Until then, a few observations about what it's been like to bring home an adopted infant.
First, the negatives, only because I want to end with the overwhelming positives that have been the norm.
I've been surprised by a few reactions I have received from people on the periphery of our family's life. About three-fourths of the way through our adoption journey, I learned for the first time that there are actually people who are opposed to domestic infant adoption as a concept. They believe that birth mothers should in all instances, using extreme measures of support if necessary, keep their babies. There are actually websites filled with rants hostile to adoption. While I have never met such people, I have been caught off guard a few times by people's comments when they encounter me with my child for the first time.
Unfortunate reaction number one: "I can't even imagine..."When coupled with a congratulations or a comment on the baby’s general cuteness, it’s not as perplexing. But twice it’s been the stand-alone reaction. It's the trailing silence, the unfinished nature of the sentence that bothers me. So my mind can't help but wander into the possible endings:
- A seven year gap between children? Well, it wasn't intentional. The road's been long and painful. We started out five years ago, back when the spacing would have been two and a half years. Lost two children in my womb and two almost-adopted children along the way. So, where you see a gap, we see a journey filled with both tears and blessings.
- Adoption as a way to expand our family? To be blunt, adoption is widely misunderstood. It is a life-giving alternative to abortion; he's a soul who we are blessed to be charged with forming. Love him just like my own, because he is my own. Which leads me to:
Strange reaction number two: "Is he yours?"This one turned out to be a trick question. I answered yes, only to be hit with the following: "He didn't come from you." My questioner’s smug tone informed me that I was busted, caught in a half-truth. I politely excused myself from further conversation.
Unexpected reaction number three: "You got your boy."
Actually, we were open to either gender. One of our two miscarried children and both failed adoptions were girls. We felt called to parent more children. In the end, God sent a son. His plan, His timing. All glory and honor to Him.
Open mouth, insert foot reaction number four: When talking about the sleep deprivation typically experienced by parents of infants, "I bet when he wakes you up at 2 am you just think 'I'm too old for this.'"
No, I don't. I just think I'm tired and my son needs to be fed, again.
Our extended families, friends, and parish and school communities-at-large have been so amazingly loving, supportive, and generous that many times it has moved me to tears.
A common question: "How is it starting over again?"The whole truth: I'm drowning in a joy I've felt only a few times in my life. It's an indescribable gift that I am not worthy of.
What I generally say: "It's great."
A surprisingly common question: "Was it love at first sight?"Well...
First off, when we met he was not mine to love. No decisions had been made, no paperwork had been signed, no records had been reviewed. He was not ours in any way. We'd been given permission to enter his hospital room. Period.
Within an hour of meeting him, the nurses asked me to feed him for the first time. About 35 hours later, I was feeding him for the fifth time when a nurse came in and told me I was doing it wrong. "You can't hold him all lovey-like." (Try to imagine the southern accent.) With a NICU preemie, a feeding is apparently supposed to be like a business transaction--get the most food into him in the least possible amount of time. (But God bless those nurses--they loved him at first sight! His care was excellent; those nurses are truly good people.) This particular well-meaning nurse took him from me and held him in her customary NICU upright position that prevents any close contact between feeder and eater. She then tried to put the bottle in his mouth. He protested quite loudly and continued to wail for about 90 seconds before the nurse handed him back, saying "I guess he already knows who his Mama is."
Even when we left the hospital with him legally in our custody four days later, he was not a whole lot closer to being ours. We would have to remain in the state with him, far from home, until a series of interstate legal and administrative requirements were met. Birthparent consents would not be final until the revocation period lapsed. Having felt the pain of miscarriages and near-miss adoptions before, it was hard not to fear that something might go wrong again. That's why I didn't call myself "Mama" when I talked to him. I didn't kiss his soft cheek until day 7. I didn't whisper "I love you" until day 10.
So, while from the moment I laid eyes on our beautiful baby I had a powerful drive to protect him, I didn't feel the butterflies-in-the-stomach giddy kind of love that I think my questioners mean when they ask. I do know that love for our son was manifest through our actions when, leaving our two young daughters behind with Grandma, we got on a plane headed for a baby in a NICU 1,700 miles away, a baby who was without a family over the Thanksgiving weekend, a baby with both known and unknowable health risks, a baby who might never be ours.
I guess our love in those early stages was somewhat vague, more of a pro-life leaning than a rock-solid emotional tie to the tiny person who was to become our son. I can't say when exactly love as my questioners mean it first swept over my heart. I can only say for certain that it has. When I am with him it rarely occurs to me that he did not come from my body because he has been irrevocably imprinted on my soul. He is a baby, I am his Mama. He knows it, I know it, anyone who's seen us together knows it, and I'm quite certain God wills it. Many thanks to my questioners for making me reflect on that one.