This was the final question asked in the Q&A. (More questions welcome.) My answer might digress from the original question a bit, but I hope it helps…
There are so many things that I feel so naive about concerning the situation with the abandoned children in China. There are so many children–it’s so hard to comprehend–and I’m not even seeing it first hand and I really only am piecing together a picture through photos and blogs I’ve read. It must be overwhelming to see all the precious, precious children and know there are so many that will never have a family of their own. I’m not even sure what to ask about this … because there are so many things to ask. How has your struggle with this changed for you both while you have been in China and what is the best way from your experience and perspective that we can help. (or books you’d suggest reading.)
Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the words to tell you what this is like. Part of the lack of blogging depth lately (at least it seems like there’s been very little depth to me) is because some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately defy description… I’m going to try my best. Bear with me.
She’s not even 21 days old. She’s one of the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen. Fine porcelin features, flawless skin, and full lips. She’s tiny, and her little fingers look so fragile that I’m almost afraid to touch her. When I sit beside her crib watching her sleep, I find myself holding my breath. I don’t know why. I think it’s maybe because I want time to stand still for her, and somewhere inside of me, I hope that if I remain perfectly still, time will freeze.
I want time to freeze because right now she doesn’t know she is an orphan.
Maybe she does. Maybe she realizes that the voices she heard while in the womb for 9 months are no longer around her. Maybe when she is being held, she can feel the difference in cadence of the nanny’s chest gently rising and falling as she breaths… knowing it isn’t the same as the one she felt before birth.
But I like to imagine that right now, as she sleeps, she doesn’t know anything that has happened to her yet. She doesn’t know that sometime shortly after birth, she was abandonded because of spina bifida. She doesn’t know that she traveled a long distance to come to our foster home for surgery. She doesn’t know that those voices she heard for the months leading up to her birth will now be silent forever. I want to pretend that she knows none of this yet and that time will freeze so that she never has to know. So that she remains unbroken.
Because quickly she will grow into a 5-year-old girl. A 5-year-old who sat in my friend’s lap while she watched another child meeting her mom and dad for the first time. As everyone’s attention was focused on the formation of a new family, this little 5-year-old felt her own void deep in her soul. She told my friend that she can count to 10 in both English and Chinese, and reminded her that she knew all of her colors. With doubting eyes, she asked if she was pretty enough for a family.
And even if she is adopted, at some point in her journey she’ll be like another 5-year-old girl I know. Abandoned at 9 months and adopted at age 3, she cried herself to sleep the other night, asking to go back to China where her “real” mommy and daddy must be looking for her. She wanted to know why she was “taken away from them,” and shared with her mom that she knew they missed her and loved her and wanted her to come home. To consider the fact that she was intentionally abandonded is too painful; it is easier to imagine that there’s an unseen villain in the story.
A close friend of ours who was adopted himself and is an adoptive parent says that adoption is “a redemptive response to a tragedy.” I don’t think many adoptive parents want to go there mentally. They want to imagine that the child experiences adoption with the same joy, satisfaction, and excitement as they do as parents. While I know that each and every child wants a mother and a father, getting a new set of parents doesn’t replace the void left by the absence of the biological parents.
Jacob and I have been talking about this a lot lately… and we realize that coming here has changed our perspective on adoption pretty drastically. Since marrying, we’ve always known that most likely our family will at least partially be built by adoption. It is such a part of our lives. Both of my brothers are adopted and Jacob has an adopted sister. I worked in adoption for 3 years. For a while now, international adoption (especially) has been a trendy way to have a family. I’ve worked with families who wanted a “cute little China doll.” I confess that on some level, I even imagined that our family would be more desirable if we looked like the UN and not white America. We imagined that our adopted children would fit like a missing puzzle piece into our lives, and that we would all never look back.
But that was before we understood the depth of grief that comes from being abadonded. It isn’t something that adoptive parents can fix, and confronting that reality has changed the way we think about adoption. In some ways, we “want” it less — knowing how difficult it is to parent in general, not to mention parenting a child who has experienced such grief and loss. But in other ways, we know we “need” to do it even more. Not that we’ll be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ve been equipped for a reason. There was a time when I thought everyone should adopt. There is such a need, it seemed obvious to me that if we all stepped forward and did our part, we could solve the problem. But, now I’m a bit more cautious with that. I know there isn’t anything worse than growing up an orphan, but it isn’t ideal to grow up as an adopted child in a family that doesn’t take your grief and loss seriously; a family who imagines your story started the day they signed the adoption papers.
Adoption isn’t for the faint of heart. Responding to a tragedy requires one to enter into that tragedy, and that means opening your heart to a world of hurt. So, one way we’ve changed is that we’re a lot less lighthearted and carefree about adoption… It doesn’t mean we won’t adopt; it just means we’ll go into an adoption very differently than we would have 3 years ago.
As for the part of your question about the scores of children who will remain orphans… To be honest, it is too big of a problem for me to wrap my little brain around. Sometimes I cope by ignoring the reality. When I’m in a healthier place spiritually, I remember that it isn’t my burden to bear. God is the father to the fatherless, and He is the one who bears the weight of it all on His shoulders. I don’t have to try and carry it for him; it would crush me. (Check out this post for more on that.) Instead, we choose to see him in the midst of the suffering. He was already there, long before we arrived. We don’t carry him to orphans in our carry-on bags. So if he’s already there, you may wonder why we should go? Because when darkness, suffering, and abandonment are so loud, there’s a time and a place for us as believers to enter into the turmoil and shout His name above the screaming pain. He’s already there, but we can make His presence more obvious to the suffering when we become His hands and feet. We become instruments of His comfort and peace.
And, as we work alongside him, staking out his kingdom and territory on this earth and telling the darkness that it has no place here, we begin seeing Signs of Hope. Glimmers of joy that keep us going. Reminders that His Kingdom will fully come and healing and restoration will be made complete.
That’s how we cope.