I’m not sure what this phrase means, but adoptive moms don’t like it. We enter a store or stroll around the park with our children. Just like anyone else, we guard them, wipe their noses, get them milk. Chat a little with the stranger next to us. Then suddenly out of nowhere comes a curveball upside the head: “What happened to his real mom?” I look around, wondering if someone is waiting in the wings. Nope. “His birth mom”, I correct, and move on with an explanation of varied detail depending on my irritation at the time.
Some people try to adopt kids who look like them to avoid this issue in its many forms. But we both felt called to be a culturally open family. And we secretly (?) believe that is the most beautiful kind, because of the way it reflects the unifying family of God. This decision complicates our lives, and opens new doors. Last time we were in the park a lady walked by pushing a cute biracial kid about lil Nick’s age. They actually looked very alike, and were only 6 weeks apart. The dad, a friendly African American guy came over and commented on it. We told him Nick was from Arkansas, and he raised his eyebrows. “I’ve got a lot of family down there” he said with a grin. We even took a picture of the “twins”, two boys with roots in Africa who declare racial unity with their DNA.
Adoption is something that most people admire yet still struggle with. Everyone agrees it is a good thing to bring children who need a home into families that need a child, or at least have extra love to give. Yet there is the birth mom and her unaddressed grief, the disconnect adopted children sometimes feel from their birth parents, and the complex adjustment issues often encountered as children grow up. There seems to be a prevailing notion that biology is still best. No shadowy birth parents for a child to wonder about, no confusion about health history and prenatal exposures, no unknown genetic skeletons in the closet.
I wanted that too. A child from Bob and I, uniting (hopefully) our best traits, years of seeing her do this or that just like we do. A pregnancy. To nourish a child from an embryo and feed her from my own body. How natural and beautiful- who wouldn’t want that? A large family full of stairstep children who all look alike. There is something sweet and appealing about that.
Years ago, as I sat in a hospital room on call struggling with the frustration of this dream, I felt God say to me: “Are you willing to accept it if my plan for you is different than what you have in mind?” Or, This is the plan, are you willing to accept it? I didn’t know what to say. I knew I should embrace God’s plan, but I hoped He didn’t mean I would never have a completed pregnancy. Sometimes I feel guilty, having been given two beautiful children, to still want a biological one, a child that is the symbolic union of Bob and I. I want to share the journey of women through the ages, to discover a pregnancy, watch it grow, and endure childbirth. And maybe that story still waits for us.
But as the years have gone by, I have realized that the adoption path to parenting is uniquely good and beautiful. Adoption is not a plan B, a nice alternative to fall back on if the ideal can’t be attained. It is God’s calling chosen for us. For some like us, it appears to replace natural childbearing. For others, it will include this. But it is not an add on. I think this is because the little ones God cares for are more important than our careful “family planning”. (See Proverbs 16:9) God doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with what we want our family to look like. “He sets the lonely in families” and “He give the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children”. In my experience, God is concerned for both the parents who grieve their infertility and the child without a home. But maybe more concerned for the child- at least the Scriptures spend more time on this. Starting a family means giving up my ideas of what it will look like, and embracing God’s plan.
Adoption is not a substitute for pregnancy. It does not make the desire go away. It will not give you biological descendants who look like you. I’ve been to those information meetings at the agency with other anxious couples considering adoption. Some of us come to the table with the wrong expectations.
It will give you “a child of your own”. When people use this phrase, they mean a child with your genes, who reminds you of yourself. But I want to challenge this definition. If something is my own, it means it belongs to me, and not to someone else. It doesn’t matter how it came to me, whether I made it, purchased it, or received it as a gift. If it is mine I care for it and am responsible for it. If this object is complimented, I say “thank you” and receive that personally. So it is with my children. They do not belong to someone else. They do not have other parents who love and care for them. I can’t take credit genetically for their physical beauty, yet I feed, groom and dress them to maintain it. So I say “thank you” to their compliments and apologize for their offenses. They are mine. And though we don’t share biology, they become more like us every month that goes by. The Jade gestures while he talks just like I do. He shares Bob’s cheesy sense of humor. They will absorb our values and worldview as they grow up, making them more “our own”.
When I struggle with what we don’t have, I feel a strong sense of calling to embrace the story we do. To marvel at the Jade’s shiny black locks and almond eyes. His wily agility and the adventurous extroversion we couldn’t give a biological kid. To stroke Nick’s curls and kiss his round forehead and button nose. To watch the hidden gifts emerge in them. Their gifts are more than a natural reflection of Bob and I. They are mysterious and divine, from a little known genetic heritage and a different cultural past. Yet they are now a part of our family. We love the children that were chosen for us and have become our own, and embrace our special interconnectedness with their birth parents and the families we have never met, to show forth the unifying power of the gospel in our our multiracial family.