I was recently at a medical appointment, my toddler daughter in tow. The doctor was running late. Like an hour-and-half-late. My daughter, out of snacks and out of patience, was doing what we call “noodleing.” Basically, she had willed her body to become a wet noodle, and nothing could appease her.
The doctor finally came in, and as we were talking, my daughter doing what toddlers do, I said jokingly, “I know you can fix my orthopedic issue, but do you have anything for tired moms?”
And the doctor’s reply? She was totally serious and said, “Why did you have so many kids?”
I was shocked. But I shouldn’t have been.
Everywhere we go, especially during the summer when my four children are home, women (always women), usually over the age of sixty, come up to me and exclaim, “You have your hands full!”
There was a time when I could not speak the word “adoption” aloud. It was so charged with pain, the very thought of it overwhelmed me. Thorns of bitterness accompanied the word forming a thick barrier.
Adoption represented trauma and deep, unresolved grief.
As a young teen at the very end of the 1970’s, I became pregnant. My parents turned to their church for advice which led to me being sent to live in a foster home far from everyone I knew and loved.
I trudged to the front of the group, my palms clammy and heart racing. The gym was overcrowded with sweaty kids, a typical 90’s summer day club. The promise of good times and trying new activities had become disillusioned for me quite early on. My quiet, slightly pudgy 7-year-old self had won the attention of the camp director. And since attention was neither appreciated nor desired, dread—not laughter—filled my summer days.
All three of our children came into our family through adoption. One Sunday, when Rachel, my youngest of three kids was just a couple weeks old, we sang Oceans during worship. I’d never really attached to the song like so many other Christians that I know did. But that morning, the song fell on me fresh.
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders / Let me walk upon the waters / Wherever You would call me / Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander / And my faith will be made stronger / In the presence of my Savior.”
Perhaps many people can say what I am about to say: when I first began fostering children I had no plans on adopting. I was experiencing a bit of the ’empty nest syndrome’ and wanted little ones in my home once more. I also wanted to foster children on my own terms with the choice to stop when I felt the time had come.
I received a phone call from a social worker asking if I wanted to foster a baby who was still in the hospital. I immediately said, “Yes.” The social worker began informing me of the baby’s health condition. “This baby was born three months premature, weighs only four pounds at six weeks of age, and has tested positive for crack and alcohol.” She added, “The baby needs to be picked up today.” I raced out of the house and headed to the hospital to meet a tiny little girl.
The little black ringlets of hair curling round her rosy cheeks and dark brown eyes captured my heart at first sight. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. As the tears came out of nowhere and my heart exploded, it was instantaneous. Somewhere in that place a Mama feels the deepest of emotions, I knew she was ours. God had shown me the little girl He’d hand-picked for us halfway across the world.
It was love. A love that seemed surreal — but one I knew was a gift. I just wouldn’t understand the magnitude of that gift for many years to come.
Our adoption story wasn’t one of the easy ones. I don’t know that anyone has an “easy” story, but ours was riddled with unheard of obstacles, detours, and heartache.
It was never going to be forever. When we started the journey of becoming foster parents, it was not with the hope or goal of adoption. We became foster parents because we wanted to help children in need, and support families during tough times. The DHS knew this, we knew this, the bio-parents of the children who have been in our home knew this. Even the kids coming in to our home knew this, as over time we therapeutically explained our role to them. No matter how much you remind yourself of this, and talk to those around you about your role, and tell the DHS your boundaries, it doesn’t make a kiddo transitioning away from your home any easier.
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.”