When the Days Feel Darkest: Waiting, and Wrestling with Fear

Ethan column topper

For some reason, our road to become parents through open adoption has turned me, some days, into a bottomless pit of need for encouragement.

Generally speaking, I am not a needy person. I usually have plenty of whatever it is – chutzpah, perhaps – to make it just fine through most things that I’ve encountered in life. In at least two of those hugely significant, life-changing moments, I’ve had enough of the stuff to be able to ignore some significant obstacles that might’ve derailed others in similar situations and plunge forward to the other side, even without knowing what that “other side” might look like. It wasn’t easy in either of those situations, but I knew what I needed to do and while not completely disregarding the challenges, but not letting them come anywhere close to defeating me, I did what I needed to do. Now that I’m facing another life-changing moment – adoption – I’m flummoxed, as we crawl through the Great Wait, that my former ability to tackle something head-on regardless of the difficulties in the way – the very personality trait I most prided myself on – has seemingly all but vanished, or at least that’s how it looks when some days feel darkest.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting over where this feeling of deflation is coming from, mostly through eliminating the biggest obvious possibility: it has nothing to do with whether or not open adoption is right for us. We want to parent, and this is the avenue we’ve chosen. Since we made the decision well over a year ago, we haven’t looked back. No, my constant need for encouragement seems to be, whether I want to admit it or not, all about control, or lack thereof.

The several years-long struggle to start a family has made me realize, more than anything else I’ve ever experienced, that while I would not self-identify as an absolute control freak, I have to admit that to feel comfortable, I apparently need to feel a certain element of control in a situation. To some extent, I suppose, everyone has that need – maybe it’s just human nature.

On the pre-adoptive parent side of things, there’s just not much about the open adoption process – especially the Great Wait – that gives a pre-adoptive parent that element of control. We’re past the paperwork process, past the home study, and there’s nothing new to say to our adoption coordinator at our agency. All we can do is work on various ways of getting our story out there in the hopes that we’ll finally connect with someone. That’s not a small thing to do, and there are several tangible and achievable things that we have done and have put on our self-marketing to-do list. All with the full realization that whatever energy, enthusiasm, and finances we put into these actions have no guaranteed result – no “you did this, you completed this list of goals – here’s your tangible hoped-for result (a contact with an expectant parent).” But it is something we can do.

The deep, dark, ugly monster underneath all of it – the one that has dug this bottomless pit of need for encouragement – is fear.

Fear that all this energy we’ve been putting towards becoming parents for three years now (from the infertility procedures we endured before the decision to adopt, throughout the months of adoption paperwork, and now, well into the Great Wait), will not result in our actually becoming parents.

Fear that we are invisible because after four months, we haven’t yet heard a peep from an expectant parent.

Fear that the pre-adoptive parents we’ve connected with that have been waiting and waiting and waiting for years might not get chosen, and finally make the decision to give up.

Fear that the room we’ve carefully prepared, the stuff we’ve made and bought, the parenting books we’ve read, the crib we’ve assembled – it’s all some elaborate game of make-believe.

Fear that we started on the path to adoption too late – that the child(ren) who will one day share our lives will never get to know some older family members who mean so very much to us and who are some of our biggest cheerleaders.

Fear that, even as I write this, someone will mistake my honesty as only a whiny, woe-is-me moment of total self-involvement and not realize that for every one of these moments, I’m also mindful  that an expectant mother is making maybe the toughest decision of her life in making an adoption plan.   

Mindfulness and Encouragement
In my last column, I wrote about that desire to be more mindful, and how I’m making it a personal goal to fight the tendency to allow negativity to creep into my thoughts. I know what I need to do, though as you can see here, these are certainly not things I’ve managed to conquer or even get a real grip on, just yet.

Relying on my wife, and our friends and family, for support and encouragement on days when things look bleakest is something I cherish. They help pull me out on the darkest of days and remind me that this Great Wait is only temporary.

What No One Talks About
When I think about all those things that led us to open adoption, and all those things we knew and expected to be part of the process, I can’t remember anyone telling us much more than that the wait would be agonizing and to just keep-on-keeping-on.

I just never realized, way back in the beginning, that the adoption process would be anything more than paperwork-homestudy-networking-wait-match-kid-parenthood.

I never realized how many personal challenges I would face – how many unexpected fears would surface that I would need to overcome.

I never realized how much I would need to change as our story continues.

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.

Image courtesy of Jennifer Ellison / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

14 thoughts on “When the Days Feel Darkest: Waiting, and Wrestling with Fear

  1. Pingback: OAB Column – When the Days Feel Darkest: Waiting, and Wrestling with Fear | The Littlest Brooks-Livingston

  2. “Fear that, even as I write this, someone will mistake my honesty as only a whiny, woe-is-me moment of total self-involvement”

    I don’t see this as whiny at all. I think you’re expressing your frustration and yes, fear, really well. Writing is a sort of catharsis for me and I’m guessing because you blog, that maybe it is for you too. I think it’s brave to put to paper (or to the blog!) your deepest thoughts. I wish you and your family all the best in your adoption journey.

    • Yes, writing has always been cathartic for me. When I was in college, I once took offense because a friend of mine, after reading some of the poetry I used to churn out (in my early 20s), called me and my writing style “pensive.” I rejected that then – but yeah, I can see that in much of what I write. Writing has always been sort of a way to work through things for me – it’s just not usually quite so public as this! I figure, though, if I’m dealing with it, chances are there are other folks out there thinking the same things. I think sometimes when I speak to others about some of the fears I wrote about that I come across as if I never think a positive thought – and that’s not true. Perhaps deep thoughts, for me, come across best in writing.

      Thank you so much for reading, and for wishing us well!

  3. I agree. I knew the wait would be long and hard. I hadn’t considered how much I would change (and continue to change) during the wait. Thank you for writing this. It resonated with me as we continue with this wait that feels as if there is no end in sight.

    • It’s good to know that I’m not alone in the fears I describe, although, of course, I wish they weren’t there for any of us. Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope you are able to find a way to cope with the wait. I cling to the thought that this is all for a reason…maybe the changing I’m doing during our wait will help me to be a better dad. I hope so.

  4. For us…well, for me, at any rate…not being able to have a baby on command was the first time I’d ever not been able to manifest something I really wanted. Not that I’d always had things the way I wanted them in my life before, but this was a *big* one; I could not imagine my life without being a mother, I’d never seen myself not having children. It was the point at which I realized how little control we have over anything in our lives; any control we think we have really is only an illusion.

    That realization made the lack of control during our wait much easier to deal with, and honestly, I think the whole experience has made us better parents. Understanding on such a deep level how very little control we have over our own destinies makes it much easier to go with the flow, and when there are kids in the mix going with the flow is pretty much all you *can* do sometimes!

    • I never realized until the last few years how much that little element of control has come to mean to me as I handle various life situations. It’s definitely something I’m trying to get over – because I agree with you, if I’m still struggling with it by the time we’re parents, I’m setting myself up for heartache later on. Thanks for reading and commenting – I appreciate your perspective!

  5. I very very much relate. after we’d waited for a year i began to feel very distressed. in trying to make room to let go of my attachment to being a parent, i also edged towards letting go of the whole dream, and accepting child-free. but that doesn’t feel good either! my difficulty with waiting – and fear of uncertainty – has worn on me so that the whole process and its complications feel harder to accept. i appreciate your mindfulness – i’ve been on that trail too because negative thinking makes it so much worse!

    • Cindy – thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Waiting seems to be a hard road that each of us has to find ways to navigate – I wish you the best, and I hope you’ll hang in there, too.

  6. We have been waiting for 17 months and have not had any birth mom show interest in US. We are probably going to give up at the two-year mark due to our age. I can’t go anywhere without hearing about someone’s children…births and adoptions. At work, the grief of this wasted life is interfering with my focus. There is no support for prospective adoptive parents. Once you are beyond trying to get pregnant, there is no word for not getting picked to adopt. I fear that I will repel all friends because I am finding it harder to be around families or hear about what little Johnny did last night. My husband and I feel as if we have been left out of life. Thanks for writing something from our perspective.

    • Hi Bonnie –

      I’m really sorry to hear about your long wait, and about how hard it’s been for you and your partner. I hope you can find a way to continue – in some way, I feel like the more of us that stick it out, the better it is for those others who are experiencing the same thing – like it’s some sort of good karma for the pre-adoptive parent pool. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, and I know it doesn’t make it any more bearable. I have no idea what other circumstances in life lead you hear or what else you might be dealing with, but I hope you can find a way to hang in there.

      I don’t have any remedies – I’m smack in the middle of the wait, too. I hear you. I hope for you, too. Take care of yourself.


      • Thank you, Ethan. We hold on with the hope that the next phone call or email could be the one. I hope for you too.

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