I completed my first adoption in the fall of 1983. Cradling my new baby, I raised my right hand as I stood in front of my mother pledging, “I promise to love my Cabbage Patch Kid with all my heart. I promise to be a good and kind parent. I will always remember how special my Cabbage Patch Kid is to me.” It was a serious moment. I had longed for a Cabbage Patch Kid for months, and when I finally received my brown haired Lita Lettie, I was smitten. I scrawled my wobbly signature on the adoption paper and didn’t let her out of my arms for days.
I was eight.
Was this the moment that placed the spark for adoption on my heart? Was it Lita Lettie? Or my other Xavier Roberts babies? The boy doll named Jacob or the little preemie baby Cabbage Patch Kid that I later adopted? Or was it the little boy that lived across the street from me whose eyes looked different from mine? The boy who came to our small town in Mississippi from a far away place that I’d never known existed?
While I’ll never be able to pin down the moment when thoughts of adoption began nesting in my heart, I can say for certain that the whisper from God was just loud enough for me to hear all throughout my life. In middle school, I wrote my research paper about adoption. In high school, I chose the topic of juvenile delinquency for my senior project, when I learned sad statistics about children without positive parental influences. The summer before my freshman year of college, I went to Camp Providence in Anderson, South Carolina, where I volunteered to work with inner city youth. Some with fetal alcohol syndrome. Some from abusive homes. Some neglected. All lacking the basic human need of love and guidance.
My secret, unspoken dream was that one day I would open the door and find that someone had left a bundled baby on my porch. I replayed the scene in my head of answering the door to find no one standing there. Confused, I would look around to find a wriggling blanket at my feet. Overcome with fear, anger, and sheer happiness, I would cry. I would go on to raise the baby, thanking God for the coincidence. Alas, God did not write that movie script for my life. (And likely for no one else either. In the dream there was no need for formalities such as paperwork and adoption decrees and background checks — truly, a dream for adoptive parents.)
Years later, my husband and I were living, no…exceeding, the so-called American dream. We both had post-graduate degrees, a beautiful house in suburban Chicago, a son and two daughters, three cats, and a dog. The fence wasn’t white picket, but it did enclose our yard so that our babies could play safely. Our kids were in excellent schools. I was a soccer mom. Life had become comfortable and predictable.
And that’s when God’s whisper turned into a shout, shattering my fragile little view of what life was supposed to be about. Everywhere I turned, adoption was in my face. I saw billboards on the road about adoption and foster care. I sang songs in church, clenching my teeth through parts of them because they referenced orphans. I couldn’t let the words escape my lips without the threat of tears. I began reading books about orphan care and adoption, crying in bed next to my husband one night as I told him, “We’re all getting it wrong.”
A few weeks later, I began calling adoption agencies.
At no time during my daydreams of finding babies or adopting did I ever have a specific gender or nationality in mind. I was not the person who could say, “I always knew I would adopt a little girl from China (or a boy from Korea… or a child from foster care).” In fact, I’d never really given much thought to what color the blanket was in my dreams. We had not had a formal discussion about gender preference if we ever adopted.
One day that I’ll never forget was when we were in the garage cleaning up. Our two daughters were bickering and crying nonstop. That’s when I chose to bring up adoption again to my husband. (I am notorious for bringing up huge life decisions at the most inappropriate times!) My husband laughed as he said, “I don’t care what color our child is, where he’s from, or how old he is, but it’s gonna be a boy!” I laughed out loud in response as each of us bore the weight of daughters clinging to our legs wailing over gardening gloves.
And that, coupled with other jokes about how the guys in our house were outnumbered, even by the male to female ratio of pets, was how we arrived at adopting a boy.
Later we would learn the significance of a decision we took rather lightly. The majority of the children who wait for families in China are boys.
Our journey to our son was a bumpy road, filled with roadblocks, delays, and detours. At one point, we had to start completely over with a new adoption agency. Our new agency was delighted to hear that we were hoping to adopt a boy from China. “Boys are so much harder to place. Most families want a girl,” our coordinator said. “You shouldn’t have to wait very long for a referral.”
And she was right.
It seemed like ages to me as I agonized every minute waiting for the call, but just five weeks after our dossier was logged in, we got the call. Our coordinator went over the main details and then sent over his file. I couldn’t wait hours for my husband to get home, so I forwarded it to him and opened it myself. When I saw his little face, I was in love.
We waited five more months for the necessary paperwork to be completed so that we could get our sweet baby who we would call Caleb. It had been such a long hard road to him, and we were thrilled when the time came to board the plane to China. Five days after we left the United States, we met our son. He was so beautiful…absolutely stunning and precious. No matter what his referral stated, he was perfect. We had prepared ourselves for a baby boy who might never walk or talk. His unknowns were vast.
As I took him from the orphanage director, any fears that followed me to China vanished. My heart melted, and it hurt too, for him and for his birthparents. I already couldn’t imagine living every day and not knowing if he was safe and loved.
The next day, we went to finalize the adoption. Cradling my new baby, I signed paperwork in front of the registrar and the notary pledging to love Caleb with all my heart. That I would be a good and kind parent. That I would not mistreat him. That I would always remember how special he is and that I would honor his birth culture. It was almost 32 years after I signed my first “adoption certificate.”
By the time we traveled to Guangzhou for Caleb’s medical appointment, only four days after his adoption was finalized, I was talking about “when we adopt again.” Our Chinese guide laughed and said, “So many kids already!” But four kids seemed like nothing in comparison to the ones we were leaving behind.
We got home, and Caleb was instantly adored by his siblings. It was precious to see our oldest son show Caleb the train set. We all laughed watching Caleb take Braden’s hat off and put it on his little head. Our girls loved having a real life baby doll to play with. Annalise delighted in choosing his outfits and holding him. Waverly (finally a big sister!) loved the responsibility of “babysitting” Caleb in the family room as I cooked dinner just a few feet away from them.
Caleb brought such joy and compassion into our home. We all couldn’t help but fall in love with him.
My love for our new son was fast and fierce. It was amazing to have such intense feelings of endearment and protectiveness for a baby I’d known merely weeks. A baby birthed by another woman I would never know. As my attachment to my new baby grew, so did something else. My grief over leaving the orphans of China behind was so intense. The juxtaposition was something I’ve never experienced before.
As my happiness grew, so did my sadness.
It’s one thing to view “orphans” as a concept. It is drastically different to see orphaned children. A sea of faces of the motherless and the fatherless. Rooms and rooms full of children. Some of them were the ages of our biological children. I couldn’t imagine them being alone in the world.
Every time I hugged one our children, or helped them with homework, or fixed their dinner, or sang them lullabies, I thought about the ones we left behind.
Through much prayer and many tears, my husband and I decided to adopt again. When the decision was finally made, I was so relieved. I felt like I could finally breathe again after such a huge weight had been lifted. It was like the air had finally come back into the room.
My constant mourning ended as I made the call to our adoption agency. We planned to reuse our dossier and adopt a special focus child. There was no decision to be made this time. We would adopt another boy so that Caleb and his new brother would have each other growing up and to share their experiences as adoptees.
This time, we found our new son on our agency’s waiting child Facebook page. The first picture I ever saw of him was one of him sitting in a high chair reaching up, his little arms stretched almost as if he was saying, “Up, Mama.”
I requested his file and immediately jumped on No Hands But Ours and Rainbow Kids to research his heart condition. We had an agonizing few weeks waiting for file reviews from various specialists at our nearby children’s hospital.
Quite honestly, I think our pediatrician at the international adoption clinic may have thought we were a little crazy to take on some unknowns with Caston’s file, namely a heart condition and some questionable bloodwork. For whatever reason… maybe just our sheer obedience to God… we said yes to him. A confident yes. “We’re not gonna worry until someone tells us to worry,” became my mantra.
Thirteen months after our first adoption, we were on a plane back to China. Just 414 days after our first trip to the Jiangsu Civil Affairs office, we walked back in with our oldest son, two year old Caleb, and new little brother Caston, only 9.5 months younger than Caleb.
Cradling my new baby, I signed the same pledge again, and I understood the significance even more that time, having spent the last year having Caleb as a part of our family. I knew what was ahead with bonding and attachment, with loving Caston with all my heart, and with the need and desire to preserve the boys’ birth culture.
In my final blog post from China on the day that we left for the Hong Kong airport, I wrote, “No goodbyes. ‘Til next time, China!” I can’t shake the country that holds part of my heart. China will always be a part of our family, and I will always long to return. And there is a part of me that feels like we have another son waiting for us in China.
Since we returned six months ago, I have begun advocating for boys in China. Each of them has a story. Always sad. Always with the hope of redemption. Yet, so many wait. After seeing what a difference family has made for our sons in such a short time, it’s not surprising that I want to adopt again and again and again. And I want to educate and encourage every person who feels that spark for adoption.
The potential that lies within each waiting child remains dormant until someone sees him for what he could be, not what a medical file states, and says yes to adoption. The blessings you will receive far outweigh the costs.
I’m so grateful that God placed these boys on our hearts. They are our dynamic duo, our double trouble, our not-quite twins.
Ironically, both of our sons had medical needs that we initially said no to on our special needs checklist. God knew better and sent us two amazing boys that have given us so much joy and laughter.
We could have missed this. And I am so very thankful that we didn’t.