Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
People ask me when I knew I wanted to adopt. The answer I usually give is that when I was thirteen, friends of our family adopted a little girl with Down syndrome from the Ukraine, and that sparked the fire that burns in two halves of my heart — working with children with special needs, and adoption.
And then I remember that I never played “house” with my dolls and stuffed animals as a small child; I always played “orphanage”, taking care of my babies until they would “get adopted”. So honestly, I don’t know how long I’ve known. I’ve always known, somehow.
Our first adoption started in May 2015. International adoption was what I knew and loved, so it makes sense that the first child I fell in love with lived oceans away, and the first process I ever threw myself into was the complex tangle that is international adoption.
It took my husband and me ten days to go from finding this child on an online listing to saying “yes” to adopting him. We pursued him for six months before a bizarre and jarring conclusion to our adoption story. His birth family, who had placed him in an orphanage at birth, changed their minds and decided to take him back out of the orphanage to raise him.
Everyone in our lives had an opinion. His parents were probably trying to run a scam. His country was second-rate and didn’t know what they were doing. His orphanage must’ve been mistaken about the details of his short life. In the midst of it all, we were reeling.
I spiraled into a deep depression, fueled by equal measures of my own intense grieving and terror over the great unknown that was his life now. I didn’t know what was happening to my son, and it was unbearable.
The internet is a strange place. His birth family messaged us on Facebook. They do not speak any English, and we do not speak their language. Cobbling together thoughts via Google Translate, they managed to beg us for help: his medical needs were more than they could handle.
Their own doctors had suggested they move out of the country. And we had no money to offer them, but I had some knowledge — I am an occupational therapist. We said “yes”, again, to something new.
I gathered together a box of adaptive equipment and took videos of myself demonstrating how to use it so there could be no language barrier. We mailed this to him, along with the baby blanket I’d knitted him, and a teddy bear I had sewn to have “medical needs” matching his.
This was never the adoption journey I had expected. This was something new. This was a road of discovery that keeping first families together is its own messy rightness, that the God I assumed wanted me to adopt a baby instead wanted me to support a family.
The medical needs that meant nothing to me were so daunting to them that they put their precious child in an orphanage out of fear for what his life might become, and I had some tiny hand in empowering them to make his life amazing, at home, with them, where he belonged. This was better.
My role was smaller. His parents’ was bigger. His family stayed together. This was always better.
So when we began the path to a domestic infant adoption, it was with different minds and hearts. We searched for an ethical adoption agency that put the first moms first and the adoptive families second.
Then when we got a phone call that a baby half the country away needed us that day, we didn’t have any qualms about our “yes” of dropping everything and flying to him, even though we had never met his first mom. We trusted our agency. We trusted his mom.
It was a whirlwind of a day, then an achingly long three weeks of waiting for ICPC clearances to go home, then — a new life, with a baby boy.
He was nine months old and I got a call from the out of state social worker who met us when we got him. His first mom was pregnant again and placing this baby, too. If we wanted to keep them together, then this baby was ours (no pressure).
We considered: we had been in the process of packing up our house, moving to a new state, a new adventure. It took us all of an hour to say “yes”. We canceled everything. I picked up a local job. Our son is our family, this new baby would be our family — but his first mom, she is our family, too. And we stick together. We all stick together.
People ask me when I knew I wanted to adopt. And I’ve thought about adoption in some form or another since I was a small child myself. I barely knew what it meant when I used to play orphanage with my toys. I barely knew what it meant when I turned thirteen and watched our friends adopt. I barely knew what it meant when we tried to adopt internationally. I barely knew what it meant when we jumped on a plane and flew to where our son was waiting.
Adoption is so big, and so complicated, and so layered; it keeps unfolding and unfolding new things for me to learn, to grapple with, to love, to grow.
I was always on board with adoption because I always wanted to say “yes” to a child who needed it. I didn’t understand that that isn’t the whole of adoption. It’s saying “yes”, and sometimes that yes is to a child who needs a home, and sometimes that yes is to a mom who needs a hand.
Sometimes it’s to a placement nine months away; sometimes it’s twenty-four hours’ notice, sometimes it’s no placement at all.
I suppose “adoption” isn’t the right word for the sum total of all of these things, any more than “adoption” was the right word for the game I used to play as a small child. Maybe there’s not a word in my language. Maybe it’s just love. We will always say yes to love.
Kelsie is a mom, an occupational therapist, an activist for racial justice, and a pastor’s wife. She’s passionate about uniting the worlds of adoption and occupational therapy through research and practice. She writes a silly webcomic about her family’s adventures at talesofolds.tumblr.com.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie's blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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