By Ann Tatko-Peterson
Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 at 6:05 am in Adoption.
“You don’t have to adopt a baby to become a parent.” That’s how the e-mail started, and honestly, I expected it. This past weekend, I took my adoption story into the print world with a column about how Sarah Palin’s pregnant teenage daughter should be a starting point for talk about teenage pregnancy. (If you missed it, you can read the column here.) Anytime you venture into personal territory, you have to prepare yourself for honesty from a wide range of readers. What I didn’t expect was how one e-mail would finally help me come to terms with my own decision.
This particular reader had a biological son and later adopted a 5-year-old daughter. Her heartwarming story was as moving as any adoption story I’ve ever heard. She encouraged me to consider adopting and older child because “you don’t have to adopt a baby to become a parent.” That’s true — but I want to adopt a baby. It’s not just about adopting a child or being the parent of a child. My decision is about adopting and raising a baby. Up until this past weekend, my back went up every time someone pointed out that there are a lot of older children in the system waiting to be adopted; if I wanted to be a parent, why didn’t I choose this avenue? Every person who adopts has an individual reason for doing so. Why should I have to defend my reason? I asked myself. The answer: because selfish or not, the reason matters to me and one day may matter to my child.
I’m already a parent. I met Dana when she was only 6 years old. A painfully shy child who was eager to please everyone in her life, she immediately had me wrapped around her finger. We became friends, and then we became family. The day I married her father, she became my daughter. Technically, she’s my stepdaughter, but ask anyone who helps raise a child and they will likely tell you that a parent by any label is still a parent. I’ve been there when she’s had the stomach flu, first-day of school butterflies and meltdown over a fight with her best friend. I was there the day she stood on the stage for her first chorus recital, acted in her first school play and set her first ‘A’ time in a swim meet. And I’ve been there for many family dinners and bedtime routines. She is in no way a mirror image of me — her blond hair and blue eyes are a stark difference from my dark hair and brown eyes — but in her now outgoing nature and natural curiosity, I see glimmers of my influence in her life. I have parented an older child and wouldn’t trade one single moment of our life together.
What I haven’t done is parent a baby. I haven’t seen that first smile or heard that first laugh. I haven’t had those quiet moments, where the sun is just coming up and my child has finally fallen asleep in my arms. There have been no first words or first steps. No first birthdays or first Christmases. I haven’t even had the hard late nights of crying and teething. I’ve never introduced my child to his or her first cookie, first bath or Sesame Street. I want the whole package. I will never carry a child in my womb or give birth, but thanks to adoption and a choice that a birthmother will one day make, I will have the chance to be someone’s mother from day one. And if that makes me selfish, then I accept that, because the reward of holding my baby and raising my child will be all that really matters in the end.