Adoption. It’s not about giving a child a home, a hand-up. It’s not about saving a woman from the consequence of her poor choices. It’s about growing up. Growing up and realizing we were never meant to be their savior.
A Heart for Children
Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be a mom. I loved the very idea of it. Caring for another so deeply, meeting their every need. I wanted that. To see the love returned in adoring glances, in coming to me, recognizing the security I offered.
There is something sacred in that type of relationship. I yearned for it. Now mind you, I was not the girl that preferred a baby doll to a dump truck on her birthday. The truck was more practical -- just think of the things you can do with it! But I was the girl who gravitated to the baby sitting in a playpen or stroller, waiting for a friend.
I felt a connection and joy in it. The innocence of a child. Their genuine emotional responses, untainted, unguarded. I would lose myself in the pureness of it all, escaping the world of pressure and expectations. To live and just be. This is what they offered, and I gladly accepted.
Adults marveled at my natural ability, thankful for a short respite of their own. And I took them up on it any chance I got. They would often tell me I didn’t have to entertain their little ones, that I could go and play with my friends. I politely declined their offer time and again with, “Oh, I don’t mind.” Truth was, I preferred it.
As I got older, I would engage with children at many different ages. You could find me coming alongside anyone I saw that needed help. It was happiness for me, and mutually beneficial. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I loved working with them, and wanted my own someday.
Paul and I dated for one-and-a-half years before we married. He was a teacher by profession and enjoyed working with children as well. We talked about our hope for a family. Both of us wanted to adopt. We saw a need and no particular adversity to filling it. Children were children, and we felt we could love them, no matter what.
We would have two of our own and adopt one or two after that. Our plan was to have me finish college and work for two to three years. I wanted to stay home when they were young. This would put us in a good position.
All around us our friends were starting their families. My heart ached in the wait, but I knew it would be worth it. At social gatherings I would gladly hold their little ones, chasing them around the yard as need be. I knew it was only a matter of time before it was my turn.
During this time Paul and I talked. I didn’t want to be the primary caretaker. While I enjoyed caring for others, it wouldn’t be my sole job, my sole purpose. We would share responsibilities. If we had expectations and voiced them, it was important to follow through. We had to be loving and consistent. There were many things we learned and defined in our anticipation of parenthood.
Three years ended up passing rather quickly and before we knew it, the time had come. With hopeful excitement and anticipation, with an air of anxiety we took those first steps to start our family. We stopped everything we were doing to prevent pregnancy and waited. As each month, each cycle came and went, our concern grew. What were we doing wrong?
With a sense of urgency, we read everything we could get our hands on. We became experts in the field of fertility and ovulation. Both sides of our family were mass procreators. We just had to figure it out.
Turning Toward Adoption
In the meantime we also decided to pursue our dream of adoption. We wanted a family either way. How our children came to us didn’t matter. As we began the discussion with family and friends, it only affirmed our decision. Adoption permeated our lives, even before we brought our first child home.
Family members had been adopted, coworkers, students, friends. People we knew, we never would have suspected, until we asked. Until we were stepping onto the road ourselves. There was a vulnerability in this. In starting the conversation, we wondered where it would lead. They opened their hearts to us, and we were grateful.
We started with the county. Public adoption would be more affordable (free, actually) and we could still adopt an infant. Having no children, we felt this would give us the most natural start to our family, and we wanted that. To experience all of the stages, from baby through teen. For us, it made sense.
“They will try to discourage you.” They prepared us for the fight. Adoptive parents looking solely for a relinquished infant were frowned upon in the adoption community. There were so many children waiting for a home. But we felt this was what we wanted, what we had to give. In the end, it came down to us being true to ourselves and what we knew we were capable (and not capable) of.
Other than that, we were open to so many more things. Sex, race, genetic history, disability, or in utero exposure -- it didn’t matter. We would find a way and make it work. We had so much confidence in what we felt we had to offer. We were both educators, had worked with children as long as both of us could remember, were educated and trained, and had time to hone our parenting skills. Looking back, I’d say we were cocky.
We never could have imagined the five children we brought home. The journey -- the heart-wrenching struggles and joy. There are things we’ve learned we could not have learned any other way. Compassion and understanding are expensive byproducts of trial and tears.
I thought we’d have enough training, experience, and love to raise the children entrusted to our care. I thought we’d have enough, be enough. In raising them these past 17 years I’ve realized this ideal was no more than a lofty dream, and me having too much confidence in myself and my own ability. We were never meant to be enough.
They had a family, long before they came to us. They were cared for, and their lives nurtured and shaped before I knew them. Genetic programming, traits, experiences, all outside of my influence, outside of my control. I had no say, no influence or opinion that mattered. The only power I held was my response to it.
I had to be willing. To think beyond my own ideals and dreams, my own feelings, and consider another’s. I was not their only mother. To walk in their shoes, consider their perspective. There was more to the story than I understood. To embrace everything outside of my control, even when it surfaced years later. I stepped up when invited, and soaked in everything that moment had to offer, both the good and the bad. Thankful I could be there.
I had to learn how to love others more than I love myself. Not only my children, but everything and everyone that came with them. Our family grew.
In walking this road I have learned of my own fragility, my own brokenness, my own shortcomings. My children have taught me. In the beginning, I wondered if I could truly love them, fight for them with every fiber of my being, setting all else aside -- even myself. This process of becoming was so much more diverse and complex than I could have ever imagined. They led the way.
I can say without doubt, our hearts have bonded, unequivocally. Through pain and loss, longing, trust, confusion, disability, anger, ethnicity, questioning, addiction, fear, and brokenness. Persevering, always coming back to this.
We are family, connected in a deep and unexplainable way. It goes beyond blood and genetic ties. We are related. Beyond spoken and unspoken expectation, of hope, disappointment, and ever-changing ideals. There is consistency. As dreams fade, and trials become too big to face alone, we cling to each other. And that is enough.