I’m going to talk about what people don’t often talk about within the foster care and adoption world. Sure, it will be mentioned in passing, but it truly is a bit of a taboo subject that is mostly glossed over. And what I share might make you uncomfortable or even angry. And you might think I’m a beast because what kind of person doesn’t love their adopted child instantly? What kind of person would be scared to death to bring home a child? What kind of person would have feelings of doubt and fear?
Me…..I was that kind of person and I’d like to share my heart with every person who has felt that deep fear of the unknown with adoption. Because while it is not talked about, I was never alone in how I felt. Adoption is not “instant love, just add water”. It is seeds of hope thrown into a drought ravaged field, and a mother carefully cultivating any tiny withered sprout that can grow in such rocky soil. It has taught me that love is a choice and even when it is not received, I still must pour it out. I have learned that love does not fix everything and some wounds may never heal; and that is something we just don’t say with adoption.
When we first picked Israel up from the orphanage, I did not love him. He smelled bad, his body looked scary, and his teeth were yellow. He screamed and cried for hours and I locked myself in the hotel bathroom and cried. I actually googled “how to take your child back to the orphanage” and while it seems funny now, I was in a deep, black hole. The adoption was final and I did not instantly love him, and to me this was devastating and scary. When we finally got him home and things began to normalize, I still wasn’t bonded to him. His teeth were now white, I was getting used to the deformity of his spine, and the way he crawled across the floor with dislocated hips freaked me out a little less. He started smiling and learning a few words in English. But still I struggled to love him. In fact, I was scared to be left home alone with him all day. I’m not sure what my fear was based in, probably the fear that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was scared to death that I had brought home a child that would live with me the rest of his life and for some reason this seemed unmanageable and terrifying. But worst of all, I sat there and realized that I didn’t love him like I had told everyone. Yes, I had spent months fundraising and dreaming about this little boy, a child I had claimed to deeply love. Even across the ocean, I claimed him with a mother’s selfless love. And, I realized sitting in that moment I had lied.
As I write this, I actually feel ashamed. I feel guilt that I did not instantly love and cherish this fragile boy. I know that it had nothing to do with him, but more a stunning realization of my own human nature. I had masterfully juggled and orchestrated an expensive international adoption and I knew what I was undertaking. I had read all the books and was following all the advice. I had already adopted, I was a seasoned veteran. I spouted out about our love for this child and I even owned the “Adoption is Love” t-shirt. I had lovingly ached for this little boy from afar. I carried his picture as my phone screensaver and would daydream about how amazing this little boy would be safely nestled in the love of a family. I remember driving to the orphanage and picking him up and the 6 hour drive to the capital city to our hotel. And here was the moment he was mine and as the pixie love dust settled, all I could think was “What have I done to my family?” and “Is there a way for me to undo this?” The sweet boy from the orphanage had turned into a freaked out, screaming mess and on the inside, so had I.
I did not love Israel when we first picked him up. But, since that day I have learned something beautiful. Love is so much more than squishy kisses and early morning hugs. Love is so much more than a pixie dust feeling that is balanced on performance and reciprocity. Adoption has taught me what real love is.
Real love is being completely committed, even when you’re scared. It’s meeting someone in the dust and dirt and toiling alongside in the rocky soil. It’s sacrifice and service when they can’t repay you.
Real love is sitting hours in a hospital room and comforting a small boy. It’s night time terrors and unnamed monsters. It’s picking the boy up when he is stemming and rocking for him, while he’s wrapped in your arms. It’s silently sharing the trauma and pain he has endured when there are no words. It’s listening to non-stop chatter as he fills the silence with his voice, because the quiet holds the memories he fears. It’s buying more spoons when he insists on packing one everywhere he goes. It’s reassuring him for the thousandth time that “yes, this is Israel’s home, bed, chair. Yes, I am Israel’s mommy”. Love is stepping alongside and shouldering some of the pain and tears. Real love is hearing how he was severely mistreated and understanding how the trauma attaches to behaviors. Real love is taking it one moment, one hour, and one day at a time, because the future seems too big for one so small. Love is one more diagnosis added to the bulging file and adding one more specialist to the schedule. Real love is wiping tears, wiping butts and not counting the service. True love is pouring it out freely into a hole with no bottom. Real love is gritty and sobbing messes that have no fix, emotional wounds that will never truly heal, and a chance to encourage a story that is steeped in survival and strength; not weakness and defeat. Love is not adoption, but the day to day choices to embrace a child that may never be capable of loving you back.
So truly, real love is found in the actual choice to love, not in the return of favor. And as the moments rolled by and the hours became days, I learned that as I cared for Israel and poured love into him, it was no longer a job or a choice. I loved him, and it was real.