March 28, 2010

On Painting a Pretty Picture

I received a particular comment after writing THIS post, that subsequently prompted the post you are about to read.  

The comment, and you're free to read it because it is published, challenged the statement I made that Keira had been "unwanted".  How did I know she was unwanted or unloved?  How did I know she was suffering or hurting or brokenhearted? Asking me to think of her parents...and I assume, what they might have went through.

I actually appreciated that comment because it did produce some dialog in our household and prompted some honest realizations about where I stand on this issue and even some others as well.

I've decided that however unpopular this might make me, I'm going to share.  Because after talking with AB - there is no point in worrying what others will think.  Our life and my thoughts are often unceremoniously lumped onto this blog for you to read - and for the majority of the past four + years, you've been amazing!  So I'm moving ahead with putting these thoughts out there - not because I'm trying to enlighten anyone (good're not here to be enlightened by little ol' me are you?) but rather to express myself.  And maybe it won't be a pretty expression for some.

If you're offended, I won't take it personally.  Just like I hope you'll take my opinions with a grain of salt...and that you'll kindly remember these are just my own thoughts.  They are not meant to cast judgement on those who feel differently, nor are they the gospel according to me.  They are just my feelings based on what I understand at this present time.  They are open and hopeful, even though they are somewhat dark and sad.  This post is certainly not intended to hurt or devalue anyone, not the least of which, an adoptee.  

and now, my podium.  Ahem. 

Abandonment brings up a sensitive issue in the adoption community that stems from our need to make things beautiful for our adopted children.  To somehow make their stories less brutal and more picturesque.  Our desire to create a background story for them that soothes their soul, and reassures them they were loved, cared for, cherished...and separated from their birth family only through desperate measures.

The reality is: most of us don't know.  We will probably never, ever know.   Anton and I cannot know what circumstances drove either of our children's birth-parents to abandon them.  There is no picturesque landscape to paint for either of them.  It's not a pretty story.

I mean, that is to say...I guess it  could be.  We could paint a softer viewpoint.  We could tell them that they were probably loved, probably abandoned out of desperation or oppression, and that they were probably thought of every day.  And lets be honest, we don't plan on sitting them down and telling them that they weren't loved.  And we're not planning to cram hard truths down our 2, 3, or even 10 year old child's mind.  We can only tell them what we know for certain, and sadly, we know nothing for certain. We just don't know. 

And really, any way you spin it...both of their birth countries are in turmoil.  A fact that both of our children are bound to uncover in their own search for answers.  One society devalues women terribly (there is no way I can cover that up), and the other is languishing in poverty unlike any you have ever seen.  How do I glamorize that in the telling of their story?  They are certain to discover it as they age. And who will they look to for truth?  Better yet, who will they blame for a falsely painted picture?

This is why I really dislike children's adoption related books that paint rainbows about the abandonment portion of a child's story.  I won't name titles.  Gah.  Don't make me.  Sunshine and happiness...she loved you so much and so she made the ultimate sacrifice, she loves you still...she thinks of you all the time...we'll be united throughout time.  Can we really say that with any merit of conviction?  I can't.  I can't read those stories to my kids.  It seems too false.  I can only tell them that I simply don't know.  We can tell them how much we love them...

For me, it hurts.  It hurts to look at them and know I cannot offer them information.  No family history, health information, background, ancestry...just a blank page.  But that's just part of the process.  Part of their process.

Still, even worse for me?  I can't say "Keira, your birth mother loved you and this was her only option".  

How do I know this was her only option?  It certainly sounds prettier to say (if anything about this can be "pretty").  Easier to hear.  Her only option.  Thus ruling out all the other more likely probabilities.  Maybe she had lots of options, and this was the easiest for her?  Maybe she had nothing to do with it? Maybe she was detached?  Maybe she did love her?

Far more likely, it's because she wasn't a boy.  Maybe because she was a second or third daughter and thus would have brought further shame to her parents.  Because she was born with a large  pre-cancerous birthmark on her forehead that somehow caused them to fear that she had medical issues?  Who knows the why?  We certainly don't.

Some would argue that the very fact she was left at the orphanage, involving risk to the person leaving her, proves she was a loved member of her family.  Really?  To assume her parents are the ones that left her, is just that - an assumption.  That a relative, or neighbor, or friend did the duty - also a possibility.  That someone was paid to leave her, perhaps??  That someone found her elsewhere and then left her at the gate of the orphanage?  That she was possibly abducted?  That she was perhaps bought?  We'll never know.  But it doesn't, at least for me, offer undeniable proof that she was deeply loved. 

You see, there are no variables solvable in this mystery of abandonment.  And that's even assuming she was, in fact, abandoned.  We cannot assume the parents went to great risk to abandon her.  We don't know.  Thus we cannot adequately assume she was loved greatly simply because she was left at the gates of her orphanage (or so we were told).

The infantile genocide rate in her birth country is staggering.  So we know this was also an option and that her birth family did not, for whatever reason, consent to her "untimely" death.  Horrific, but common.

Ultimately, however you spin it, she was seemingly left.  A healthy, beautiful girl.  Abandoned, sold, bought, or just left.  For some reason our little girl ended up in the orphanage with no answers, no letter,  no clothing, no past...just nothing.   And that's just a horrible thing to live with as an adult.  Never knowing what changed the course of your life - your culture - your language - your entire upbringing - reshaped by this one event.   And no answers whatsoever.  I think it would leave you feeling "unwanted" - whatever the true reason or circumstance behind it.  And maybe not until you are old enough to understand your story in all its complexity.  Maybe not until you are able to come to terms with exactly what is missing from your past when you have been adopted under this void of information.  No matter how wonderful your adoptive parents are, or how much they love you...

Frankly, I've seen firsthand how abandonment can affect it shapes them and how they can carry that pain well into their adulthood.  Adopted or not.  You can read about my precious friend V and her experience with a heartbreaking abandonment HERE.  Prepare yourself, it's painful to read.  And the sad comparison is, she had background...answers...ultimately had her own source of closure.  But the pain was searing and it marked her for life. 

What about Quint?  He wasn't even left at an orphanage.  He was left in a field by a river.  So we could speculate that he was left by a river, in a that maybe someone would find him?  We could speculate that it was near a well traveled road, and that they knew he would be found.  We can speculate he was loved, because our minds cannot conceive that he wasn't...or wouldn't be.  Frankly, I can't imagine him not being loved.  Have you seen him?

Honestly, who among us, living in our abundantly rich culture, can fathom dumping a baby by a river?  That's where it breaks down.  We can't fathom what has been going on for years and years around the world.  We can't see how these things can happen.  But they do.  And it isn't pretty.  Yet in some cultures, it's almost common.  Isn't that overwhelming?  When is being left by a river as an infant "common"?  We can't conceive of it - but little Quint...that's his story and it's true.  Tragically true.  I look at him, and even I can't believe it.  He was that little baby.  It's not just a story. 

I have come back from these two countries saying the same thing - we are living in a bubble in the USA.  Land that I do love, oh so much.  But a bubble.  Reality the world over begs to differ.  Until we truly understand the long-standing practices of the cultures our children come from, we cannot presume to understand the circumstances by which they were abandoned nor can we make assumptions about the level of love and want their parents actually had for them.  We can't force our ideals, standards, and values onto another culture and way of life.  We cannot make grandiose assumptions about the nature of their stories, or paint pretty pictures so that we don't hurt them.  I can't presume to know the position my children's birth parents were in - but culturally speaking there are so many variables, it's fruitless to try. 

In Africa babies are drown for showing physical symptoms that particular tribe leaders feel indicate doom or bad luck.  One of those signs?  Sprouting your top two teeth before your bottom two teeth.  Don't believe me?  Go HERE. 

Starvation is rampant, civil war is everywhere...tribes fighting each other for centuries over control.  Who knows if his parents were starving?  Who knows if his head was shaped the wrong way and brought bad luck to his tribe?  (For the record, he has a marvelously shaped head) I don't know. Who knows if he was born out of wedlock and brought shame to his mother?  Who knows if his mother even survived his birth?  Maybe he was one too many mouths to feed for a mother who had already had several children ahead of him.  I just don't know. 

What of those children being "bought" by money-hungry directors, to be dispersed out through International Adoption...and from Keira's own province?  Or how do we know she was not "fostered" by her own parents, and then adopted out internationally with the promise of returning some day "educated and wealthy" to care for them?  Read HERE to see how these things have and do take place.  It's terrifying...the randomness and unknowns of this process.

We'll never know. And even more disturbing, is trying to come to grips with a culture that convinces parents to move forward with those options?  You see, we can't.  Because for the most part, our culture can't understand a society where the child's biggest purpose in life is to care for their elders.  Or a culture where food is such a scarce resource that leaving a newborn by a river is a viable choice.  Or a culture wherein a parent would actually give their child away so that that child could return at some point, wealthy, to better their parents life.

In our culture, we want our children to grow up and better their own lives.  Not our lives.  Right?  But that's here and the way we do things, and the decisions we are forced to make cannot compare with some of the decisions other cultures have to make.  I mean, clearly...

It makes me sad and overwhelmed to think of her parents possibly pining away for her return someday.  Taking comfort in the thought that she will come back and take care of them.  Having been lied to...over money.

It makes me mad to think she might have been taken...stolen...

Angry to think that she was possibly a disappointment because she wasn't a boy. 

It leaves me feeling devastated to think that Quint's parents left him there...a newborn...seemingly to die.  Would you leave a newborn in a field and think "oh, I'm sure they'll be fine...maybe someone will find them".  No.  You would probably not think that.  Neither would I.   So what desperate act would cause you to do that?  Can you imagine?

It's not pretty.

To say that Keira was loved because she was left at the orphanage, or that Quint was loved because he could have instead been drowned in the river he was left by, well it's just too much speculation for me.  To assume they were beloved members of their birth-family is an assumption.  I have no idea if they were loved, feared, cherished, or easily discarded.  It wounds my heart for them. 

We cannot know and likely never will.  It's disturbing.  It's twisted up.  It's wrong that it should be this way.  But it's real.  And one of these scenarios is true for each of them.  Good or bad.  And frankly, they would not be here with me were it not for their beginning.  So I suppose it's the biggest juxtaposition of all - loving your kids so much you cannot imagine life without them and loving them so much you cannot bear to think of what brought them to you in the first place and wanting to take it back for God.  It's so overwhelming when I sit and let my mind go there.

And yet...

One day, both of my children will approach me.  Maybe in small increments over time, their questions will develop.  Their desire to know...

Why am I adopted?  Did my birth parents love me?  Why did they leave me?  Did I have siblings?  Are they still alive?  Where was I born?  Can I ever meet them?  Can I find them?  

Did they love me?  

Did they love me?  

The answer:  I don't know...I just don't know.  And that's what I plan to tell them.  As hard as it is.  Much as it pains me not to have a lovely and detailed description to offer them.  

I hope that our abiding love for them, deep and wide, will help to comfort them.  That our vast affection and desire for them to be in our own family will provide them with some level of peace when and if those moments of pain come for them.

To fabricate some lovely story about how they were loved so much they were "left" is just that: a fabrication.  And to me, a dis-service to my children.  I love them too much to give them a false flowery version of their humble beginnings.  

And for the record, since we're "recording" - I want to make something abundantly clear:  I cannot deny how deeply my mother's heart hopes and prays that they were loved.  I pray that behind all the realities we know about and the grim possibilities of their beginnings, is ultimately a story of love and sacrifice for each of them - and not these things I have detailed above.  

I love them so much it hurts to think that they would spend even one moment feeling the pain of  that rejection.  As children, as teenagers, as adults - at each level and stage...I will grieve for them.  I will grieve with them.  But I pray that the very fact they are alive today stems from LOVE and compassion and an abiding hope that each of their birth-parents had for them.  That they could survive, some way...somehow...find a new life, be loved again.  

I know that one day that truth will be made known to each of us - maybe in Glory.

As they grow, mature, and are able to educate themselves, the picture will paint itself.  I would never want them to look back at AB and I with confusion - wondering why we had been dishonest or painted an inaccurate picture for them out of a desire not to see them in pain.   Life is pain.  Abandonment is painful.   I can't re-write their beginnings to suit my own desire that they not be hurt.  Their beginning was painful.  It was sad and lonely in its own way.  We can't shrug it off and say "all is well that ends well, you're here now so why ask why".  At least I can't.

Their first loss also brought them to our family halfway around the world, and that's the happiest, loveliest, most wonderful thing I can ever imagine coming from it.  They have brought us so much joy...there is no way to express it.  So I can only hope to spend a lifetime reaffirming that to them...

I want them to know that we told them exactly what we knew.  Sadly, we have nothing we can offer in the way of answers for them.  Nothing to fill in the blanks.  Only suppositions based on what we know of the cultures from which they were born into.

My prayer is that some day, some way, they will be able to fill all those searingly large gaps. 

Most of all, I pray that they will take comfort in their Heavenly Father - who heals, restores, and sets the lonely in families.  Who carefully set each of them into our family and changed our lives forever.  Who can wipe away their tears far better than we, their earthly parents can.  Who can remind them that adoption is the very essence...the very HEART of God.  And that they were chosen.  Adopted into loving arms and heirs to the Kingdom of God.  That they will one day be restored into the full knowledge of Christ.

That one day all their questions will be answered.  And that the story they made of their lives, through their adoption, will be a beautiful one indeed.

I hope that's what their birth-parents wanted for them...

I know that I love them forever.  

That much I know for certain and that answer will never change...