“They’re so lucky,” I often hear, once someone learns of my two adopted boys. “You’ve given them such a nice life”.
I mostly just laugh it off and say, “No, I’m the lucky one.” But that response is really not appropriate. I need to do better. Luck has nothing to do with it.
The reason I’m their father is dirty, and hard, and broken. It’s the reason there are pangs of sadness on their birthdays, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Because the path that led me to be their father is rooted in their loss. But just as much pain or loss as there may be, grace, redemption and healing reigns. God’s purpose has orchestrated these events, not luck.
I had never even considered adoption, never thought about it, really, until I collided with one day, one moment, one statement, and one amazing woman, an awakening. This is my story:
My wife and I, kid-less and happy, were hiking one day, enjoying beautiful weather and scenery; not a care in the world. Then, from out of what seemed like nowhere (although it really wasn’t), she said, “You know, I think we should adopt,” then silence, and what seemed like an eternity. My heart and mind started to race.
“Is this what we should do, can we do this?”
Was I ready to be a father; was adoption the ‘right’ plan? A small part of me was hoping she would forget, but knowing that there was something in her tone, something in her eyes that showed she was serious. There was also an excitement and peace that I felt because I knew this is what I wanted too. This is how we would grow our family; our Plan A.
Seven years later, our church was asking for members to be a help start an adoption ministry. We signed up, and met with another couple from the church, hardly knowing what we were in for. They asked us to lead a bible study on adoption in our home. Though that study, God showed us, that it was time to move forward with the process.
The next several months brought mountains of paperwork, background checks, fingerprints, and tape of all colors (who knew fingerprints could expire). I was a willing and active participant in the process; however, my wife bore the majority of the ‘labor’ of logistics.
In a little over a year, we were on a plane to China, soon to realize that the paperwork was the easy part. The real fight was about to begin. The adoption of our first son:
I don’t think my wife or I would’ve ever thought that our initiation into parenthood would be signaled by the sound of squeaky shoes approaching the other side of the door of our hotel room (the night before we had enjoyed, what would become our last quiet meal together for a long time to come). You know, ‘those shoes’ – the ones that on the feet of any kid were obviously a gift from an aunt or uncle because no parent would ever buy those things for their kid. It’s definitely a sound we will never forget. The sound that marked the change of three lives, forever.
The hotel door opened and in marched the squeaky shoes, attached to what was clearly and undeniably the cutest kid on the planet. Perfect. He stopped, looked at us, turned and looked at his caregivers, then back at us. Meanwhile a flurry of Chinese was being exchanged, my wife and I looked at each other, and then looked at him. Then the fireworks began as he got a sense of what was happening; his whole world was turned upside down. This was the third loss he experienced before the age of 3. Throughout the first day he began cautiously warm to us and started to call us Mama and Baba.
During the course of our time in China, he ‘attached’ quickly to me, but rejected my wife. This is something we had discussed that might happen. However, the reality of it was painful. The first night with us, he fell asleep on my chest. In the ensuing days he would only let me hold him and would push and hit his mama; he wanted nothing to do with her. We understood that his rejection of her was rooted in his own history of rejection. It was still heart wrenching, not only to see my son reject his mama, but to see her pain and struggle, as she had fought so hard to bring him into our life; only to experience rejection. There were undoubtedly small victories, like when he would pull us both in to play games that he had invented; but it wasn’t easy.
Many of our family members welcomed us home as we touched down in the US. It was an exciting time, and certainly a blessing to share the moment with family. It was also hard; we were all exhausted, and he was running around calling everyone mama and baba. We knew he didn’t yet have an understanding of the concept of parents and that the road ahead may be a long one. We had heard of the idea cocooning in order to facilitate attachment.
We, I mean she, had also read nearly all of the adoption books pertaining to fostering attachment. For some reason, I had the thought-process that ‘it’ll all be okay’. I failed to communicate to our family that their relationship with our son needed to look different; that it was vital for us to establish a healthy attachment with him prior to fostering the attachment with them. This definitely caused conflict and tension, which took time to heal. The No Hands But Ours site, as well as prayer and forgiveness, were instrumental in the process. The lesson for me is that if I would have stood up and communicated clearly from the outset, the conflict would likely have been avoided.
The past three plus years have been filled with a novel’s worth of ups and downs, and the joy of a second adoption. The events surrounding the adoption of our second, 14 months old at the time, were much different. No real fireworks, he was asleep on the couch of the city office when we met him. My wife picked him up and he remained asleep while she held him for about 20 more minutes. When he woke up, he looked at her, started to cry. But then she said, “I’m Mama,” and something clicked with him. He seemed to understand.
His circumstances were much different from that of our oldest. He was shown pictures of us and told that we were his Mama and Baba, prior to ever meeting us. He also had heard English spoken before and had interactions with Americans. Most importantly, his caregivers prayed for him. His special need was/is much different; more physical in nature, rather than emotional/attachment oriented. He was born with anal-rectal malformation and has needed additional medical treatment since his arrival home.
Our oldest, now nearly 6, has just graduated kindergarten. I could not be more proud of him; he has overcome so much in such a short time; they both have. This kid, who, three years ago, could not speak any English, refused to say his name for over a year, was afraid of crowds, would not interact with other kids his age, would indiscriminately attach to adults; now is on the same level as kids his age, has no problem making friends, and is an awesome big brother. Sure, there are still challenges and he continues to develop and mature emotionally in terms of self-regulation and attachment issues. Parent child interaction therapy has certainly helped.
Most importantly, it is evident that God is at work in the lives of these little guys.
And I am humbled to play a part in that.
Many times I have heard people say, “You know adoption is great and all, but I just couldn’t love ‘someone else’s’ kids.” The truth is that as Christians we should not see our children as our own; biological or not, they belong to God and He has given us the amazing responsibility to guard their hearts, to raise them in truth and love, fight for them, and to lead them towards Him. This is my calling as a father, yet many times I fail.
My wife also has a full time career, yet at times, I have become too absorbed in my own work, and default to her to care for the needs of the kiddos. Our family motto has jokingly become “Mama keeps you alive and Baba is for fun.” It isn’t that I’m not engaged as a father, but that I need to remind myself where the order of importance lies. The truth is that the title and role of father and husband is my most important job.
I absolutely love being a baba to these two amazing, stubborn, strong-willed, full of boundless energy, beautiful, and loving boys.
They may not have my eyes, but they certainly have my heart.
– guest post by Joshua