It’s the pinnacle of the adoption journey. We build a beautiful image of what gotcha day will be, and hold hard to that as we wait. Much preparation goes into readiness for caring for the child we’ve seen only in pictures. We study bonding techniques and possible reactions, and pack and repack little backpacks. But as moms can do, we often fail to prepare our own hearts.
On our first gotcha day, I was unprepared for my reaction. Looking back on that sacred moment, I see a brave mask. I smiled, went through the motions and loved on our new little one. Only my husband and I knew about the unexpected bubbled up emotions that spilled over into the day I assumed would be magical.
We’d waited for five years to feel the weight of Claire in our arms, and prayed through a hundred obstacles to bring her home. When adoption day arrived, I was giddy. Until we found ourselves on the steps of the orphanage. Suddenly, I was flooded with a perfect storm of emotions, a smash up of every “feel” that could be felt. My reaction didn’t build gradually. It slammed me with a surprising abruptness.
When ushered into a conference room for our long awaited moment, the decision to adopt suddenly felt ridiculous. I couldn’t fathom why I was stepping out of my going-just-fine life and onto ground beyond my comfort zone borders. The sound of voices was muted by the pounding of my heart. I avoided looking at the camera, as I was busy mapping out an escape route. Giddiness faded to fear.
Finally, with weak knees and trembling hands, I held her tiny self for the first time. And a war began in my head, heart and prayers that would last a few days. I knew she was a gift. I knew I loved her, but inadequacy was shouting, “I CAN’T DO THIS!”
Brave? Beautiful and honorable feelings? Not so much.
Though we were strangers, Claire and I held onto each other for dear life. Though shaken, we knew it was deeply good. She coped with sleep, and I led my heart, simply doing the next thing before me. We both were fragile, just getting by moment to moment. My guilt was as consuming as my trepidation, as I didn’t think there was space for a mom to be terrified of her child.
But in God’s sovereignty over details, my husband was peaceful, full of faith, and instinctively protective of his girls. While Claire melted safely into her daddy’s arms, I begged my own Father to comfort me. There are moments in this life when a Father’s arms are needed, aren’t there?
Intense panic over the first few days gradually gave way to waves of peace and joy, and eventually my heart righted itself.
Later, I pretended it had been the magical moment I’d planned. Privately, I was embarrassed that my feelings had failed me. My weak and fearful human side flared up and cried panic.
The truth is we fail. We are inadequate. Thankfully, God simply asks us to say yes. In His glorious way, He can work with you and me. Even when we doubt. Even when we want to run away from His grand adventure called adoption and back toward our comfort zones.
Three years later, we were back in China for two more children.
First came Eli, and his “gotcha” was full of joy. This time, I carried the wisdom of experience. The giant step into adoption had already been taken and God had met us out on the water. Eli’s precious little self walked into our lives without any hesitation on his part or mine. Some gotcha moments are magical.
Next, on that same trip, came fragile, feverish, screaming, swatting and terrified Evelyn. And my emotion smash-up returned. The step into complex medical needs sent panic tumbling in again.
Though fainthearted, I went through the motions of traveling from her healing home to her home province, in care of her nanny. My head wanted out, but my heart tentatively knew better. Been there and done that. The night before her nanny released her, I sobbed for her needs and my weakness. Though my faith told a different message, my flesh was holding up a stop sign.
The official gotcha came, and again I felt raw feelings I thought I’d overcome. My friends at home rallied in prayer. My husband listened and led. The Lord had to drag me through His open door. For a second time, I found myself on my knees in China praying an old hymn, “Lord I need thee, every hour I need thee.”
Now, those hard days have passed. All three little ones are home, and those days are sacred memories. Back at home, I found my strength again.
For most families, gotcha day is a mountaintop experience with lovely feelings. There are parents who go through the process fearlessly, but I am not one of them. Two were frightening, and I was unprepared for the tremor. It was uncharacteristic, and brought momma guilt. I didn’t think there was space for intense doubt in adoption. I didn’t allow myself grace to feel however I felt. I expected my emotions to be tidy and in check.
God sent me a powerful message in China. I fail, He doesn’t. I’m small, He’s big. He doesn’t need me to be strong, together and brave to adopt, survive gotcha day or get this parenting gig right. I simply give Him my trust and obedience, and He uses it.
So, adoption friends, don’t expect to have it all together. Adoption is an unfathomable gift, a “rock your world” kind of blessing that will likely drive you to your knees at one point or another, and probably again and again. If you feel feelings that you’d rather not, offer yourself generous grace and allow space for them.
Know that adoptive parents before you have probably shared those same emotions. They are feelings that God allows you to step through in order to deliver you from old to new. We all feel the weight of our weakness at different parts of the journey. We are fleshy humans, much smaller than we imagine ourselves to be. Fear, doubt, and detachment come with the package. Sometimes our feelings are beyond ourselves.
The beauty is that “beyond ourselves” is exactly the place God desires to take us. In a sense, it is God’s “gotcha” moment with us. Once we allow ourselves to let go of striving to be all we think we need to be and feel exactly as we think we are supposed to feel, we allow our lack as adoptive parents, as medical needs parents, to be steadily met. We uncover our humble cups and receive, moment to moment.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ~ Psalm 73:26