adoption related mushiness, adoption related seriousness

I don’t want you to be grateful: a letter from your (adoptive) mother

I wish so many things for you – the children who have my heart for all of time:

I hope that you will know how to love and be loved.

I hope that you will be happy.

I hope that you will live the life you want to have and not the life anyone, including me, dreams for you.

I hope you will be kind.

I hope you will be brave.

I hope you can view the world as it truly is and still find the strength to believe you can make it better.

And along with all those things I hope with everything in me that you take my love for granted.

Continue reading “I don’t want you to be grateful: a letter from your (adoptive) mother”

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adoption related mushiness, adoption related seriousness

"forever family" and other things I want to promise

I dropped Youngest off at a playcare center yesterday for a few hours. Oldest was at school and it was my husband’s birthday so he and I were doing a lunch date. Something we haven’t done since, well something we’ve never done since Oldest came home.

Youngest was excited to play with the trains, the slide, and all the other goodies they have to entice children away from their parents. But he also wasn’t keen to leave me. I talked to him on the way in and sang our little goodbye song that talks about how I’ll come back. (Sidenote: thank you Daniel Tiger for your parenting wisdom.) Then I signed him in and handed him over to the worker. She sensed his nervousness and said, as many care-workers do, “It’s okay. Mommies always come back.”

Except they don’t.

Continue reading “"forever family" and other things I want to promise”

adoption related seriousness

how to kill a blog, part one (or guilt about becoming part of the noise that drowns out the voices we should be listening to)

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I abandoned this blog to wither for several reasons. The first has to do with guilt.

Last summer I had a post that went a little “viral” in some adoptive parent communities. It was about waiting moms. I should have put “parents” because I got so much grief for leaving the dads out. For the record I wrote it about myself and a few moms I’ve become close too. It wasn’t meant to be the end all be all of explaining things. It was a deeply personal reflection on the life I led for three years.

I still like the post. A lot. The mistake was agreeing to let Huffingt*n Post republish it. And then not objecting when they put it under the tagline of “12 things everyone should know about adoption” (or something like that) and took off the postscripts I had made. Looking back I should have complained to them about the tagline and not allowed the changes. To be fair to myself it happened the day my husband had oral surgery and we ended up waiting for hours in an emergency situation because they thought a piece of metal might have gotten into his lungs. I had a barely 1-year-old and barely turned 2-year-old. I thought we’d be out for two hours, we ended up being out all day. We were exhausted and tired and I was stressed out of my mind. So I didn’t handle it like I should have. And then the noise became overwhelming and I ran away emotionally.

For awhile I couldn’t figure out why this one post gathering so much notice bothered me so much. Of course the attention was a bit overwhelming to someone with a teensy tiny blog, I actually had some mild panic attacks over it. When the post hit 5k views an hour after I published it I texted my husband and said I was going to delete the entire blog. I meant it too. If there was any doubt I was an introvert this is the moment that laid it to rest.  But then when the attention faded away, when I realized most of the 60k-some people who loved *that post* weren’t interested in anything else I had to say my pride stung a little. That post isn’t my favorite. It doesn’t even make my top five.

It’s also the most narcissistic thing I’ve ever written.

Continue reading “how to kill a blog, part one (or guilt about becoming part of the noise that drowns out the voices we should be listening to)”

adoption related seriousness

the story that didn’t start with me (birth & adoption and honoring their story)

It’s so easy, too easy really to slip into thinking I’m telling them their stories when really I’m telling them mine.

Because their stories don’t begin with the moment I heard about them, the moment that first picture made my heart go pitter patter, or the moment I met them. Their story begins with them. With their mother and father and the moment they were created. Their next nine months wrapped inside their mother. As close as two humans can be. Then more months, more changes, more stories that are theirs to have and mind to guard. A foster family, loved and cherished. And then, and only then do my husband and I step into their story. From their perspective.

This is important because it’s too easy to slip into thinking that our story is the one they are living. And it’s not. Adoption isn’t meant to be a rewriting of everything that’s gone before. The family they have now doesn’t erase the family they don’t. And it’s their right to feel whatever they feel for that family. And it’s our duty as their other parents to listen. To be okay. To celebrate what they received from that family. To acknowledge that our children’s feelings are “right” no matter what they are because their feelings are theirs. Continue reading “the story that didn’t start with me (birth & adoption and honoring their story)”

adoption related seriousness, waiting

dear friends of waiting adoptive moms: some things to know (also, we’re sorry)

1. Your friend is not crazy. (She is adopting.)

There is, I will admit, a fine line between those two but still it’s good to remember. The international adoption of a child requires enough paperwork to kill a small forest. And more governmental red tape than you can believe. Imagine your longest, most frustrating trip to the DMV. Now quadruple that, add in twelve more governmental agencies in two countries, and remember it’s not a driver’s license you’re waiting for but the final piece of paper that says this family you’re creating can finally, finally be together. Yeah. Not crazy. But close.

2. She loves a child she’s never met.

It’s possible. So possible. It’s irrational and crazy but it’s reality. Does she love them like she will once she gets to know them? No. But she loves them. She wakes up loving them and goes to sleep loving them. She drives to the grocery story and aches to have them safe and snug in the carseat waiting for them. She pushes her cart around the store and hears a child cry and her heart pounds wondering if her child is crying? Alone? Hungry? She might even have to leave an entire grocery cart full of food in the yogurt aisle to go home and cry because it just is too hard. Way too hard.

3. It’s difficult having your heart on the other side of the world.

To people on the outside they don’t look like our kids, on paper they might not be our kids yet. But in our hearts we love these children like they are and yet we’re not together. We’re moms without children. It’s an ache that doesn’t go away. It starts before we see their faces and only ends when they’re in our arms. So we walk about with half our heart missing. It’s hard to breathe, to think, to speak. Something always feels missing. Because they are.

4. She is addicted to her email.

It’s okay. This is a temporary condition and most make a full recovery. It can be diagnosed by refusal to allow separation from her smart phone, or glassy-eyed concentration as she clicks “refresh” over and over and over on her computer. Other signs may include: waking up in the middle of the night to check because it’s X time over there, and muttering aloud “must get home, must check for update, must get home” while out in public.

5. Her child has been through trauma.

If she’s like a lot of moms she won’t be advertising that fact everywhere because she respects her child’s privacy. But children don’t come to the place of needing a second family because they were placed in a cabbage patch by unicorns and leprechauns. Adoption comes from loss. Loss she will see in her child’s eyes and in their heart. Loss that as a mama can make your soul curl up in a ball for an ugly cry. So don’t tell her the kids are lucky. You wouldn’t tell a person who lost an arm that they’re lucky to have a prosthetic one would you? I mean yeah, they are lucky to have that replacement. But you know what would be luckier? Not losing that arm in the first place. So please be understanding. Also, maybe instead of asking for her child’s story outright ask “are you sharing about his history before you?” That gives her a chance to either answer you or bow out graciously.

6. Adoption isn’t pregnancy.

It just isn’t. Well, it is in that at the end of it the hope is to have a new son or daughter in your arms. But I’ve yet to meet a pregnant woman who wonders how old her child will be upon entry into the family. Adoption is different. There is no due date for us. Let that sink in. No due date. And even given preemies and late arrivals with the baby by stork method you have a narrow months-long window of time in which the baby will arrive. That brings us to point number seven.

7. She probably doesn’t know when the child is coming home.

And she has probably been asked this approximately twelve times that day. Because you, her awesome friends, care about her! (And also you secretly worry she’s going a little nuts, see point #1.) And I get it. It’s hard with adoption because you don’t know what to ask. I feel that way with pregnant ladies, like what am I supposed to say? “Your ankles really don’t look that bad do they?” Recently I learned the always safe phrase “you look great – how is baby doing?”, the adoption equivalent is “I know you must miss your kiddos, how is the adoption going?” Or, if you don’t have time to have her break down and cry all over you try the even safer “can I see your latest update pictures?” and then ooh and aww over their cute faces. Even if the pictures are horrible say something positive. I mean I don’t tell people that their sonogram pictures sometimes look like aliens made of bread dough. (Except yours Amy B. Yours is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.)

8. She isn’t sure they’re coming home.

This is the part of the adoption process that makes you want to crawl under your bed and not come out until it’s safe again. This is the part that tears your soul in two. This is the part that you wake up in the morning remembering and going to bed at night fearing. Because there are no guarantees. And that’s hard. No, not hard. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s not just the fear that your child might die before having a family, it’s that this child you love with every ounce of your being might grow up in an orphanage, on the streets, or worse.

9. Your friend is kind of stupid.

I know. That’s harsh. But it’s true. You try operating on a daily basis with only half your heart and half your brain, because that’s what it’s like. ‘Cause the other half of you is wrapped up in a tiny person who is half a world and what feels like a lifetime away. Also, because of the time zone difference it means that half of you is awake pretty much all the time.

10. She doesn’t need to hear your HAS (horrible adoption stories.)

Yes, I know, everyone knows of someone’s uncle’s neighbor who adopted a child and then the child burned down the school with the power of her mind after her classmates dumped a bucket of pig blood on her. (Oh wait, that’s the storyline of “Carrie” isn’t it?) But sharing these stories are the equivalent of telling someone hopping in a plane for their first sky-diving session “I watched this video on youtube where a guy skydived. He died. And his body was all smashed and stuff.” Maybe it’s true but it’s also not overly helpful. Unless you’re the kind of person who also goes up to pregnant woman and says “I know of a lady who got pregnant one time, she gave birth to a kid who became a serial killer and sewed a suit of clothes out of his victims’ skin. (Shoot, that’s the storyline of “Hannibal” isn’t it? Well, I tried.)

Do “Adoptive Kids” sometimes grow up and do horrible thing? Yep. You know who else grows up and does horrible things? “Vaginal Kids.” So really, the warning should be more along these lines: “You’re going to be a parent huh? Good luck with that.”

11. She has probably done her research

Don’t assume she’s going into this because of a driving urge to be mistaken for Angelina Jolie. Unless she is also demanding everyone call her husband “Brad” it probably comes from some deeper place. Or you know, her husband’s name really IS Brad. Chances are she’s read books on adoptive parenting, has agonized for hours over which adoption agency to choose from. Made a decision. Then agonized some more. She’s thought about the ethical questions. And if you don’t think she has then maybe ask. “How did you pick your agency?” “What led you to X country?”

12. She looks brave on the outside, she’s brave on the inside too. But she’s also a mess

Which, I think is what mothering and loving is all about. Being a mess. Throwing your love out there and not knowing if you’re ever going to get it back. It’s scary. It’s vulnerable. It feels like you can’t breathe and when you can it hurts to do it. And you don’t want to complain about that because you picked it. So you pick up the pieces of your heart and you keep going. You keep going because at the end of the day what you go through as an adoptive mother is nothing compared to what children go through when they live their life without family. And that’s what this journey is all about.

dear friends of waiting adoptive moms

{{picture of my son and I taken by the talented Melanie Pace}}

edited to add this note: When I hit publish this morning it didn’t occur to me that this post would spread so far beyond the small group of friends and family who read my blog. Beyond the group of women who’ve become my friends during this adoption journey and who helped me think of topics to add to this post. I’m honored that each one of you have come here and read my thoughts, and honored that you saw fit to share this post with your friends. For those of you who haven’t read posts before I’d like to offer links to a few that I believe will present a more complete picture of my thoughts on the adoption process.

Adoption is an imperfect answer to an impossible question. I happen to wish that all Babies could be raised by their first mothers & fathers, the people who brought them into this world, the people whose blood history they share. But we don’t live in a world where “shoulds” always happen. Life is messy and painful, life includes loss and heartache. And so adoption exists.

All throughout the process of adoption I tried to be careful about calling our life here “home” for Nat. Even on his birth announcement I put “together” instead of “home”. I’m not sure all the reasons for the hesitation. Certainly I thought it, I believed it, I wanted it. But I also knew it wasn’t. He wasn’t coming home, he was leaving home. Leaving home to come live in a strange place that yes, would eventually BE home. Sometimes I think I over think things.

I’m ashamed to admit this but way back when, shortly after we heard the first child we were matched with was dying, I wondered why our adoption journey had to be so hard. So painful and soul-rending. I wasn’t expecting a rose petal covered path but I was hoping that some almighty power would at least keep the thorny brambles cleared off of it. But here’s the thing: if there was any fairness in this world my children would never have needed me in the first place. And there is something quite horrific about the arrogance of believing that God would make this easy on me when it wasn’t easy for my children’s other parents.

adoption related mushiness, adoption related seriousness, waiting

the stranger who will be my son

It won’t be long now, they’ll be placing a child in my arms, and I’ll become his mother. And he won’t know who I am. He’ll look at me and won’t recognize me, won’t love me, won’t have any bond to me. And I’ll be his mother.

So I’ll do what mothers do. I’ll hold him, and rock him, and feed him. I’ll kiss him and tell him in a language he doesn’t understand that pretty soon things won’t be so new, pretty soon we’ll know each other, pretty soon I won’t be a stranger. I’ll tell him I love him and it’s okay that he doesn’t love me. I’ll tell him that love can take time to grow, that home can take time to become a reality. I’ll tell him we’re his family and that I hope someday he knows that and feels that and believes that.

I’ll whisper his foster mother’s name and tell him it’s okay that he misses her. I’ll tell him she loves him because I know it’s true. I’ll tell him I know of his losses and they’ll always be spoken of with respect in our home. I’ll tell him I know we’re not his only family and that I’m sorry for all the upheaval he has had in his little life. I’ll tell him there are no big changes now. That this family we’re creating is his as long as he wants it to be. I’ll tell him that no matter what happens I’ll love him for all of time. And my love will be enough for both of us until he has his own. My belief in the strength of our family will be enough until he believes it too.

But most of all I will tell him of the amazing person he is. How his very life gives a unique gift to the world, one that no one else can give. I’ll tell him that it’s not a question of what he does, it’s a question of WHO he is. That who he is, is enough. Is everything.

Sometimes I stare at his picture and whisper a thought of gratitude that he’s here. That he’s on this earth. That I get a first row seat to the wonder that he is. That very soon, the four of us will be a family. Will have our lives intertwined by memories and emotions and experiences. That each of us came to this family from another. Each with a unique bloodline. And yet we’re a family. Very soon now that journey will begin. Pretty soon that stranger will become my son.

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{from his nursery}}

adoption related seriousness, mountains that don't move, waiting

the grace of twilight

a thousand years

This adoption process has me reduced to finding solace in “Twilight” quotes. Okay, it’s not quite that bad. It’s actually from a song written for one of the Twilight movies. I didn’t know that though when I first heard it. When I sat there and felt like someone had seen into my soul. Maudlin much? Picture me doing a Kristen Stewart type lip tremble here but with more facial expression.

I’m ashamed to admit this but way back when, shortly after we heard the first child we were matched with was dying, I wondered why our adoption journey had to be so hard. So painful and soul-rending. I wasn’t expecting a rose petal covered path but I was hoping that some almighty power would at least keep the thorny brambles cleared off of it.

But here’s the thing: if there was any fairness in this world my children would never have needed me in the first place. And there is something quite horrific about the arrogance of believing that God would make this easy on me when it wasn’t easy for my children’s other parents. Or for my children. He could easily keep every child from becoming parentless. He could stop death, war, and everything else that leaves babies vulnerable and alone. But He doesn’t.

So who am I to think that I would be spared pain and setbacks? Where was that part of the deal?

Comparison is an ugly thing. Always. Unless you’re comparing yourself to characters from trashy reality television. In which case comparison is one of the cheapest forms of therapy because compared to most of them my life totally and utterly rocks and I am a completely normal and sane person. But that aside, comparison in the adoption world can make you crazy. Because there’s always someone who gets a form faster than you. Who accepted a referral after you and got their baby home before you. Who seems to be getting the easy path.

And there’s a temptation to believe that it all means something. That it somehow has something to do with your worthiness and specialness and iamsogreatness. Or your unworthiness.

For the record I don’t think it does. I don’t think mountains that move are indications of an Almighty Power saying that I deserve something and the ones that don’t move aren’t indicating the opposite either. Because if I did, if I did believe that then what does that say about my belief towards my children’s other parents? Where was the mountain-moving when they needed it?

Theologians have been debating what is God’s will and what is man’s choice since the dawn of time. They’ll probably be debating it in the afterlife. Maybe there will be a whole section of heaven set up for it. It will be like the internet in physical (metaphysical?) form for all eternity. And some days I get caught up in that. I wonder why some are given so much and some are given so little, and the injustice of it all makes me want to resign from the human race and volunteer for a deep space mission to Mars. With apes.

But on the rest of the days I resign myself to the not knowing and I come back to this belief that I carry in my soul: Each of us were put on this earth for a reason, we were each entrusted with love and grace that is ours to hoard or to give away. And that’s all I’m doing, it’s all I know how to do. I’m just holding out the love I have and saying  – here, I have some extra – who can use it? Knowing that others have given me love and grace when I was the one needing it. And somehow I have to believe that all that love and grace melts together and oozes something beautiful. Not something that makes up for the ugliness of a broken word, but something beautiful none the less.

So yeah, I’m quoting Twilight today. Or it’s theme song. Or whatever. And thinking deep theological thoughts that can’t all be shared. And somewhere deep inside I’m holding thoughts of a little boy who I desperately wish will be in my arms sooner or later. Who I hope beyond words grows up in a family. Who I’ll love until the day I die. Who might someday read these words and curl up in a teenage ball of embarrassment. Sorry kiddo. Maybe use it as emotional blackmail to get me to buy you that new phone or laptop you’ve been bugging us for. Or, you know, a hovercar.

adoption related seriousness

a year ago

A year ago I woke up with a pounding in my chest. Every part of my body felt numb and wooden. I can hardly move with the weight of excitement crushing down on me.

And then this happened. Then we met the baby we had loved so long from so far. Then he was with us. And today the little moments come back to me. Sitting on the bed and feeding him his first bottle. Willing him to drink when he didn’t want to. Anxious thoughts about him being sick right before coming home. Trying to get his last dose of medicine in him for the malaria. Little gray sleeper with elephants on it. Laying on that bed looking up at us, strangers in a room together, strangers that were somehow now family.

“Home” doesn’t happen instantly. Or it didn’t for us. It took time. But time we have. So that day was a first step. It was the coming of home, not the realization of it.

When I think of his trusting little body lying in my arms for the first time I feel unworthy. How did I get so lucky? When I think of sending that first email to our adoption agency  I get chills thinking of how close I was to not sending it, to not ever hearing about him. Why did I send it that day? I can’t remember. I can barely remember sending it.

And that first moment he opened his eyes. I was holding him. He blinked and looked around. He looked at me. He looked at us. And I wondered, how could this have happened? How could we be sitting here with this most amazing treasure held in our arms?

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A few weeks ago someone at the indoor playground, watching my son run in circles and laugh asked me where he got his energy. Not from me. They asked if he got his friendliness from us. He didn’t. I joke that my husband and I make introverts look outgoing. We’re a step above cave people. Really nice cave people though.

So that personality that is outgoing and engaging and draws in a crowd? Not from us. That’s all him. I like that. I like that I see a personality and worldview so different from my own. I love that he’s open and bouncing with energy. One of the beautiful things about adoption is there’s no subconscious beliefs at play that see this little person as a mini version of the parents. You can’t delude yourself that all his giftings and specialness come from you. Because they don’t.

I feel sometimes as I watch him that I’m watching the generations collide in him, the other parents, grandparents, whole histories of people coming together to form his unique self. What a gift to watch that unfold. What a weighty thing to realize I’ve been entrusted with that treasure. That life and pain somehow wove together a story where I get to be a second mother to another woman’s creation. That our family is richer and fuller and deeper because of that blending of bloodlines and histories.

And a year ago today I felt that weight in my arms. I felt the unworthiness and the blessing, the unfairness and the beauty come crashing down on me like a rush of water, I feel it still. And all I can do is lean into the wave, let it take me where it wants to go and count myself blessed to be here. To be holding the amazing child I get to hold today. To watch his life unfold. To watch the gift he is to the world unfold. To sit in the sacredness that is the life of every person on this planet. To watch that spark of God’s breath inside his soul come to life.

A year ago I woke up with a pounding in my chest. I feel it still. It’s anticipation. Not of what he’ll do, but of who he will be. The lives he’ll love and blend into his own life. The person he is and the person he’ll become. Him. My son. Created in the image of God. Created unique. Perfect.

adoption related seriousness, broken and okay, mountains that don't move, waiting

when the mountains don’t move

So what does it mean when your mountains don’t move?  When you pray the “prayer of faith” but there is no splash at the end to indicate that God was listening?

What does it mean when those same prayers from other lips get answered?  When their “miracle” request is granted and yours gets filed in the trash bin of heaven?

I find myself tempted to believe I didn’t do something right, didn’t pray the right words, didn’t have the right heart.  As if God is a temperamental vending machine and I didn’t hit the right button with the appropriate force.  I find myself wallowing in believing that if I was somehow good enough then my prayers would be answered, my life would be made lovely and easy.  As if those whose lives are a daily struggle for survival somehow did something to deserve their condition.

So maybe it’s good my mountains didn’t move, my personal “miracles” wasn’t granted. Maybe if they had I would believe in the own specialness of my American self.  Maybe I would somehow think that the privileges that come from being born in a wealthy country where opportunities abound somehow said something about my goodness as a person, my deservedness as a human.

Maybe if my mountains had moved I wouldn’t think every day about those around the world whose mountains are so much bigger than mine.  Whose unanswered prayers cost them so much more than mine ever will.  While I pray for paperwork to come in quickly so my son can come home to me others are praying to not die in childbirth and leave their child motherless.  While I cry over months apart from these children I love, others are crying for the food to keep their children alive.  While I wonder why my life has to be tainted by chronic illness others watch their loved ones die from preventable diseases, all because they lack the money for treatment.

Maybe if my mountains had moved I wouldn’t feel compelled to give to others, to do what I can to help their own mountains move, maybe I would have been content to sit and stare at the gap in the horizon and be pleased with my own personal faith and my own personal happiness.  Maybe I would have believed in my own specialness at the cost of forgetting others.

My mountain didn’t move.  But my heart has.

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adoption related seriousness, waiting

please let him have a family

The truth is I miss my baby.  The one on the other side of the world, the one I’ve never met, the one I don’t know when I’ll meet.  There is no magic pill that makes this easy.  Putting “adoptive” in front of “mother” in my title doesn’t mean I am suddenly immune from the ache of having my child so far away.

The truth is that I think about him when I wake up and when I go to sleep.  I think about him when I’m rocking his big brother to sleep.  I ache that I’m not the one putting him to sleep at night and at naptimes.  I hurt that it isn’t my face he sees above him when he wakes up. I think about him when I walk through the store and see a baby around his age cooing or crying.  The truth is I’ve now seen more of that baby than I’ve seen of the one I think of as my own.

Loving someone you’ve never met is possible.  So possible.  You can have an ache and a fire in your gut that is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.  You can love this tiny thing more than you thought possible.  And all the chants of “worth the wait” doesn’t make the wait easy.  So you cling to faith.  Faith that this dream of him having a family will become a reality.

The truth is I’m a world apart from the one I love. And that makes it hard to breathe sometimes.  But it’s not death I fear the most for him, though that thought makes me ache.  It’s what else is out there waiting for him if neither heaven or a family become a reality.  I want him to have a family, it doesn’t have to be mine.  But dear God, please let him have a family.