Thursday, October 28, 2010

Choosing Joy

This blog has been a long time coming. I've started and stopped it in a couple of nap times (which have become a regular way of marking my days now). I've had some time of self-instated maternity leave/doing less work over the last few months--but that time is officially over. So it's about time I share the process of bringing home our baby. I was reading something a parent of adopted children wrote about "learning to be a family" and then how at some point, you just feel like you are a family. The last 5 months has been like that. It's really strange, bringing home a child that you don't know, but is your child that has existed totally independent from you in the world. A stranger--that you love, but don't even know how to love yet. Who you comfort, in a way that feels familiar to you. But your hands stroking her back aren't familiar to her yet and it doesn't make her feel safe. You say "shh" softly in her ears when she cries, but she doesn't respond until you think to whisper "lingo" Acholi for quiet. She adjusted amazingly quickly, but when I look back at those first few days I realize how far we've come.

We didn't have 9 months of preparation for her birth. But the journey of becoming a family has been a gestation period of sorts--just much less predictable. No one has written the book "What to Expect when you're expecting" for adoption outlining a finite timeline of what will happen each month until you'll finally be holding a child in your arms. We had years of knowing we wanted to be part of a family that was formed through adoption. We had 8 years of marriage, 4 years of being ready to start a family. And 4 years of having hope deferred, again, and again. A few months of paperwork. And then, we had one week after being asked to parent a baby before welcoming her home.

In June, we decided to start the adoption process. We applied and were accepted as potential foster parents at several babies' homes and they told us to wait--that they would call if a potential baby was brought to them. Ever day we knew we might get a phone call telling us there was a child for us, or we might wait a long time.

She was the first baby we met. She was 4 months old then. It was our first babies' home visit as potential adopting parents. The administrator nonchalantly called across their grassy compound to a woman carrying a baby, plopped the infant into my arms and said, "Do you want this one? See! She already looks like you." We laughed when they told us her nickname--in Acholi, it means "white girl." I looked down into the face of a particularly fair skinned baby girl (She is beautiful--but looks nothing like me) with sweet chubby cheeks and thighs that had a pitiful little cough and wrapped her miniature hands around my finger. Ben and I laid in bed that night and wondered if the baby we'd held was our child or "just another baby." We wondered who would comfort her if she woke up that night. If she was going to be ours, we thought, we should bring her home as soon as possible, but how do we know or decide? How do you choose a child? This was one of the strangest things, and I'm tempted to re-write history a little, so that the narrative of our adoption story has a certainty of direction in its plot--like love at first sight, knowing "this is the one" and an instant connection. But I had a lot of ambivalence right up until we made a decision. We'd planned to adopt a newborn, and besides, at that point, a number of efforts were still being made to see if there were any known relatives that might be able to provide a home for her, so we needed to wait.

Then in the beginning of September the social workers from the babies home came to our house and asked us to take her. They had the blessing of the government social workers, the police and the babies home administration. Two months had past and she was 6 months old. In the grand scheme of things, it's not that long, but in the life of a baby--so many things happen. I'd already missed so many firsts and it made me sad. I just didn't feel peaceful, so I took a couple of days to do some things that help me still and quiet my soul.

Right at the beginning of the first day, something happened. I realized that I needed to let go of my feelings of entitlement to the first 6 months of my child's life. Entitlement. I've had multiple opportunities in the last years to experience and relearn how entitlement is a thief of so many good things. It makes decision making a more jumbled mess of ugly motivations. Letting go of entitlement to something doesn't always mean not having it, but it creates freedom to accept and appreciate what I'm given instead of demanding what I feel I deserve. So, I took a deep breath, and let go. A few more deep breaths and I let it sink in. And I watched all that yucky entitlement vacate my heart and a peaceful grateful feeling rush in to take its place. And then I felt peaceful about being her parent. Not just peaceful--happy, excited, appreciative. I wanted to be the mother to this particular baby, and so instead of spending the rest of my prayerful time wondering if she "was the one" I CHOSE her.

Earlier, I'd had this dream about her. She was a baby still but she was having a conversation with me like an adult. I don't remember details of it, but I remember her asking me about why I wasn't sure I should take her home. She wasn't being manipulative, or pleading with me. Her tone was very matter of fact and she logically explained why my objections, and inhibitions weren't very satisfactory reasons not become her mother and concluded that she thought I should take her home. It's odd to think about how tumultuous I felt from this side of the decision. I can't imagine not having her in my life. Ben and I are so totally in love with her. And I know her now. She's not a stranger. She's my daughter.

About a year before all this happened, I was at my parents house while they were out of town. I took long walks in the woods and prayed. That was the time when I first started feeling like maybe, the person who would become our daughter existed somewhere. Now, we know she was probably the shape of a peanut in her mother's womb. I thought about her mother, and what situation she might be in, in her pregnancy and what painful or broken circumstances would somehow make her child an orphan that would eventually form our family. It made me sad and simultaneously hopeful. A picture of how beauty can be made of ashes and mourning turned to joy.

Elliyah Joi Akidi.

There is a lot of discussion in adoption literature and circles surrounding an attitude of "rescuing" or "saving" orphans. So many people here thank us for our "good hearts" to care for a needy child. Others will say how lucky she is. I see the formation of our family differently. It's true that part of our motivation for adoption is a response to what we believe is God's call to care for orphans, an extension of what He's already offered to us--adoption as his children and heirs of his kingdom. But that call--I think, is less about obligation or altruism and more about love. It's not a humanitarian endeavor. It's not charity. We WANTED her. With the exception of our partners, we don't ordinarily get to choose our family members. But we got to choose her. And I'm so happy we did.


Soulistic Static said...

yes. thank you for this. every time I read about you, her and this process I am overrun by tears- it unearths something deep and true in me. and letting go of entitlement does allow us to let in what IS which is somehow always what we need because the cycle is all working...the loss and the love, the letting go and gaining...its all working. Thank you for illustrating this in such a beautiful way.

The Stouts said...

Holly, What a beautiful job you've done saving in print this process in your heart and this time in your life. You have such a beautiful heart. I am so very happy for you and Ben and Elliyah.

I believe that the parenting process is a lot about letting go of entitlement in ever increasing measure! Perhaps this is why the Bible says women will be saved in childbearing. Parenting is an amazing and beautiful refiners fire.

Much love, Nickie

Esther said...

What a breath-taking mingling of story and photos. Thanks so much, Holly. I can't wait to visit and meet Elliyah. That time can't come soon enough!

Tessa Wright said...

Holly- this is so incredible and beautiful to read!
Its Tessa here, who did yoga with you during my time in Gulu mid last year. I'm sorry I haven't been in touch till now, I managed to loose your email and several major earthquakes in Christchurch proved distracting! I would love to be in contact- could you possibly send me your email address to
All the very best to you, Ben and Elliyah :)

Anonymous said...

Holly, i'm slow to find this but i can relate so deeply to your journey of feelings around adopting your daughter. I'm eager to meet her this July, and I love getting any news of her. She is beautiful and is clearly life-changing for you. God is so good! Love, gann