Sunday, July 21, 2013

Musings about adoption

There is a difference between birth and adoption. 

A birth child comes into my life knowing my smell, my voice, my music, my daily rhythms.  A birth child comes into my life believing that she is one with me...recognizing no separation until about the age of nine months.  My body was in sync with my baby's body so that I woke seconds before she did, and she didn't need to cry to wake me up.  There was deep and ancient chemistry there.

An adopted child comes into my life grieving for that mother whose smell is familiar, whose voice is familiar, whose music is now missing, whose daily rhythms are a thing of the past.  I am not the mom he wants.  I am a stranger and he doesn't really know or understand why I'm caring for him instead of his mother.  He thinks it may be my fault he isn't with the mother he misses, the mother who is a part of him.  He wanted to be able to stay with the mom he had, just like all the kids he knows.

Our children came to us through foster care, so that is a different route than most adoptions.  It implies an assumption that the primary goal is to reunite children with parents.  So I wrote letters to my children's mothers until their parental rights were severed.  I wanted them to know the words their children had learned, the things they had done, what they struggled with, how they triumphed.  For the foster kids that returned home, that connection was crucial.  It may have helped in their mothers' sense of hope and resolve to have their children come back home.

I also fostered within myself an awareness that these were mothers who cared about their children, even if they were unable to provide a safe place for them to live.  People are never simply bad or good.  Parents who showed neglect may have been neglected themselves.  They still have a strong emotional connection with their children.  Parents who discipline in abusive ways may not have the supports they need.  And most abusive parents love their children, although it is perhaps a damaging kind of love.  And their children love them.

Maybe that underlying awareness made things harder for my adopted kids.  I definitely had a sense that I was raising someone else's children.  Sometimes that was a respectful awareness that I wanted to do as good a job as possible so that I could someday be proud to show that mom it was OK, their child had been OK.  Sometimes it was an angry awareness.  Sometimes I wanted to erase all the hurt and grief and loss in my child and just be able to be the mom, the only mom, because things weren't OK and I didn't know what to do about it.

And so we danced the adoption dance.  I was the substitute mother.  I was also the real mother but not the only real mother.  I was the mother who had the privilege of seeing the innocence on their sleeping faces.  I was the mother who cleaned and cooked and guided and wiped noses and bottoms and vomit.  I bought the Christmas presents and baked the birthday cakes and went to the parent teacher conferences.  I did the worrying and the therapy and read the parenting books, the many many parenting books.  I sat through the rages that were so much more intense because of that longing inside them to have their first home be the home where they were safe. 

I was not the mother who wondered every day whether their child was OK or happy or safe, or maybe even alive.  I was not the mother who grieved on birthdays and holidays.  I was not the mother who prayed to someday see my child again.

Our kids are all grown now, but my perspective is still only limited.  All of our kids have relationships with their birth mothers now, some better than others.

One question that came up repeatedly while they were growing up was whether I loved my adopted kids as much as my birth kids.  How do you measure love?  Is it by warm feelings?  Is love something you feel?  Is it something you do?  Can you put a quantity on love?

Sometimes when I am angry with my husband, he asks if I still love him.   YES!  YES!  I am here!  I am willing to go through anger and hurt and contrition and forgiveness.  Anger doesn't mean I'm out.  It may mean that I don't feel warm or affectionate, but I choose to love him.  I choose him.

Maybe love is greater when you know it is a choice as well as a feeling. I don't know.  I don't think you can measure love.

Honesty requires me to admit that feeling warmth and affection was harder when my children pushed me away...even though I knew that they did it because they had suffered so many losses.  I remember times when those losses would fade and we would have happy times and laughter, or tears and vulnerability between us...the warmth and affection that accompanied those times were instantaneous and overwhelmingly strong. In those times I knew that I loved them by choice and by emotion.  It was so easy to feel warm when the tension would ease a bit.

So what is adoption?  I don't know.  It is a complicated relationship, different for every child and every parent.  It is wonderful and terrible and scary and humbling and miraculous and full of failure and forgiveness and redemption, when we offer it humbly to God for healing.

The Bible says we are all adopted by God, and there are similarities to our experiences.  We are loved with an everlasting love, greater than the distance between heaven and earth, so great that God allowed his only begotten son to die for us.  That is a pretty big love.  Huge.

At the same time, do I think God feels the same way about me as about Jesus?  Does it matter?  If I am loved with an everlasting love greater than the distance between heaven and earth, is that not enough?

But...I don't have some other god who used to love me, whom I used to live with, and whom I miss.  That part is different than human adoption.  This God I love is the only God I've ever had.

Or is that true? Before we choose God, what are we choosing?  Is it something we miss or long for sometimes after choosing our adoption with God? Possibly. But those are thoughts for another post, I think.

At any rate, it seems important to speak the truth, because it is the truth that sets us free.  I am free to love my children better if I am truthful that they are my children and they are not my children.  I also need to be truthful about their choices as adults.  They do not owe me.  They are free to choose relationship with me or not.

That adulthood piece is a bit like driving blind for me right now.  I don't know how much to initiate contact and how much to allow space.  I do not want to compete with their loyalty to their first families in any way.  I don't want them to feel abandoned by me.  I wish for a healed relationship with them, and I wish for them to have healed relationships with their birth families.