Michelle: Was adoption something that was always on your heart, Rachel? Or was there a moment, or experience that you recall that awakened you to this form of family building?
Rachel: I’ve always worked with kids and loved kids. I worked as a nanny, at a day care… I was a writing camp counselor. I babysat friend’s kids, always for fun, never for pay. I just love being around children, so I think I always knew we were going to have children, but I didn’t do a lot of planning on how that was going to happen, just because I was finishing my college degree, and then we got married. I got married when I was twenty one. About four or five years into our marriage, we started thinking about having kids. At that point, the big thing happened. I had been sick for about a year and a half and I went to five different medical professionals and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. I was misdiagnosed with anorexia, and being a hypochondriac, and I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when I entered into a state called, diabetic ketoacidosis. My body was shutting down. Multiple doctors came into my room and said, “I don’t know how you are alive, this is a miracle.” And I knew in that moment—because I knew that Type 1 could make a pregnancy potentially dangerous—that we would choose adoption. Now, my husband wasn’t on board yet, but I was like, “This is what we are doing.” Adoption is a really difficult decision for a lot of people, it was not for me. I just knew.
Welcome to the first episode of The Greater Than Podcast: Grief, Compassion, & Joy.
In this episode, I speak with Natalie Brenner, adoptive mother and author of the book, This Undeserved Life: Uncovering the Gifts of Grief and the Fullness of Life. We explore how we can move through life-shattering events in our lives, and the role that God plays in helping us in times of darkness. We also discuss the ways in which we can compassionately show up for those in our lives who are experiencing grief or pain. In addition, Natalie shares her heart for adoption, motherhood, and the gratitude she feels for the blessings in her life.
If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s this: the adoption community is a healthier one when its experiences and stories are shared out loud. We’ve learned, over many years, that silencing the voices and perceptions of those within our community will never help to forge deeper levels of understanding and inclusion.
What was once thought as a healthy choice: distancing adoptees from the truth of their birth stories, is now known to be of great disadvantage to their overall well-being. We’ve learned the importance of supporting and hearing all members of the adoption triad. We’ve arrived to an empowering place within the adoption conversation as we speak this declaration: the adoption community will no longer be treated as a secret society.
The yen for authenticity is a universal quest. To paraphrase Meister Eckhardt Tolle, “We long to know who we REALLY are.” This knowledge comes from within but also from our environment and the people immediately around us, our families.
Families: a loaded word.
It’s been said that the road to adoption recovery is a search for authenticity. Adoptees must choose from two family trees, one biological and another through adoption. In writing my memoir, The Goodbye Baby-A Diary about Adoption, I realized that neither family tree was the answer. My feeling of being “at home in the world” had to come from a source within, a gradual unveiling, a stripping away of masks I’d assumed for a lifetime.
I once believed that adoption was my weakness. I no longer think this true. Adoption has become my strength.
There was a time in my life when I thought of myself as fragile. I had been internationally adopted out of foster care, as a child. I viewed myself as broken. After all, I questioned, what parent would leave behind a child that was whole? There must be a kind of brokenness about me. I was convinced that the shattered pieces of me were the driving force behind my parents’ decision to walk away. I had done something wrong. I must have committed some sin that mom and dad could not forgive.
One. The number of medical issues we had that led us to considering adoption.
Ten. That’s the number of years my husband and I have been in the adoption community.
Twenty. The number of times our profile book was shown to expectant parents.
Four. The number of children we have adopted. Also the number of open and transracial adoptions.
One-thousand. The number of times I’ve mulled over our adoption journeys. Perhaps more… Definitely more.
This kid, my son. He’s always had a “bigger than life” way about him. From the very day when we left the orphanage in Russia, I knew that my Vitya was made for incredible things.
Vitya’s caretakers told me how he was known as the “pacifier thief” within the orphanage baby room where he spent the first year of his life. He’d pluck the pacifiers out of the mouths of other babies and stuff them into his own. It was common to see my boy, on any given day, contently sucking on three pacifiers at one time. He’s always been a bold boy. And, we’ve always had a special bond.
To my daughter on the day of your adoption,
I’ve called you by that label, “daughter,” many times. But today is different.
Today there’s no prefix, no subtext, no “sort of but not really” as there have always been before. You’re not my foster daughter, I don’t love you “like you’re my own.” Today you are wholly, completely, for forever my daughter. Nothing is changing, but everything is changing.
On my own blog, I spend a lot of time reflecting on how adoption and motherhood has changed me and my life path. I began the adoption process nearly 5 years ago, and I remember thinking about how to make space in my life for someone else. At the time, I was nearly 40, entering the final year of a doctoral program, having just survived a dramatic health scare. The confluence of these things pushed me to jump headlong into the adoption process. It was just a little crazy.
I love my life and every single lesson that I’ve learned along the way. I’m grateful. Yet, as an international adoptee, I cannot say that I haven’t experienced moments when I’ve mourned the very fact that I’m adopted. Truth is, sometimes adoption hurts deep. No matter the life chapter an adoptee may be in, the hurt is real. It’s important to express that hurt, to let it out.
This can be difficult when so much about adoption is wrapped in joyful ribbons and bows. I understand this joy, as I honor the beauty of adoption each and every day. In so many ways, adoption has been a great blessing in my life. Yet, as an adoptee and adoptive parent I would be remiss if I dismissed the voices within my adoption community that express feelings of being left, abandoned, erased. I would be remiss if I dismissed the voice within myself, as well.