Rock Me Again

Eight months ago, I wrote this on a night when my little one couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t even mine yet (it was a weekend visit and we still had another five days before our boys would officially move in) and he wouldn’t be legally mine for over five months.

“With trepidation I picked you up, and I started to rock you. You peered up at me in the half-light, maybe unsure of this stranger but maybe too tired to care and welcoming the comfort. For the first time in both our lives, I felt your breathing start to steady next to my belly…Eyes drifting closed, so close to sleep, and then popping open again because trusting is hard…

I can never really express how much I cherish this half-asleep you, accepting my comfort and learning to trust a stranger. I would welcome my back to ache forever if it could draw the trauma from your tiny body and into mine. In the moments, days, years to come, I dream of knowing your sounds, your breath, your heart, and your mind, if you will let it be so.”

Gentle Wild, Aches

Today, that two year old is closer to three. He seems to get taller every time I look at him, and his vocabulary grows by the day. Lately he has preferred to be rocked vertically with his head on my shoulder, or not be rocked at all and instead have his back rubbed after he is already laying down.

The little guy who would push away my helping hands when he first arrived is thriving. He runs with an energy I envy, and he laughs with abandon. None of our problems are solved–trauma is, and will continue to be, a string that threads itself through our days. But he is learning what safe feels like.

Tonight, he said, “Rock me lay down,” which I took to mean laying him horizontally along the front of my body like I did that night eight months ago. I did so, and when I thought he was asleep, I went to put him in his crib, and heard, “I want you rock me lay down again.” I rocked him, and I sang to him, and I felt my heart crack open even more than it already has.

I was overcome with memories of that difficult night, when we were both so unsure of each other but making it work. Because how can two strangers who were never meant to know each other find trust and security? Through night after night of rocking as he grows almost too big for it anymore. Through “just one more” bedtime story snuggled under a blanket. Through this oft-requested song sung quietly in the dark, over and over.

I will take your pain / Put it on my heart / I won’t hesitate, just tell me where to start

I thank the oceans for giving me you / You saved me once, now I’ll save you too / I won’t hesitate for you

Jonas Brothers, Hesitate

Prayers (On Adoption Day)

Tomorrow (today) is adoption day for our sons. As I am wont to do, I am up in the middle of the night and find myself here to write.

In just twelve hours, we’ll be arriving at the courthouse, taking family photos, signing paperwork, and finding our seats in front of the judge who has been on the boys’ case from the beginning. We will become the legal parents to these two beautiful boys who are undoubtedly ours, but never should have been ours. Years of planning collide with happenstance; our choices intersect with the choices of others and this moment transforms us all officially, forever.

This day is so exciting, but that thrill is tied up in knots with grief, our joy is laden with loss, and a brief moment of peace is stepping out from the shadows of trauma. I find myself ardently praying, in this quiet, dark space with a God who holds it all at once.

I am praying for my boys’ birth family, especially for their first mother. I pray for her heart; that the pain of their loss has dulled, even though it will never go away completely. I pray that she would somehow sense she is loved and spoken of in a home she doesn’t know exists. I pray that she will someday trust that we are on the same team, and believe that her sons are safe and loved beyond measure. Desha Woodall said it better than I ever could: “He is mine in a way that he will never be hers, he is hers in a way that he will never be mine, and together, we are motherhood.”

I am praying for my own heart too, that it would be as soft, patient, and compassionate as possible in the wake of the daily aftereffects of trauma. I pray that I would never forget how it feels to be sweeping the floor and unexpectedly wondering about whether another family’s grief has lessened over the years. I pray that as often as possible, I will see my children the way I do when I check on them in their sleep: with immense pride and overwhelming, heart-bursting, awestruck love.

I am praying for this little family we are building, that it would be a living thing we tend to moment by moment with care and grace. I pray that we would never confuse a house for a home. I pray that we would remember things that matter are hard, and press on. I pray that we will assume each of us are doing the very best we can in each moment. I pray that the dinner table would always be bountiful with music and laughter. I pray that we will let love fill in the empty spaces, but never assume that’s all it takes.

More than anything, I am praying for my sons. I pray that regardless of our influence or any others they would grow into gentle, kind, honest people. I pray that they will someday understand trauma as part of their story, but not their whole story. I pray that they would know they are safe with us and forever loved by a gracious God who is in and with them, at their strongest and weakest moments. I pray that they will know a bang of a gavel doesn’t change who they are, only they can decide that.

Lookalike

“He actually looks kind of like you!” 

“Wow, he really looks like his new dad!”

“You know, he looks like he could be your real son.”

These are all actual things I’ve been told since the boys moved in. And ohhhh boy, have I got a LOT to say about it. But in that moment, what do I manage to eek out?

“Umm…err…thanks? Yeah, kinda, I guess?”

It’s awkward, at best.


Now, I’m not a monster. I understand there are a few reasons why even the most well-intentioned people would want to point out how we look alike:

  1. Humans want to group things together. It is in our nature to find similarities and attempt to categorize things/people/ideas.
  2. A majority of families are biological, so we tend to assume. We’ve all been there: brand new baby in a stroller, little eyes peeking out from below a tiny cap, and the first thing we say is: “Wow, she’s got your nose!” I am guilty of this, too.
  3. They think we need to hear it. People who know we are adopting the boys also know there are challenges that come along with the transition. They’re trying to encourage us.

All of these reasons are legitimate and fair! But next time you’ve got a compliment about looking alike on your lips, just take a pause and…

…Consider the mom via infant adoption who might be struggling to bond with her new child, because she didn’t have nine months in the womb to form a relationship. Maybe she and her partner struggled with infertility for years and thought they were done grieving that their family will look different than they imagined. How might you be hurting her heart by assuming her child is biological?

…Consider the damage you might do by pointing out how my son looks like me or my husband. Your words attempt to erase or ignore where he has come from and replace it with where he is now. All of those parts of his story are equally significant and valid.

…Consider the interracial family of adoption that you might encounter tomorrow, to whom you probably won’t say this. Is their family less “real” because yesterday you said my son looked like he could be my “real” child?

Trust me, you won’t search the faces of my boys and find my husband’s eyes (unfortunately) or my nose (thank goodness), so don’t go looking. What can you do instead of defaulting to appearance when trying to encourage us or compliment us on our children?

  1. Just give a regular, non-appearance compliment. Maybe you noticed he is great at coloring, or he is a super good helper. Did he say something sweet or did he make you laugh with a silly face? Let us know. We like hearing good things about our kiddos, especially on the hard days.
  2. Group us by personality. Though our kids may or may not share our physical features, we definitely have things in common when it comes to our personalities. For example, one of our sons is sensitive and affectionate like Nate; the other, independent and adventurous like me. We all love dance parties and Taco Tuesdays. Sarcasm is spoken fluently in our family.
  3. Celebrate adoption. Not all families are the same, but all families have some things in common (The Family Book by Todd Parr does a great job of explaining this). My boys LOVE to read books that mention adoption and meet other kids who were adopted from foster care or as a baby. Celebrating adoption as a person who doesn’t have adoption in your immediate family might look like this: not assuming a baby is biological, asking my kids how they feel about their upcoming adoption, or complimenting a child or family on how special and unique it is that they are adopted.
  4. Don’t think of adoption as a second choice or last resort. Adoption is growing in prevalence, and more families (like ours) are choosing to adopt as a “Plan A.” Furthermore, these days more families are made up of different skin colors, races, ethnicities, and abilities. Assuming that parents need to hear their children look like them to feel more proud, connected, legitimate (or what have you) is insensitive.

Our adopted children may have certain features that resemble ours, but that is purely by chance. We don’t need our kids to look like us. If we did, we probably would have tried to reproduce. But we didn’t.

What we need more than compliments, more than a sense of shared features, is for our kids to look like themselves; to find in their features traces of who and where they came from for the continuity of their story. We celebrate their uniqueness that goes far beyond our nurture to their nature.

In all other ways, our children are OURS and they are wholly part of our family. But they have another family, too, and that family didn’t go away when they joined ours. Why disregard one the most significant (and sometimes only) tie an adopted child has to their birth family–their DNA?

Adopted children are “ours,”

in spite of and because of the fact that they weren’t ours to begin with.

I Am Letting You Down

“Why don’t we prepare parents for this reality? Why don’t we talk openly about the fact that while there is much joy in becoming a parent, caring for a young child is also grueling, sometimes depressing work? That as we gain a new life, we also lose an old one?

How do we measure our own self-worth when our new self is barely recognizable?”

Like a Mother by Angela Garbes

On February 15, 2019, my life changed forever. Truly. The rest of my life can, from this point forward, be categorized as either “before kids” or “after kids.” I am the same, but I’m not the same.

Because our children didn’t join our family until my late twenties, I’ve enjoyed many years of being the childless friend. You know, the one with Netflix waiting, a midnight phone call answered, and a drink to be had at the drop of a hat.

But all of a sudden, I’m letting you down. I forgot to deliver that thing you needed, I said the wrong thing or said nothing at all when I usually have just the right thing, and now I’m digging around the kitchen drawers for the corkscrew, which now has to be under lock and key with the other sharp objects.

Trust me, I feel worse about it than you do. Though on the surface I’ve been told I come across as cold or unfeeling, those who know me well know that I actually feel very deeply. I take things right to heart and I have a sense of responsibility to the people I care about. The way I feel love is through being needed by others; that midnight phone call or last minute drink are how I thrive. When you ask my advice, I feel so honored to be part of your think tank and get to contribute my (uncensored) opinion.

So in the midst of the most exhilarating, intimidating, exhausting, emotionally draining time in my life, I’m trying to still be everything you need, and I am failing. Because I’m also trying to be everything to my new children; to fill in all their gaps and build trust and connection and a bond that will help us survive the roughest of times, which feels like now but are actually yet to come. And the thing is, I am far from enough for anyone right now. I’m failing them, too. A spotlight has been shone on my brokenness and insecurity, at the same time that I have been forced to pull away from all of the best and most secure relationships in my life.

I mean it when I say: it physically pains me to not be there for you when you need me. I grieve the loss of my independence and pray that you will still love and appreciate what I am able to offer, even when there is less of me to go around. Because that relationship we had is the same, but not the same. Though my availability has changed, my love for you has not.

So please, forgive me when I forget. Allow me time to get back to you with no ill feelings. Schedule a phone call for after bedtime. And please…bring a bottle of wine when you come over, because I’m a new mother. My wine and my patience have definitely run out.

I’ll go start looking for that corkscrew…