We also made it through the stacks of paperwork and the home study unscathed, still in full possession of our senses of humor. There is a host of other things that came together to reinforce our decisions, some many years in the making. With the exception of the decision to adopt, all of these individual components were worries at one time–all things that we hoped we could figure out, but any one of which we feared might be a roadblock. It took some time, but we got here, and we’re grateful that the decisions and the details have gone as relatively smoothly as they have.
My next thought–in a seemingly endless stream of qualifiers about that relative smoothness–is that we’re not there yet. It’s true, we’re not parents yet, and, just like in the beginning, we still have a lot of concerns and fears: how long it might take to match with someone, whether that match will be successful, whether we will develop the kind of relationship with an expectant mom and dad and their families that we hope for. There are also our fears that we might be the targets of a scam, or that we’re invisible, since we haven’t gotten any contacts so far. All of these are perfectly normal concerns, our adoption coordinator at our agency tells us, and I know that. I’ve read all about the very same fears with other families, sometimes unfounded, sometimes as the result of a serious issue they have encountered along the way. But this time they are my concerns and fears. It’s personal. It’s my family–the one we hope for–that is involved, and that makes it different.
Being actively grateful in such an uncertain time has required us to change our mind-set, to redirect our way of thinking about where we are in our adoption process. We are making it a point to be more mindful of all of the many steps that have successfully brought us here. We are learning to appreciate simple things, small steps, little triumphs; to be content in the moment rather than focused on the big picture, the end goal. I’ll readily admit that it’s a challenge, some days, for me more than my wife, who has always been more mindful in the moment than I have been. My tendency to focus on the end goal rather than the steps leading to it is a character trait that is presenting itself with regularity, as
impatient eager as I am to become a dad. But I’m working on it. We’re working on it. And being consciously grateful of where we are, and how far we’ve come, helps us block out those moments of fear and worry. We really do have a lot to be grateful for.
About the author:
Ethan is the co-writer (with his wife, *A*), of their personal open adoption blog, The Littlest Brooks-Livingston, which chronicles the occasionally trying, sometimes humorous, and always introspective dips and curves in the road to bringing home their first child through open adoption. Ethan, a recovering English major who has since moved on to another (more employable) area of the Liberal Arts, resides in Western North Carolina.