You didn’t ripen inside me
But I was there to watch them pull you from another womb
Like snowfall in March
The last goodbye to winter
And like spring’s first blossom
You curled up against my chest
and joined your rhythmic cooing to my breath
Accepting the graft
I bleerily gaze down at my hungry floret
Jeweled eyes wide open at three a.m.
Blue and grey
A snowstorm meets a bright spring day
Pink infusion, curtains, lace
Birthmark V- vivacious, and our victory is stamped
Like the tiara that entwines your pretty head
Your rosy efflorescence makes me smile- at last!
To have a daughter
Imagination vines with future plans
Princess, peapod, baby sister
Brothers plant wet kisses on your downy head
Now your bloom unfolds with bright eyes and giddy smiles
In two months we’ve become as real as your native home
Noel born in spring
The ice still settles
A last tempest shakes the branch
Our roots tremble
We steady the graft
And pray it to hold strong
“We are threatened by such a free God because it takes away all of our ability to control or engineer the process. It leaves us powerless, and changes the language from any language of performance or achievement to that of surrender, trust and vulnerability. That is the so called ‘wildness of God” –Richard Rohr
I think this quote really captures something key about how I’ve journeyed through our third adoption. The feeling of powerlessness was really central to last year. I wanted the baby girl to come so much, and for the rest of our life to be able to move forward. I felt pressure from Bob when this didn’t happen. But I couldn’t do anything about it. I finally had that experience in December where I embraced and put my trust in God’s goodness. I felt Him take up this desire as His own. I felt Him caution me to fixate my trust on Him alone, and not what I could do to make this happen nor on a birth mom. This was really important as our first 2 birth mom contacts fell through.
With J, I felt God’s grace, Him orchestrating everything. I met her 3 weeks before our baby was born, the same as with Nick. She picked us off the internet, and her youngest son has the same name as Bob. We agreed that she should choose Noel’s middle name, and it happened to be one of my top three choices. When I accompanied her to her OB appointment she told me her doctor had urged her to be sure to choose a good family. That doctor turned out to be one of Bob’s intern colleagues from his first residency. When I started the adoption I had made a few requests, not really expecting them to be granted. I wanted to see this baby on ultrasound, and to be there when she was born, something I didn’t get to experience with The Jade and Nick. J’s doctor did an ultrasound that day, even though it wasn’t really indicated. He also waived the one family member rule for her c-section so that I could be present for her birth. As we waited for March 2nd, peace and anxiety intertwined in tangled threads. She could change her mind. The birth dad was distant but unsupportive of adoption; would he cause trouble at the last moment? Would the delivery go ok? Yet I had that feeling that it will go forward because it is meant to be. I can’t mess this up. I was there when Noel’s beautiful scrunched up face emerged, when they pulled her screaming from the belly. As they carried her from the OR I felt a voice in my heart: “I did this for you”. I felt touched, known, deeply understood, like something I had lost a long time ago was given back to me. Unremitted favor is more beautiful than traditional religion. When our righteousness is rewarded we are smug and satisfied. But when God works on His own time in His own way we are undone and dissolve into thankfulness. God’s wildness hurts us sometimes, and makes us angry. We may withdraw from Him awhile. But we never know where the next bend in our road is. Every child God has brought into our family has healed me a little more. We are recipients of mercy and even blessing. Blessing in one place because of the pain and loss in another. Three children in 4 1/2 years! God’s path goes against our grain; it bevels and even breaks us. But when we accept it and allow ourselves to be carried along, it takes us into another world.
We are in the middle of our third adoption. Embarking on a domestic adoption is like being a backseat social worker. We have heard about financial troubles, medical crises, birth mothers in jail, birth fathers in jail, a birth mother who wants to split up her twins, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sexual abuse. Birth mothers who can’t decide, those who use the system, and those who are outright scam artists. This journey is really a treasure hunt for that sincere gem who finds herself in hard times and just wants what’s best for her baby.
Since we started this process a year ago we’ve heard about at least half a dozen moms who were a potential match but didn’t work out for different reasons. Last month we immersed ourselves in the stories of two. One a homeless teenager who seemed interested in us but now may place with a friend in town. The other keeps getting services from the agency but doesn’t want to commit to a family and keeps asking for more profiles. They tell us to keep our hopes up for her, but we know she’s not the one. Last week I got a call about birth mom #3, someone who has several kids of her own and has placed for adoption before. The agency says she checks out by every measure of sincerity, reasoning for adoption, and life circumstances to support her choice. The intuition of the director, which I trust about 90%, is that she’s the real thing.
But we live in Oklahoma, a state with strong Native American legislation and somewhat lenient birth father rights. Although both birth parents deny Native American heritage, if their names appear on some list a tribe can come and snatch a baby from our home, no matter how long she’s been living there. And then there’s the birth father. He’s not for adoption. He also doesn’t seem to want to parent since he hasn’t given this lady any support nor promised any in the future. But after mom signs away her rights (7-14 days after birth) he is informed of a hearing 30+ days after that. We can hope he doesn’t show up; because then his rights are terminated and we breathe a big sigh of relief. But if he does, and says “no”, he gets to prove that He’s an able father. If he can convince the court, the mom’s rights are unprovoked, and the State of Oklahoma gets to decide who will parent our baby.
If all this happens, how long will she have been with us? Two months? Six? I will have to wait months to see if I’m fostering or really adopting. In most cases the parental rights are terminated smoothly, but the “what ifs” are terrifying.
Another unknown on this journey has been the race of our baby. We were very fortunate to be able to specify a girl (since we have already adopted two boys). Because of the need for racially open families, and the dearth of families of color adopting, we felt called to welcome any girl chosen for us. Since making that choice I have read some articles featuring African American and Asian adoptees, and their adolescent and adult identity struggles due to being raised in a white family. They grew up feeling like they were white, and struggled greatly in later years to reclaim their lost heritage. Some of them were sympathetic to their adoptive parents, some of them estranged. They encouraged us to adopt in pairs, to have friends of our child’s race, to do whatever we could to help him embrace his “blackness”, etc. One interviewee said bluntly that it was better for black families to adopt black children. And I have heard that this is an attitude held by some in the African American community.
Reading this sent me in a bit of a tailspin. Were we right to be open, or were we being naive and presumptuous to think that we can shape a healthy racial identity in our several children of different ethnic backgrounds? The first baby we heard about this year was biracial AA. The second, full AA. And this one is white. I long to picture my daughter just like any mom with a baby in utero, but I can’t, because that would default to one race over another. I might attach myself to a certain color or look, and pay for those repeated reveries with disappointment when the real baby arrives. So I have loved and wanted all of them. The Hispanic little girl with long shiny black hair. The biracial child with gorgeous curls like Nick’s. The African American darling with carefully crafted braids. And yes, the Caucasian little one who looks like me. I have tried to remain open, prolonging the fantasy for the real. And when that one comes I will feel a pang of loss for all the others, the beautiful daughters I didn’t get to mother.
Yesterday we signed the matching agreement, filled with legalese about the rights of birth parents to change their mind, the lack of guarantee of satisfaction, and the promise of a blank check for birth mother expenses. If all I had on this journey was an agency with good intentions, a solid birth mom, and a reasonable hope for a healthy baby, I don’t know if I could finish it. Yes, we have had 2 successful adoptions, and yes, if we keep pushing forward we are likely to have final success. I desperately want a daughter. But the emotional and financial risks highlighted above are just too great. And all our careful calculations may prove inadequate. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”- a brave and cheerful statement that can’t give me courage for this. There is something more than optimism that gives me the faith to make this leap. For the past several months I’ve had peace that God is in this adoption, and even with the false leads and disappointments, it will work out right in the end. Peace that settles deep, filling the crevices of fear and doubt. I’ve even had a sense that March is our time. This came from lots of prayer, baring my heart before the One who knows every longing. Adoption is His heart, His calling. I’m still afraid, but I don’t have that seismic rumble that tells you something is fundamentally wrong. God is not a fortune teller. But He can give that guidance in the dark that no one else can. And the courage to risk.
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” –Minnie Louise Haskins
There are people who future gaze, who value mornings and fresh starts. I am more of a past reflecter. It is so much safer- I know I have made it to this point, despite all the dangers and things that could have gone wrong. I also like to savor all the hard work that is behind me. I see life more accurately in retrospect. So, in lieu of resolutions I give this instead. Not an all inclusive prioritized list of everything I value, but a way of highlighting the unique goodness of this past year.
1.Tenth anniversary trip to Seattle– A commemoration of our first decade. We watched our wedding video, amazed at how young we looked at 27. Remembered what we felt then and relived the memories since. We visited Pike Place market, Puget sound, the Space Needle, Snoqualmie Falls and the Oregon coast. We savored our uninterrupted thoughts and the simplicity of life without children. We didn’t dig too deep into our issues or work on marital problems. We just enjoyed it, and it was over too soon.
2. Seeing the joy of the ocean in my son’s eyes. Ocean city in July. The beach was crowded, but it could not encroach on the Atlantic’s grandeur. The Jade ran laughing through the waves and rolling in the sand. We spun and danced and splashed without reproof. Every child deserves a summer by the sea. I remember transcendent moments as a child, and they were always outside. A magical forest, a starry sky, that awe and mystery that makes the heart first turn towards God.
3. Meeting my friend’s baby, and finding a way to prioritize friendship during the toddler years. Friends are easy to make but hard to keep. Especially if you move around a lot. A lot of people don’t keep in touch, they keep their circle limited to those in town, those who are convenient. But I can’t let go of those jewels, those rare “kindred spirits” I’ve walked a chapter of life with. I want to reignite those fervent conversations, to feel understood by those who were there, who watched me being formed by life’s circumstances and who even remember what I was like before. We reflect on our adventurous naivete , ideals tempered by reality, and wonder if we have become cynical or wise. Phone conversations are hard with screaming toddlers in the background. A quick update- an hour max- and we both have to go. She had been one of my closest friends, and I hadn’t met her 2 year old yet. Strong friendships can feed off the past for a long time, but they get stale and need new memories to revive. I flew to Indiana with one kid in tow. By day we enjoyed each other’s babies, and in the evening we talked for hours about the stuff that really matters. Unhealed wounds, uncertain calling, marriage issues- we had the conversations that remind you that humans are made in the image of God. We have eternal souls with transcendent longings that can be communicated to someone else. We can’t keep up with every friend, but we should sacrifice to hold onto some. This year some friendships deepened, others drifted, and one or two new ones with potential began. It feels like such a coincidence of circumstances. I think many friendships formed in my youth developed because I had so much time to build them. They wouldn’t exist if I met them today, in the frenzied task oriented world of a preschool mom. But other friendships are intended for us, inevitable signs of grace that happen despite their unlikeliness.
4. We became financially healthy-paid off our loans and got serious about our retirement account. School loans are supposed to be the best kind of debt. But because of their amount (2 med schools) they loomed like a specter over our married life. When you apply for adoption you have to calculate your net worth, and ours has been negative for most of our marriage. Until now. We have finally crawled out of the big hole, and are starting to taste the rewards of 15 (combined) years of postgraduate work. It feels good. We will, however, continue to live as residents, partly to keep lifestyle expectations consistent with life overseas, and partly to do the saving we were supposed to do while we were busy amassing loans.
5. We decided to start a third adoption, amidst much controversy. As I wrote in the “China” post, Bob had finally come on board with the idea of going. We were mostly on the same page about moving overseas for the first time…ever. But as I thought about our family there, I realized that I really wanted another baby. The director of the agency we got Nick from said something that haunted me the day we picked him up; “If you come back and work with us again, I’ll find you a girl”. I wasn’t sure I could go overseas right now and face all the blunt questions about my infertility and family with this longing unsatisfied. I asked if we could start another adoption, and Bob agreed. I told myself that it would go quickly, that it wouldn’t delay things that much. But of course it has, and now our whole life is on hold. China is waiting on this, and all Bob’s other ambitions have been pushed even farther back. I still feel right about both of them. I know that I am threatening my long held dream in pursuit of this little girl. But though I’ve never met her, I can’t walk away.
6.The Jade made progress, with or without therapy. His preschool semester was better than I feared. This summer was our wake-up call that our beloved child might have some unaddressed issues. With the first child, you don’t really know what normal is; he defines it. But his little brother developed to the level that he was able to sit still in a restaurant. He was calmer, less aggressive than his older sibling. The Jade had crossed over from the toddler years, where we could still place his behavior at the extreme end of normal. It was looking more and more like ADHD- and something else. We began the visits to the therapist, child psychologist. The former said sensory seeker, the latter borderline ADHD. Now I am in the middle of 6 months of play therapy, utilizing proprioception and cerebellar input, with a list of “calm down activities” before bed or if he gets too wild. We have done many laps around our house walking as a crab, bunny or bear. I ask him how his engine is running and have tried weighted blankets and sensory retreats. For his hitting behavior we’ve done short term rewards and a star on a chart that is now prominently displayed on our therapy bulletin board. We are supposed to be weaving his “sensory diet” into each aspect of our daily schedule. This is overwhelming, until you realize that almost anything can be a sensory activity. It has even helped me overcome a grumpy attitude about their messes. They’re wallowing in the backyard mud after a rainstorm? Deep pressure activity! Spinning and crashing into me? Cerebellar activation! Blowing through the straw until the milk bubbles onto the table? I read somewhere that pursed lip breathing is calming….Well, somewhere between the therapy and behavioral modifications and some old fashioned parenting advice, the Jade has started to improve. More in control. More on task. Fewer tantrums. He had a great fall semester in preschool, despite the concerns expressed in my previous post. We still pray and work, but we are hopeful that he will overcome.
7. I discovered I may not be in someone’s life for the reason I thought. There’s a girl I’ve been helping for awhile- I’ll call her Elaina. She’s in her 20s but never learned to drive, because she grew up in an abusive family, and fled before she had a chance to learn. We worked with the same ministry for awhile, and I clearly felt God leading me to teach her to drive. It was hard to practice more than 1 hour a week because of my other responsibilities, and she got better but not great. We woke up at 5 in the morning and waited at the DMV time after time, but she always failed her driving tests. “Needs more practice”, they would say. I admit I was frustrated- it seemed like all this work was getting us nowhere. Was I a bad teacher? Was I really meant to do this? Sometimes she was really withdrawn or even irritable, and I didn’t feel like we were connecting on a personal level. But I kept coming back to the feeling that I was supposed to do this, and the task wasn’t done. So we continued to hit the road, and in time the door of her heart swung open. We began to talk about life, hurts, fears, addictions, the temptation to quit and the call of God to keep going. I watched her almost run back to her abusive family, watched her life and future hang by a thread. But she was sustained. I was only one person that God brought into her life, and probably the least important. She has a church family and a few true friends who fill in for the family she lost. Somewhere around the fifth driving test I realized that I was in her life for a lot bigger reason than a driver’s license. She needed one more person who wouldn’t give up on her, who wouldn’t disappear as so many had. In return I gained a friend from hard places. I learned a lot about sexual and emotional trauma and what it does to a person. It turns their whole world into an ugly and dangerous place. It makes them want to escape, or to grasp for control if only within their own body. But I also saw the place of courage, the way that God will come alongside and help someone if they throw themselves on him and refuse to give up. Elaina made a lot of bad decisions as she tried to cope with her trauma, but somewhere in there she found a true faith that God is for her. She’s listening more, relying less on other ways of coping. It appears that God is beginning to remove the roadblocks that caused so much frustration, but she admits now were there for a reason. She just found a job in her field after looking for half a year, and I’m hopeful that our 6th attempt with the DMV will bring success.
8.I read some really good books, partly thanks to my book club. My top 3 were:”The Girl in the Picture” by Denise Chong, “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken, and “The Heavenly Man” by Yun/Hattaway. This post is already too long, so I won’t elaborate.
9.I experienced the love of God in a new way, especially around the time of my 38th birthday (see “The Bitter Seed”)
10. We helped our friends begin their adoption of a Chinese boy with a heart condition, and had several heart to heart adoption conversations with other couples who are now in process.
11. We got a reassuring medical report on Nick. Shortly after adopting him, we learned that he was exposed in utero to a chronic life shortening infection. While his early tests were somewhat hopeful, we had to wait 18 months to learn that he was not infected. We knew that he was the baby God had for us, and that He would have carried us down that road if we had to walk it. Still, my stomach turned in knots when I got that phone call, and what relief and joy we had over the gracious news that he had been spared.
12. My job, working for a residency, at a university clinic, nursing home, urgent care and mentoring residents. Medicine is never boring, ever expanding in knowledge, and it can always be done better. I appreciate the times I was able to help physically or emotionally, and I especially enjoyed the residents, and the things we shared about life and medicine.
13. Being a mom of a 2 and 4 year old- such an exhausting and heartwarming stage. This year The Jade went from toddler to little boy. His cute mispronunciations have morphed into intelligent paragraphs. Sometimes he sounds like he’s 4 going on 14. Nick has found his vocabulary as well, and we’re beginning to see the foreshadowing of an affectionate, stubborn and sensitive nature. He also amazes us daily with his raw strength and destructive power. There is nothing more fulfilling and challenging than caring for and shaping an eternal soul in his most vulnerable and formative state.
14. I’m thankful for all the things that didn’t happen. Seriously, I have one friend whose husband faced cancer this year, and a cousin who did the same. Friends had children diagnosed with terminal illnesses or experiment with drugs. Other husbands cheated or became alcoholics. Crippling depression and anxiety took others. People everywhere are hurting and dealing with big stuff. And of course, so have we. Maybe we didn’t add a new family member, take an international trip, or move forward with our China plans. But we also didn’t lose loved ones, suffer a major illness or other big crisis. Thank God for a blessed but pretty boring year.
Today I celebrated my 38th birthday. It was a great day, filled with french toast and fondue, a nap, massage, time with friends and 60 facebook happy bithdays. But every year the same pre-birthday blues set in. My internal age calculator triggers a neurotransmitter imbalance, and I find myself cycling through old grief, self pity and even despair. I want to withdraw from my infertility friends who have joyfully at last become pregnant. And something darker rises within me, and I realize it’s been there for a long time.
Infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss is emotionally devastating. It is a psychological earthquake, shattering one’s sense of womanhood and leaving a smoking crater in her soul where her tender hopes once grew. It is not the same for every woman, but for the woman who wants to bear a child and can’t, it is the ultimate and universal rejection.
No one knows how to talk to us. There are those who understand, those who don’t, and those who try. People are uncomfortable with our pain. We get false hope, prayers for healing that aren’t answered, platitudes (“you’re still young”), fertility gimmicks, and spiritual judgement. “You just need to surrender this”, or “I had this spiritual breakthrough and then I got pregnant”
And then you start an adoption. Leave the earthquake metaphor, and now you’re out on the sea, with the surface constantly changing. At first it’s mentioned so casually, so well-meaning, like everything that went wrong will be ok and your baby will just grow in someone else’s uterus. Then you start going to meetings and realize the birth parents may still want to be a part of your child’s life. You’re asked if you would take a child that was exposed to drugs, alcohol in utero and you grieve again, realizing how powerless you are. You learn that adoption costs tens of thousands of dollars, and is basically a blank check as the final cost of legalization is unknown. Then you do the mandatory international adoption training and learn about the (supposedly) prevalent and dire effects of institutionalization on children. I suppose this is meant to create “realistic” expectations, but it acts like a tidal wave to sweep away hopes of a “normal” child. Then there is the wait, while your heart’s desire dangles in a paradox. It is as imminent as the next phone call, or years out of reach. Most big events in our lives are dated; weddings, graduations, and of course, pregnancies. This is sailing in the fog; the land could be right beyond that next cloud, or a hundred miles away. And of course there is the emotional rollercoaster of dropped referrals, nervous meetings and matching with birth moms who then change their minds, babies who are placed in families and then pulled away at the last moment.
I do acknowledge that pregnancy isn’t easy either, however much desired, and no one can count the cost of something they’ve never experienced.
In the end, for most of us, persistence brings results, and we are at last the chosen one. And more than this, with both my babies, I did feel peace, and providential design, a sense of transcendence, fate, that connected me to the children we received. They are luminous, ebullient little souls, tender and needy and precious and irreplaceable. The first one made me a mother, and the dammed up channels of the maternal; the cherishing, devoted adoration of a child were at last released. It was inexpressably fulfilling, and immensely healing to be included at last among the ranks of those with children. The Jade did me more good than many months of therapy. Our adoption of Nick began with that nagging yearning for more; of incompleteness. I wanted our child to have a sibling, I didn’t want to be a small family. I wanted another baby. When he came to us another vacuum in my heart was filled and sealed. Now I had experienced a newborn, had known him from the beginning.
Our children have issues our biological kids wouldn’t have. Nick was exposed to cocaine, to multiple infectious diseases in utero. We had to draw his blood often as an infant and take him to a specialist until he mercifully cleared his infection risks at 18 months. But uncertainties remain. Statistically he is at higher risk for anger issues, drug addiction, ADHD and learning disabilities. The Jade didn’t attach right away, and even now certain behaviors make us wonder if the knot is fully tied. He is sometimes angry, out-of-control hyper, and aggressive. Attachment issue? Sensory issue? ADHD? Is this what his birth parents were like as kids? Trying to solve the equation without all the variables.
I love these children more than the ones I lost, because they are the ones I have loved with my body, mind and heart these years. The names and faces that give me so much of my identity and life’s purpose. And yet, I truly miss our biological children. I wonder what they would have looked like. Would they have been shy and neurotic like Bob says, so unlike our boys? I know that if they had been we wouldn’t have the boys, and I would choose the boys over them if I was given that choice. And yet I wish that somehow I could have them both. Most of my friends with children my age are 5 years younger than me. I would have a 7 year old right now, if my pregnancy had continued uninterrupted as theirs did. It is all so haunting and strange.
Adoptees like Sherri Eldredge detail the turmoil of adopted children. Shame, feelings of rejection and abandonment, feeling unfinished, disconnected, something missing. Sometimes they feel grief over what they have lost which turns to anger. These feelings are worsened when adoptive parents invalidate them, when we try to gloss over their pain with their “happy” story, or worse, when people tell them they are lucky and should be thankful. Angela Tucker, writing for the blog Her.meneutics, drew out the possible harms of both quaint and theological sentiments. Telling a child they were chosen may imply a benevolent providence. But it may also emphasize the child’s powerlessness over their fate, at the whim of an omnipotent parent who happened to pick them instead of someone else. We might trivialize the significance of someone’s struggles as an adoptee with a superficial reference to our adoption into God’s family. This fact is stunning and profound, but does not negate the very real struggles of someone who has lost their biological parents. Sometimes there is tension with those parents- adoptive parents are too quick to relegate them to the role of gestation. We don’t want to share our babies, with anyone else, especially when they are the only ones we have and were so hard to come by.
All of this has been brought before God so many times, and there have been flashes of incomplete insight. Sometimes I get a sense of who I might have been without this journey (superficial,unsympathetic, false sense of control, unaware of my need for grace). Sometimes I have felt his concern for my boys, His behind the scenes advocating on their behalf. We were also chosen- to be their parents. I have made much progress towards embracing my story as unique, and not envying or comparing the journeys of others. I have reached out to others in a similar situation and seemed to encourage them. These insights console- for awhile. But then the primal grief rears up again, the memories of loss tear, and I know that I will carry this pain the rest of my life. And from that grief comes something else- anger. I realized this while fasting- troubled by a barrier I sensed towards God. Why doesn’t He answer my prayer that I have lifted up so earnestly over such a long time (8 years), while others hear quickly? Why did he let all my biological children die? Why won’t He take the grief away, or at least the desire? How can I believe that He’s good, that He loves me, when He allows this? This is the bitter seed, the age old philosophical question that wreaks havoc with my soul. It was good to acknowledge this anger, and to confess that I don’t want to be angry anymore. I want the breach healed. I want to trust God’s goodness again, even if He doesn’t redeem this pain the way I want Him too. In response to this revelation and confession I had a spiritual experience. I simply felt God’s love, in the way I felt it on a windswept prairie as a teenager, in the way I felt it in a dorm room after that. In a way I haven’t felt in years. That Love that has followed me my whole life and still waits, that cannot be negated by my circumstances. I sensed it with other senses, yet in a way that moved me to tears, and does even now while I write this . My grief was understood but my questions weren’t answered. This is just another step in my journey, and yet I sense it means something more.
Perhaps all of our journeys, with their agonizing losses and easy triumphs, their brave hopes and bitter seeds, are meant to end with this. There is no trite rationale, no profound explanation that will make it all ok. Whether one journeys as an adoptive parent bearing infertility and loss or as an adoptee grieving his first parents, we share many emotions. Our pain breaks us and binds us to each other, but ultimately I believe it will be swept away.
This is an ironic post for the Christmas season, since it is all about a miraculous conception. But this is one case where someone else’s miracle doesn’t bring envy. Jesus left his true father for an adoptive one. He forwent natural procreation and physical descendants so he could welcome all of us as his brothers and sisters through adoption into the family of God. He is that Love I’ve felt in fragile moments of my life, given a body and a voice. He was given to understand and bear our pain with us, the seed that died in bitter agony but was raised in glorious power, power that will ultimately bring an end to our own sorrow as well.
It seems that the worlds of medicine and education have little in common. As physicians, we create a space of openness and safety, where you can share your lifestyle failures and embarrassing habits without shame. When we started my son in preschool this fall, I approached his teachers at the open house with the same attitude, but got a very different response.
The Jade was adopted from an orphanage at 7 months. While it wasn’t a bad place as far as orphanages are concerned, we’re pretty sure he suffered early neglect. Neglect that, as we’ve learned later, can hinder normal sensory development and emotional regulation. He is a smart, exuberant, and sweet little boy. But he is also hyperactive. He can’t regulate his excitement over a new environment or guests at the house. He bounces off us, the walls and the furniture. And he hits, kicks and headbutts when he’s angry. He has a hard time hearing no, and some days he’s very aggressive, others not. Normally Bob and I get the brunt of it, sometimes Nick as well. But thankfully we haven’t had a problem with him attacking other kids.
So, in my medical mode where more information is better, I shared all this with his preschool teachers. I didn’t know how he would react since this was his first time in school, I thought they might want to know how to restrain him just in case. Their response was so casual, so non-threatening, I had no idea what was coming.
The first day of preschool arrived. We took our cute little pictures in the hall- grinning boy with his backpack and lunchbox. I dropped him off at classroom and the teacher said, “Oh, the supervisor wants to talk to you for a minute. Thinking it was related to The Jade’s peanut allergy, I marched cheerfully up to Ms. P, only to be met with a stern look. We met in her office, where she rehashed the information I had given the teachers a few days ago. “This is full of red flags, she snipped. I don’t think your son is a good match for our preschool” I sucked in my breath and my stomach turned over. What!? My sweet little boy, who I had cherished and tended for the past 4 years, the one my friends and family adored? Not good enough for them? She went on, talking about how this was an academic environment, and they couldn’t have aggressive children here. There was no attempt to clarify our situation or ask about our child’s background and story. “We’ll give him 2 weeks and see”, she said warily, and that was it. My child had been placed on probation his first day of preschool.
And apparently we had done this to him. We had mistakenly assumed the educators valued each child as an individual, that their years of experience had prepared them to speak competently and compassionately to the issue of hitting tantrums. Our vulnerability and honesty was reciprocated with hasty judgement and hurtful labeling. I have shared our experience with other friends who adopted kids with extra needs, and they experienced the same thing. Lesson learned. We will not be sharing our children’s struggles with their educators, no matter how enlightening it may be. They can figure it out on their own, and we’ll talk about it when they think there’s a problem.
Which brings me to the larger issue. The right of schools to select for perfect, easy, problem- free kids. Kids without anger, anxiety, learning disabilities or special needs. Kids that come from “hard places”. Let the public schools take them. We are creating an elite learning environment here. We don’t have time for that. I overheard a lady at the gym the other day bragging about her 3 year old’s superior intelligence to the other kids, and complaining that he was bored in preschool, and they didn’t challenge him enough because the other kids couldn’t keep up. And I had an epiphany. I could have been that person if life circumstances had been different. Competing for the best preschool with my 2 perfect genius potential kids, not caring a whit for anyone else’s. Struggling all the time to show up my child as the best. I guess this is one way that the journey of adoption and infertility is a gift. It wrings out your specialness, your cherished expectations, and replaces them with a sigh of gratitude for the grace you did receive. The Jade is smart, and both our boys have God given gifts. But so does every child. And part of this journey is learning to join my experience to others, to really care when their kid as struggles and not be smug. To pray and long with them in their child’s struggles. To embrace the imperfect child we honestly all were.
Well, I kind of wish I could say I told Ms. P off, stormed out of her office and brought my children to a place that would appreciate them. But we stayed. The Jade has done great there, the teachers really like him despite their early concern, and he hasn’t hit anyone. Everyone acts like that conversation never happened, which makes it super awkward. I’m telling myself they’re embarrassed, and that they learned something from our situation and will go easier on the next set of parents who risk honesty about real issues.
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.