if you love adoption

You’ve heard the trite invitations, haven’t you?  Pleas to give a child a “forever family”?  Comparisons between us and God — how beautiful that we, like God, can take away a child’s status as orphan?

I agree.  It’s beautiful.  And God is love.  And God bless America.  And don’t do drugs.

God is love.  But to talk of the love without addressing how much that love cost God is to belittle the cross, to make a mockery of Christ.  And it is no use praising the beauty of adoption if I do not also talk about the excruciating pain of it.

Nearly two and a half years ago, our second son Ari joined our family through adoption.  We met him in Ethiopia, seeing face to face a boy we had only known through pictures.  There is a video of our first meeting.  Ari — fat and beautiful, back of head rubbed raw of hair, with trembling lip upon realizing he is in the arms of strangers.

Our early weeks at home kept me up at night, tapping out near-curses into my computer to unload the heavy burden of this new motherhood.  Biological motherhood — hormones and all — I had handled with comparative ease, but this eight-month-old fighting baby who, as I wrote, “sucks his bottle like booze” was tearing my world apart.  I had come into adoption feeling like a hero, and I was being dunked into the reality that love comes at great cost.  “There are things only a mother knows,” I wrote.  “Like how horrid a mother she is, and how much her baby despises her.”

I hid the hardest moments, not denying them, but assured that no one would understand.  Happy.  Healthy.  Friendly.  Those are the adjectives people reminded me described my baby.  I was irate that in spite of the list of attachment resources recommended, adoptive parents were not talking about the painful struggle of adoption.  Not every child may have a visible struggle in bonding with adoptive parents, but there is no adopted child who has not come from a hard place.  Even a child adopted at birth experiences separation from her mother as well as any negative emotion, trauma, or dietary insufficiency the birth mother may have experienced.  These things are written into the fabric of a child.

It was in the heavy, sobbing, heartbreaking moments in the bedroom with my boy Ari that I discovered my utter insufficiency.  Insufficiency to love.  Insufficiency to even properly walk through the rituals of healthy attachment.  In those hours upon hours, this truth: It is in my most grotesque insufficiency that I plumb the depths of the richest grace.

Today, I have a three-year-old named Ari.  He is still fighting and strong, and still beautiful.  He still has unexplainable fears, but he loves, hugs, laughs.  His eyes are alive.  He has healed and is healing.

Although grief is inseparable from adoption, I cannot escape the very real truth that, at its heart, it is the greatest beauty we may ever experience.  Through adoption, we become children of God Himself, however much we may writhe against His affection.  As this Lenten season draws nearer, may I never diminish the cost of my adoption: the Trinitarian God tore Himself apart to bring us into the family.

As it turns out, one of the greatest graces of being an adoptive parent is finding out that I am neither a hero nor a savior.  Those jobs are already sufficiently filled.

Additional resources and reading

Empowered to Connect: a site dedicated to helping adoptive and foster parents connect with their children

“It’s Hard to Say NO”: an important and candid post from my friend Kim, who inspired this post

    • Karen Sheffield
    • February 15th, 2012

    Thank you for being so bold as to “tell it likeit is”! Your transparency will bring validation and healing to the heart of adoption. It’s the “truth” that sets us free — not “deception.” Those who wish to adopt need to understand that the process involves carrying a cross, and offering oneself as a sacrifice for the life of a child that you choose to redeem. It isn’t “the same” as parenting a biological child. It’s much harder, but in the end, its ripple effect penetrates eternity in a way that biological parenting cannot.

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