Chapter Two: “I Loved You Before You Even Existed.” Sarah Neal

I called Lovely Mom the other day to talk about her perspective as a parent who has adopted a child. “Well, Sarah, it’s simple. I loved you before you even existed.” Those were her words, without hesitation. I played it cool. “Oh, that’s really sweet, Mom. Thanks for the insight!” I hung up and sobbed happy tears— the sort of happy, dehydrating tears you cry at the end of Shawshank Redemption when Red is walking barefoot along the shore to meet Andy and the wind blows his hat off into the ocean.

I think that one sentence best sums up adoption. I mentioned in the last post that adoption is a powerful topic that can be over-emotionalized and reduced to a trite sentiment— the farthest from the truth. So, for Lovely Mom to say she loved me before I was conceived is such an amazing statement. To love something that cannot be planned, but in the future will be born out of the unplanned— well, it boggles the mind.

Many of you told me you’re considering adopting a child, which made my heart do Mary Lou Retton somersaults. The most important thing I can share with you is this: adoption is born from the heart. The desire feels as natural and embedded as wanting to have biological children. Will there be challenges? Yes. Will the love be different? Not for a millisecond. Will my child develop a complex that will require therapy? Didn’t we all?

I know there are many questions you might have if you’re considering adoption. I thought I’d try to tackle a few of them:

How and when do I tell my child they’re adopted?
As early as possible. They may be too young to fully understand the concept, but it’s important that you’re open about how you became a family from the beginning. As they grow up and start exploring their heritage, be ready to answer tough questions such as, “Why didn’t my family want me?” and, “Do you love me as much as if I was your biological child?” Then there’s the real zinger that I would ask my parents: “How much did I cost?” I know, right? What a little jerk. I also stopped having a crush on a boy in kindergarten because he used a pair of safety scissors to open his Twinkie wrappers. “Mom, I don’t like Matt anymore. He can’t open his Twinkies.” I go for the jugular.

Addressing the birthparents subject.
There will be times when emotions ride high with this one. As a parent, you will have nothing but love and compassion for the parent(s) that gave your child up for adoption. It’s these abiding sentiments that will serve as an anchor for your child when they’re feeling hurt, angry, or rejected. When I was a teenager, I was furious with my birth mom for “giving me away.” I would say hateful things about her. Caustic. My family, unphased, would listen patiently and then respond with, “She did the best with what she had. She gave you life. She gave you a chance to live a full one.” And you know what? I’m 33, and have more love and pride for my birth mom than ever. It’s my parents’ unwavering support for her that kept me tethered.

Depending on the situation, you may have little to lots of background information on your child’s birth family. I advise you to share it with your child, even if they were born out of a difficult situation. They need to know the beginning of their story to appreciate and understand the present— the here, the now.

Are domestic and international adoptions different?
Aside from the cultural differences, the stories, characters and love are the same. Practically speaking, the international adoption process can be very lengthy, and, yes, costly, due to the tedious legal process that occurs between the U.S. and a child’s birth country.

Either way, I think it’s important for adopted kids to celebrate their story, not be ashamed of or hide it. I recommend having your child meet and make friends with other adopted kids. If you decide to adopt from an agency, you’ll easily network with other families who’ve also adopted. Get involved. It’s healing for your child to know other kids share the same joy and trials. This is most critical for a child adopted from a different country. Not only are they dealing with different Chapter Ones than most of their peers, but also a stark, cultural contrast. In this instance, building a small community with similar families is paramount.

TOO MANY WORDS! I WANT PICTURES!

Here’s a very abbreviated look at my personal journey:

 September 29, 1978: My “Gotcha Day.” The day I arrived to the U.S.

 My parents waited for my plane to arrive at O’Hare from South Korea. Lovely Mom may not have given birth to me physically, but if you’ve ever been in an airport during the holidays, bad weather or layovers, you know it can be just as painful as giving birth without meds. 

Finally arriving home to the Smack-Dab Middle. Don’t you love how my Gram’s shirt looks like a flock of angry potholders is attacking her?

Lovely Mom with the social worker who made the final decision on which baby to place in each home.
What a difficult job. However, not as difficult as wearing red polyester pants in public. 

Open your Twinkies with scissors? I will cut you.

I want to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who commented or sent me a tweet about the last article. I’m blown away by your stories. Thank you for sharing a piece of yourselves and turning this vast, cyber galaxy into a big, group hug.

Next episode is dedicated to those who are adopted. I also want to talk a little about searching for my birth mom, which I’ve started writing about and have already cried over. Buckets and gallons.

Yes, more to come, Gigglers. See you soon.

All photos courtesy of Dashing Dad™

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  1. I think these posts are wonderful, I can’t wait to see the next one! I don’t know if this is already on your to-do list or if you’re even interested in doing it but I would love to hear about adopted v. biological siblings or cousins. My grandparents have 8 kids, 4 naturally born and 4 adopted (“hatched 4, snatched 4″ as they say) of ages from late 40′s to 25. Now, these 8 kids have yielded 20 grandkids from ages 22 to one month and every time I get tagged in a family photo on Facebook, I get some really confused reactions. They’re my family and as different as we may look, we love each other. The majority of my family lives in a tiny tiny town where racism still runs pretty rampant and I am so proud of my grandparents for loving and standing up for their kids in the late 60′s and 70′s, something I’m sure your parents faced their share of too. I explained how my family works to one of my friends earlier this year and his first response was, “Wow, your college essay must have written itself.” but I honestly never thought of it that way. Adoption has been so prominent in my entire life that it doesn’t seem even a little out of the ordinary to me. My youngest uncles Yaw and Kwasi are 5 and 11 years older than me and were born in Ghana and I IDOLIZED them when I was little. It got to the point that I whined and pleaded with my mother until I got her to curl my hair only to be devastated when it didn’t end up looking like theirs. I think a family who adopts gives their children, their grandchildren and probably even their great-grandchildren a more accepting and appreciative demeanor. I’m also so much more grateful for what my parents did for me: even though I was far from a planned baby, my mother worked so hard to give me a good and safe home which I know my aunt’s and three of my uncles’ parents could never do for them. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you to not know your birth mom as a biological kid through both generations and I really hope you find what you’re looking for. I just want to tell you that even if it doesn’t turn out like some of the beautiful stories above, your adoptive parents’ love for you has already touched so many people’s lives and you should be proud for sharing your story, spreading the love here on the internet. I liked your comment that adoption is so devastating on the birth parent side and so beautiful on the adoptive parent side, I’ve only been able to see the beauty and in my book, it surpasses the sadness with flying colors. Thank you for sharing.

    • Kate, thank you so very, very much for your encouraging words. I’m not sure what lies ahead for me in my search for my birth mom, but I am so grateful to have my supportive parents.

      I love what you said about adoption being so prominent in your life. Writing this series of articles was a little difficult because I had to dig deep to pull out feelings and emotions about my adoption that, honestly, I don’t think about often. It’s been such a great experience. I’m so glad that you and others enjoyed reading them.

      I wish all the very best for you and your lovely family, Kate! Thanks for sharing your story!

      Sarah Neal | 6/15/2012 07:06 am
  2. I am an adoptive mom with a sweet boy named angelo…he’s the greatest joy and gift of mine and my husbands life. your adorable story was awesome – made me smile and felt the love of your article. We have an open adoption with our birth mom and it’s a real gift for our baby boy. i pray you find your birth mom – sending you love through your journey! xoxo Maggie

    • Thank you, Maggie! I’m so glad you like the articles. I loved hearing about your personal adoption story. Give Angelo a big hug for me!

      Sarah Neal | 6/06/2012 10:06 am
  3. Both your posts brought tears to my eyes. I’m not adopted myself but I think I’ve always felt like adopting more than having my own kids. I was born and raised in Brazil (Japanese background), so I’ve seen a great deal of kids who would’ve appreciated being cared for by a loving family. Thanks for sharing your story and (beautiful) pictures. Looking forward for the next chapters! :)

    • Thank you for your wonderful comments, Vanessa. I hope these articles have been an encouragement since you’ve considered adopting someday!

      Sarah Neal | 6/03/2012 12:06 pm
  4. Your post and all of the responses are making me tear up! I would like to adopt children one day, and even though I am only 25 and that day is far away, I can feel in my heart that there will be a child who is meant to be part of my family and meant to receive all the love I have to give.

    • Ah! Now you’re making me tear up, Shandra! All I can say is, yes, somewhere in the future is a child for you. That place for them is already carved out in your heart. Oh my. *tears*

      Sarah Neal | 5/31/2012 06:05 pm
  5. What a great piece Sarah!! I am a 48 year old adoptee as well as a parent of two adopted children, one naturally born child and one step child. My adoption was what my parents called a “stanger adoption”. They knew nothing about my birthmother and my birthmother knew nothing about them. The adoption was arranged through an attorney and the doctor who delivered me. I was born, adopted and raised in the wilds of Alaska. I had a wonderful childhood hunting, fishing, going to a small village school and living a life that most only read about in books and magazines. My parents were up front about my being adopted from the very beginning…I never remember not knowing. Because they didn’t have any information about my birthmother I never asked too many questions but always in the back of my mind I was wondering all the things that adopted children/adults wonder. Do I look like by biological parents? Why did my birthmother give me up? I always dreamed of searching for her and my parents had always been very supportive of the idea. When I turned 18 I sent a letter and $20 to the State of Alaska: Bureau of Vital Statistics and requested my original birth certificate. I will never forget the day that it arrived in the mail. I was shaking as I opened the envelope. So full of mixed feelings about this first glimps of my first mother. I remember seeing her name and age and crying for the child that she had been when she gave birth to me. By the time I recieved my original birth certificate I was already two years older than she had been when she gave birth to me. A family friend and I took a trip to Anchorage, Alaska where my birth certificate said I had been born to see what kind of information we could dig up. It was June of 1982 and long before the internet or even computerized book keeping so we started at the library looking up old high school yearbooks and stopped at the hospital where I was born and I recieved my hospital records with all of the identifying information blacked out. After the intitial attempt to gain information I kind of stopped searching and went off to college, later got married and began my life as an adopted/natural/step parent. Over the next 20 years I raised my children, moved to the lower 48 states and experienced the loss of both of my adoptive parents. Finally, about 2 years ago I got the urge search one more time. A friend in Alaska who has done a few searches for friends volunteered to help me and in just one short month we were able to find my birth mother. She had been born in Frankfurt, Germany….she had lived all over the USA but when I found her she lived just 50 miles away. We had a slow start getting to know each other in secret because she had never told anyone about me…not her husband or her kids. As we got to know each other online and over the phone we discovered that we had a lot in common both physically and in how we act and what we like etc.. We finally met in person and it was an emotional cryfest where we both couldn’t quit staring at each other. It was then that she decided that she couldn’t give me up again and made the decision to tell her husband about me. All of her fears about what might happen when she told her secret ended up being for nothing. My birth mother is now my best friend and my children are getting a second chance at having grandparents (both my parents and my husbands parents are deceased). I know that not all adoption reunions turn out as fantastic as mine but you’ll never know unless you try. I went into my search with the mindset that I wanted information…medical and such…and I believed that I could be ok with just that if my birth mother didn’t want to build a relationship. I can’t pretend to know if, in fact, I would have been happy with just that since that is not how it all turned out for me but I have to believe that some information is better than none. My only regret is not finding my birth mother before my parents passed away. They would have loved her!!

    • Cathy! Your story touched my heart beyond words. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your adoption story with me and others. I’m so glad you were able to reconnect with your birth mom. Thank you for your encouragement!

      Sarah Neal | 5/31/2012 06:05 pm
  6. This is an amazing post! You offer such a fresh and insightful perspective on the topic, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I have a “homegrown” daughter, but I have been considering adopting a baby as well. I have all sorts of questions and I appreciate your writing as I am learning a lot. Do you have any insights on how the dynamic works between siblings when one is adopted and one isn’t. Thanks again!

    • If I may give my insight… my sons parents had gotten the infertile diagnosis, but got pregnant a month after the boy was born. They’ve been open and honest – their sons came to them by different means, but are both so very wanted. The things that have arisen from having a second child is the same as it would be if they were both biological, or both adopted, but it seems to me that if you don’t make a big deal about one being “different” (think “God wanted you both to be my children, he just chose different paths to make you my children”) then they won’t either.

    • Hi Garen! I’m so glad you’re thinking of adopting. I’m an only child, however, I have several friends whose biological parents also adopted (both international and domestic). I think the key is open communication. Explain to them the process of adoption, and emphasize that even though the adopted child will become a part of the family through a different process, the love is still the same. I hope this helps! Feel free to shoot over any additional questions and I’ll try to answer them. ;-)

      Sarah Neal | 5/31/2012 01:05 pm
  7. I’m a birthmom, domestic open adoption. I love how there are so many terms to describe adoption – it’s still something that people have so much difficulty understanding. I actually had a woman ask me (at church of all places) why I didn’t get an abortion if I didn’t want my son. That still bothers me. I look at things that were important to me – I wanted updates, as often as possible, to reassure myself that I made the right decision. I wanted his parents to be open and honest with him about being adopted. What I didn’t prepare for was how amazing his parents would be. They have pictures of me and them in their home – when our son would ask, they’d say “that’s Shelly. You grew inside her belly and she picked us to be your mom and dad.” Despite being across the country, they make me feel included in their lives by sending updates and pictures, not just of the boy, but of the entire family. Every year, I get “happy birthday” sung to me by our son, a mothers day card, and a christmas card. He’s smart and friendly and we’re both in a better place than we would have been had I tried to raise him on a part time job, living with mom and dad, and still struggling to find myself. I feel that I am a part of their family. I recently had a baby girl with my husband, and the differences between choosing adoption and choosing to raise a child were staggeringly different despite wanting the same result – a happy, healthy child. When choosing to raise a child, you begin thinking about how you’re going to teach him or her to laugh, hold her when she cries, and hopefully find that perfect balance of encouraging independence and holding them up when they fall to result in a well rounded individual. With adoption, you are trying to find someone to do all those things. My sons parents thank me for placing him with them, but every day I thank them for being even better than I thought they would be, for being exactly who I needed to calm my fears and exactly who my son needed to help him become the amazing human being that he iis

    • Oh, Shelly. I’m crying so many happy tears over here as I read your story. I wish I could close the miles between us and give you a huge hug. You are an incredible woman. Thank you so, so much for…everything.

      Sarah Neal | 5/31/2012 01:05 pm
  8. I’m sharing this with my best friend, who is also adopted. This article is just amazing, and I’m sure I’ll cry even harder at the next one. Happy tears though, don’t worry. I’m so glad that there is someone else out there, writing about all this, explaining all the things that I feel too.
    Much love to you <3 I can't wait to keep reading.

    • Oh, thank you so much for sharing, Katie! I hope your friend enjoys it.

      Sarah Neal | 5/31/2012 01:05 pm
  9. 5 years ago my father got a call from an adoption investigator telling him he has a sister trying to find her biological family. Evidently his mother (she past 20 years ago) had a daughter she gave up for adoption and never told anyone about her. It was quite a suprise and tough for my dad to swallow. They met last year and both cried their eyes out, it was a raw and magical moment. Despite being raised by different people in a completely different environments, his new sister has the same looks, sense of humor, and warm heart as my father. There were many unpleasent facts she found out when pursuing her biological family, but finding my dad as her brother made it worth it to her. Good luck with your adoption story-telling & journey!

    • Thank you, Samantha! I’ve prepared myself for the best and worst when I do find my birth mom. My one goal is to let her know I’m safe, happy and that she made the right decision. I’m really glad your dad and his sister connected after all those years. I’m sure it was so healing for her. Thank you for sharing your story with me!

      Sarah Neal | 5/31/2012 12:05 pm
  10. This was such a beautiful read! I’m not adopted myself, but for as long as I can remember I’ve never had a desire to have children biologically. I’m only 21, but a lot of my friends are starting their families and while I’m happy for each and every one of them, I think it would be incredible to give a loving home to child who might not otherwise have the chance. I’ve always just assumed I would adopt, I don’t know why or when I made this decision but there you go.

    Thanks for this, it was really, genuinely lovely (: xo

    • Thank you, Aoife! That’s very encouraging to me because I wanted to write this series for people just like you. My mom knew at a very young age she wanted to adopt, too, and the feeling never waned. I wish you all the very best on your journey. I hope to hear about your adoption story one day!

      Sarah Neal | 5/30/2012 06:05 am
  11. Sarah! I am so thankful to you for sharing your sweet story of adoption. My husband and I can’t have kids and through that it has led us to adoption. It’s been a hard journey but now we are in the thick of the process and we are so excited to meet our little girl hopefully next year :) We are adopting from China, and it’s so great hearing your side of things since right now we hear so much from the parents perspective. Thanks again your words have touched my heart, I have to admit when I read Chapter 1 I was in tears. Much Love to you from Delaware!!!!!!

    • Hi Larkin! I’m so, so excited to hear your daughter will be coming home soon! I know the journey has been emotional and the process has been tedious, but what a beautiful story you will have to tell her one day! Thank you for the sweet comments. Love back, from the Smack-Dab Middle!

      Sarah Neal | 5/30/2012 06:05 am
  12. Thanks for writing this! My brother, cousin, and 4 nieces and nephews are adopted and it’s so close to my heart. I hope some day I can share my own adoption story with you.

    • I hope so, too, Bethany!! I love how your family has so many great adoption stories to tell.

      Sarah Neal | 5/29/2012 02:05 pm
  13. Hey Sarah,
    Being adopted myself, I can’t tell you how much reading this speaks to my heart! What a loving and respectful way to share your story and always with the right amount of humor, simply love it : )
    My Mom loves to tell the story how she held me for the first time and right that moment knew I was hers, regardless the fact that she did not gave birth to me. I wasn’t born under her heart but in it; that’s what she keeps telling me.
    Can’t wait for chapter 3
    …..and that picture of you and Lovely Mom – pure love no words necessary!

    • Shirin, your Mom’s words made my day. Thank you so much for sharing this!

      Sarah Neal | 5/29/2012 01:05 pm
  14. Almost went to tears reading this. Such a delicate subject and you wrote with wit and delicacy. Thank you so much for sharing your story and insight.

  15. Very much enjoyed this!! As a mom of two boys from S. Korea I love hearing other’s stories. I tell them both all the time how they were loved before I even met them. It’s hard for some to grasp but it is so true! Thank you for sharing!!

    • Ah! Mary! Thank you for sharing your story. Your family is why I’ve written this series, so thank YOU!

      Sarah Neal | 5/29/2012 10:05 am
  16. another one that made me tear up and then laugh audibly. i’m so digging this journey, hurry up with more- words and pictures!

    • Thank you, Karin for your kind words and support starting from Chapter One! I appreciate it.

      Sarah Neal | 5/29/2012 10:05 am
  17. Sarah-Belle, your Lovely Mom always had the uncanny ability to capture the heart of the experience, and stated it as we both felt it. She would say it better. You have certainly surpassed all of our loftiest expectations.
    I still have that leather chair and ottoman, by the way. Some things have too many memories to discard. Much Love, Dashing Dad.

    • Dashing Dad, I love you lots! I have to go now, because I’m crying lots of happy tears and my keyboard is getting about to short out.

      Sarah Neal | 5/29/2012 10:05 am
  18. This was wonderful. I know I’ll be adopting children (infertility) and I already love them. Another difference between international and domestic adoptions is that some countries have very strict rules about who can adopt (no single parents, under 40, etc) whereas independent domestic adoptions are often more open to the type of family the child is placed into.

    • Hi Elisabeth! Honestly, I wish some of the rules didn’t exist for international adoptions (age limit; single parents), because there are so many children who need happy homes. Thankfully, domestic adoption is more flexible. I’m so, so glad you’ll be adopting! I wish you all the best and can’t wait until you and your child are finally together someday!

      Sarah Neal | 5/29/2012 10:05 am
  19. Sarah, is it easy for you to write these pieces? I mean, they are so powerful. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, but also your photographs. They are adorable. The very first one, of your Lovely Mom holding you is so AMAZING. That photograph captures all that is right in the world – IT’S BEAUTIFUL! Thank you.

    • Thank you so much, D. for the kind words and support! It’s easy to write about things that inspire me, although I think the comments from the first article really helped fuel this one. So many amazing stories. I’m like, wow, this is really reaching people. Humbling. Igniting.

      Sarah Neal | 5/29/2012 10:05 am
  20. Hi Sarah. Thank you for this beautiful article. As the mama of one homegrown daughter, and one who started her life in China, I loved reading your story. Like your mother, I longed for, dreamed of, and passionately loved each of my girls long before they were mine. Even though they came to be in our family in different ways, they are true sisters and adored daughters and always will be.

    • ‘Homegrown.’ I LOVE that term, Sivje! Best to you, and your sweet family!

      Sarah Neal | 5/29/2012 10:05 am
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