This post is for all of the mama's (and daddy's) that understand the adoption journey and for those who are somewhere in between. The letters below are stories from not only our journey, but from dear friends, who have walked in these shoes. Thank you for sharing your experiences, love, encouragement and prayers along the way.
Dear New to the Program Adoptive Mama, I've been praying for you. Your family has done it! You are ready to move to the next step. You have gathered information and chosen the adoption agency that suits your family the best. You have asked all of the right questions and talked in length to the director of the program. You have done your homework to make sure that the agency is Hague accredited and follows good standard of care for orphans. You have interviewed current and past families who have used the agency to adopt internationally or domestically. You have prayed and feel like this is the agency that God has placed in your path. You have filled out the paper work and written your first check. This is it. You feel good about your decision. You go to education classes and pick a country. Or did the country choose you? After narrowing down the possibilities you have arrived at your final answer. You begin to network within your organization and enjoy hearing the journey of other families. So much in fact, that you join in prayer as they receive referrals, travel, meet their child(ren) for the first time, pass court, and come home. You follow their blogs and begin to understand the heart of adoption. You find yourself daydreaming - often - about how your own journey will unfold. You are committed to the process and you can't imagine not having these other new families in your life. God has provided every step of the way and opened doors that once seemed impossible. He who promises is faithful.
Dear Paper Chase Adoptive Mama, I've been praying for you. You just decided to take on a part time job on top of your already full time job at work or home. You stay up late at night to glance over the list of "to do's" and sneak in a second look while the kids nap at noon. It looks a bit overwhelming. Your eyes are focused. Then glazed. Even crossed. It's only temporary. You are being introduced to words like "dossier" and "I-800" not to be confused with "I-171H". What? You will call a social worker and she will make 2-3 visits including at least one to your home. You clean and clean. In a last ditch effort to make the house PERFECT, you may hide toys in places that you hope she doesn't look. You will bake gluten free chocolate chip cookies and hope that she can't taste the difference. That's all of the flour you had in the pantry. You light candles and make the house smell sweet. When she comes to your home you are a nervous wreck. You hope that she likes you. She will ask you personal questions about your family, marriage and relationships. She will ask you about your parents, siblings, and your experience growing up. The social worker will ask about your career choices and what lead you to adoption. She will investigate your past and question your references of character. You will make a list of every place that you have lived in the last 25 years. You find that it wasn't nearly as scary as you thought it was going to be. She was kind and compassionate. She too has adopted and has a heart for orphans. She understands your journey and appreciates all that you will soon experience. Most adoptive moms do. You will then get fingerprinted not once but twice. She will do a background check, make sure that you are not a sexual predator, do a financial study, and ask for at least three letters of references. Your social worker and your family will discuss age ranges of your soon to be child(ren). She can deny your request or grant you approval. She will use the information to pull together a 20 page history statement of you and your husbands lives. This is called your "Home Study". Please note: this part of the process is very important. Those chocolate chip cookies. Yeah...wait until after she leaves to let the kids have any sugar. And it may be wise to
Going to the doctor for a physical will be required including blood work to make sure that you do not have any communicable diseases. Your children may also need a physical for a general ok clearance. You send for multiple copies of your birth certificates for every member in your family. It will be evident that you have to stay organized and keep papers separated in labeled folders. You will file papers and wait. And wait. And wait. You will make mistakes and lean on others for advice. Spending your nights writing letters to the orphanage and government of your country of choice will take time. You will find a notary to seal your documents and then travel (or send) those documents to the state to be certified. You may travel to the state capital multiple times after they reject your first attempt. The nice people at the capital tell you that the letter written by the local Police Department for clearance did not include the date. And the notary forgot to sign her name after the seal. And by the way, the notaries seal expires in six months. They smile politely. You want to jump into a long explanation of all of the hard work that you have endured. You want to beg the man to just let you reach across the counter and write in the stink'n date yourself. You may even want to shed a tear. Ughhh. But you don't. You complete the tasks and re-do the paperwork. You are done. Or so you thought. You have your dossier almost complete until you realize that two documents need to be certified in the state in which they originated (i.e. birth certificate or marriage certificate.) This will take two more months. So you hurry to the post office to over night your package only to wait eight more weeks for the paper work to come back. Seriously, what are they doing in xyz state? Who knew eight weeks could take so long. You are learning that adoption is not for the weak at heart. God uses your mistakes to refine you on this adoption journey. Every trial is an opportunity to blossom in patience, love, and wisdom. God is using your journey to grow you in your relationship with Him. Your spouse. Your children. You lean on God more and come to the understanding that He is in control. Always. You keep reminding yourself that God's timing is perfect. You know this. But you just wish His perfect timing was faster. But you say it again. Out loud this time. It's never late. Never ahead of schedule. His timing is perfect.
Finally the paperwork is complete. You will need to make multiple copies of your dossier. This is no easy feat considering that there are now staples in all of your paperwork from the state letter attached to each sheet. You will also scan the documents into the computer and send them electronically to your agency. Walla. That's it. You take your 4 other kids to the UPS office. They run under the desk and beg at your legs for candy that they can't have. They are allergic to corn. And wheat. And Milk. And everything else yummy found in the chocolate delights sitting in the bowl on the counter. But that's beside the point. You nonchalantly ask the sweet young lady how long she has worked at the UPS office. You question several times making sure that she seems responsible enough to handle all of your sweat and tears of the last 9 months. You remind the nice gal at UPS that this paperwork is very important. You may remind her again. You may ask her to check the address three or four times. Make sure that the package is being tracked. Double check that it is sealed. She sees the address and asks if you are adopting. "Wow," she says, "You want another?" And between little demands for attention you confirm once again that she has the correct address, tracking number, and has sealed the manilla envelop inside the thick waterproof cardboard package. Also sealed. You may or may not ask for a manager to confirm the safety of your precious dossier. You smile anxiously as you let go of your documents - slowly - and politely hand them over to the stranger behind the counter. She smiles back. You send the package to your agency. Overnight. You will pray all of the way to the car. It's done. You take a deep and God fills your soul with his peace. In only a way that He can. He reminds you that most things in life are out of your control. And you nod in agreement. He welcomes you to trust Him. He has brought you this far and will continue to bless your journey. You breathe in. Peace. Breathe out. Give thanks. Congrats mama! You finished the paper chase!
Dear Waiting Mama, I've been praying for you. Your dossier has arrived at your agency. It now needs to be authenticated in DC and then sent to your potential child's birth country to be translated. It will take approximately six more weeks to have this done. Next it will be registered in the country. From this point on, you will officially be on the "wait list". Your heart feels like it could explode at any moment. This is a big milestone in the adoption process. Beside the every day routines of life, God is stretching your heart in ways that you hadn't yet experienced. You wake up and think of your soon to be child(ren) as much as you think of the children that God has already given you. You don't know them yet, but you feel like you are a year pregnant. You tell everyone that you meet that you are expecting. By looking at your belly others won't be able to tell. What they can't see is the size of your swollen heart. God has placed overwhelming love inside your soul that is exiting your heart in every direction. There may be times when people ask you about your process and you can go from joy to tears in one short breath. Your friend may wonder how you can be so emotional. How it's possible to love a child that you have never met. But it really isn't different then a pregnancy in this aspect - only the child isn't growing in your womb. You love the child half way across the world equal to a child growing inside of you that you haven't met. Do you love the child the same as you will when they are home? No, God will only grow that love, but none the less it's love. It's difficult. And real.
Here is where it differs from pregnancy. You may be waiting for 1, 2, 3, or more years for your child to finally come home. You are not sure of their age, but instead rely on an age range. You will have to travel to meet them. Sometimes that is on the opposite side of the planet. Other times it's travel across the states. You will often be gone for weeks from your family. You are not sure of your child's medical history or of the care that happens between the last reports. You may get a medical bill accompanied with pictures of your child in a cast. Your heart hurts that you are not there to bring your baby comfort when they need you. You may have to get passports, vaccines and visas. You may be in the store and see an adopted child from the same country that you are adopting from soon. You are brought to thoughts of your own child. You want to connect to these families because in some ways being around their experience makes you feel closer to your children that are so very far away. Are they hungry? Happy? Being cared for properly? Do they feel alone? But then you remember who is in charge. You pray once again for God's strength. He reminds you that He has a perfect plan. He tells you that He is also preparing your child's heart. He has them in the palm of His hand. You find comfort in His reassurance. Like any mama away from your child(ren), there is a dull, persistent ache that doesn't go away until they are home forever.
You may notice that you are now stalking blogs, Facebook and e-mails. You will refresh your accounts 1,000 times a day. No, make that 10,000. You are on the search for any information that may lead you to predict where you are listed on your own agency "wait list" - when you will be referred to your child(ren). You will continually be counting how many families have received referrals in the last couple of weeks, when they submitted their dossier, and whether or not that moves your family on the list. It may be the first thing that you do when you wake as you know that the time change is the exact opposite. While you were sleeping paper work could have been signed allowing you to advance in the process. You may have to fight the urge to call your agency every other week to "check in" though you know that they will call you ASAP if a referral was waiting for you. Somehow it just makes you feel better hearing the progress of others. Hearing once again, that your referral should be coming soon.
You declare a movie day! You watch every YouTube video available on adoption. In fact, you spend a whole day in your pj's. You laugh at their sweet faces. You cry every. single. time. a mama gets to hold her child for the first time. This is normal. You are beyond excited for the day that you will do the same.
As you share your story with others they may ask you if you are "trying to save the world" or if you think that you are "Bradjolina". People will ask you questions that you haven't even thought of yet. Not everyone understands big families. Some will question your judgement to bring a child of another color into your home, your town. Stay on the offense mama. Just smile and share the blessings of your own journey. The one God called you to travel. Most of us adoptive mamas understand that adoption comes from God. We know that there is a place so deep that calls us go through all which is required of us to become a family. Focus on what God has lead your family to do. It's when you become secure in who He is that you truly start to understand who He wants you to be. Once you get to this spiritual destination, others comments don not matter. Their judgement doesn't matter. I don't know about you, but I respect Brad and Angelina as adoptive parents. But that's it. I don't follow their daily lives in a gossip magazine and I don't watch pop culture to scrutinize them. You will probably have no extra energy to waste. You may need to remind yourself to remain as pleasant and patient with others as much as you can muster. You remember that adoption is a foreign concept to many. Be open, honest, and yourself. People will slowly start to understand your heart. Understand His. You do not need to save the world to change the lives of His children.
Dear Adopted Mama of a Referral, I've been praying for you. Finally, the moment that you have been waiting for this past year. It happened. You have received "the call". For some adoptive parents, you received a phone call with a child's photo and medical information. You have approximately 48 hours (depending on the agency) to accept or deny the referral. In this time you have probably called every physician that you know. You will have set up a meeting with you pediatrician to consult him/her on the child's medical history. If there are special needs, you will probably consult a specialist too. You will google your child's medical needs and educate yourself as much as possible. You may even go a step further and search out a international adoption doctor who will check the charts for detailed information. For others, your family will then go to a committee (depending on country, agency, and circumstance). You will wait again for the group of leaders from that agency to determine if you are the perfect fit for your soon to be child. Either way, you have been brought to your knees once again in prayer. You weep over your child's information and you cling tight to God's perfect vision for your family. You praise Him in his gracious guidance. He has answered your prayers and those of your child - most likely those of the birth parents as well. They pray for the child to find a forever family. God hears prayers and He answers.
Your family has accepted the referral! You are on cloud nine. Now you have a name and a face to the child that God has placed into your family. Just when your friends think that the temporary crazy will be slowing down, you get even crazier. You may hang up their photos on the fridge, carry it in your wallet, save it on your iphone, etc. You may - ok probably will - carry it with you everywhere. And you will show it to everyone you know. You will write your child letters and pray for them. You will seek out other adoptive mama's who will take care packages to your child. They may take pictures for you and sometimes video too. You will decorate their room and "nest" in preparation for them to come home. If you thought the waiting before was hard, it's about to get harder.
Months have gone by and you are praying for an update. Anything to give you insight. Today you received a phone call that you hope that no other mama ever has to receive. It isn't in regards to your court date Embassy appointment. This call is about the birth mother interview. It wasn't meant to be. The birth mother changed her mind and you will not be welcoming this child into your home after all. You are hopeful that the birth mother can support her child and a part of you is happy that she is able to raise him/her. The other part of you grieves the loss of the baby you thought would be yours. Your brain is unable to keep up with your heart. You thought that this only happened in domestic cases, but you were wrong. You thought this only occurred to other families, but your have mistaken. How can you feel such a conflict of interest in one moment? You feel torn. So you pray and cry yourself to sleep.
You wait for a new referral...again. You were told it should happen soon, but you have been waiting months. This isn't your idea of soon. You watch other families meet their children and bring them home. While you rejoice in their excitement, a part of you aches for any knowledge of your soon-to-be child. You hear that your first referral was able to get sponsored and indeed is healthy with their biological family. Your heart rejoices. You will always want the best for any child. And the pain slowly fades. You may always pray for this child. There is a reason that God showed you him/her. You don't need to worry about the "why" because sometimes in life we will never know the answer. A new referral arrives and you are again beside yourself excited. This time though you are cautious with your heart. You guard the thought of getting too close - just in case. You may wait until the process looks more "official" before you shout it again from the rooftops. Or maybe not. You trust that God works all things together for good.
Dear Traveling Adoptive Mama, I've been praying for you. The day has come that you received your notice for travel. By this point, you have done your research on travel plans. You have spent several hours looking for tours, restaurants, and markets to visit. You want to experience your child's country and find keepsakes for them to cherish. You will make arrangements (often on short notice) to travel to meet your child(ren) for the first time. You make plans for your other children to be cared for as you scramble to get everything together. You pack your bags and arrange for gifts to the orphanage and staff. Then you pack extra bags with donations of formula, diapers, wipes, clothes, and jackets. You have prayed for this moment too many times to count and it is finally here. You will get to experience your child's culture and memories from travel that you can share for a life time. You pray for safe travel. You pray that your child accepts you warmly. You pray for your children at home. You pray for health while away. Oh Lord, how much we mamas pray.
The moment is here and you are standing in front of your child. The moment is everything that you hoped that it would be. And more (Ok, not always, but for many). God has orchestrated this moment before you were born. Before they were born. He knew that this meeting would take place. He has chosen the child that will fit into your family perfectly. He's not surprised. You feel the universe shift and the stars align. And your heart explodes with joy. Your eyes meet and you wrap your arms around your new addition. You pull them close. These children have captured your heart. These are the babies that have kept you awake at night though they were not crying next to you in bed. The kids that you have poured prayers over. The little ones that your community has been preparing to welcome. The sweet children of our Lord, who you talked about for years. The moment is here. It's perfect. It's Serial. Beautiful.
You will get to spend the next several days bonding with your child. Depending again on circumstances (agency and country), you may get to bring your child home after court or you will have to wait to clear embassy. Or in the case of domestic adoption, you will get to bring your baby home from the hospital or foster home. You will introduce your new child to your family and they will accept him/her with open arms (usually in the beginning anyway). You will spend days in bliss and couldn't be more thankful. You are nervous about this new experience but your hopes are high.
Dear Adoptive Mama Now Home, I've been praying for you. You will see that each parent and each child adjusts and bonds differently. You've taken the education classes and you are armed with whatever comes your way. Some children adjust perfectly into their family and struggles never occur. Nothing else is needed and the child simply fits right into their new life at home. The kids get along great and there may be no issues when you return to work. The child may enjoy making new friends at school and picks up English rather quickly. You may or may not be in contact with their birth family. Your journey has been full of ups and downs, but now you get to enjoy every minute of it with your new child at home. You wouldn't change the hard. It's made you stronger.
Today, adoptive mama, I sat next to you and listened to your heart at dinner. You are exhausted and find it hard to function each day. Not only is your adoptive child not sleeping through the night, but neither is anyone else. Kids are sneaking in and out of your room. They cling to your presence. After the 5th trip to walk a child back to their room, you finally decide to just let everyone sleep on the floor in your room. You wake up curled in the fetal position. You are cold and wonder where your blankets have gone. You can't remember how in the world you ended up here. As your eyes clear and you search out for your glasses, you see that each child is tucked warmly sound asleep. You navigate through 6 kids, hoping that no one wakes, so that you can catch a 10 minute shower. Alone. Stress is written in your half laugh as you recalled hectic moments from your previous week. Your routine that once existed has been thrown out the window. In the beginning, your child appeared to be adjusting better than you could have imagined. He/she was eating well, liked to be held, wanted to socialize with everyone they met, and smiled constantly. Their giggle filled the room and laughter could be heard for miles. But now you are months from your first meeting and your eyes once again fill with tears. Adoption isn't birthed out of happiness, but loss. This child has lost everything that they have ever known - their birth family, caregivers, friends, culture and language. The smells of your home and the taste of your food is all different. They may even miss the orphanage. Your child may have a hard time adjusting, attaching, and learning a new language. Today, we meet at a place of understanding. You've witnessed your child's struggles and your heart breaks for them. Your child may hit, bite, kick, hoard food, wet themselves on purpose, or throw tantrums for hours - just to name a few. Your other children are in shock and may be on the receiving end of the hurt. God is in the storm.
Adoptive mama, I will give you resources to help you make it through. I will recommend books that will help them (and you) cope because I have read them myself. I will be here for you in whatever need comes your way. I will pray fervently. I've been there and I understand your struggles. Adoption is sometimes tough. I will get it when you explain that there are days that you miss having quiet time. Or any time to yourself. And in the moments that you feel like the world is crumbling around you, I will just sit and listen. I will set up dinner rotations from family and friends. I will bring you your favorite coffee in the morning or ice cream before bed - whatever it is you need. I will offer help with your children. I will run errands on the days that s/he doesn't want to leave the house. When you are in the grocery store and your child decides its the perfect time for a melt down, I will ask how I can assist you instead of staring or questioning your ability as a mama. As they throw themselves onto the grey concrete floor in the middle of the best tantrum you have yet to see, at the denial of a request for a another cookie before lunch, I will understand if you need to leave a cart full of groceries. You haven't done anything wrong. I repeat. Nothing. You are an incredible mama. A wonderfully broken-for-Him mama. Hold strong to Him. Help is on the way.
You may want to seek out play groups so that your child can be around other adoptive children his/her age. You will find strength in other women who have also traveled this road before you. There is something amazing about women joining together to support one another. You will make connections and life long memories with many of these families. On a weekend night, you may choose to visit an authentic Chinese, Ethiopian, other restaurant. The atmosphere and food remind you of your travels. The owner of the restaurant will be so pleased that you appreciate their culture that they may even surprise you with a yummy desert or a coffee ceremony. You will find that others love it when you accept their culture and teach your new child about where they were born. Picnics and camps will be planned each summer. Monthly potluck dinners are available as desired. There will be heritage groups that travel through your child's birth country and you will have the choice to participate when you child is ready. There will be an abundant amount of resources if you seek them out. Let your child guide you in their desire to find that sweet spot somewhere in between.
Dear Adoptive Mama, I've been praying for you. As we were walking into church tonight, our daughter's Asian eyes met and delight filled their face. They waved and I'm sure that if we weren't both carrying them, they would have introduced themselves and became instant friends. We looked at each other and there was this connecting energy that filled the gap between us. I understand pieces of your journey. I understand the excitement and the pain. I know what it means to submit your dossier and the hours that you spent working to prepare it. I know your frustration when you waited longer than anticipated for a referral. I get the excitement of falling in love with a child's picture and their story though you have yet to meet. I understand your heart ache when your daughter rejected you once home. This isn't the end of the story, but the beginning. I saw her when she reached for your hand today. I noticed when she wrapped her little arms tightly around your neck and whispered, "I love you sooo much mama." I celebrate with you today. I know the joy when your daughter found healing through the grace of God. I see the way that her heart is being made new and I rejoice in her genuine happiness. I see God woven throughout her life and I am reminded of the pure pleasure that it is to know Him.
While on our way out, the woman at the welcome desk told my daughter that she was lucky to be in our family. I explained to the woman that the truth is that we are blessed to welcome her home. I told this kind soul that if it wasn't for our little girl, I wouldn't be the mama that I am today. I wouldn't be blessed beyond measures with friends who stuck by our side. Who understood. Who didn't question my sanity when the road got tough. I wouldn't have experienced so much in this life that has shaped me into the woman that God desires my heart to be. I wouldn't be the mess of a mama who wants to give until it hurts. I wouldn't care about others pain to the same extent. I wouldn't be willing to risk so much of my heart and not know for sure how it will end. I was caught off guard by my own response. She tilted her head and grinned from ear to ear at my windy explanation and simply said. "I know. I'm an adoptive mama."
You, Adoptive Mama, will never be the same. In your brokenness, God will whisper truth. He will draw you close and give you a glimpse of who He wants us to be. He wants us to trust Him. To know that He is in control. To understand that He always has your best interest in mind. To be generous in love and patience. To sacrifice. To give selflessly. To be compassionate. Hopeful. You now understand what it means to be adopted by our King. Mama, you won't only be gaining a new child in your journey. You will also be gaining a new heart.
And whoever welcomes one such child in my name also welcomes me. Matthew 18:5