It isn’t always easy to talk about adoption. There is language to be mindful of and relationships to be respectful of, and I confess I haven’t always done it well. There is a fine balance between speaking authentically and respecting my daughter’s right to her own story. I’ve had to learn to read my audience. I’m getting better at sorting out who really wants to know how our adoption is going and who, in the wise words of Jack Nicholson, can’t handle the truth. It has sometimes been difficult to talk authentically about our adoption within the Christian community, but that is one place where support can mean the most. I feel like a failure when our individual experience doesn’t immediately reflect that “beautiful Christian adoption narrative” that people often expect.I’ve figured out over time that many well meaning Christians assume that the emotional experience of adoption follows the same trajectory as that of salvation. When we are brought into the family of God, our overwhelming response to salvation is great joy and thankfulness. Our daughter came to us through international adoption when she was 13 years old. She did have pain and injustice in her past, but she also had a native country that is thick with history and culture, a beautiful language, connections to biology, smells, tastes, sights that are all a part of what could have been a rich, beautiful, full life. Her circumstances were difficult and life altering, but her heritage did not have to be. She has gained parents and siblings, a large and loving extended family, a new family name, and a forever inheritance, but the losses bring up difficult emotions that we navigate together as a family. When I come across fellow believers who assume the emotions surrounding adoption are the same joy and thanksgiving of salvation, I end up feeling like we are failing each time we struggle.
And sometimes… we struggle. I once emailed another adoptive parent I deeply respect and said, “I think we might be doing this wrong because it is hard! It is supposed to be hard sometimes though, right?” He assured me we were still on the right track. No matter how much I want to make up for my daughter’s pain and loss, I’ve had to accept that hard truth that it isn’t in my power to “fix it”. What our adoption sometimes looks like is simply sitting with our daughter in her grief. Success right now isn’t an absence of pain, but letting her know she isn’t alone in it. I believe in exchanging beauty for ashes, but when I quietly admit that there are still hard moments of hurt and anger and heartache it might sound like I am doubting the power of redemption. It’s difficult to admit that faith doesn’t immediately disperse ashes when it feels like people are waiting for beauty’s dynamic reveal.
A few years ago, I opened up about the pain and loss in our adoption with a spiritual mentor of mine. She listened to me as I tentatively “dropped the veil” and shared that while the joy and love she saw in our family was real, so was the pain and hurt that we work through privately. She paused for a moment after I finished talking and then declared resolutely, “But it was all worth it!” I was caught completely off guard by her response. I had no idea why she felt like this was some conclusion I needed her to draw for me. I realized much later that while I didn’t need that reassurance, she did. I don’t think she understood that the words “hard” and “good” are not mutually exclusive when it comes to adoption.
What I have worked hard to find is my own small community in which I have the safety to sometimes say “Wow. This is hard today.” I want to be able to say “Our adoption is hard” and not have people hear “Our adoption is without joy” or “Our adoption isn’t worth it” or “Our adoption isn’t successful”. I don’t believe any of those things. Honestly, I don’t think any of those things. What I mean is that adoption comes with profound pain and loss, our love doesn’t automatically erase that pain, and we are all in the joy and the sorrow together. Sometimes we are all weary. Sometimes we are all hopeful. We always need encouragement. So let me express my heart with transparency and hope – our adoption is hard, but it is good.