Adoption is beautiful. Life-giving. Life-changing.
It's also hard. Complex. Messy.
Today, my dear adoptive mama friend — the same precious woman who inspired my husband and me years ago to open our eyes to the idea of expanding our family through adoption — digs in and discusses the tough stuff. The hard things. The things that many adoptive families experience but very few adoptive families are willing to talk about.
The fact that sometimes, love is not a feeling. It’s a choice.
In order to protect the identities of our guest blogger’s beautiful children, I am posting this blog anonymously. Please leave any questions or comments below, and I will be happy to post responses for her.
When my husband and I made the decision to have a baby, naturally we had no idea what we were doing or what to expect.
“You think sleeping while you’re pregnant is hard, just wait ‘til you have a newborn. You won’t sleep at all!”
“Sleep with your baby to secure bonding, but don’t let her stay in your bed for too long or it’ll become an unbreakable habit, but be sure to respond to every noise she makes so she knows you’re there, but let her sleep in her own crib to form independent sleeping right away.”
“Say goodbye to going out at night once you have a kid. You’ll be too tired, never mind the fact that it’s cost prohibitive with the rates of a good babysitter these days.”
“Sure you’re skinny now, but that baby weight will take years to come off.”
“Don’t blink, time will go by so fast. Before you know it, you’ll be attending graduation.”
“You will love being a mom, you’re a natural!”
These are some of the comments and emotions I experienced during the course of my pregnancy. Sure, there were plenty of encouraging statements and well-wishes, but these particular comments stuck in my ear for me to remember.
After my daughter was born and she came with me to baby showers still tucked in her car seat, I changed the narrative of “giving advice to the mom” by saying, “Be prepared to love your baby in a way that is inexplicable. No one can prepare a mom for the overwhelming love that floods her entire being."
A close friend of mine whispered in my ear one day, “I didn’t bond with my daughter the way you did with yours. I just never felt like I really connected with my kid.”
This, regarding her own daughter, flabbergasted me. That had to be a rarity, right? Don’t most mothers bond and connect with their biological children? Of course my friend loved her daughter, and undoubtedly just as much as I loved my own. But that crucial, seemingly magical bond just wasn’t there.
I chalked it up to an anomaly amongst my mother-peers and thanked God I felt what I felt with my daughter.
When my husband and I decided to adopt two little girls from Haiti, naturally, we had no idea what we were doing or what to expect. There weren’t as many comments of any kind when we were going through the process as there weren’t as many adoptions in our circle of friends as there were biological babies. And the families we did know who had adopted all had such varying degrees of wisdom that there didn’t seem to be any clear expectations.
Interestingly, the internet was loaded with adoption information: process procedures, support groups, love stories, horror stories, blogs, blogs and more blogs. It quickly became overwhelming and at 2 a.m. when my head finally hit the pillow night after night, after I felt like I couldn’t do enough to prepare myself, I remembered my own advice: No one can prepare a mom for the overwhelming love that will flood her entire being.
I decided to just wait until the girls were home and go from there.
Two and a half years after the adoption was set in motion, my little family of three paraded through the Portland airport now as a proud family of five. Our Haitian daughters, ages 4 and 6, not speaking any English and hanging onto their new parents as if we had super glue on our hands, were the twinkle in my eye. As the mixture of emotions filled my heart and mind and body, sorting them out, I knew, was going to take a long time. Indeed, even after the first entire year had gone by, I was still grappling with the nuances of these dear children in my home that I hadn’t even begun to try to put a name to my feelings.
I answered all the questions that were thrown at me regarding my mixed-race family with excitement, enthusiasm and enjoyment. For it was exciting. And I was enthusiastic. And it was relatively enjoyable. Naturally, we were tired because of the huge change in our lives that brought expected stress. We leaned on God to help us through the tears from our biological child who was not sure how to all of a sudden be the big sister at 6 ½ years old. We leaned on God to help us through the tears from ourselves as we limped along homeschooling all three girls, teaching English and providing a smooth culture change for two of them, and thanking Him that they did not yet appear to have any chief adoption issues that so many families struggled with. It was challenging, tiring and demanding, but as a family, we were managing pretty well.
However, there was one problem that I couldn’t seem to get past. One issue that didn’t sit well with my conscious. One subject that was the most important but that had yet to be reconciled.
That is, the feeling of love.
Why was I not feeling connected with my two new daughters? Where was that crucial bond that came so effortlessly with my biological daughter? Why was I having feelings instead of disappointment, confusion and regret?
Researching books and blogs only slightly helped me. Most of the time I found information on ways to cope with children who had Reactive Attachment Disorder. But there wasn’t much out there for a situation like mine. The one where my adorable adopted children looked at me with hopeful eyes, yet I turned my gaze to God asking Him, “Who are these kids and why do I call them daughters?”
With the lack of love and bonding on my part, along with it came feelings of shame and guilt. How dare I choose to adopt orphans yet not be grateful, thankful and amazed at the beauty of it?! Who am I to be lovingly adopted in to God’s Kingdom as His precious daughter and not return that love given to me to “the least of these”? I was so ashamed, so guilt ridden, so confused. The only person I shared my feeling with was my husband. He reassured me that it would get better, that I was not alone and that God would help.
Another year passed.
I opened up with a few trusted girlfriends, but only slightly. I knew I needed prayer, as God was literally my only hope for any real change that I knew I needed in my life. One day, one of the girls ran into the street and was almost hit by a car. Thankfully, I was able to reach her and pull her back to safety. My heart was pounding, my body was shaking, but more remarkable than that was the feeling that rushed through me once I realized she was safe.
There was a true emotion of love.
I clung to that emotion and hugged my daughter with all my might and prayed my guts out that it would develop into something greater.
As the years passed, I sought out a counselor who specialized in family adoptions. I had developed a fondness for my new children and a protectiveness that comes with mama bear attitude for her kids. But comparing the love I had for my firstborn to the love that still seemed foreign was still tragic and confusing to me.
Mortified, I admitted to the counselor that even my nieces and nephews held a deeper love connection than either of my adopted children. But I also admitted that I’d been doing everything I could to change that. I was so terrified that if I didn’t have a heart change sooner than later that I would fail at the responsibility given to me to raise up these children to love and follow Christ. I knew God loved these little ones, but they were not experiencing it through me. If they eventually grew to reject my love out of a brokenness in our relationship, would they eventually reject God’s love because they couldn’t trust it or can’t identify with it?
There was so much stress in my heart, all I could do was physically cry my eyes out and spiritually cry my soul out to God.
My husband had been telling me something all the while, yet I didn’t find it comforting, nor was I convinced it was appropriate. He had been reminding me that it’s okay for me not to love our adopted children with as much feeling or in the same way that we did our biological daughter.
We just had to love.
This seemed preposterous, as God didn’t love His children differently or with varying degrees of love! And even my girlfriends who had multiple biological children showed equal love to all their kids.
By about year six of having the girls home, I decided to try adjusting my mentality and just see what happened. I agreed with myself to absorb the notion that it is indeed okay to love my adopted daughters differently, and in a different way, than I loved my other daughter. I began a new mantra that changed from “I must be a horrible mom that I don’t love my girls very much” to “I am a good mom who loves her children distinctively.” This was just vague enough that it didn’t have to be quantified and gave me permission to reconcile confusing emotions.
In my prayer time, I ran this by God and felt peaceful requesting His blessing and asking Him to guide me through this new outlook. Furthermore, I gave all pressure of raising my girls to follow Christ over TO Christ and confessed that I understood it was the Holy Spirit’s job to lead them. All I needed to do was heed the instruction of God to cast my cares upon Him, trust Him that we adopted out of obedience to His call and believe that He would do something amazing with their lives.
We are currently in our eighth year of having the girls home, and even though that is a long time, it still feels new to me because of my new insight on navigating my emotions. I’ve been freed, I’ve been relieved and I’ve been rejuvenated loving on all three of my girls exactly the way God wants me to love them.
Now when someone struggles with her adoption, or with her biological kids, or with her husband, I can look her in the eye and view her not as an anomaly but as a struggling person who just needs to hear the words, “It’s okay. We can work through it together.”