Infertility and the Church Today

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“And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb” (Gen. 30:22)

Like many issues in the church today, the struggle of infertility is both inwardly devastating and invisible from the outside. As an infertile woman, I watched my whole life take a sharp turn, from hard work, success, and hope, to failure, depression and despair. Without warning or foreboding, I found myself in the darkest valley of my life, and I felt completely alone.

The non-denominational churches I attended were happy places; growing families, children running amok, smiling people living busy productive lives. I had been among them, until I found myself unable to transition to the next stage; unable to bear a child. This pain was intensified by multiple miscarriages, during the same time that the women in my small group were successfully conceiving and giving birth. I have many memories of being unable to hold back the tears during worship, as I looked out at the sea of babies and pregnant mothers, and escaped to the bathroom to cry.

Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy, and he is especially successful at planting lies when our hearts are made vulnerable by suffering. Our church friends did not know how to respond to our situation. Some suggested we needed to surrender more, others to stress less. I was asked to plan and attend baby showers by women who knew our story but apparently didn’t understand it. Mother’s day was celebrated without (in most cases) an acknowledgement of those who still long to be a mother, and I stopped going to church on that day. I went to work for a Christian company with a strong subculture of family. They joked about their fertility and large families. Their Bible studies highlighted verses on children being a reward of the Lord, without any nuanced comment on when that blessing doesn’t come. There were a few Christian friends who simply cared and try to share my feelings even if they couldn’t really understand. But mostly I found myself walking this valley alone, except for my husband, who of course felt it in a different way. “Why is God allowing this?” “Am I more sinful, less spiritual?” I felt shame, abandonment, despair. At one point I asked God to end my life because the pain was so unbearable. I felt that God didn’t hear my heartfelt prayer, and core doubts about His love and goodness were planted in my heart.

In time I got counseling, found others who shared my story, and adopted my beautiful children. I found healing, and in the loneliness of my life’s darkest valley I experienced God’s presence and intervention powerfully. I was broken apart and remade, and all of this fell within His purpose. I know now that when no one else could understand, He did, and these experiences have shaped me to fulfill God’s destiny for my life. But where was the church in my story? Infertility and miscarriage are common: the National Survey of Family Growth states that the prevalence of infertility is 7-30%, depending on age. The incidence of miscarriage in pregnancies up to 20 weeks is 8-20% I have met and ministered to many Christian women with infertility and pregnancy loss and no one has listed their church as a strong spiritual or emotional resource. In most cases their strongest supportive relationship has come to them randomly, and not through a church connection at all. In addition, infertility causes serious mental health issues; women with infertility have a much higher incidence of depression and anxiety The Scriptures spend a disproportionate amount of time on this women’s issue, perhaps because barrenness is so fundamentally destructive to a woman’s creative calling and sense of purpose. It causes deep spiritual struggle which may not resolve in a healthy way, causing a woman to despair of God’s love and good purpose and turn away in bitterness.

Greater ministry to women with infertility and pregnancy loss is needed in the church today. I recognize the challenge of this endeavor. Because of the inept response of many people on this sensitive issue, women with infertility stop talking about it. We look the same as everyone else, so it is hard to know who is struggling. American culture highly values privacy, and people are rightly reluctant to ask intrusive questions, though some are not reluctant enough! Pastors and ministry leaders need specialized training on this issue, alerting them to the prevalence of infertility and pregnancy loss, and the right way to approach it. Women who have walked this journey and feel comfortable should be asked to lead regular church sponsored support groups. The opportunity to meet other women in one’s church who struggle and to hear their stories is immensely healing, and those relationships should not be left to chance. Special speakers and seminars should be offered. Infertile women should be remembered on Mother’s day, and women in leadership must use sensitivity when inviting ladies to organize a baby shower or children’s event. A childless woman may seem like a perfect candidate to recruit for children’s Sunday school, but that ministry may cause her a lot of pain.

In the midst of our busy, happy lives, let us remember the hurting ones, the ones who feel forgotten. In each Biblical story of a barren couple, God intervened with mercy and showed that He did hear them, that He had always heard. As the body of Christ we should do the same.

References

Infertility and impaired fecundity in the United States, 1982-2010: data from the National Survey of Family Growth.

Chandra A, Copen CE, Stephen EH

Natl Health Stat Report. 2013 Aug;

2 Incidence of early loss of pregnancy.
Wilcox AJ, Weinberg CR, O’Connor JF, Baird DD, Schlatterer JP, Canfield RE, Armstrong EG, Nisula BC
N Engl J Med. 1988;319(4):189.

3 Prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders in an assisted reproductive technique clinic.
Chen TH, Chang SP, Tsai CF, Juang KD

Hum Reprod. 2004;19(10):2313

Crossroads II

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I title this post as a sequel to the first one published almost 2 years ago. Then our trip to China still loomed before us, full of uncertainty and expectation. I feel like we’ve done a 360 degree loop since then and want to catch the story up. I recorded in my China post how we returned from our trip more united than we’d ever been on a location in central China, impressed by the local workers there, and ready to commit a year of our lives to the ministry they were doing.

And then the small voice of longing, the persistent whisper that can be ignored but not silenced, began again in my heart. A daughter. I really wanted a daughter, and I didn’t want to go to China without one. I imagined the insensitive comments: “Couldn’t you have your own children?” The pity, and even the shame, exacerbated by a different cultural environment. I couldn’t fix my infertility, but I could face these things with a full heart, and a full family. I asked Bob if we could start another adoption first, and he agreed, though later regretted he didn’t ask me to choose one or the other. Last year was a year of chafing, waiting for a process we (shouldn’t have) expected to move quickly and instead filled with delays and false leads. Bob stuck in a job he didn’t like waiting for China. The timeline was stretching too long for him, and he made it clear at some point if we weren’t going to do this we were going to give it up and start a practice here in America. In The Wildness of God I told the story of Noel and how God spoke to me and brought her to us in March of this year. He brought her at the last possible moment, as I had told Bob if we didn’t hear anything by March 31st I would agree to move and settle somewhere in the U.S.

But here we are- hopeful to finalize her adoption this year, and China is still an option. I feel more surrendered about going overseas than ever before. I hold it with an open palm. Now almost 40, I have lost much of the romantic idealism, the thrill of adventure for adventure’s sake, that I had in my 20’s and early 30’s. I know this will be hard. Our children will face new risks and deprivations. Our marriage will face new tensions. It will cost a lot to move overseas; financially, emotionally, relationally. There are times I have asked myself if I still want to go. My daily vision is as myopic as ever- the fruitless daily quest for adequate sleep, my mind consumed with disaster prevention, conflict mediation, responsive parenting and the meeting of a thousand little needs every day. When we started the adoption I stopped studying Chinese as much. My tutor moved back to China. I had been skyping our contact there, but this also ceased when we got baby Noel. I feel disconnected- China feels a world away. I’m also guarding my emotions, because I recognize Bob’s right to say no to this. I honestly don’t want to go unless he does too, because I need for us both to be fully on board, fully committed. Our marriage is pretty egalitarian, but I feel compelled to let him take the lead this time. I need for him to, because then I will know his feelings are real. Sometimes I control too much with the strength of my enthusiasm.

During this time of limbo I’ve realized some important lessons. I don’t need to move overseas to realize my spiritual potential. Nothing has shaken or rebuilt me like my experience of infertility and pregnancy loss. I doubt that any cross cultural challenge can compare to that. I have so many opportunities here to help, minister, love, more than I have time or energy for. If we stayed in the U.S. God would use me, and those opportunities would continue. Openness, not location is what matters. I needed to really learn this, to let go of that deep seated belief that I would always be inadequate without a missionary experience.
Bob says he wants to move forward soon, and is contacting our agency here. He is doing seminary training which he hopes to use there. He is discussing timelines. He wants to commit to one year, with the option of staying much longer if the right opportunities open up.
I’m not getting excited yet. We will have to raise thousands of dollars in monthly support. Another test if this is what we’re meant to do. Guarded heart.
Yet hopeful. I just called the library and reserved those Mandarin cds again. We’ll see our contacts when they’re in the U.S. That long held dream of living and working for His kingdom in another culture hadn’t died, just gone dormant to survive life’s storms. Like waiting for the spring, we watch and see what will burst forth.

The Wildness of God

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“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.

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The Bitter Seed

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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.

We only want perfect kids (at this school)

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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.

A Child of Your Own

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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.