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The Joys and Challenges of Becoming an Adoptive Parent in Midlife

woman and adoptive son

I have known Cynthia for 10 years. She has accomplished much in her life. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, she worked for Governor Gray Davis, was Chief of Staff to a California Assembly Member, and is now Senior Regional Manager, Government Relations for International Paper with responsibilities for the Western U.S. and Mexico. But I think she would tell you her greatest achievement so far is becoming an adoptive parent. In this interview, we learn about Cynthia’s journey to becoming an adoptive parent and the unique challenges she faces as the mother of a child with heart disease and Autism.

HF&S: What led you to first become an adoptive parent?

Cynthia: I have always been an only child, but I am very close to all my first cousins and always wanted to form a family. Waiting to do it the traditional way, where you get married and have children, wasn’t possible.  So, after a lot of soul searching, I decided that I was in a place financially and in my career where I could embark on this journey as a single mom.

HF&S: What were your greatest obstacles in going through the process to become an adoptive parent?

Cynthia:  There have been many obstacles, but I think the one thing that no one wants to talk about is the amount of subjectivity and underlying discrimination in the process. After a year of training, home inspections and half-dozen interviews, you enter  the matching process. Social workers throughout the state look at hundreds of family profiles and then choose families they feel fit with kiddos. Unfortunately they saw my profile as a single woman, no experience raising children, career-driven and maybe not emotionally ready. It was heartbreaking to be rejected one after another for a year.

HF&S:  For those interested in becoming a Foster Parent/ Resource Family and/or an adoptive parent, what advice would you give them about the process?

Cynthia:  I think we are all told that the process is long, but sometimes we don’t truly appreciate the complexity of the process. I recommend that folks rely heavily on other resource families and their experience, be patient and be your own advocate.

HF&S:  Tell us a little bit about your son.

Cynthia:  My son is an energetic little boy. He has been diagnosed with Autism, partially non-verbal, and has a congenital heart defect.

HF&S: What are your greatest challenges and joys of being an adoptive parent?

Cynthia:  The greatest challenge is learning to be a heart mom on top of a parent. My learning curve was steep, but I took it on. My greatest joy is hearing my son’s laughter; his joy for life is infectious and inspiring. He seems to have absolutely no understanding of what he has overcome in his short lifetime. Of course, the first time my son called me Mommy when I walked in the door was one of the happiest days of my life.

HF&S:  Your son has Autism and childhood heart disease.  How has that shaped you as a person and as a parent?

Cynthia:  It has shocked me to the core. I knew there were resources for Autism but had no idea where to begin regarding raising a child with a congenital heart defect. I cried for a day after learning the severity of his situation. But when I was done, I got serious about educating myself and building my support system. I became an advocate overnight and knew soon after that this was my destiny. I am proud of being a heart mom and hope to help others going through this journey.

HF&S:  You are also a working mom with a pretty challenging job.  How has parenting changed your approach to work?

Cynthia:  I knew once my son came into my life my travel would decrease and that I could do my job well from anywhere. Long stretches away make me miss my kid, and I always find a way to get home sooner. My job flexibility helps me be there with my son as much as possible.

HF&S: All moms, especially working moms, suffer from guilt. How do you work through that?  Do you have any advice for other working moms?

Cynthia:  I think guilt is natural, but I quickly remind myself that the luxuries and benefits we enjoy are due to my job. We make sacrifices together, and in return we all benefit from a beautiful home, vacations and much more. Feeling guilty isn’t productive and will only distract us from enjoying life.

HF&S:  When your son is grown, what do you hope he will say about you, and what do you hope you can say about him?

Cynthia:  I hope he is as proud of me as I am of him and that he learns everything I do for him is out of love. I might come off as a fierce mama bear at times, but I hope he appreciates it. I hope he becomes a respectful, generous young man who pays it forward the same way I was taught to pay it forward.

HF&S: What do you want potential foster/adoptive parents to know?

Cynthia:   I want them to know they are not alone. Someone in this community has probably faced a similar challenge, heartache or dilemma. Rely heavily on your support group. It is amazing to learn how many people are either Foster Parents or former Foster youth themselves.

Information on becoming a Foster Parent

If you would like to learn more about becoming a Foster Parent, visit the National Foster Parent Association at

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