“Ma’am! Ma’am! You are forgetting your baby!!!”
The Disney store clerk could not have been more panicked in her sincere guttural cry for this family to come back and retrieve their beautiful Asian daughter that they had so clumsily left behind. Just as primal was the sound that came from my throat as I realized she meant MY daughter. “No they didn’t! This is my daughter!” – Not my finest hour, but it was the first time anything or anyone had released the inner “mother bear” in me to that degree.
I had not thought of that moment in years. There are rarely Disney store moments for my girls anymore at 15 and nearly 13. Aeropostle and Ulta stores get more of our patronage these days, but another adoptive mom and I were in a deep discussion recently over our girls and their stories, both the good and the hard. She had shared how often her daughter feels the pangs of her “differentness” at places like the dentist office when the hygienist brings her daughter out and can’t find her mom because she is looking for the matching Asian faces that aren’t there. I proudly proclaimed, “That has never actually happened to us.” And then in a flash I remembered the scene in the Disney store all those eons ago when emotions of child abandonment and fierce protectiveness collided in the Aladdin aisle.
My girls know their stories, as much as we know of it, and have since they were little. We didn’t start out with the gory details of age approximation and complicated governmental policies like one-child per family. We started where they were at the time – fairy tale land. We created a simple, easy to remember yarn that went something like this:
“Once upon time there was an Empress in China named Ellie, and she didn’t have a mommy and daddy who could take care of her. And it just so happened that there was a mommy and a daddy in America that didn’t have a baby of their very own to take care of. And the mommy and daddy prayed and asked Jesus, “Jesus, could we have a baby of our very own to take care of?” And Jesus said, “Yes, but you will have to go all the way to China and you will have to wait.” And so they waited… and waited.. and waited… until one day the mommy and the daddy got to get on a plane and flew all the way to China. When the mommy and the daddy saw the Empress for the first time, they thought she was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen. And they very next day they became a family forever and ever.”
We amended the story when it was time for our youngest daughter to hear her “story.” We changed the intro to include a mommy, a daddy and a sister to the list of who longed for the Princess Annie. (Yes, she did not receive top billing as Empress because we were still telling Ellie her story and any demotion would simply just not do.)
As the girls grew, we continued to talk about and pray about their stories and traded the fairy tale version for more of a Q and A time accompanied by pictures and video usually around Gotcha Day time. As I felt the Lord lead, I would be more and more detailed as each year passed weighing heavily what their heads and hearts needed to hear when they needed to hear it (much as I did the story of the birds and the bees). There is truth, and then there is asking for even more therapy sessions with a counselor.
So we went slow, building pieces to their puzzle one season at a time. We eventually included the hard and funny bits like crying for 8 hours straight, peeing on us through split pants as way to say, “hello mom and dad”, emotionally shutting down for days, and reading from the orphanage that you almost didn’t make it because you grieved so much in the beginning. That approach seems to have worked remarkably well for both our girls. Bit by bit sewing the patch squares to their quilt of identity. We’ve seen most of the movies including “Somewhere Between”, been to the conferences, read the books, but nothing really gives you a hard and fast blue print on how to do this.
I sensed early on to steer away from (as much as I love to write) writing about their stories. I am grateful now that I did. Their stories have become more and more delicate and precious to us all as the years have passed. So much so that in the weeks preceding being asked to share “how we talk about our stories”, my youngest daughter, now almost 13, has asked more, lamented more, shed more tears over her story than ever before. I held her close and shed tears with her at my lack of concrete evidence of her past. She shared with mournful but mature words, “I’m not sad that I am here, but I am sad at how bad things must have been for them to give me up. My heart hurts for them. I wish I could tell them I am alright and how much I am loved. And I am sad I don’t know them.” Me too. Me too my sweet girl, because I would give you the world if I could, including knowledge of the ones who gave you life.
I will never forget in my years of infertility seeking out a woman who had adopted. Back in the old days, (that is in the 20th century circa the 1990’s), finding another adoptive mom was like trying to find a four-leaf-clover. You had heard they existed, but they were far and few between. I had the chance to actually sit down at the table with one of these rare creatures and hear her story. I am so glad I did. It forever changed the trajectory of how I would tell our story in the years to come. She settled me down for tea and proceeded to share how incredibly pious and righteous they had been to rescue this foundling from the arms of the woman who wanted to abort her. Her daughter, all of the age of 6, eagerly came in the room at just that moment and beamed when she said, “Yes, mommy and daddy rescued me from the abortion lady.” Her biological mother had been reduced to those three words in her daughter’s eyes – the – abortion – lady. And this adoptive mom practically glowed with her self-appointed halo. I felt physically ill. I left there as quickly I could and cried on the way home. I came at adoption from a very different place. I was more like Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona with my thickest trailer-park accent that I come by naturally – “Get me a baby.” I knew I wasn’t rescuing anyone, and I have forever more cringed when I hear those terms or insinuations when related to adoption. I get the reality of a life saved, but the Lord was clear with me from early on, “Let’s get one thing straight. You are no one’s savior. I and I alone do that.”
So when the day came to share with my oldest daughter what the word abortion meant because she heard it on the radio, she quickly deduced (on her own), “That could have happened to me.” It grieved me to say, “Baby, it could have happened to any of us, but yes, it could have been your story, but it wasn’t. The Lord protected you from that and though we don’t know any details, for whatever reason, your birth mom did not abort and for that, I will always be grateful to her.”
Our oldest is also the one who for years has said, “My adoption story doesn’t bother me. I got to meet my foster mom (on our return trip to China for daughter #2) and that’s enough for me.” It wasn’t until recently that she came to terms with and shared with me that in fact her story does bother her, but she chooses not to think about it. “I’m not sad about it all the time because I choose not to think about it. That way it doesn’t make me sad. I just push it out of my mind.” And at 15, I don’t push. I wait for the moments when she wants to talk about it and hopefully create opportunities for her to feel safe enough to go to those hard places when she’s ready.
In our day-to-day life their “adoption stories” are not at the forefront of anyone’s mind, but when a thought or a question triggers our remembrances, we slow down and take the time to live in it – as long as it takes to be ready to move on. One such year, I needed some connection to their story too and Googled my youngest daughter’s orphanage. To my great shock, there she was, my beautiful daughter, in a wooden walker looking like a million other “orphanage” faces, and I wept bitterly for us both. In our days filled with spelling tests and math problems, I don’t often have to think of her life before me, before us, before the “we” we are today. But seeing a photo I had never seen on the internet of MY daughter in a sea of other “daughters”, I felt as angry and protective as I did that day in the Disney store. That feral cry came again, “This is MY daughter!”
I was reminded once again that our fairy tale story is often interrupted with the truth of “I was not always with her.” I could not have wiped her tears or stroked her hair. I could not have sung to her or tickled her then. I could not have fed her or healed her hurts even if I had wanted to. It was not my turn yet. That privilege had not been afforded me yet. She was in the care of another and another even before that.
The truth is that there is only one who has consistently been with her to protect, guide and love her, and it is Jesus. He was there with her in the alone of her last moments with bioloigical anyones. He was with her in the orphanage and in foster care. He was with her when these strange round-eyed faces took her from the only arms she could remember and smothered her with kisses that she could not understand or even readily return in her grief. He was with her in the hardest and darkest places of her story.
Before I EVER uttered the words, “This is MY daughter!” to an innocent sales clerk or a webpage staring back at me, Jesus screamed it at the universe! “No one be mistaken about who this girl, these girls, these children belong to – the One true God who has known them by name since the moment He wove their gorgeous Chinese DNA together.” He exclaimed to the enemy, “This is MY daughter and you won’t have her. You won’t destroy her life. You won’t claim victory in her story, and you won’t steal her chance for joy. This is MY daughter and I have a calling and a purpose for her. I WILL make beauty from these ashes.”
So if I dare share advice or counsel from an older mom of older girls, it is share truth. Share the truth of their story as best you know it in small bite size chunks through the years, and remove yourself from the role of hero and anyone else from role of villain. Share the truth that they need even more than their earthly adoption story. Share with them the truth of the spiritual adoption available to us all. Let them know first and foremost they are daughters of the King.
– guest post by Denise