3 things that have surprised me about adoption (so far)

{The above picture is of our family’s hands, minus Caleb because he was having a toddler moment and didn’t want to participate in the mushy gushy. Oh well.}

November is National Adoption Month. It’s also Banana Pudding Lovers Month, No Shave November, Aviation History Month, and a whole host of other notable observations.

And while I do enjoy bananas, beards, and the miracle of flight, none of those things come anywhere close to the deep well of love that I have in my heart for adoption.

So in the spirit of November and adoption, I thought I’d share a few things that have surprised me (so far) about this beautiful, emotional, holy way to build a family.

1 . I Love You All The Same
Many adoptive parents wonder if they’ll be able to love their adopted child with the same love as a biological child. We wondered what it would be like for us once we met our little babe. Would there be an immediate connection? Or would it be a process? But since the beginning, it’s always felt…normal. We can testify that the love of a parent doesn’t distinguish based on DNA. A parent’s love is non-discriminatory, all-inclusive, forever and ever, amen. (Only good ol’ country music fans will catch that last reference.) We’ve even had a couple of family members share, with great vulnerability, that they were nervous about loving our adopted child with the same love as our biological children. But through smiles and tears, they confessed that there has never been a difference. Not even for a moment.

2 . My Love For Birth Mom
Let me grab a tissue real quick. Because it’s hard for me to talk about our child’s birth mom without getting emotional. I knew I would be grateful to her. But I never expected such a deep, deep love for her. In many ways, she is a part of our family. To put it too simply, if it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t have our third child.

From the moment we heard about her, met her, and said goodbye to her, there was within my heart a new space that opened up. Her life has not been easy. But even in the midst of the hard stuff, she chose to put her baby’s needs above her own, giving the child of her womb the opportunity for a life that she felt she couldn’t provide right now. The courage, the sacrificial love, the selflessness, the strength that it takes to make a decision like that is beyond commendable. We pray for her. We speak of her with dignity and honor at all times. We love her so much.

3 . The Most Popular Question and Comment
I was as prepared as I could be for a whole host of questions. Generally, they come from a place of loving curiosity from friends and family and even strangers. The various questions can be a wonderful opportunity to share about the beauty of adoption and to educate people on the process, to some degree. Many of the questions we’ve received have been fairly predictable and easy to answer. Others have left me dumbfounded, shocked, floundering to give an answer wrapped in grace and truth, being honest while also not feeling obligated to share personal information. But mostly, I’ve been surprised at the most popular question and comment that people have had for our family…

Most popular question: How old is your baby’s mom?
My answer: I’m 31.

Most popular comment: You look great for just having a baby!
My answer: Thank you!

Has your family adopted? What are some of the things that have surprised you?

Facing My Giants

The story of David and Goliath is a highly requested saga at bedtime in Caleb’s room. My fearless toddler lives vicariously through young David every time – rescuing his daddy’s sheep from bears and lions, courageously approaching the Philistine army with nothing more than a sling and stone, until the climactic “BOOM!” down goes Goliath. It gets him every time.

We try to emphasize that God gave the victory to David. When we trust in Him, “no weapon forged against you will stand” (Isaiah 54:17).

Turns out each time I explain these things to my toddler, it’s really my own heart that needs to remember where my victory lies, and that God is big enough to knock down any giant in my life.

Because let’s be honest. Giants are big. And scary. And hairy. And powerful. They can instill fear, doubt, despair and hopelessness through their fiercely deceptive intimidation, leaving us crippled and ineffective and unproductive.

But with Jesus, there is victory in every battle. Period.

The latest giant in my life has been breast milk. Scary, right?

It all started when we began our adoption journey earlier this year. And we recently brought our newest baby home. (Surprise! We’re waiting to share more details until later on down the road.) I wanted to try adoptive breastfeeding (it’s a thing – crazy, I know) so that our little babe could have the nourishment of breast milk and we could experience the bond of nursing.

We had a strong beginning, but soon after we started, I knew I needed to supplement the nursing sessions with the breast milk that I had stored in the freezer from December and January – milk that my body had produced for Evelyn.

After she died, I had the option to donate the frozen milk to a milk bank, but I chose to keep it by faith, knowing we would soon add another child to our family through adoption, and our little one could benefit from the liquid gold.

But when the time came to descend into the basement of my in-law’s house and uncover the milk from the abysmal corner of the deep freezer, I wasn’t so sure anymore if I wanted to use it. For nine months it was out of sight, out of mind. I had unintentionally avoided this particular aspect of my healing and grief. Now walking into the basement felt like I was re-opening an old wound that had been conveniently concealed up to that point.

To my relief, there was no time to pause and reflect on the surfacing grief feelings because I had to rush home to tend to my family. So I grabbed the milk as quickly as I could and stuffed it in the freezer once I got home. I shut the door so that once again it was out of sight, out of mind. Avoidance prevailed.

Then at 3:00 in the morning, our hungry infant awoke, in true infant fashion, so I went to the freezer to retrieve a few ounces of frozen milk. I thawed it, poured it into a bottle, and as I began to feed our sweet child, the suppressed emotions from earlier in the day erupted from my heart, and tears began to fall. As I wept there in the quiet of the night, staring at a sleepy, hungry baby, I  knew I was experiencing a sacred moment. I said out loud to my little one, “This is Evelyn’s milk. It’s her gift to you.” And the tears continued to cascade from my tired eyes until we both went back to sleep.

The next day I returned to the freezer to get more milk, but being the middle of the day, I was more alert to my surroundings, compared to the midnight feedings where I struggled to stay awake. I took the milk, and without giving it much thought, I read the label. It said 12/23 @ 7:00am. This was the first bottle that I had pumped after Evelyn’s death. It vividly took me back to the sterile hospital room where my husband and I sat side by side, exhausted in our bodies and spirits, as we held our lifeless baby in our arms. It’s a chapter of my life that I don’t like to revisit often. And in that moment, it was too much for my heart to bear, so I shoved the bottle back into the freezer and chose a different one.

But every time I went to get milk, that particular bottle was emphatically staring back at me. I was afraid to use it. I don’t know why exactly. I guess it felt sacred and using it seemed dishonoring. Or maybe it brought back too many painful memories. Probably all of the above.

Day after day I avoided that bottle, until I felt like the Lord was tenderly asking me to reach in and use it. He gently led me to my place of fear so that he could help me overcome.

Scripture tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

It wasn’t really the breast milk that I was afraid of, but rather everything that it stood for.

Death. Sickness. Disappointment. Sadness. Fear.

It was a tangible leftover from Evelyn’s life. It was something wholesome that my body miraculously produced specifically for her. It symbolized my connection to her. But it also symbolized her departure from me. And when there are so few tangible mementos to hold on to, each one feels precious. If I used the milk, it would be one less physical connection to Evelyn.

On the other hand, if I didn’t use it, then it would sit in the corner of a freezer for months and months (or perhaps years and years) until it became worthless. What good would it be then? Instead, I could use it presently as a source of nourishment for our growing infant.

I had approached a fork in the road. Would I let this breast milk keep me chained to the painful memories of the past, rendering it useless and leaving me in a state of fear and pain and avoidance? Or would I allow it to propel me forward, so as to create an opportunity for redemption? This thing that had reminded me of Evelyn’s death could now be used to promote life in our third child. What once brought sorrow could now fuel the joy that I feel when I hold my sweet baby.

In that moment, I decided that I would not let the breast milk (and everything it stood for) have power over me. I would not give in to fear and despair. Instead, as weird as it sounds, I would lift up the breast milk as an offering to the Lord. I would not hoard it, but rather I would surrender it to him. I would receive strength from the Lord so that he could help me keep moving forward. I would give him my pain so that he could bring healing.

So I thawed the milk. I fed it to my baby. And then it was gone.

But what stands in the place of that empty bottle of breast milk is a growing sense of freedom from the past and a budding courage as I look ahead to the future. It doesn’t mean my sadness is gone. It doesn’t mean my grief has reached its completion, as if that were even possible… It simply means that the painful memories will not rule my life and keep me from healing and, dare I say, enjoying life once again.

There will be more giants in this journey of grief. Of that I am sure. But I am confident that God will see me through victoriously.

After all, if Jesus can defeat the greatest giant of all – death and sin- certainly he’s capable of giving us victory over every other circumstance, no matter how dark or sad or painful. He is faithful and so powerful and oh, so merciful.

And now, the denouement…