It’s been 10 years tomorrow since we adopted our beautiful daughter, coming up to four years since we welcomed our precious son.
Adoption has taught me exactly everything that becoming a mother has.
When we become mothers we (are forced to) learn patience, although mine was sorely tested by years of infertility and the long adoption process, so I don’t have much left (at least that’s my excuse). To think I could have completed a PhD in impatience during my eight-year journey to becoming a parent, if only I’d been more patient!
When we become parents we learn to look at the world through a child’s eyes – not so much a lesson as a gift – a reminder of what we already know from our own childhoods. We get to look at life through a fresh lens, rekindle imagination, hope, wonder and awe.
As parents we learn how to make two-minute noodles into a ‘wholesome’ meal, with the addition of a can of corn, some grated cheese and a splash of tamari sauce (just throw out that horrible flavor sachet).
We learn lots of things, and mostly about love.
As a mother I’ve learned that love is patient and kind, slow to anger (a work-in-progress), that it’s not jealous or boastful (although there’s plenty of pride in my kids). I’ve understood, in the words of the famous bible verse, that love is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.
Those poignant words were part of our wedding ceremony 19 years ago and I tried to take them on board back then, and as we struggled through that long litany of IVF cycles, the heartbreak of pregnancy loss and the protracted adoption process. I try to love hubby fiercely, but until I became a mother, I didn’t know how intensely it is possible to love. How impossible it feels not to love fiercely.
I believe it is innate for mothers to love that way, and that includes our children’s birthmothers who only got to show such love for such a short time.
Yet sadly there are parents that don’t show (enough of) that protective, patient and kind love to their children, and sadly not enough of those children are given the opportunity of love through adoption. Instead many are bounced around, in and out of foster care, and some are left severely damaged by never feeling a true sense of love and acceptance.
I get angry, I grieve for these children – I want attitudes and policies to change.
But I didn’t set out for this to be a post about policies and politics, just a simple sharing of my lessons in love.
Because while adoption has taught me everything about love that becoming a mother has (putting aside the fact I still have much to learn), it’s also taught me more.
When you become a parent through adoption, you cleave yourself permanently to your child’s heritage that is different from your own. With international adoption in particular, you take on another culture, you adopt another country. And if you are lucky (and make the effort) you make wonderful, lifelong connections as part of a bigger ‘adoption family’. We have been so enriched by all of this.
As Elizabeth Stone says, making the decision to be a parent is like ‘deciding forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.’
Making the decision to be an adoptive parent is permanently bonding yourself to your child’s birth parents, feeling their hearts beating inside your child as much as your own heart beats (and sometimes palpitates) for your kids. It’s seeing another mother’s smile on your child’s face and imagining smiling back, gingerly, aware that you can never thank her enough for that smile, let alone her gift to you.
In our case, it’s feeling so intimately connected to our children’s birthparents whilst never being able to know them. It’s wondering how you can love people you will never know. Because I do love them.
It is also realizing that love isn’t always understanding and kind – because I don’t know whether I’ll ever fully fathom the circumstances that brought our children to us, whether I’ll ever truly forgive the loss our children suffered, let alone my (unknown and unintended) role in that loss.
In the absence of answers, I can only send whispered thanks (and apologies) into the ether and hope that is enough.
And I must admit to feeling angry at my children’s birthparents, for my kids’ sakes, but also for how I somehow feel guilty that we have their children, for the burden of the sense of loss I can only imagine they feel, and for a debt I feel I can never repay. You see I feel hugely guilty for having the privilege of parenting ‘someone else’s children’ yet still not being perfectly satisfied with being a mother, let alone being perfect at it.
Yep, I’m not perfect.
I’ve felt great gratitude – but also this confusing, murky mix of emotions that I can’t really reconcile with love – at least not the Corinthian’s bible verse ‘perfect’ kind.
So being a mother through adoption has taught me that love isn’t perfect, even though being a Mum has made me want to try as hard as I can. And I’ve come to understand that to love unconditionally is to not feel you have to try hard (because you just want to), but to try as hard as you possibly can.
I’ve come to know that love is human, that we are all human, brought together (hopefully) in our imperfect affection for each other, through loss and gain and sometimes through the special kind of love that unites us through adoption.
And I am so very grateful for that lesson.
Happy Forever Day to our darling daughter.
Linking up with the lovely Grace for FYBF.