Learning to Embrace the Unknowns of Adoption

It was like one of those scenes from a movie when everything is in slow motion. Our closest friends and family sang Happy Birthday as we carried in the beautifully decorated birthday cake. Children in bare feet danced with anticipation of the sweet treat. My newly adopted son had the biggest smile on his tiny round face as his eyes lit up. He couldn’t contain his joy and it spread out into the room and he jumped on his tiptoes. Many kisses and hugs later, with bellies full of cake, we wrapped up my son’s first birthday in our home. He was 6 years old. We played games and opened presents and ate lots of Filipino food while surrounded by dozens of friends and family members. Start to finish, it was a beautiful day.

One year before on his 5th birthday I laid on the couch all day. I cried and cried and mourned that I missed 5 birthdays with my boy. We were matched with the most beautiful little child waiting across the world in the Philippines waiting for his forever family. Most days I was good. I would keep myself busy with our daughter caring for our home and having adventures as a family of three. But this day I knew I didn’t have the strength. I asked my husband to cover for me and I spent the day missing my boy. I told my husband to order out and I never do that. I usually love to cook. 

But that day I was not feeling like being me because I was so miserable missing a piece of my heart, my son. 

One year later as I tucked my son into his bed after his big birthday, I was overcome with joy. My feet were killing me from a long day of cooking, decorating and chasing after sugar hyped children. I was ready to lay down and fall asleep right there. As I watched his sweet face fade quickly to sleep I resisted the urge to wake him up and kiss him some more. I was in awe of my little miracle, my boy. 

In adoption, there are so many unknowns and so many choices taken from you as a parent. Every time that I go to the doctor, I have to leave half of the family history blank. I am thankful I know something about my son’s history (for my daughter, I have to leave most of it blank). At least it takes less time to do the paperwork. On Mother’s Day and birthdays and Christmas, I grieve a little to myself, by myself to protect my children. I mourn for the people who gave my children life and who may never get to see them open a present or smile or know that the children they lost are happy, healthy and so very loved. 

There are many holes in the tapestry of my child’s history. There are some things we will never know, some stories I will never get to share with my child. They are lost to the annals of broken hearts, and desperate situations that lead a child to need a new family. 

Sometimes I can hardly handle the unknowns, but I have to continue on for my children. I carry the heavy emotional loads until they are strong enough. We are open with our children about the good and hard parts of their stories. We share what we do know in age-appropriate ways. It keeping as honest as possible often say the sad words, “I don’t know.”

There is also all the unknowns of the adoption process. Yes there are complications in pregnancy but there is a clear end. Typically, a baby will leave arrive within 9 months. With adoption, the waiting periods vary and change or disappear altogether. We had an adoption in Ethiopia fall through after we had submitted all the paperwork and paid all the fees. A week after submitting that last check, we got message after message from all the adoption groups online. The county is closed, all adoptions are suspended. My heart left my body and I fell to my knees. All my hopes and dreams of my precious baby were gone. 

For weeks we prayed and cried and asked over and over, “Why?” That question was never answered sufficiently enough for me. We don’t always get to know why and how things happen, but if I was going to survive the adoption process, I would have to not only accept there would be unknowns, I would have to embrace them. 

As weeks passed our hopes that the country would open dwindled more and more each day. Officials were being fired and there was unrest in the government. Not long after that, war would break out in the region and chaos would reign and adoption from Ethiopian would quickly become a thing of the past. 

We spent several months regrouping and mourning our lost dream. My husband and I cried together and held each other. Had we gotten our calling wrong? The conviction was so pure and true. Adoption was always our plan A for starting our family. It took courage, but after a time, we started again. We chose a new country and with each price of paper filed, and every dollar spent a tiny part of my heart embraced India. At first, it felt like a betrayal, but slowly our hearts thawed and finally we got excited again. Four years after our first meeting with the adoption agency, we got a call to travel to Indian and meet our precious daughter. 

The timelines were unknown, the travel plans were unknown (until the last minute), even the length of our time in the country became a big unknown. Because of issues with the local government, we were held up in India for seven long weeks instead of the typical two. It would have been easy to get mad and curse it all, but embracing the adventure and making the most of each day made the whole experience worthwhile. 

While our son’s adoption was far less dramatic and in many ways easier, there were still so many unknowns. After we asked to be matched with him, we had to wait months to get approval. Unlike our first adoption when I was younger and far less mature, with the second adoption I was able to have peace. I knew in my heart that if it was meant to be, then it would happen. As devastating as the closing of Ethiopia was for us, it led to our daughter and I can’t imagine a day without her. I still think of a little Ethiopian baby with sadness praying that someday there will be peace in that country. No one can know the future.

We did get matched to the sweet boy who has been my son officially for 8 sweet months at the time I am writing this. He loves to play outside getting as dirty as possible and making me laugh and giving me a run for my money. My joy has erased the pain I felt waiting for him. 

With the knowledge that there are few things in this world that I can truly control, there is freedom in embracing the unknowns. We do not have a predictable life. So much of the future is scary and unwritten for my children. What advantages or disadvantages will adoption bring to my children? Their lives are full of love and joy and our family is whole because of the difficult and long journey that we chose. Much of that journey was and still is unknown. Like I say often when asked about all the trials of this life: I wouldn’t trade my trials for anything because my blessings grew out of and despite of that pain.