I’m a mother to a beautiful child. She’s everything I had always hoped she would be, and more. My love for her is rich and deep and unconditional. I cherish our family vacations and visits to the park, and I especially enjoy watching my daughter dance. But, it wasn’t always that way. I was once an empty, heartbroken young woman who had lost two babies to miscarriage. Back then, I feared I would never become a mom. Adoption changed that, and even more importantly, it taught me a thing or two about love. Here is what I have learned:
Difficult to place.
These are the three words that social workers used to describe me while in the care of the United Kingdom’s foster care system. In other words, these three little words equaled one giant judgement about my worth. The social worker assigned to my case believed that finding a family for a child like me would be, yes, difficult.
I was seen as “illegitimate” and “ethnic” within the system. My foster papers described me as the “extra-marital daughter” of a woman who indulged in an affair with a “dark man.” Adding, “The child is dark, like her father.”
“It’s not safe”. I think that is what I would tell you if you were looking to foster or adopt. I’m not sure that this would be a good slogan for an adoption agency, but after walking this path, I’d think a warning is in order.
I would want to tell you that if you choose this path, you will never be the same. You will no longer look at the orphan crisis as a statistic, you will suddenly look at it as a thumb sucking, 1 year old in a diaper and onesie plopped into your lap at 11 pm at night. Eyes wide and filled with fear, you and this tiny ‘orphan crisis’ will face this storm together. Suddenly, it all takes on a name and a dirt-smudged face.
May is National Foster Care Month. As a former foster child, as well as an international adoptee, I’m often asked about my nationality. In other words, people are curious as to where I originated, what my heritage is and to whom I once belonged.
Believe me, I have been — in my lifetime — ultra curious about these things, as well. In fact, the journey of discovery has taken me along paths to unknown destinations, and to unknown parts of myself.
The experience of seeking out adoption truth is like putting together a puzzle with vital pieces missing. Empty holes. Empty spaces. Those hollow places in the heart; caverns created by loss.
How much are we willing to sacrifice in an effort to put back the pieces of a shattered-self? What are we willing to risk? How can we revive the dormant parts of who we once were, as adoptees, prior to being removed from our first lives?
Last year, a couple of weeks before Christmas while my husband and I were out shopping, he turned to me and said, “Why don’t we just adopt a child from Syria?” His statement was due—in large part—to the current and ongoing refugee crisis and a result of reading and viewing horrific news almost daily about families forced to flee their homelands for safety. My husband obviously knows that there’s no such thing as “just” adopting, but he was expressing his solution to a need.
“Let your faith be bigger than your fear.”
It’s been pinned thousands of times. We all understand that we are supposed to know and feel and believe that God is bigger than any challenge, foe, or bump in the road. But what is supposed to be, and what is, isn’t always one-in-the-same.
How do you practically “let” faith be bigger than fear? Speak it? Pin it? Chant it? Stick a post-it to your bathroom mirror? Make it your phone home screen? Get a cool graphic tee that let’s everyone know that you just, “LOVE you some Jesus?”
When we adopted our three daughters, sixteen years ago, I was confident in my parenting ability. People often complimented me on my three boys and on my parenting. In fact, I used to say that when I die, they could put “She was a good mom” on my headstone.
Not long after my girls came home, that all changed. I no longer felt like a good mom. In fact, there were times I questioned if I was even the right mom for the job. I could hear the message on my headstone being ground off because it was no longer true. What I was doing, how I was parenting, was not working with my girls. They had come to me with grief. Loss. Impacts of trauma. The tools in my toolbox were clearly not the right tools. But back then, there was little research to know what the right tools were. There was very little support, no one to ask. I was on my own.
In my work as an adoption consultant, I have the honor of walking alongside couples on their journey to building their family through adoption. I partner with adoptive families for the entirety of their adoption: starting with the home study and sometimes for years afterwards. I watch in awe as they pray, wait, dream, and work to answer the call they have to adopt. We pray together for birth families and babies, and we laugh together at God’s crazy timing and overwhelming faithfulness. My role as a counselor, educator, and advisor has been incredibly rewarding.
How you came into this world is not who you are.
I mean that! There has never been a more important time to make clear, to every adoptee living and breathing today, that you are not the sum of your earliest circumstance.
So often, we can become trapped within the earliest story of our lives. I call it the “primal story.” It’s real and, for adoptees, the primal story can relay messaging that we are not safe, loved, wanted, or worthy of being heard and seen.
In 2010, my husband and I were still newlyweds, but we firmly believed God had called us to adopt our first child. We were very young—only 23 and 25—so our options for adoption were limited. Through prayer and guidance from others, we found our adoption agency and decided to pursue an Ethiopian adoption.
When I look back on our adoption journey, I laugh at how much my faith was stretched and how—at the time—I felt that the adoption process would be one of the most difficult journeys I would encounter as a parent. If only I had known what was ahead! We anticipated a nine-month adoption timeline but a variety of factors stretched the process over two years. There were so many details to see to: the paperwork, the revisions of our home study parameters, and the losses and matches of families ahead of us on an agency waitlist. I marvel at how our son was matched to us—it is a miracle that a little boy born in Gambella, Ethiopia, now resides in our home in Brooklyn, NY.