Andrea writes a letter to her younger self, before she became an adoptive mom to five children, including four children with complex heart disease. This post originally appeared on No Hands But Ours, a site that aims to encourage, equip and support families adopting children with special needs from China.
Hey there, shadow of myself! Yes, I’m talking to you, the woman who is spending countless hours picking out the perfect color for the walls of the nursery where, in a few months, you will rock your “healthy, as young as possible” baby girl from China. I’m smiling right now, thinking of the woman I once was over eleven years ago. You have no idea, absolutely no idea, how your world is about to be rocked. This tornado disguised as a little girl will turn your world upside down.
You will be in the trenches, sometimes beaten down, wondering what happened to your life, trading in the time spent making sure her dresser drawers are neat and organized for time in the attachment therapist’s office. You’ll learn to let go of everything you thought you knew about parenting, of your preconceived idea of family, of “healthy.” You will be forced from selfishness to selflessness. You will stop thinking of adoption as finding the right child for you and learn to become the right parent for a child. It will be difficult. It will be ugly at times. It will leave you a sobbing heap in the closet. It will stretch you and twist you until you don’t recognize yourself anymore.
But it will be glorious, and you will look at yourself in the mirror a decade from now and be so proud of the parent and family you have become.
I could never sum up over ten year’s worth of experiences and insights into one blog post, so I’ll sum up for you, my younger self, some things to help you along the way as you prepare to bring home your children through adoption. Oh, and by the way, there won’t be one adoption. There will be five!
–Don’t confuse the desires of your own heart for God’s promptings. Sometimes the right thing to do, the path you are supposed to be on, is the one you resist the most. Sometimes you rationalize that what you want is what God wants. Not so. Let go, and allow yourself to truly embrace the unexpected. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on this beautiful boy, and the life lessons he will teach you.
–You are stronger than you ever imagined yourself to be. Yes, you… the shy woman who once avoided anything frightening, unknown or challenging. You will receive a terminal diagnosis from the first cardiologist who treats your son and you will learn what it means to fight for your child, to navigate the medical world, to not take “no” for an answer when on the phone with your medical insurer, to dig and research and advocate. Trust me. This is a path to amazing things. Just keep going. It will lead you to amazing places, and along the way you will be led to this precious boy, your baby boy:
-Stop being afraid to hurt people’s feelings. God gave you instincts and a voice. Use them, but with grace. You’ve spent over three decades doing your best to be unobtrusive. Listen to me. That’s not what your children are going to need from you. Those sacred souls you will be entrusted with need you to find the strength to say, “I appreciate your years of medical school. You have a world-class reputation, and I know you have my child’s best interest at heart. But I’m still going to obtain the input of others. This is not about my not trusting you. It’s about being able to answer to myself and to my child. It’s about providing myself with emotional insurance.” Take a deep breath and do this. It will change the course of your baby boy’s life. It will save some of your future children’s lives.
–Don’t fear potential loss. Don’t fear the diagnosis. What you should fear is fear, as it is a joy stealer and a thief of life. You see that oxygen saturation reading on the morning of your 28-month-old daughter’s first open heart surgery? It’s not her lowest. When reviewing her file, some will tell you not to adopt this child. She has the most severe form of single ventricle heart disease. She may not make it to adulthood. She may be brain damaged from chronic and pronounced hypoxia (she is, by the way. And she is absolutely perfect as such. You will not be able to imagine your life without her perfectly incandescent smile). She may be in full-time Special Education Services (she is, and so what? It has been an absolute joy to parent this “mentally retarded” child, as one medical professional will refer to her when you fail to display the expected tearful reaction to the results of her neuro/psychological testing. It will be a blessing to become friends with the parents of her classmates and other adoptive parents of special needs children, and to feel a connection and an understanding that, sadly, is now missing in many of the relationships you had before you became an adoptive parent). She may not be able to ever live independently (guess what? The idea of having this precious, sweet, funny and feisty daughter as a permanent resident under your roof will fill you and Eric with joy!). Stop worrying. It’s going to be okay. In fact, it’s going to be great!
-Find your way to peace when in your hardest times. Have patience for those caring for your child in the medical setting. Do not hold grudges against friends and family for not knowing what to say or how to support you. Find something to praise in each and every day, even while in the hospital. You will need to practice this, for the hardest days are yet to come. One of the most challenging skills you will need to learn is how to find joy in the saddest of days. Buy yourself a treat at the hospital cafeteria. Indulge in an overpriced latte. Share a funny video with a nurse. Make jokes with doctors. Laugh with friends. Ponder the beauty of God’s sunrises and sunsets through the window of your children’s CICU rooms. It’s okay to smile, to laugh and to appreciate all of the beauty of life even when your child is struggling. This will save your soul. However…
Allow your heart to be broken. You will be strong and courageous and good at finding each day’s blessings, but you will forget that part of courage is finding the strength to grieve. Give yourself this gift. You are not turning a blind eye to each day’s goodness or insulting God by allowing yourself to be devastated by the brokenness of this world. You will pay a price, emotionally and physically, for not allowing room for your pain during the times to come. Give yourself permission to cry.
-Expect, understand and accept that you will not be the same person you were before. You will lose the perspective of the world that you once held, but you will gain a wider one. You will lose your ability to enjoy some of the pastimes you once pursued, but in their place you will find more meaning in this life and deeper ways to utilize your time. You will lose some friends you’ve had for years, but you will find yourself entrenched within the most supportive and loving community you can imagine. And ultimately, you will lose your innocence. How can you not, when the heart beating inside of your daughter is the same heart that stopped beating inside of another mother’s child?
-Thank God each and every day for placing you at the beginning of this most wondrous and miraculous path. You will be given far more than you can handle. That’s why you will rely on Him. You will be asked to give back to the world in a way that will terrify the shy inner child in you. Do it. You can! And on the days to come when you wonder whether you have the fortitude to become the mother your children need, remember the promise that He will make to you time and time again: You do.
Andrea | Adoptive Mom
Andrea is the executive director of Little Hearts Medical, an organization that brings lifesaving cardiac care to orphaned children and children living in impoverished communities in China.