Something unbelievable happened this week. After two and a half years of paperwork and crying and more paperwork, our youngest son came home. Like a dream, we rode out to Seoul, met with his foster family, and whisked him off to the train station. Unbelievably, he was cheerful and happy through the whole process.
It’s really easy to call this a happy ending and post some pictures about how blessed we are on Facebook and be done with it, and I did do those things. We are blessed. We are happier than anyone has any right to be. But at the back of that happiness is pain. That pain’s getting increasingly real with each passing day as Nathan mourns the loss of his foster family. His tears and cries for his foster mom are very clear proof that adoption is not a perfect institution. It’s sometimes the only possible solution, but it’s not perfect.
When I post pictures of my happy family on Facebook, I hope you understand that Nathan living with us is not the best ending for him. Is it the best ending for us? Sure is. After we get him through the three or four month grieving period, we’ll reap all the benefits of having adopted him. We’ll have a cute child running around our house. We’ll get a chance to do all the things that our infertility kept us from. We’ll get praise everywhere we go for being good people.
But that’s not what will happen to Nathan. Adoption will be the source of pain and joy for him for his whole life. He’s already suffered three losses because of adoption and he’s not even quite three. When he was born, he lost his mom. He doesn’t understand that part yet, but he will. He lived with a foster family for a year and then for whatever reason, they couldn’t keep him anymore, so he moved to another foster family. And now he’s living with us, so he’s lost that second foster family. He doesn’t know that they weren’t his real family, he just knows that now he can’t see them. And he loves them a lot. I can promise you that. Last night, he screamed for his foster mom for a good hour and a half.
When he gets older, he’s going to be marked as different because we’re white and he’s Korean. People will ask him intrusive questions and he’ll have to come up with cute ways to explain things he may not want to talk about. He’ll have to listen to people ask me and Steve how much we paid for him along with a dozen other hurtful statements that will diminish his feelings of self-worth. Will we fight against those questions? Sure, but it won’t stop him from knowing people see him that way. On top of all of that, he will likely have doubt for most of his life about his mother and why he couldn’t live with her. Because she’s not in his life, he’s missing a whole chunk of his history. There’s no one at our house that can tell him what foods his mom craved when she was pregnant with him. There’s no pictures of her grinning exhaustedly as she holds him to her chest. He doesn’t have access to relatives with whom he shares similar quirks or expressions.
And that’s not even dealing with his saint of a mother. I know very little about her other than she accidentally got pregnant. And she was brave. Very very brave. In a country where being single and pregnant is frowned upon, she chose to have the baby. And I know that when she got through delivering him, she had to go home alone. I worry about her. Did anyone tell her she did a good job? Did people congratulate her on bringing life into the world? I hope they did, but it’s hard to know. I also know that she really loved Nathan, because she managed to stay alcohol free for her whole pregnancy, even though she must have been so sad and scared.
And so, despite the joy that I’m filled with today, I’m not out to talk about the wonders of adoption. It exists for a good reason, and I’m glad it does. It has to exist because not everyone is ready to have a baby when they get pregnant. But I don’t want you to make it into a perfect solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancies, because it isn’t. The perfect solution to unwanted pregnancies is finding a way to make them wanted pregnancies.
I know that some people will be a bit turned off by the above statements. Especially since I just adopted. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not here to take the beauty away from adoption. Obviously, I love it. It’s given me a family. And it’s given Nathan a family. Adoption brings beauty out of dark and broken places. It restores as much as it can. But sometimes I hear people talk about adoption like it’s this perfect and wonderful institution, and I promise you, it’s not. It’s a very broken process that cannot actually give a child his or her perfect life. A good life? Yes. But let’s focus on the best for a moment.
The best life a child can live is with their family. Now, before you say, “What about drug addicts and teen moms?” I know that some birth families are not in a child’s best interest. I spent a year working at Child Protective Services and another year at a foster placement agency. I’ve seen the dark places that foster kids come out of. No one should live that way, and I guess that’s my point. What we need is not more adoption, it’s more healed families. As a society, we should be pouring our hearts and resources into healing the things that keep kids from living with their parents. Is it possible every time? No. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
So at the end of this, I guess what I want to say is, be happy with us. Our family expanded by one more member. But don’t ignore the other part of this story. There are still many things to be done in this world, and we are the people who have to do them. So please, go out and do something to help keep a family together. And when you’re thinking about how to donate money this holiday season, please consider choosing groups that support unwed moms. Or help out kiddos who age out of foster care. Or pick a group that helps families that are struggling stay together. Or just help out the single mom at church who always looks tired and stressed. And whatever you chose to do, please choose love. Not just for cute babies, but for angry older kids, and for drug addicted girls. Because the more we love, the better this world will get.