These were my last few hours in Ethiopia. My daughter’s adoption had been finalized and we were on the way to the airport in Addis Ababa. As an international adoptee myself, I knew that I was not taking my daughter “home.” We were leaving her homeland and I had great respect for the power of that moment. I held a deep reverence for the loss that she was experiencing within her, even though she could not voice it or make sense of it, yet.
When I tell people my story, I get a lot of surprised looks and questions. I have six siblings—three sisters and three brothers. But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was really little, I was the only girl. My brothers tried to include me in their chess games and Nintendo, but I wanted a sister more than anything. When my parents announced to us kids that they were pursuing adoption, we were thrilled!
They started out looking for one girl, but God placed two beautiful gals into our family. It felt so natural to me, and looking back on it, I wish I had treasured those moments even more than I did.
One of the things that amazes me, is about every third person I talk to has more knowledge about the child welfare system and adoption than they ever knew they had. What also amazes me is that we are so often called to this work, but not sure exactly how to play a role. I had an Indiana University social work student ask me just yesterday, at an event where I served as a panelist, “How do you know when you are called?” My answer to her was the same answer I received from my father when I was just seven years old — where does your passion lie? I went on to ask her several more rhetorical questions: what makes your heart quicken; what is that thing you would do if you never got paid; what would you be excited about engaging in even if it were twenty degrees below zero outside? She thought a while and looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and said, “That’s your call.”
I’m an international adoptee. I’m also the parent of two children delivered into my life via adoption from Russia and Ethiopia.
We’re an international family created through adoption. We love each other and we have so much fun together.
We are also Americans; immigrants to the U.S. and citizens by naturalization. We contribute and we serve this nation, our community, our family, and our friends.
Recently, I read a staggering statistic: International adoption by Americans has declined by 81% since 2004. And, crippling new policies and practices are projected to completely end international adoption within the next five years. (How to Solve the U.S. International Adoption Crisis, by Nathan Gwilliam, Ron Stoddart, Robin Sizemore, and Tom Velie, adoption.com, March 19, 2018)
On this episode of The Greater Than Podcast, I speak with Rachel Garlinghouse, author of the book, The Hopeful Mom’s Guide to Adoption: The Wit and Wisdom You Need for the Journey. Rachel has been part of the adoption community for a decade and is mothering four children, all of whom were adopted domestically and transracially. Rachel has shared her education and experiences on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NPR, and Huff Post Live, just to name a few.
In this episode, Rachel and I discuss transracial adoption and, my brave friend speaks openly about her journey as a diabetic and breast cancer survivor. In addition, we talk about the ways in which we can navigate the losses in our lives. There is such hope in Rachel’s message: such inspiration found in living a life of healing verses in living to be healed.
“One day this will all make sense.”
This was told to us in the midst of an extremely emotional and troubling time. At that moment, I clung to those words as if they were a life raft and I was stranded in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. We had just been told we had lost the referral of a beautiful baby girl only days after our pup, my soul dog, lost his fight with kidney disease and Cushing’s Syndrome. We fought like hell for almost a year to keep Stormy with us, and to this day I would give almost anything to spend just five more minutes with him. In the midst of our grieving, we received the referral of a beautiful baby girl, only to have her ripped from our grasp just days later. It was the first time a referral had been taken back in the program’s almost ten year history, and I was completely devastated. My poor husband felt powerless. He watched me mourn for the pup that made me a mom, albeit a fur mom, and now had to tell me we lost the girl we thought was our daughter for three days. I know how selfish I sound here…looking back on it now, I am so thankful her birth mom was able to change her mind and raise her. I truly am. But at the time, my emotions were controlling me, and they had me a complete mess. I am beyond blessed with my family, and feel so honored to not only have witnessed, but experienced firsthand our story unfold.
Take me home, ’cause I don’t remember. Take, take me home.
These are lyrics from the song, Take Me Home, by Phil Collins. I don’t know when this song was initially released but I heard the remastered version recently.
The words go something like this: There’s a fire that’s been burning right outside my door. I can’t see but I feel it, and it helps to keep me warm.
These lyrics strike a deep and heavy chord with me…
This month marks the 6th anniversary of when two small children stood on our front stoop, accompanied by a social worker, searching for a place to lay their heads that night. They seemed tiny and scared — both defensive and hopeful all in the same breath. Within 30 minutes, the social worker had left and the two children remained. We were a houseful of strangers, my husband and I realized. We didn’t know what to do or what to say because we had no idea how deep their wounds went.
Perfect people. Perfect Children. Perfect Parents. Perfect homes. Perfect lives. Perfect families. The images are everywhere in the media today.
I’m standing at my local grocery store checkout counter and staring at magazine covers with the images of perfect humans, perfect outfits, perfect bodies for those outfits, perfect places to travel, and perfect cars to get you there.
I, on the other hand, have my hair up in a mommy bun and my glasses are a little crooked on my nose. As I look down in an attempt to straighten my eyewear, I see clearly that I — in my hurried attempt to get my kids to school on time — left the house with my furry slippers still on my feet. I’m not perfect.
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.