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Adoptive Mom, Advocate on Why Love Is Not Enough When Adopting


  • Tracy Whitney is a mom of six, including two children adopted from China.
  • She’s also the content manager at Creating a Family, an adoption-education nonprofit.
  • This is Tracy’s story, as told to Kelly Burch.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Tracy Whitney. It has been edited for length and clarity.

After I had four biological children, I felt I was not done adding to my family, but I knew I was done birthing babies. I always had an interest in adoption, and the traumatic birth of my youngest biological child sealed the decision.

My husband and I started looking at adoption options and found ourselves drawn to the special-needs adoption program out of China. In adoption, “special needs” means anything that makes a child harder to place with their forever family.

Over the next year we went through the adoption process and I dove into research. I found Creating a Family. Today the organization is a national nonprofit focused on adoption education – but back then, in 2008, I just stumbled across the Facebook group. Still, I realized right away that I had found a treasure trove of information on adoption, most of which I had never considered before.

My two adopted daughters came into our home when they were 14 and 22 months, at different times. Now they are 10 and 14 years old. Over the past decade I’ve learned a lot about adoption and building a family.

Love isn’t enough

People who are unable to conceive naturally are often told to “just adopt,” or that there are plenty of children in need of loving homes. The thing is, when it comes to adoption, love is not enough.

You can not just bring a child to your home who has experienced the loss of their first and primary caregiver, their birth mother, and do not expect there to be some fallout from that.

Love is important, but so is education, therapy, and trauma-informed parenting.

Adoption involves loss and trauma

There’s some debate in the adoption world about whether all adoption involves trauma. I believe it does. Children who are adopted have lost the primal connection with their birth families.

For international adoptees like my daughters there’s more loss: of culture, language, and their racial or ethnic communities.

Adoptive parents need to recognize these losses and the needs they bring and be equipped to guide their child toward healing.

We need to center the voices of adoptees

I’m immersed in adoption, but I’ll never have the experience of being an adopted person. I do not have that shared starting point to talk about and share what my children have experienced.

That’s why it’s so important for parents and policymakers to listen to adult adoptees. When parents or prospective adoptive parents center the voice of adoptees, we get an inside glimpse into their experiences and what could have been done to improve them.

There’s no one way to build a family

These days we have so many options for creating our families: adoption, third-party reproduction, embryo adoption, the old-fashioned way, and more.

No one can tell you the right course for your family; you have to understand each pathway and the pitfalls you might encounter there. Only then can you make an informed choice about what is best for you.

Tracy Whitney is the content manager at Creating a Familya nonprofit focused on adoption and foster-care education and support.



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