I sat on my girlfriend’s couch on Thursday, watching her love on and swoon over her new baby boy. He’s 2 weeks new, scrumptious as they come, and is an answer to years of pleading and praying and mourning over God’s plan for their family. His jet black hair and milky chocolate skin doesn’t match hers or her husbands and that is just as it was ordained to be. This baby’s birth mother gave him the impossibly selfless gift of security and safety and unconditional love and I sat there watching my beautiful friend treasure all of those complexities. She didn’t ask if I wanted to hold him or touch his feet or change his diaper. She held him tightly to her chest, rubbing his head and his back and talking to him with the gentle love only a mother could offer.
When we brought our kiddos home, this picture looked drastically different. When we walked in the front door, there were people there stealing them away to love on them. They rocked them, offered them first “at home” bottles. They changed their diapers, took pictures with them, cooed at them and studies their toes. I watched from across the room and smiled. We didn’t demand intimacy or offer them the opportunity to bond soley with our smell or sounds or touch. They were offered countless friends and family as sources for those crucial beginning comforts. I remember taking our daughter to the pediatrician at 3 weeks old and sitting in the exam room, alone with her for the first time. I cried over her and hugged her tightly to my chest because it was the first time I felt connected to her. It was the first time I felt like her person. That confused me and made me feel shame.
We didn’t know. No one told us.
Our son slept in our room that first night, next to our bed in a pack n play (because he came so fast we didn’t have a crib or baby sock to speak of). He was restless and cried so much that our pediatrician recommended we put him in his own room the following night, swaddled. So he could learn to self soothe. And so we did. No one told us not to. And he slept. That started the routine of leaving our 3 week old, adopted baby alone to sleep, all swaddled into himself. He found comfort in himself rather than in us. And because this worked for him, we followed the same routine with our daughter. She learned to self soothe beautifully, early on. She was swaddled in her crib, soft music playing and the cozy night light lighting her chubby face. And we slept in the room down the hall. We felt successful because our kids slept through the night so early, on their own. No interference from us.
We didn’t know. No one told us.
As our son grew up, we laughed at his quirky mannerisms. We adored him and didn’t see signs that there was anything atypical going on in his motor movements or his consistent ticks or extreme sensitivity to sound or touch. We didn’t understand brain development in utero in adopted children or their tendency for sensory sensitivities. He started going to in home daycare at 4 months. As did our daughter. I dropped them off, confident they would be cared for and happy. By someone else. Another adult who wasn’t their birth mom – or me.
We didn’t know. No one told us.
My girlfriend is demanding connection her with new and treasured son. She isn’t offering the option for people to come over and bombard them with support. Yet. She’s holding him as tightly as he can be held as often as she can hold him. She and her husband are changing his diapers, feeding his helpless tummy with their own hands. They’re rocking him to sleep and keeping him next to their smells and voices at night. They’re reaching for him when he fusses, teaching him how to trust their hands as his parents. They’re bonding with him in the best possible ways.
They know because people told them.
I gripped the steering wheel, holding back hot tears all the way home from visiting our friends’ new family. I had seen how it should look to bring your child home. It was breathtaking. In an instant I wanted so badly to go back and create that beauty in our own story. To do it right for our kids. But we didn’t know. And so there’s an element of shame and anger that comes with not knowing. There’s an element of wanting to find someone to blame for not informing us. For not walking alongside us. For not teaching us. I want to blame our agency and silent adoptive parents who had walked our path and had insight to offer. But what good does all that do? We can’t have a redo. We won’t gain anything by feeling guilty or angry. But all those feelings exist regardless. This decision to adopt is a lifelong commitment to love and educate ourselves and our kids and to grow and nurture their stories. We didn’t understand the gravity of that or the difference between birthing children and adopting children when we started the journey. Journeys feel thicker when you’re figuring it out on your own. When no one tells you. When you don’t research or reach out because you don’t understand the need to research or reach out.
So here I am in this place of frantically trying to educate myself the best I possibly can – about all the things no one told me. And there’s so many. Maybe to make up for what I didn’t know. Or to tell everyone in my reach what I wish someone would have told us. Or to write a book about our journey so the whole world has access to the knowledge and insights. We started an adoption group so we could connect with people making their way through the weeds and the mountain tops. And to help people starting the process know what their agencies aren’t telling them. The breathtaking and broken truths that can’t be super glued. Just tended to. I talk about wanting to go work for adoption agencies to offer the parent perspective on all the things incoming families need to understand. I’ve explored getting a counseling degree to act as a sounding board and adviser for adoptive and special needs families. I’m writing books and running an online community. Too many things friends. Too many heavy things. It doesn’t help that I’m an Enneagram 2, who naturally helps and helps and then helps some more. At some point, that much helping isn’t good for anyone.
I know now. Because I had to. Because I fumbled through God’s direction to do all the hard things and my own direction to do way too much.
I don’t want others to walk their path of knowing alone. I don’t want others to feel guilt and shame and resentment. Thus why my career goals and dreams look like they do. So drastically different from where I was just 4 years ago. It’s why I’m no longer a marketing/public relations executive. It’s why I make virtually no money, but put more heart into my work than ever before. God had me walk our windy road alone to get me to this place. Because he knew I’d make it to the other side in one piece and he knew I’d be better for it. I am better for it. But I won’t pretend that I wouldn’t do it differently if I was given the opportunity. I won’t deny resentment toward people whose job it was to teach us. Because our kids deserved the homecoming our friends little love is getting. We deserved to know more than we knew. Everyone in our adoption group who walked it all alone deserved the same.
I don’t have a tidy summary for this post. There’s not one tidy thing about it. I don’t have instructions or advice. Just encouragement to find your people and confidently ask for information you might not know you need. Don’t go it alone because there are others who have fumbled and sprinted and laid flat on their faces before you. Story is how we grow and understand, so find stories and listen to them. Take your story and offer it up. You don’t need a blog or a megaphone to aid in removing the isolation so many people feel in their realities. Just a story. And we all have them.