Two days ago, I swayed on my parents’ hammock in a stolen, quiet hour, devouring Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren. I was sucked into her story, immersed in her pain, gulping it down like it was the only air left in the room. If she’d been within my reach, I would have sobbed into her hair. I’d have kissed her on both cheeks and the forehead. Yes. This. You wrote my story, and now there’s no other option than for you to move into the vacant room in the basement. Don’teverleaveme.
Ten hours later, I sat with my mom in the E.R. while she suffered through a few tests (she’s fine!) Because she’s a trooper and one of the nicest people I know, she joked with the nurses and tried to put them at ease. When asked about her pain level she said, “Well, I’ve had kids. So this is a 7.”
For a split second, I thought she was talking about the pain of a torn-apart heart.
I can’t talk to you about contractions, epidurals, or mastitis. Oh, but I know a thing or two about bearing children. I could pen an anthology about all the ways a heart can break. If you don’t have time for that, I could show you the flattened gaze of a toddler in his passport photo, and you’d see a glimpse of everything. Some say my kids were too young to understand, but those same people run to their infants’ cries and spend their lives making the world safe and cozy. It’s what we do. If you think my kids don’t remember, I’d ask you to imagine your own without you. Just for a second, allow yourself to go there. Does it hurt? Do they feel it?
When I speak, I can’t get two sentences into my son’s adoption day without turning my back to the audience to compose myself.
It was one of the most beautiful days of my life.
It was hands-down the most painful.
And I’m just the mom.
Back when I doodled hearts on my notebook, back when I met a boy with clear, blue eyes, back when I walked the aisle a full head taller than my dad in a too-short dress, I never pictured this sort of motherhood, constantly leveraging the miracle against the loss.
This is adoption, the bearing of a shape-shifting weight. It’s holding something precious in your hands but getting lost sometimes in the fallout. Adoption is the gas-slick rainbows of my childhood – as magical as the regular kind, but far more complex, and with an edge.
Last night was a rough one.
There are hard parenting days, and then there are hard adoption days. Those are the ones that level me. A decade into this gig, I haven’t progressed beyond curling up in bed and sobbing so hard I choke.
I was not built to be rejected so persistently by someone who loves me so much.
(Or was I?)
I was not cut out for this job.
(Or am I?)
People get uppity when someone implies that adoption is harder than garden-variety parenting. It’s all hard. It’s all the hardest job we’ll ever do. I get it. Honestly, I have no built-in control group. My kids are all over the map and one feels almost no loss at all (yet?) I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. I’m not qualified to weigh in when it comes to comparing, and there’s really no point.
But I’ll do it anyway.
When hormones and dysregulations and sibling rivalry and boring ol’ disobedience end with someone sobbing because they miss their birth mom or they’re mad we didn’t teach them Korean or they feel unlovable at their core, “hard” veers off the cliff and we all crash and burn.
When your kid won’t stop lashing out and it’s turning your home into a war zone but for the life of you, you don’t know what else to try, you don’t know how to love everyone right, you would do anything/have tried everything/just want to make it stop, the air can rattle with the reverb of anxiety and fear.
When you’re lonely, but you’re terrified of being judged by people who haven’t walked the same ground, well, you do what it takes. You hoist yourself up and you hug those kids harder. You make new friends, because your family is so worth it. If you can’t understand us, you don’t deserve to. (That’s what you say to yourself on the worst days.)
I am tired of spit-shining my kids’ loss.
I’m sick to death of pulling my sleeves down over my contact burns.
We have so many good days. We’re working now, not nearly as broken as we used to be.
But we are entitled to these days, too. We’ve earned the right to sob our guts out until our hair clings damp against our foreheads and our eyes are rubbed raw.
I would give my right hand to erase their hurts, but I know the scars aren’t wasted. I’m not confident in my ability to say the right thing or explain it perfectly to my kids when I can’t wrap my own head around it, but I do know this: 1) I will love you every single second of your life, no matter what. 2) I will never give up on you. 3) You can say whatever you’re feeling and you won’t be in trouble. Tell me the truth. Tell me.
We were made for each other, not by a God who inflicts pain, but by a God who is famous for the way he can make a solid Plan B almost feel like it was always meant to be.
I believe childbirth is the most intense pain a woman experiences. I don’t have to have felt it myself to trust it’s true. If there’s someone in your life who has adopted, you can offer them the same. Be their safe place. Get loud about the ways you see them. Cheer them on. Root for their kids. Do they parent in strange ways? I sure hope so. Do some of their kids have massive feelings that spill out in some pretty frustrating and annoying ways? I’m sure of it. Love them anyway. Love them just the same as if they were quiet and tidy. Let them be sad with you. Celebrate success. Believe what they tell you.
Morning came, just like it always does. Today is for eating French toast with puffy eyes and forgiving each other for the thousandth time. We’ll pray for grace we can’t manufacture on our own, and we will find it somewhere in that asphalt swirl, where the light catches a hard place and makes it gleam.
Shannan Martin believes the turns in life that look like failure are often holy gifts, a lesson she chooses to embrace after the bones of her comfy farmgirl life were shattered and rebuilt from the toes up. Together, Shannan and her family sold their dream farmhouse, moved to a disadvantaged area in the city, and adopted a 19-year old felon. Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would discover as her family began to live the simple, messy, complicated life they were created to live. In walking beside the forgotten and broken and seeing first-hand the ways she so cleanly identified with both, Shannan’s faith was plucked from the mud. She and her jail-chaplain husband now live on the wrong side of the tracks with their four children. She blogs often at Flower Patch Farmgirl.