There is a beauty in language when precisely the right word is found to convey your thoughts. When you can convey a complex feeling or idea in a perfect word or phrase, people nod with understanding and experiences can be shared, relationships can be built.
Yet, I cannot find the appropriate words to describe The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son. Because there is no language for this relationship, mourning its loss was an intense, isolating experience.
Last spring, my husband and I decided we were ready to begin another adoption from China. We like to announce the upcoming arrival of another child to the family in a creative manner and have had ample opportunities to make the announcements. We currently have eight children, three happen to come from China, five happened to come from my uterus.
As difficult as it was to contain the surprise, my husband and I didn’t tell our children or other family members about our adoption application being sent and the process started. Instead, we waited until Easter and hid and Easter basket with an egg bearing the words “New Child in China” to designate the owner of the basket. We hid the basket and videotaped each child’s confusion turn to elation at the realization they would get another brother or sister. With silly grins, we put our fingers to our lips to shush the giggles and let each child have a turn of discovering the announcement.
When the children were told, we shared our joy with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who came to our home following church on Easter morning. The house filled with excitement and questions as we prepared to welcome another child into the family.
Although we had not yet seen his face, The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-Our-Son was welcomed with joy into our family’s hearts that beautiful Easter Sunday.
And life continued on with the normal hustle and bustle of large family life. Underneath that current of energy, the adoption continued to progress. Paperwork was completed. Finances were planned. Names were debated late into the night when the children had gone off to bed.
Amid the normalcy of the days, a photo changed our world. I saw an advocacy post for a sweet boy with a captivating smile, bundled up in a bright pink coat. I was smitten.
I shyly showed the photo of The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-Our-Son to my husband because there is no certainty in moments like this. One must attempt to guard one’s heart in case a spouse doesn’t feel this child is the child they have been waiting and praying for.
“He’s perfect. I think he’s the one.” I said quietly.
“Yes, I think he’s the one.” My husband agreed.
Now with eagerness, I contacted the agency holding the file of The-Boy-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son. My heart raced because I knew he had been waiting for a match for a while, and he was so perfect, and of course everybody else much want to be this child’s mother, too. How could they not? I braced myself for the words that several families were already reviewing his file.
But nobody else had reviewed his file.
How was this possible?
How could any other family see his picture or video and not know he was exactly the right child for them?
The agency sent the file over and told us we had two weeks to make a decision.
Then, I must admit with sadness, we did our due diligence. This child had craniofacial needs, and we are currently parents to three amazing kids with craniofacial needs. Yet, because this child’s needs were a bit different than what we had experience with, we researched extensively.
We had the file reviewed by an international doctor.
We checked insurance coverage of bone anchored hearing aids.
We looked into the medical resources available to us in our area.
I read posts in Facebook groups filled with parents who have been down this path before us till I was bleary-eyed.
All because The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son deserved a family prepared to meet his needs.
We notarized our Letter of Intent and submitted it to the adoption agency. They shared in our joy at the knowledge that this boy would have a family and that we were the ones blessed to be that family. I was going to get to love him forever.
My heart overflowed with joy.
The following day, panic tore through the online adoption groups. After we started our home study process, rumors and rumblings had begun to swirl that the CCCWA might issue new restrictions on adoption eligibility. We knew family size limits were a possible concern.
Literally the day after we submitted LOI to our agency, China made its official announcement. Among other restrictions, family size was going to be limited to five children in the home.
Information and misinformation was rampant as desperate families tried to get information from agencies, each other, anywhere. Prayers were asked for and offered up fervently. Agencies released information piecemeal as they strove to grasp the details of the new regulations, leaving adoptive families frantically looking for confirmations, loopholes, waivers, and desperately clinging to hope.
I received a call from my placing agency late that morning, letting me know the hope was gone. I was not going to be able to be a mother to The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son. I am ashamed to admit that I cried in my room so long that my husband spoke to the children about the loss of the referral without me. Normally I am able to put on a brave face for the kids in times of sadness, but I couldn’t hold it together this time.
Similar to a miscarriage I had years earlier, my dreams were crushed and yet everyone else’s world continued on. In the midst of my grief, I still had to tell my family and friends that we had lost our chance to love this child. Unlike my miscarriage, this felt preventable and thus hurt in unique ways.
Well meaning friends and family didn’t know how to respond to this news. Of course they were sad for me. But it didn’t always feel like they were sad with me. The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son was an abstraction for them. I mourned the loss of his referral like a death. While many people tried to empathize, I didn’t have the words to make them understand.
There is no language to describe the relationship between me and The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son. He was never really mine, yet he would have been. He didn’t know me, but I had committed my life to him. There is no word to describe what this anticipated son meant to our family.
I also second guessed my actions. Had we been reckless, we likely would have already acquired Pre-Approval and been grandfathered in.
Should I have taken so long to research before submitting LOI?
What if I had started the process one month or one week earlier?
Every action that prolonged our adoption process seemed like a conviction of my decisions.
And, unlike my miscarriage, this policy change hurt my sense of self profoundly. My mothering ability – this vocation I have committed myself to fully for the past 16 years – has been judged and found to be lacking based solely on an arbitrary number.
The decision suggested that having no mother or family was better for children than to be my son, due to my big family.
I began to second guess myself and my abilities. I tried to see what the government officials saw when they considered my family. My confidence took a tremendous hit as I felt the full weight the official rebuke of my ability to parent another child. Prior to this, I had felt proud of my mothering abilities. I felt confident that I could meet all the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of all my children. This left me doubting myself.
I was no longer certain I was a good mother because this rule change made it clear that enough people in a country across the world thought I would not be a good enough mother for this child – or so it felt to me.
While the first day when the announcement was made was incredibly hard to endure, the second day was much harder. The day after the announcement was the day that I made my pleas to the online adoption community via advocacy sites for someone to see the amazing potential I saw in The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son. I wanted someone else to see his ability to be a blessing to their family. The only thing worse than not being able to proceed with his adoption would be if nobody else was flooded with love for this child and he remained without a family.
When I later found out he was matched, I felt equal parts relief and grief. Through the miracle of the internet, I was able to connect with the lovely family who stepped forward. They were the answer to my prayers, which I let them know, but I did not follow up with them beyond the initial contact. I feared that my sorrow would tarnish their joy and I wanted them to be able to proceed without having to think about our family’s loss. I sincerely wish them a lifetime of happiness with The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son. I have nothing but good thoughts and gratitude for them.
Eventually, life must move on. I stopped watching his video, although I still can’t bear to delete it from my computer. I focused on the joy that my eight kids bring. I began making plans and stopped envisioning him in each vacation and holiday that passed.
It took quite some time before I remembered to focus on how our family was as a unique and amazing entity, not as a statistical anomaly. I stopped believing the inaccurate assumption that a large family is by default detrimental to children and noticed all the ways we were successful. I watched my children forming lifelong relationships with each other and recognized how my husband and I have prioritized our family and sacrificed to nurture their hearts. While trying to maintain humility, I am going to admit that my kids are downright amazing. They are thriving in our big family.
I know that our large family had a lot to offer a child. We are experienced parents and feel comfortable managing a variety of medical needs. We have the health, finances, time, and willingness to invest fully in another child’s life. We have the energy to nurture another child through trauma. We have more than enough love to go around.
I still pray continually that China will recognize the unique and advantages of large families and reconsider their family size limit or begin granting waivers for the number of children in the home to help all the other children who wait for their forever families.
Eventually, my husband and I decided we were ready to move forward and open ourselves up to adopting from another program. I called agencies regarding various international programs. My husband and I attended a foster care introductory class. We were told again and again that we are such a great family and we would be great parents to another child, but preset family size limits preclude us from being considered. Each “No” was frustrating because unlike smaller families judged on its individual merits, sweeping judgment was passed on our family although we met every criteria put forth by China and other programs.
We just had some extra experience.
When I first contacted our new placing agency’s Haitian adoption coordinator, it was such a relief to hear, “Eight children? Some with medical needs? Your experience will be a great advantage in adopting a child with a special need!”
Now, a year after our disappointment, we have opened ourselves up to the pursuit of another child. This time there is more caution in our outlook, less surety of the outcome. Our children will occasionally talk about if the new child comes instead of when the new child comes. They know the emotional perils of claiming a relationship for which there is no adequate language – of claiming this longed-for sibling thousands of miles away.
As for me, I have begun to dream new dreams about our future Haitian child. I hold the tension of loving this unknown, hoped-for child while always carrying the loss of The-Boy-I-Thought-Would-Be-My-Son.