We adopted our son six weeks after he had survived a premature birth at 25 weeks due to an overdose of cocaine. He was born at 1 lb. 14 oz. with brain damage and a host of other issues. He has grown into a beautiful, robust boy who is fighting to overcome the challenges that he has been dealt. We also adopted our oldest daughter, who is dealing with her own trauma.
Year after year, throughout Lent in parishes all over the world, catechumens are prepared to be adopted into the family of God through baptism on Easter. We are familiar with this Biblical terminology and the fact that God chooses to make us His sons and daughters through the mystical grace of the sacrament, through adoption. There are numerous references to adoption in Sacred Scripture, both spiritual adoption through baptism and earthly adoption in the lives of some shining examples: Moses, Esther, and Jesus Himself. And of course, God commands us to care for the orphans - a pretty solid affirmation of adoption.
Although spiritual adoption and earthly adoption are both about being taken wholly in and embraced as inseparable family, there are some significant differences. If a fellow baptised Christian said to an adoptee, “Yes, I know just how you feel, because I was abandoned to sin, and then I was adopted into the family of God,” she would betray a real ignorance of the wounds that necessarily rise out of adoption.
People are often surprised to learn that our children have trauma histories, since we adopted them both as babies. Many people do not realize that trauma begins in the womb, and that implicit memory, along with every cell in the body, holds the trauma of abandonment that adopted children must grapple with. No matter how loved and wanted they are in their family or how aware they are of all the valid reasons their birth parents relinquished them, there is a temptation to believe the lie, “You are not important, wanted, loved. You were not worth keeping or fighting for.” This initial abandonment - even when done for the best of reasons & with the greatest of love - can begin a life-long battle with the fear of rejection in other relationships. In some situations, the birthparents relinquished because of great hardship, wanting a better home for the child; in others, the birth parents truly did reject the child. Every situation is different, but regardless of the circumstances, we must teach our adopted children to combat the lies with the truth: they are made in the image of God, and no matter what person may reject them, they are secure because of His love.
Although adoption is an equally valid way of building families, I frequently encounter misunderstandings. These are some of the most frequent:
- Some refuse to acknowledge that adoption brings with it a very real set of challenges; it is not enough to just love our kids and treat them as if they were not adopted. Adopted kids face an extra set of issues, on top of all the “normal,” family & growing up messiness. And transracially adopted kids have yet another layer of challenges to deal with, often struggling with self-identity and racial loyalty. Some adoptees are explosive about these issues, and some suppress their struggles because they feel guilty about feeling sad when they have been given so much love by their adoptive families. I have two pretty explosive kids, but even still it took 11 years for our son to come forward with his grief. I know adult adoptees who were not able to confront their loss until late adulthood. We need to allow adopted children
to grieve their primal loss, to mourn and miss their birth families, and to raise any question or breech any topic with us without making them feel guilty.
- Others are under the impression that adoptive moms don’t really feel like - or actually aren’t - “real” moms and will only find fulfillment in giving birth to a biological child. People, without thinking about how it will make my children feel, have asked me things like, “Was her real mom tall?” or, about my two adopted kids, “Are they brother and sister?”
- Connected to this faulty belief is the notion that adoption is only the second-best family-building tool - the last ditch effort that we might be forced to turn to if (and only if) we have tried everything and we can’t have biological kids. Our two youngest daughters are biological, and when I was pregnant I couldn't help slightly cringing when kind, well-meaning people would say, "You must be thrilled to finally have children of your own!" not realizing that my adopted children are just as much "my own". They just came to our family by a different avenue.
- The idea that you need to share blood to be irrevocably committed and connected seems an obvious error (marriage?), but I encounter this idea as well. And I do share blood with my children (and all of my Church family) when we all receive the Eucharist and have the blood of Christ present in us.
If you don't think adoption is right for your family, that's ok. Adoption is not for everyone, but I believe supporting adoption is. Adoptive families do face unique challenges, often feel isolated, and need plenty of resources and support. And we need to support more families who are able and willing to adopt; there are 438,000 children languishing in U.S. foster care alone on any given day.
I am a big supporter of adoption and adoption education, and I am committed to helping raise adoption awareness and supporting adoptive families. One of the ways I can do this is by donating 5% of any purchase made through my website to organizations that provide this support (one of our favorites is Tapestry Adoption & Foster Care Ministry, which saved our own family from falling apart in a time of desperate need).
When you order a print, a pillow, a phone case, etc. from Akathist Art, you are also forwarding this cause. Be an adoption advocate!