January 7, 2011

An Open Letter to an Adopting Mother

I could do what everyone else is doing and write a simple line...

"you can do this" or "you'll be fine" or "it will be the most amazing time of your life"

I got so many of those comments, and they were well-intentioned, but left me feeling empty.

I could do that for you.  And it will actually ALL be true.  You can, in fact, do this.  You will be fine.  And it will be the most amazing time of your life. For better or worse.

But let’s prepare you for real.  Because there is nothing worse (at least to me) than all that well-meaning advice that turns out to be fluff.  When the reality often bites you so hard and you feel so alone – because no one wanted to say the hard stuff.  And you find yourself wishing someone, anyone, had just said “this is going to be so freaking hard…” so that when you felt you were falling apart, you wouldn’t feel so alone in your desperation.

So I’m going to.  I'm going to speak truth.  

I would be lying to you if I said that your fears were unfounded.  It's beyond fear.  Totally and utterly beyond that.  I was practically dry-heaving in the bathroom in China the day we got Keira.  As in AFTER we got her.  Not because I was "nervous" - because I was PETRIFIED and sick to my stomach and feeling like the entire world had collapsed on my shoulders.  It felt like the biggest mistake of my life.  There is a tremendous amount of gravity to taking on the responsibility for another human being.  This is not trite obligatory observation – it’s a completely surreal experience.  And it doesn’t really slap you across the face as much as the moment they hand you the baby and you realize…no one is taking this child back from my arms.  Ever.  Now I’m a parent.  Now I’m responsible.  And if I’m not, I better figure out how to be really quick.  There's something to say for messing up your own life.  Making bad choices and swallowing the consequences.  But for messing up the life of a child - there seems to be a special parenting hell (in your mind) for people who do that.  And so goes this heavy emotion of caring selflessly for another...

There are moments of frustration, fear, and overwhelming inadequacy.  I cannot lie.  It’s the hardest thing you will ever do in your life.  This is actual truth and not something tired mothers just say to garner sympathy.  (As I once thought)  This is an actual commission to love another person and lay the “self” aside.  The most selfless love and duty you have ever taken on.  Your every waking and often sleeping moment will be about her.  Period.  Your Mommy clock will turn on the minute she’s in your arms – and this will not change.  Hear me – and don’t listen to the people who are well-meaning but don’t want to scare you.  My dear, this will not change.  My advice to you is to accept your new role in whatever stages you can.  As you are able.  Make peace with it however you can.  But don’t expect too much of yourself.  This, it turns out, is really, really hard to do actually.  You will have the most unfair expectations of yourself.  You just will. 

Thinking you had all this time to prepare and wondering why you aren’t more ready – just as you are feeling now.  But try hard to let these thoughts go.  Release them.  They don’t help anything or change anything and instead take up valuable mental bandwidth that you won’t have to spare.  

Never mind the preparedness.  It’s impossible.  You can neither ride a bike nor swim from someone else telling you how.  You must ride that bike – fall down – and get back up before you master it.  Over and over.  You must feel the water go over your head and the panic before the self-preservation kicks in and you fight for your surface to gulp in the air.  You will wonder, am I doing this right?  Am I messing this poor child’s life up?  Was I really meant to do this…be this…feel this?  You were.  You are.  But it’s the most challenging role and relationship of your life.  Not like marriage.  Not like being a child to your own parents.  Nothing compares.  This is “rock your world” hard. 

Sleep as you know it is probably over for a while.  Your days.  Your nights.  The way you live.  The way you go here or do this or do that.  All different now.  Leaving the house will take on new challenges – things that include remembering diapers and creams and sippy cups and extra this and that.  Showering might be a challenge.  Putting two sentences together into a cohesive thought?  Yes, might be a challenge.  This is the way it’s been for all mothers forever and will continue to be.  From that you can draw courage.  You are certainly not alone.  The way is paved well ahead of you.  Take comfort in knowing this is coming and that it’s a stage of your life, just as the past several years of being without children have been.  A season.  A stage.  All passing.  The days are long.  The years, much too fast. 

You’re not supposed to breathe a word about being sad to see your life as you know it go away.  It’s taboo.  To admit that you have a nice life.  That things are OK.  That you and your husband and maybe your fur-babies are ALREADY a family.  That baby-girl is a nice addition to that family – but she neither makes it or forms it.  She joins it. It's not starting now.  It's already been in motion for some time. 

You’re not allowed to say “wait, stop!  I’m not ready!” because people only want to see excitement, happiness, joy.  The reality – your instincts – scream “STOP!  NOT YET!” when the moment is upon you.  But the world says “why on earth are you complaining?  What are you worried about? or "I thought this is what you have wanted for so long?" or "You’ll be fine”.

And you will.  They are right about that.  You will be fine.  But you can take it from me that you might be fine right away or your fine might take a while to show up.  You might have a beautiful experience  – loving it and enjoying it.  You might have an amazing “Gotcha” moment (I pray you do!) and you might find that you slip naturally and easily into motherhood.  This is often the case for many women.  But accept now that you might not.  Start preparing yourself to accept and make peace with whatever the outcome may be.  For better or worse.  That she might reject you at first.  That you might not have a dream moment.  And it might amaze and blow you away how dreamy it is. 

In Ethiopia, despite all the sickness, jet-lag, and overwhelming poverty – I was in love.  It was surreal and I still look back on it as the most amazing blessing.  That moment and the days we were there still feel surreal to me.  It was so natural with Quint.  So loving.  So wonderful.  I was completely smitten with him and my heart felt like it would explode from the love I felt for him.  The dream.

In China, in her province, in that hotel room…I sat on the bathroom floor and cried.  Sobbed, actually.  I felt complete despair.  What should have been happy was overwhelmingly sad.  This is my truth.  Well-intentioned people said “it will get better” or “she’ll warm up”.  But our minds can’t wrap around the idea of delayed gratification very well.  When they said “it will get better” my mind was counting the minutes.  Hours.  Better?  When?  Any minute now, right?  Instead, the reality said several months and lots of hard work and tears and stress "kind-of-later", and then it did get better and she did warm up.  This was the reality.  A friend had to remind me “you promised to love and care for her…start with care and the love will come later”.  She was right.  So, so right.

That nagging fear you have - what if I don't love her?  You are going to love your baby.  Not like anything else.  Maybe not right away.  Or maybe right away.  You might feel like strangers and truthfully, you are.  You might feel like you’ve known her always.  Loved her always.  But no matter what - you will love her.  It will show up.  It does come.  And you won’t know how breathtaking that is until your smack dab in the midst of it – so I won’t waste time trying to draw comparisons.  God set this kind of love up long ago – and it spans the ages.  This is the real thing.  And it’s mind-blowing how all-consuming it is. 

She will do something to make you smile every. single. day.  She will fill you with love.  She will make you want to be a better person.  She will make you try harder.  She will bring out your best and maybe your worst on some harder days.  She will teach you.  She will love you.   

For all the difficult milestones, all of the tough transitions…for shedding the old life and the trying so hard to adapt to your new one…I promise you this:  you will soon not be able to imagine life without her.  You won’t want to.  As hard as the hard days are – your primal mother mode is full force.  Life without your babies seems implausible.  You will remember your previous life…how you could sleep when you needed to – shower when it occurred to you – eat whenever – shop whenever.  You will remember date nights.  You will remember all of this fondly and sometimes with sadness.  Don’t let anyone tell you not to.  It’s certainly a stage of grief you will need to move through to let it go. 

But her.  Somehow, in the intricate design of giving up yourself completely and living for another so unselfishly – you will be amazed how the love you bear her will sustain you when it matters most.  On the worst, most difficult, most horrible days of motherhood – your love for her will sustain you.  Some way.  I can’t say I understand how it works – but it just does.  And frankly, I have lots of hard days.  Lots of days where I recall the “old” life and miss it.  But then you get a chubby hand on your face and a small voice that says “mommy, me wuv you”…

And somehow?  That makes all the bad stuff, the hard stuff, what feels unbearable – fade away.  Truly, it does.  I would not lie to you.

You?  You can do this.  Have faith in you.


Ms. Pollywog said...

Wow, Christie. This was beautifully written and so very honest, as always. This would be an appropriate letter for any new mom, adoptive or fresh from giving birth! I have a feeling I will be referencing it at some point!

Thank you!

Erin said...

This is the absolute best thing I've read about adoption. Thank you for being brave enough to share this. Simply incredible.

Karrie said...

This totally ROCKS Christie.
But then, that's nothing new, here on this blog of yours.
Every new mother should read this.

Karrie in IN

Judy McCollough said...

Hey Christie - great post. I will share it with a friend who is working towards adopting a child from Uganda. Love, Judy

Holly said...

I like you Christie.
I like you a lot.
My experiences at motherhood have been different than yours, my feelings different, but some the same.
I just so appreciate your openness and your gifted way of writing so that we are all sitting at our computers nodding our heads in agreement and wiping tears from our eyes.
You are one of those people I wish I knew in real life.
But I will settle for this :)

Ashley said...

What a great, honest post~ that's for writing this!

Gwen said...

OK, so I just have to post. :) I have been following your blog for awhile. (more like lurking, I guess!)

I just love this. I love your honesty. I love what you say about people only wanting to see excitement, love, and joy... and not wanting to hear about the challenges or difficult days. So true.

Thank you for your willingness to share and for your words of encouragement!

Briana's Mom said...

This post is SO good and SO true. Every single word.

I remember when I was at my sickest not long after Briana came home. I cried and said to my mother, "I don't think I am cut out for this. Maybe I made a mistake." I tried for six years to have a child and I couldn't believe those words actually came out of my mouth.

It is so hard sometimes. It does get better. But it does take time.

Shannon said...

Can you believe you are coming up on one year of meeting your little girl? It has gone by much too quickly, no? And she is growing up too fast?
My experience with adoption is different than yours, but no less life-changing. I can honestly say that I felt wonderful (except for the paperwork and travel stress) up until about April of last year. Then things really went crazy. Before the baby, we did EVERYTHING as a family.... really. We were always a unit. Now suddenly, she will not even go into the nursery on a Sunday so we can go to church. We cannot vacation as we did or go to a movie or play a board game. I just didn't anticipate the stresses this change would make. But honestly, we all ADORE her. She is our joy. So we are finding our new normal and things we are slowly accepting a new lifestyle.

Single PAP said...

Every word the truth.

Becky and Naing said...


Katy said...

Wow...my sister Amy pointed out your post to me and she was right. I can totally totally relate. Almost one year ago, I became the first-time single parent of a now 4 year old girl from Haiti. Though I had been in process for more than 2 years, I was and am totally, utterly unprepared. The earthquake brought her home 1-2 years earlier than expected. YES, I am head over heels in love, but your words really ring true. My life is forever, blessedly changed. Awesome post. Thanks!

Truly Blessed said...

There's a family in China right now who NEEDS to read this. May I share the link?

Dawn said...

BLESS your heart!! I felt SO guilty sobbing in the airport in Port Au Prince bringing my shrieking, screaming, kicking, clawing son home - I thought, "after all the years, the papers, the money, the waiting - whata mistake!" And ys, our son is STRONG willed, but he IS our son, and I love him with ALL my heart, and OF COURSE we would (and will next year) do it again!!!

Gretchen said...

This post is incredible. Incredible. I love, love, LOVE it.

Kristen Howerton said...

I am bawling from recognition - I've had so many similar feelings and it is a balm to have someone else who relates. Thank you for writing it out.