Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Congratulations to our dear friends, or What Does It Feel Like to Adopt a Child?

We have very good friends who have been waiting a while for their daughter from China. They turned in their paperwork a little over two years ago, and were delighted to receive a referral in late June (almost exactly 3 years after we learned about Marcie!).

They leave on Friday for China. With their four-year-old son. Our kids are, admittedly, a little jealous. They'll get to go to China, too. Just not this summer.

In the meantime, we've been reveling in the excitement of Lila's referral and pending arrival. Watching my friend Grace go through the experience has reminded me a little of what it was like, and it got me ruminating the other day about how foreign the concept of a sudden "birth" in the family must seem to some people. Here's what I came up with:

I don't know what it feels like, emotionally, to give birth. Do new moms feel an overwhelming love for this child? Or does the love slowly develop over the course of the pregnancy, and you love him before you meet him? Are you stunned and overwhelmed, and you know that you have great things in store together, and so you love him at birth, in anticipation of really getting to know him?

I don't know that you can define the moment you first love your child. Really love him. And I don't you have to give birth to love a child at the moment he is born. Otherwise, we would say that fathers don't love their children from birth. But we know they do- and probably even before that.

And so I think it is with adoption. You don't really have the months of living with becoming a parent. Yes, you wait a long, long time. There is a lot of paperwork. And even after you see the pictures and learn about your child's daily routine, you still must wait to meet her. Some adoptive parents say they love their child the moment they see her. Maybe that's true. But I don't think it has to be that way. And I don't think it's that way for a lot of people. I remember the day after we met our girls in China. I was sitting in the bank waiting to give our orphanage donation. Only two mothers were there (all the rest were dads). The other woman was a single mom, in China alone with her new daughter. I could see the look on her face, the almost-vacant stare of total fear in her eyes. So I started talking to her. (I'm paraphrasing below, of course- it was several years ago, now.)

"There's no right way to do this, you know," I told her. "Love doesn't have to be an immediate, intense, all-consuming feeling. Sometimes it comes slowly."

She looked at me, a little startled. And I knew it wasn't my business, but I couldn't help myself. "When we adopted our son, the adoption counselors told us we might not love him right away, but that we had to go through the motions, that the love would come. It's not that you don't love them right away, though. I think you're just in shock at first."

There was a long silence, and then she finally spoke. "I feel terrible," she admitted. "I have this beautiful daughter, who I've been waiting for for so long. But all I can think about is my cats. It sounds awful. But I miss them."

It's weird how we cope with these sorts of events. I knew Marcie was meant to be mine from the moment I saw her picture. But once I got her and held her in my arms, I immediately missed Casey more than anything in the world. I knew he was safe at home, and in my head I felt like I should be the happiest woman on earth. But a part of me was in shock. With Casey, who was already 3 1/2 by then, I knew what to expect, even if it wasn't always easy to parent him-- and I loved him. But Marcie was an introduction to the total unknown. And as ready as I was, and as happy as I was, I was still a little freaked out.

Love comes in all forms. Sometimes it's immediate and overwhelming. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, suddenly. And sometimes it takes a while to grow. But the important thing is that you're open to it, and that the love endures. And that we acknowledge that whatever kind of love we feel for our children, it's okay.

That's what becoming an adoptive parent means. It's probably what being a parent means, generally, too. There's just, ironically, less time to emotionally prepare for this child who is yours already and soon joining your family. Less time to grow into it.

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