Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Letting Go


"You can't always get what you want. . . " Mick Jagger's voice echoes in my head. I have paced around a lot this year, shaking my head, not wanting it to be true, but I think it is true. I have to face the fact that I am not going to parent any more children.

I don't want to be pregnant again. I don't want any more babies, or toddlers, or preschoolers, or even young school-aged children. My dream was to adopt teenagers. Yes, with an "s" at the end. More than one. A sibling set.

A dear friend of mine did this when her eldest son (of three children) went off to college. She had a deep sense that she wasn't done yet, that she had more parenting in her. It was a very strong feeling. Her husband did not share her level of enthusiasm, but he was willing to go along and "take a look" at what this might mean. The minute he started turning the pages of the Big Book of children who needed homes, his heart split open. They adopted two girls, ten- and twelve-year-old siblings. That was five years ago and I have watched the bonding and growing together of their expanded family. "You can do this too!" my friend encourages, and I nod, wistfully.

I have always believed that one day I would adopt. I was adopted myself, and I felt that I would have a special empathy, a solidarity with an adopted child. I would understand. Many years ago my husband and I started down that path. We went to information sessions at a local agency, prepared all of our documents, asked our friends for letters of support, scheduled our homestudy. . . and then I got pregnant with my older daughter. Well, we thought, we'll do it later. Three years passed and I started thinking about it again. Then my second daughter made her appearance. Our family was consumed by the day-to-day pandemonium of life with an infant and preschooler. The dream faded.

Our girls grew up. They have had lives of utter abundance, a stable, loving home, and more material comforts than are probably healthy. Private schools, enrichment of every kind, summer camp and trips to Latin America and Asia. In other words -- Everything. Our older daughter left for college at the end of summer, and for the past year, the old dream has been calling to me.

I've pored through the Big Book. I've looked at those photos and profiles online, again and again. I type into the space for number of siblings: TWO. Because I wouldn't want them to feel alone, the only adopted child in the family. Because sibling groups, and especially older sibling groups, are considered "special needs" because they are so much harder to place than solo children.

Every time I do a search, the same two pairs of sisters pop up. Each pair has a fourteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old, the same age as my younger girl. ("See, we wouldn't be parenting longer than we are now. . . just wider!") These girls have been in the active photolistings for over a year now. Families are not clamoring to take them in. They are too old. There are too many of them. That is their downfall.

I regularly read blogs written by foster parents and those who adopt older children. I know that it is not a walk in the park. I know that it is not all a lovely dream. But it is providing a home, and stability, and love and the chance for them to be together (one of these sister-groups is separated because nobody has come forward to take them together).

Our family has been among the world's most fortunate, in so many ways. I feel that I have more to give. We have room. We have resources. We have love. We are not perfect. But what family is?

I am, however, the only one of the five of us who feels this way. When I bring it up at the dinner table, my family looks at me as if I were crazy. They make faces. They laugh, as if I were making a joke. Then they make a joke, and the conversation breaks into hilarious laughter, everyone laughing but me. My older daughter said, "I will give you my room when I go to college, and you can fill it with dozens of babies! As many as you can fit!" But I do not want babies. Everyone wants babies. Parents are clamoring and climbing over themselves for babies.

I don't want to start again with small children. I want to give older children who want a family a chance to have a family. I don't want them to "age out" and to have given up on what we have had. I want to go to their high school graduations.

But the message appears to be clear. My husband says he is "too old." My mother says, "If you do that, I'm moving out." I feel hurt. Didn't she once have an adoption dream, too? My older daughter shrugs and says, "I don't live there anymore, I don't care." My younger shrugs and says, "I don't know."

I can't do it alone. It would be emotionally and logistically impossible. It would be unfair to these children to not be unequivocally wanted.

But the adopted child in me is bewildered and hurt. She says, What is wrong with opening a home to children who were born to others? Who have nowhere else to go? Who have been waiting for years? Why is that a bad idea? Because rejecting the idea of adoption feels like rejecting me, of slamming the door in my face. What if my parents had said no, she's too small, she's too sickly, she's not Japanese enough? They didn't. But now my mother is saying no to more grandchildren. My husband and daughters are shaking their heads and trying to jolly me out of my crazy ideas.

I've said everything I can. I've tried to convince them in every way I know, and it always comes back, even laughingly, even lovingly, as no. Every day, I try to force my fingers away from typing the website address of the photolistings, to see if the girls are still there. They are.

Susan Ito has served Literary Mama as a Fiction Editor, CNF editor, and columnist of “Life in the Sandwich.” She edited the literary anthology, A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. She is the author of the SheBook, The Mouse Room. Her work has appeared in CHOICE, Hip Mama, the Bellevue Literary Review,, Making More Waves, Growing Up Asian American, the Kartika Review, and elsewhere. She is a former Fiction Editor, Columnist, and Creative Nonfiction Editor for Literary Mama.

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Hey Susan, I'm still there, too. With even a social worker/friend trying to talk me out of it, to convince me to wait 8+ more years. I've heard the horror stories. I know all the risks. The photolistings still call me. I know the statistics, the chance of ever finding a family (age, race, sibling groups, family history) too well. I see the looks, hear the uncomfortable laughter when I speak of my long held dreams of adopting older children. I feel they are seeing me years ago--and saying that I am too much of a 'risk' for our overly-privileged family. My partner has said maybe in a few years, and I cling to that small hope, because you are right--it would not be fair to anyone to force the issue and add children to our family if we are not all 100% committed. I hear you too loud and clear. Still trying to figure out how to mesh my life with what I always believed I would do with my life, Natasha
Hey susan, just do it--I did, and my husband, though not helpful, loves the girls. The older bio kids love them, too. My adopted daughters are happy--a home, even an imperfect home, is better than no home at all. Just do it, or you'll always wish you did.
SUSAN! Thanks for the 'cameo appearance'!! Your piece made me tear up. I don't want you to give up; I understand that dream so well. And I know how you feel, and how frustrated and hurt and angry and sad. And I have to admit that the adoption bug has bitten me again ... It's an ache, and a strong sense that there's room for one more, and that I still have energy and time. But I'm also hearing "um.... no..." from most quarters. (A couple of the girls are on board, but they wouldn't be doing the parenting so their vote doesn't really count for much...)
I have a feeling this isn't the last we'll hear from you on this topic. You have a big heart m'dear.
You wrote: "Because rejecting the idea of adoption feels like rejecting me, of slamming the door in my face. What if my parents had said no, she's too small, she's too sickly, she's not Japanese enough?" This says alot, doesnt it? You know I understand in some wierd sort of way the emotion behind that statement. And I believe your dream to help an older sibling pair is wonderful. Maybe there is another way you can fulfill that wish withouth a full on family involvement/adoption? Maybe there is a third alternative? Hugs.
Wow - Susan - this is so pure; so heartfelt. If I read your essay and I was one of your daughters or your husband, I would jump into that website this very moment. Somehow, I feel as though it will happen for you, unexpectedly, the way of life's many surprises. Those girls will be so fortunate. Blessings to you. sara
I agree with Gina on the big heart. Whatever you do, keep writing! xo
I'm crying right now... this is just so moving! And it is something that I would like to do one day too. I just hope my family supports me in this... Well, we'll see in a few years, I guess. I'm so sorry for you, though. The paragraph about how you feel as an adoptee is heart wrenchingly beautiful!
I love the way you make the complexity of this decision so clear. Whatever the final outcome for you and your family, my guess is the love that shines through this post won't be wasted.
Susan, This is so beautiful, and heartbreaking. You articulate both the mother and child in yourself so well. Perhaps it can still happen, maybe it just needs more time to unfold. If you leave space for that to happen and its right, then perhaps your family will open up to that to with time. And if not, i'm with Suz- maybe the way isn't the first 2 options, its a third way.
Hey Susan, I co-run an adoption agency in Minneapolis that finds families for teens in the foster care system. I’m not writing to give you advice, just more information and stories. If you go to the following website, you can hear the NPR documentary “Wanted: Parents” (free download). Catherine Winter & Ellen Guettler of American RadioWorks followed a teen sibling group and me around for almost 2 years in creating this documentary. This doc just won the 2008 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. Also, my partner & I adopted our son the day before he turned 17. I invite you to read the essay I wrote for the American Public Media website – my thoughts on being both a worker & a parent in this field: I wish you luck on your journey. Peace, Jen
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