by Jenny S. Maurer
What happens to adoptive families after the adoption is finalized—after the video of the parents stepping off the plane with their new child on their hip, or the photos of the family standing before a judge have been posted?
What happens in the days after people stop the congratulations, the paperwork has all been signed and filed, Child Protective Services leaves for good, and you find yourself staring into the eyes of a child whom you did not birth? A child you may not know very well, a child whose veins carry none of your blood, a child you just finished declaring that you would love with every fiber of your being?
I know what I imagined those following months would hold. And I know what they actually held.
Scared to Hope
At some level, I imagined that my daughter and I would float in and out of Instagram filtered moments of bonding, love, and tenderness. I imagined that my heart would swell with joy and pride with the wonder and awe that comes from knowing—that’s my daughter. I imagined that without the constraints of foster care—the rules, the paperwork, the court-mandated visits—I would be free to just love this child with my last name. And of course, by “love,” I meant serenely coloring together, tenderly braiding her hair, twirling in a field of flowers.
Adoption can be a lot like giving birth. Every story and every journey is different, but there is almost always a phase of adjustment. There’s a fair amount of wonder and awe, but there’s also a lot of screaming and crying. And there’s always a lot of crap.
It took me almost a full year after the adoption to feel truly bonded with her.
Some birth parents bond right away with their babies, and some take a little longer. Some parents deal with depression, some feel euphoria, some feel both in the same half hour. Most feel overwhelmed, underprepared, and are freaking out on the inside.
A similar thing happens as adoptive parents. Even though our daughter had been our foster daughter for a year before we adopted, it took me almost a full year after the adoption to feel truly bonded with her.
I had become accustomed to holding our bond loosely, holding back bits of my heart in case she was taken away from us—I had learned how to provide and care for her without being vulnerable enough to have my whole heart involved. It took time to adjust not having to ask permission to paint her nails or cut her hair. It took time to not worry about what case managers and judges would think of my parenting skills. It took time to think in terms of “future” for my daughter. My heart had only let me think about the present—to plan too far ahead meant hope.
And I had been scared to hope too much.
Love Looks Different
I loved my daughter. I loved her before I met her, I loved her when we were her foster parents, I loved her after we adopted her, and oh, do I love her now. But I did not expect love to be so hard.
Love has meant holding my daughter while she screams so loud my ears hurt and my heart aches. Love has meant not falling apart when our daughter says she wishes she were with a different family. Love has meant mending my sons’ hearts when their sister’s actions break their spirits. Love has meant persistently explaining that no matter what she says or does, she will always be loved. Even when the explanation was more of a reminder to myself.
Love has meant crumpling against a wall and begging God for just one more ounce of patience.
Love has meant crumpling against a wall and begging God for just one more ounce of patience. Of wisdom. Of faith. Love has meant that our family regularly and willingly steps into what the experts call “secondary trauma”—the trauma that comes from the act of caring for and loving the traumatized.
Loving my daughter looks very different than I thought it would. We have yet to twirl in a field of flowers, for one thing, and I suck at braiding, for another. But doing the hard work of loving her well has produced its own kind of beauty.
It’s beautiful when my daughter can rest her spirit, safe in the knowledge that we are not going anywhere. It’s beautiful to show a child that healthy boundaries mean love, and that love cannot be earned or lost. And it’s beautiful when we give all of our hearts to love in vulnerability.
That little lovely now has every last bit of my heart; she has parts of my heart that I didn’t know existed. I love better and more fully because I love her.
Messy But Beautiful
The pictures we see and stories we tell about the love in adoptive families are beautiful, every last one. But the real beauty lies in the day to day love that isn’t usually posted on social media.
The real beauty isn’t usually posted on social media.
Navigating the murky waters of biological families, reminding friends and family to stop saying that your child is lucky to have you, reminding teachers that your child walks around with an undercurrent of fear, so to please be gentle. The inside jokes giggled over before bedtime, the once feared bath time becoming a child’s favorite thing, the mama who uses her last reserves to speak words of kindness and tenderness in the face of distress and anger, the dad who gives the most gentle of hugs because his child is terrified of men, the siblings who shout from the bus window, “I love you! I’ll be home soon to see you!”
The real business of adoption happens after the paperwork has been signed. It happens in living rooms made holy by the presence of an adoptive God, it happens in minivans sanctified by redemptive love, and it happens during family movie nights surrounded by the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit.
Adoption is messy—it’s living out the gospel all up in your life. It’s hard. But adoption is beautiful—it’s living out the gospel all up in your life. It’s love.
posted on December 4, 2018
Meet the Author
Jenny S. Maurer is a pastor’s wife and mom of three who believes in the power of story to change, teach, and inspire. She writes because she needs to, drinks coffee because she has to, runs because she likes to, and smells books because she’s weird. To read more, visit her blog.
Other Rivulet Collective articles by Jenny S. Maurer: