can you love an adopted child as much as your own

I like a fairy tale as much as the next person. In fact, given my taste in movies (heavily tilted towards rom-coms, much to my husband’s dismay), I suspect I like them more than most. But when they influence our expectations of reality, I get a little nervous. When they influence our expectations of adoption, I get very nervous. Perhaps the most insidious fairy tale of all is “love at first sight”. Consider this email I received:

We had 2 failed IVF attempts after which the doctor told my wife that she would not be able to have biological children; egg donation could be an option. Needless to say that had a devastating effect on her from which she is only now, more than 2 years later, slowly recovering.

Adoption was always an option for me and recently I started researching international adoption by reading your book and following your podcasts. One of the primary concerns for my wife, beside the lengthy and laborious process of home study, dossier preparation and exposing herself to possible hurtful disappointment again, is the question whether she would be able to really love an adopted child.

We’ve seen the documentary ‘Stuck’ and she is still wondering whether she could get emotionally attached to a child she just met. But maybe not everybody does and that is why referrals get rejected.

There are a few comments on this issue available online like ‘don’t you love your husband who is not blood-related’, ‘adopted children are chosen, while not all biological ones are’, but it seems there are no studies on this available. I was wondering if you are aware of any resources or could give some feedback on this issue?

The Myth of Love at First Sight

Why are we, as a society, so enamored with the idea of falling in love– with its illusion of effortless immediacy? Why do we seem to value that type of love over the slowly and deeply developing kind? I grew in love with my husband, although I fell almost immediately into lust with/for him. There’s a huge difference in that lustful attraction and the deep bonds of love that have sustained our long marriage. This same dichotomy applies to the love between a parent and a child.

I have no idea what makes some people fall immediately in love with a spouse or child, while others grow in love with both, and fall for one and grow into another. Maybe it’s temperament; maybe it’s hormones; maybe it is where you are in life. I don’t think it matters so long as we don’t put one type of love on a pedestal over all others.

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Only your wife will be able to figure out if she is the type of person who can love a child she is not genetically related to. I agree with you that just because you love your genetically unrelated spouse, does not mean that you can love a genetically unrelated child. We grow up expecting to love a spouse with no biological connection, but most people don’t grow up expecting to adopt, or love a child that is not their “flesh and blood”.

Dreams are made of sturdy stuff, and the stuff some people’s dreams are not very flexible. Better they know this before rather than after they adopt. Just know that many many people find that they don’t love their child, whether by birth or adoption, immediately. They make their way to love with the everyday acts of caring and nurturing.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Fear

It sounds like your wife is afraid. I totally and completely get that. The line between common fear of the unknown that most emotionally healthy people feel and fear that is a warning sign of impending danger is seldom marked with a bright line. Only you and your wife will be able to decide which is which in your case.

I know that most people enter any life-altering event, including adoption, with a healthy sense of fear. My fear pre-adoption centered on my child not loving me, rather than me not loving my child, but there isn’t much difference from a practical standpoint.

You’ve Got Options

Your wife is struggling with the grief and pain of infertility. I so feel for her. Infertility, and the accompanying loss of dreams, sucks big time. You have options, depending on your ages, diagnoses, and finances, including:

  • Use donor eggs and your sperm for another attempt at IVF
  • Use donor embryos
  • Adopt (either domestic infant, international, or from foster care)
  • Live child-free

One choice is not better than another; they are simply different paths.

Get Thee to an Infertility Counselor

Please encourage your wife to go for a couple of sessions to a therapist who specializes in infertility. A trained person can really help her sort through her fears and put them in perspective.

I would also strongly recommend that she and you join an adoption support and education group to learn more. Even folks that are firmly wedded to following their gut can’t argue that an educated gut makes a better leader. If you live in a large city, there may be an in-person support group you can attend. I hope there is. If not, or even if so, both of you should join the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group. She may only feel comfortable lurking without posting for a while, or forever, but you will still be getting information that will aid your decision-making. Good luck!

Were you afraid before you adopted? Did you love your child immediately?

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First published in 2013; Updated in 2017
Image credit: CIA DE FOTO