By Jean MacLeod
"Mommy, why didn't I grow in your tummy?"
I looked my three-year-old daughter square in the face and gave her the speech that I had rehearsed in my head for as long as she had been mine. The speech was short, gentle and sweet. I told her about her birthmother in China, how much she had been loved and how much we loved her now.
"But, Mommy, why didn't she keep me?"
I took a deep breath and explained that I didn't know for sure, but that it might have had something to do with the China rule about having only one child. I described a few other possibilities and ended with my proclamation of faith – that we were meant to be a family, that I was sure that her birthmother wanted her to have a family for always, and wasn't it wonderful that we had all found each other to love.
Coming down from my poetic rhetoric, I smiled winningly at the tiny figure in overalls and waited for my hug and kiss. What I got: a look of icy outrage, arms folded in haughty disbelief, and an attitude that screamed "what a load of c***!"
I was unnerved. This was supposed to be a mother-daughter bonding moment where we celebrated becoming a family. A moment of sadness was allowed, but then things were supposed to be joyful and loving. Why was I feeling like I had tried to tell a sixteen year-old there really was a Santa Claus? And how could a three year-old see through all of my carefully worded, positive explanations? I believed what I was telling her about her birthmother... why didn't she?
She didn't because she had lived her story and somewhere, deep inside, she knew the whole truth. My "old soul" little girl understood that a happy adoption is built on a heartbreaking loss long before I did, and she was cutting me no slack.
Clearly, my daughter's birthmother wasn't going to be explained away. I slowly realized that I would be living with a powerful ghost of another mother, and that this ghost needed to be acknowledged, embraced, and disarmed. My daughter needed some sort of a relationship with her birthmother, and she needed me to have an understanding with her birthmother, too.
So, I invited my daughter's unknown, invisible, Chinese birthmother to tea.
Properly, of course, with a formal invitation dictated to me by my three year-old. In the backyard, we set up a child-sized table with three place-settings: tea-cups, cookie plates, and party napkins. Another tea-cup was quickly added for a favorite stuffed mouse who was a late RSVP. Lemonade tea was rapidly dispensed (formalities like small-talk pale with the preschool set when real teapot pouring is allowed), and we got right down to business.
"So, birthmother," I said to the empty chair to my right. "How are you doing" I'm thinking you might be missing your little girl. I know she misses you."
My daughter nodded, and I asked her if she had any questions for her birthmom.
"Why did you leave me?" she asked directly to the space occupying the third chair.
"Why did you leave her?" I echoed. "Was it because you couldn't care for a baby? Did you have "big person" problems? It was a very sad thing for your baby girl. I think it might have been a very sad thing for you, too."
My daughter nodded vigorously.
We continued to chat about our day, the vast amount of Oreos eaten by Mousie, and the birthmother's magical trip from China. But my daughter was unusually quiet.
"Is there anything else you would like to ask your birthmother?" I inquired, watching her carefully as I pretended to sip my tea. My daughter went completely still, and I guessed at what she needed to ask and what she needed to hear.
"Birthmother," I said. "We want you to know that you are always welcome in our home and in our hearts. You are part of our family. But your little girl is *my* little girl to raise, and she will live with me until she is big and is ready to leave. You cannot ever take her back to China. This is her home now, and I am her mom, and I love her very much."
Then I left my child-sized chair to put my arms around the little girl with the enormous feelings; it is overwhelming to deal with big grief and big relief at the same time. In voicing my daughter's secret hopes and fears I had validated her connection to two mothers, and had begun my own long process of learning to deal openly with the painful side of adoption parenting.
The ghost? She still lives with us, mostly peaceably, nearly ten years later. We've felt her genetic legacy, as my daughter leaped into puberty. We've seen visions of her in the mirror, as my daughter grows into a beautiful young woman. Our joint acceptance of the ghost gave my daughter some power over her past, and allowed me to view the birthmother as an ally, instead of an enemy, during times that adoption compounded the emotional turbulence of adolescence. The three of us exist together, but only I remember that the three of us once attended a symbiotical summit meeting in the garden, and that we officially sealed our forever relationships with a splash of tea, and cookies.
Copyright 2008, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved
Jean MacLeod is author of At Home in This World: a China Adoption Story, and co-editor of Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections and mother of three daughters, two of whom were adopted from China through Children's Hope. From one adoptive parent to another, Jean shares her wisdom here in the monthly e-news and in the annual Children's Hope Newsletter.
We had fears that I believe are common when adopting older children or siblings. How would they fit in to our family, would they like our dogs, already established behavioral issues, attachment, and much more. Even though many people were very supportive, we still heard our share of discouragement, “are you sure you want 3 at a time”, “older children are harder with adjustment and bonding and you should really consider all the baggage that comes with them.” We had to trust that it was all under control and that God had these children perfectly matched for us.
Then Julie called and said she had a 5 year old boy and his twin 3 year old sisters that were waiting and were we interested? It was a rare situation because there was no history, no medical evaluation, and no pictures of them. I asked her when she needed an answer; in 2 hours was her response! WOW my wife was at work, so we had to pray and decide over the phone quickly. With our stomachs in knots we said yes, really stepping out in faith that these were our children. When we were accepted to adopt them and were given pictures and their information, we were overwhelmed with love and joy. They were perfect, beautiful, and healthy. Four weeks later we were off to Medellin, Colombia.
The day we first held our children was a day that will replay in our hearts forever. I cannot tell you how perfect it all felt. All our fears, doubt, and questions disappeared. Their first touch was a breath of heaven. They were even more beautiful then we could have imagined and their smiles touched us with overwhelming happiness.
Our whole trip in Colombia was great, it is very beautiful and the people are very friendly. We were very sick most of the time, but were well taken care of. CHI’s team in Colombia are very special and they definitely go out of their way to complete everything needed to get you and your children home quickly and safely. They are indescribable and always managing to put you first.
Now we are home, our daily routine and playtime are eagerly anticipated every morning. From waking them up to share in quiet cuddles together to coming home after work and being greeted with hugs, “I love you daddy”, and all of them telling me about their day the best way they know how to, is my favorite. All the things we deem to be typical they find exciting and COOL! Like riding on my shoulders and dunking your cookies in milk. Plus my son saying “Mucho McDonalds in Oregon!” We all are doing well with our Spanglish.
Looking back now I can see if God would have just given in on my selfishness, anger and sadness every time my wife was not pregnant we would have missed the perfect children He had for us. So if I could just share for all of those who are still waiting with fears, and doubt about the whole thing just know that you have stepped into God’s perfect will and He will successfully bring you through to your child or children who He has given to you long before you ever thought about adoption. May you take this time and cherish it.
- Danial Taylor (and Vickie, Damaris, Camilo, Jesenia & Jessica), OR
Tonight I am feeling reflective of our journey to this point. I have not actually used this blog to journal many of my emotions regarding our story. I guess I was mostly just tracking dates and keeping in touch with my new friends in the blog-world! However, tonight, I just feel like I need to lay it all out there. So, here goes...
The Road Begins - International Adoption
Everything began when my sister and brother-in-law gave us some land (2 acres adjacent to their farm) so that we could build a house. Around that same time, our hearts were stirred for international adoption. Through a series of circumstances and much research, we decided in the spring of 2006, jointly, that we would all go together to bring home our new sons. We applied at Children’s Hope International into their Vietnam program and hoped to actually travel together.
My brother-in-law had the idea of selling the land to finance the bulk of both of our adoptions. We were totally on board, feeling like it was a huge gift, either way; and as we believed God was calling us to international adoption, it seemed like an answer to prayer. I felt so strongly God was going to have to finance this thing He was calling us to do, since we were already struggling to make ends meet due to lack of funds in my husband's ministry. With no savings and too much debt, we started down this road and downloaded the application from Children’s Hope.
The day I had to send off our $100 application fee, my husband ran into a local pastor friend at the gas station, both on their way to work. Our friend handed him a $100 bill and said he felt like God wanted to bless us with that. It was exactly what I needed that day and I had to worship, knowing that God was assuring me He would be there for whatever I needed each step of the way. So, after a bit, we sold the land (my brother and his wife actually ended up purchasing it!) and it was just in time for all our initial home study and government paperwork fees. So far, so good!
A Fork in the Road – Which Country?
When my sister and her husband decided to accept a referral for a baby from Guatemala, we were overjoyed for them and fell in love immediately with our new nephew. However, that left us wondering what we should do next. We looked into Guatemala a bit, but didn't feel that was the right door for us to walk through. I became increasingly uncomfortable with Vietnam, unsure I had heard the Lord on from which country we should adopt. We put our home study on hold. It was completely ready, just awaiting the country.
Throughout November and December I felt nothing. I was really praying, too! Finally, as January 2007 rolled around, I decided I had to put a deadline on things. I told the Lord that by the end of the month I would put something down and just send it in, regardless. The third weekend of that month I had a revelation as I was talking with my sister. She asked if I had noticed Children’s Hope was opening a new program for Ethiopia. I looked into it and immediately felt this was right. The needs of the country, the beauty of the children, the cost, the timelines, the short length of stay in country (since I had 3 children at home, this was important to me), and the excitement of being one of the pioneer families for the program were all perfect! We switched programs, sent off our home study and within one month had our 171-H form (INS clearance) - the same weekend of my birthday and the same weekend Children’s Hope received their licensing for Ethiopia!!!
I got to work on our dossier and made sure to submit it before we left on vacation in June. We were the 3rd or 4th family to submit a dossier. The first 2 families, requesting infant boys, and another family, requesting siblings, actually traveled before the courts closed in August. So, we were sure we were next on the list and would be receiving our referral any time and traveling by October at the latest. Well, that didn't happen. Several other referrals came through, but all for older children or siblings or infant girls. I was excited for all these families. However, I kept waiting for the call.
A Change in Direction
Finally, it came in October. We received a referral for an infant boy and were thrilled. However, we immediately realized we were going to struggle to get the necessary funds together for the country/referral fee. Several of our friends gave generously to us and one long-time friend of our family gave us a loan so that we could go ahead and process the referral to get on the list for a court date. God was good, once again!
I believed He would come through on the funds we owed to them, as well as the money it would take to travel. However, we had one setback in the plan. When our court date came the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we found out the court had not ruled in our favor. For reasons I will not go into here, the court could not separate the baby from the birth family. We felt some loss with this news, obviously; but also felt that it was an answered prayer. We believe the court had ruled righteously in their decision and we tried to be at peace in that.
We were on hold again. Children’s Hope told us there was another infant, but could not give us any specific news yet until they finished the medicals and paperwork for him. We waited one month with no more information. Finally, on Christmas Day, the director of the program called and gave us the news! She emailed all the medicals, photos and background info on Ashenafi and we were overjoyed she would take time out of her holiday to do that for us. God gave us a beautiful Christmas gift! The baby was perfect!
The Guide Steps in With a Helping Hand
Now, we awaited a January 23 court date. This time everything went beautifully the first time through. Again, the hurdle of the finances came to weigh on us as we contemplated the cost of travel. As we were waiting for our official travel dates, we received a notice from Shaohannah's Hope (Steven Curtis Chapman's adoption-assistance organization). We were awarded a $3,000 grant!! (This is something we applied for in the early fall!) God is soooo good!!! Plus, my husband had a friend give us some money for our trip and a side job he was working was going to pay exactly what we needed for the hotel/food cost with enough to take some cash with us!
So, now, we are ready to go! I'm going to totally enjoy this experience and immerse myself into the culture of Ethiopia and loving on my baby!