Home Is Where Your Story Begins (sort of)

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“Home is where your story begins…”

This is the sign that is hanging on a wall covered by the artwork of my children. I’ve had it since our oldest was a baby.  Today, my daughter looked at the wall, and said, “That’s not really true, you know.” I said, “What’s not true?” She said, “Home is where your story begins. That is not true. Your story begins in your birth mom’s belly.”

She moved on and went about playing around the house, but of course, I’ve thought about this conversation all day. I promise you we do not prompt discussions about adoption or biological parents. It may seem like we sit around and hash out our adoption story with the kids on a daily basis, but that is not true. Honestly, we rarely talk about it unless they mention it.

Over the course of the past few weeks, both of our older children have randomly said things about it. What this tells me as a parent is that they are both coming into recognition that adoption is a big deal, that their lives have a different component than their non-adopted friends, and that they are figuring it out as they go along and grow older.

And, you want to know what? I’m both excited, a bit relieved, and a little scared by it. I’m excited that they trust us enough to bring us their questions. I’m thrilled that they seem to understand (as much as their age allows) that they grew in a different mother’s body. I’m relieved that I can start sharing more about their stories as they grow older, and that, so far, I haven’t totally messed it up.

However, I am also a little scared – scared that they will experience a measure of heartbreak (and rightly so) for not being able to grow up in their families of origins. I’m scared that the next question will be one that I will have to answer with truth, even though, some of the truth is ugly.

This is the life of an adoptive family. We chose to tell them as young as possible (like reading stories about adoption when they were barely toddlers) that they were adopted. When they were learning to count, we would say things like, “two mommies”. When they played with baby dolls, my husband would ask, “Did you adopt that baby?” And, so on.

No regrets. Only truth.  

My daughter’s insight caught me off guard today, but it also caused me to be a bit in awe of her.

Yet again, this is another example of a life lived from barren to blessed.

Tragedy and Joy

During a phone call yesterday with the birth mother of one of my kiddos, she said, “When I tell people about ***, I tell them that I don’t feel like I lost a child.  I feel like a gained a daughter and son-in-law. I know I would never be able to give *** the kind of life that you have given ***.”  She gasped with excitement about how well her child of birth is doing.

Her words have remained with me today. I cannot help but be completely humbled by the blessing(s) I have been given through adoption(s).

Is it possible for tragedy and joy to collide?  

I think it is.

In some ways, adoption is part tragedy and part joy all mixed in together. Tragedy and joy. Despair and happiness. Grief and hope. Such opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, and yet, a shared experience between two parties whose only connection is the precious life of a child.

If the beauty of adoption is ever questioned, please, take a look around at the children who have been adopted. They are the joy of eager grandparents, the hope of waiting mothers, and the happy fulfillment of sought after longings.

Birth mothers and adoptive mothers share a similar journey – tragedy, joy, despair, happiness, grief, and hope.

I simply cannot think of anything more beautiful.

An Open Letter to an Expectant Teen (Consider This)

Dear Expectant Teen,

I know you woke up this morning not expecting to be….well….expecting.  You took the pregnancy test, it read positive, and now you are staring at yourself in the mirror with tears as heavy as the world rolling down your cheeks.  I’m sure the taste of fear is in your mouth.  Your mind is probably racing.  You even might be thinking one or all of the following, “What will dad think?”,  “I can’t face my youth pastor, teacher, or mom.”,  “I won’t be able to be on the team this year.”,  “What about college?”,  or “What if he leaves me?”  

I don’t know what it is like to stare at a pregnancy test in despair or joy.  I’ll never pretend to be in your shoes or even try to walk in them.  I will not judge you.  I’m just another woman, like millions of others, who are unable to have biological children.  I’m a woman who has been blessed by the incredible gift of adoption.  This gift of children does not rest lightly in my heart.  I cherish it.

I hope this makes it to your computer, Facebook, or email.  Most importantly though, I hope it makes it to your heart.  Before you consider your options, before you think about adoption, abortion, or parenting, before you make the most difficult of all choices, please consider this:

The little boy or girl growing in your belly, your child, is there for a reason.  Now, I’m not talking about the “reason” you became pregnant…no, I’m talking about purpose.  You see, I was told at the age of eleven that I would never have a biological child.  I was faced with that grim news at an age when I barely understood how a child is created.  (It was 1983 and things were a lot different back then.)  I remember wondering what my purpose was.  Why was I on this Earth?

As I’ve grown into adulthood, the most amazing thing has happened.  I’ve discovered my purpose.  I’m not a celebrity.  I don’t make a lot of money, and I’m really not much to shout about, but I love.  I love my friends.  I love my family.  I love the children who became mine through adoption.  I love life with all of the ups and downs.  I love with my whole heart….and….I love you.  You have been on my mind.

Your son or daughter could become a doctor or scientist who makes profound discoveries in our world.  Your son or daughter might be an astronaut who flies off to other galaxies, or a teacher who makes a difference in a long forgotten school, or a social worker who teaches parents how to raise children free from abuse.  Your son or daughter could become a missionary feeding orphaned children.  Your son or daughter could possess the most beautiful singing voice any of us have heard, or become the next literary mastermind.

Even if your son or daughter doesn’t do any of the things above, your child has a purpose – to receive love and to share love.  Your son or daughter might be the most kind person to someone who needs a little kindness.  

What purpose is greater than that?

I want you to know that your decision – abortion, adoption, or parenting – are all very difficult decisions to make.  Like I said earlier, I’m not going to judge you for your decision, but I sure hope you choose life.  I’m so glad the birth mothers of my children did.

Please consider carefully what you will do with the little one growing inside of you.  Seek professional counseling, pregnancy services, and prenatal care.  There are many who have chosen abortion, and are walking with grieving steps throughout their days.  There are also many who have chosen adoption.  This decision carries grief as well, but they know that their child is in the safe, loving arms of parents who wanted so badly to have a child to call their own.  The coos, first words, and pitter-patter of your child’s feet will be the sweetest sound the adoptive family will hear.  The brave birth mothers who chose life and made an adoption plan know that their children are the center of another family’s universe, an answer to prayers, and the most significant thing that has happened in their lives.

Dear friend, you were on my mind today.  I don’t know you, and I don’t know what you are going through, but I know that you are facing something you didn’t expect.  You are facing someone you didn’t expect.  You have a lot to think about, and many tears are sure to flow, but before you consider abortion, please consider this.

Love,

Another Woman Who Went From Being Barren to Blessed

Out of the Ashes

Looking at the image above of my family causes me to think of how blessed I am. We are a family filled with lots of love, lots of trial and errors, lots of do-overs, and lots of moments that leave us laughing.  Looking at the image above makes my heart happy, and yet, it also makes my heart a little sad.

I know that sounds strange to say it makes me sad, but truthfully, it invokes a sliver of sadness.  It is not my children or my husband that do this to me.  It is the thought that my family…my everything here on Earth….was created out of the terrible circumstances of others.  The birth parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings, and other relatives that will not be pictured on the couch together with my children are on my mind.  My children will most likely never be embraced by their birth grandparents.  We have some limited contact with a sibling of my daughter, and we send letters to my son’s birth mother, but these things do not replace or ever will replace growing up in their families of origin.

I love the little ones I’ve been charged of taking care of.  I love them so much that my heart can’t help but break for what their birth parents have or are going through.  Substance abuse, mental illness, instability, homelessness, severe impoverishment…you name it….these are the things that make up the lives of birth families of the sweet ones I tuck in at night.  I know that the Lord formed my family.  I know that He took the messiness of life’s problems, and created the portrait of love above.  I know this.

Adoption has blessed me in some many ways.  It has fulfilled that deep longing to live for and love on a child.  It has broken me, humbled me, and rebuilt me again. Taking in someone else’s child has brought me to my knees in tears and in prayer. It is complicated, requires full attention, and yet, it is beautiful.  It is beautiful.

Still yet, my heart aches for those out there with whom my children come from that are missing out on the hugs, kisses, temper tantrums, scrapes, good dreams, bad dreams, and longings of children learning who they are in the world.  It was not meant to be this way.  Fathers and mothers were not meant to abandon their children, have severe addictions, or struggle with mental illness.  Still, here I am benefiting from these tragedies.

People may look at our situation and think, “What a great thing that has happened for them.”  I think that way too, but still, in that quiet place of my heart, that place that is secret, I grieve for my children’s birth mothers.  I carry them with me.  I think about them when celebrating the goodness of my children.

I know the day will come when my children will learn and fully understand the circumstances that opened their paths to our hearts and our home.  I know that day will be hard.  It saddens me.  It worries me, and it humbles me.  It also builds my courage to do a better job as a parent, to try each day anew to meet my kids where they are at, and to gently guide them as they grow.

There’s a lot of love on the couch in the photograph above.  There are moments of utter chaos and craziness that comes with three young children.  There are moments of exhaustion, and moments of exhilaration   There is definitely plenty of happiness that goes around.

There’s also a family sitting there that has shed tears, whispered prayers, and spoken hope.  There are two parents who know that out of the ashes of mistakes, darkness of addictions, and pain of regrets, this family…our family….was created.

Legacy of An Adopted Child

Once there were two women who never knew each other
One you do not remember, the other you call mother.

Two different lives shaped to make yours one
One became your guiding star, the other became your sun.

The first gave you life, the second taught you to live it
The first gave you a need for love, the second was there to give it.

One gave you a nationality, the other gave you a name
One gave you the seed for talent, the other gave you an aim.

One gave you emotions, the other calmed your fears
One saw your first smile, the other dried your tears.

One gave you up, it was all that she could do
The other prayed for a child and was led straight to you.

And now you ask me through your tears
the age old question through the years,

“Heredity or environment, which am I the product of?”

Neither my darling, neither,
Just two different kinds of Love.

-Author Unknown

This is another poem about adoption that I love.  My heart leaps just a bit and I got a little emotional when I read the last line.  My children’s birth mothers did not choose adoption, as is the case of most foster care adoptions.  However, I would never deny the importance of their roles in who my children are.  

I’m so thankful to be called mom.  I cannot imagine giving birth to a child and not being in the child’s life.  I have such respect and empathy for the birth mothers who have chosen adoption for their babies.  I also feel great empathy and compassion for the birth mothers who did not choose adoption and whose children were taken away by protective services.  I think that birth mothers who choose life and make a plan for adoption are often the unsung heroes.  So, thank you birth mothers.  Thank you for choosing life and for the selfless sacrifice you made when you chose adoption.

Real Mom

The other day my son said something to me that stopped me in my tracks.  He was mad at me for getting on to him about needing to clean his room when he said, “You’re not my real mom.”  Whoa…I felt that gut-wrenching, knife in the heart, floor dropping out from under me twinge of pain.  After he said it, I sat down next to him and looked at him.  He had that look of confusion mixed in with a little sadness and anger.

I asked him, “Sweetie, what do you mean?”  Nothing…nothing but staring off at the TV screen.  “Honey, please help me understand what you mean.  Do you mean that I’m not your real mom because I didn’t give birth to you like your birth mother did?”  Silence.  Then finally, he looked at me and said, “You are not my real mom because you tell me what to do and you always get me in trouble.”  I have to admit that I was a little more relieved with his explanation, but still bothered.  I told him that he gets in trouble when he disobeys, and my job as his mom is to tell him what to do sometimes.  I also told him that we are his real parents and that we love him more than anything.  He looked at me and said, “Okay, but you’re still not my real mom.”  My mind was racing with how to handle this.  I grabbed the basket of laundry and used it as an excuse to escape off to our room to silently and quickly allow myself to exhale, gather my thoughts, and hold back the tears that were wanting to escape.

I returned to the living room and noticed that he went on with his after-school routine of building Legos, drawing, and eating a snack.  From time to time though, he looked at me and studied my face.  I kept it all together.  I acted as if nothing was wrong and that his words had not bothered me.  We went on with the rest of the afternoon like usual.  Later on in the evening, my son was quite clingy.  He wanted me to hold him, lay by him on the couch, snuggle, etc.  I took him up on the offer, and wondered if his words were still on his mind as well.

When I told my husband what was said, he responded “Caroline, you have to expect this.  If he knows it bothers you, then he will use it in the future when he is mad about something.  He was probably just testing you out to see how you would respond.”  My husband was right.  I do expect both of my children to refer to their birth parents as their “real” parents at some time during their lives.  I expect them to have a lot of questions about their birth family histories, how they ended up in our home, and anything else that has to do with adoption.  I guess I just didn’t expect it so soon, and I certainly didn’t expect it to hurt so much.

I don’t even know where my son got the term “real mom”, or why he would say this.  I know he was mad at me, but he had never said anything like that to me before.  Perhaps someone said something to him at school.  Maybe he overheard someone else talking about this.  Or perhaps, he is just starting to really process and learn how to navigate his own world of adoption.  Maybe he has a fantasy version of his birth mother, and in that fantasy she would never “get on to him”, put him in time-out, or make him clean his room.  I don’t know, but it reminded me that adoption is extremely complex and there are layers within it.  One certainly needs to have “thick-skin”!

One thing though that has been laid on my heart since all of this took place is that my husband and I need to be mindful of the adoption language we use around the home and in the community.  We need to be there to answer any and ALL questions our children have even if it makes us uncomfortable.  We need to not perceive questions about birth parents as a threat to who were are and the relationship we have with our children.

And, we need to keep in mind that we are their real parents.  We are a real family.  We get on to each other.  We discipline the kids when they are being disobedient.  We lose our tempers at times.  We get frustrated at times.  We are not perfect.  But, if we were perfect, didn’t lose our tempers, didn’t get frustrated, didn’t discipline, and didn’t get on to each other, then we would not be real at all.

A Blessing from Above

A Blessing From Above is probably one of the Little Golden Books that is not well-known.  It is a sweet story of adoption and a fantastic way to introduce the idea of adoption to young children.

Written by an adoptive mother, it tells the story of a Kangaroo who prayed for a baby.  While under a tree, a baby bird fell out of its nest and landed right in her pouch.  I looked all over for it in various bookstores and finally settled on ordering it from Amazon.  I’m so glad that I did because I have read it several times to my children.

Recently when reading it to my son, we came to the part of the story that talks about how the mama bird noticed she had too many babies in her nest and decided to give the baby bird to the kangaroo.  My son stopped and said “Wait!  So….she gave her baby away?”  I sat there for a second trying to read his expression.  It appeared that he was not just asking a simple question about the story, but processing it as well.

I said to him, “Well, she decided that she could not give the baby bird all the attention that he needed and when she saw how much he was loved by the mama Kangaroo, she decided to let him stay with her.”  I do not know if I answered it the right way or not, but he seemed okay with the answer.  We finished the book, put it back on the shelf, and he returned to his usual routine of playing with Legos.

I have found it a little difficult to fully explain my children’s whole stories to them.  This book helps in some way to promote positive feelings about adoption, but I have not been able to find a book suitable for young children that helps them understand foster care adoption.  The truth is that both of my children were taken from their birth mothers involuntary for reasons of serious safety concerns and other issues.  Their stories are not as easy to explain.

They did not just fall out of an overcrowded nest.  Their birth mothers did not choose us as their parents.  My son’s birth mother did sign away her rights voluntarily, but only after nearly 12 months of efforts to get him back.  She did say that if she could not have him, she only wanted us to have him.  But still…it is not the same.  My daughter’s birth mother never made one effort to be reunified with her baby girl due to instability and other factors.  It is hard to put drug abuse, chaotic home environments, and instability into kid friendly terms.

I have heard of books for older children adopted out of foster care, but none for young children who were taken into care as newborns and placed with the families they eventually were adopted by.  All of this being said, I still do love A Blessing from Above, and have suggested it to numerous foster/adoptive families.  It speaks of the goodness of adoption, of the love of birth mothers and adoptive mothers, and of the ultimate blessing that comes only from above.

Do you know of any children’s books that talk about foster care and foster/adoption?  If so, please let me know!