The thing about Band-Aids is that even if you find the one that is just the right fit, its only job is to cover the wound. The healing, it takes place under the cover, in the deep, dark place, on the inside.
To the mother who has been told that adoption is a possibility worth considering, I’d like to offer you the very honest opinion of a girl who was raised unadoptable, who grew up an orphan, who instead of becoming adopted, aged out of the system at fifteen years old.
So in addition to adoption, I’ll share with you a few more suggestions. I’ll go ahead and start with what might be the most difficult, impractical, and most similar to adoption:
- Volunteer at a group home. See the girls vie for your attention, receive their smiles, feel their hugs, and then get in your car and drive away. Drive away, and try to watch the road through your hot tears, feel the terrible ache of leaving them there, know the guilt and the pain, wish you could do more, while knowing that even in short intervals, you are already giving so much more than you ever imagined you’d give in this life.
- Foster. See the children cling to you, push you away, long desperately for you and hate you all at the same time. See yourself feeling like you are pretending to be a family, knowing that what you hope very much looks like a knit together family is actually more like a group of strangers held together with flimsy Velcro, a family that can be pulled apart at any given minute. Do this so that you can know the terrible ache of seeing them be driven away, the deep hope that fills you that what they are bringing with them to their new placement is not only in their bag but in their heart.
- Adopt an older child. Or adopt a pregnant teen mother so that she can have you as a mentor and her child can be your grandchild. Do this, adopt a teen, so that you are not given the time of their life when they were their cutest, sweetest, purest from influence, and instead receive the wartorn teen who has been influenced by a lifetime of abuse and abandonment.
- Become a teacher, social worker, CASA worker, or an advocate for children in some very deliberate way. Do this because you’re starting to get the idea; the ramification is obvious.
No? Not really? Here’s some more:
- Understand that adoption might be a Band-Aid suggestion by friends who might want a physical manifestation of your motherhood for their own agenda. Understand that they might already have a preconceived narrative to script through your sorrow. Listen, I’m Christian, I know the rhetoric of God having a plan, and when it comes from the mouths of others and not from the hearts of mothers – from you – then it is likely a platitude, a preconceived narrative.
- Understand that your adopting the idea of adoption isn’t the same as you being capable of adopting any child – your adoption isn’t right for every child. Every six months I had a new “mom and dad.” For the children of group homes and foster care, adoption is like a promotion, it is a status of belonging and normalness that we aspire to obtain. Not really for the new name, or even for the sense of belonging – but, being wanted. In my entire childhood, I never felt wanted. But that was my journey.
Listen very closely to what I tell you now:
You’re adopting me when I was a little girl, it might have been a Band-Aid for my childhood grief, my longing for parents, the pain of which I know now has required much more healing than that childhood fantasy of adoption ever could have provided – and I am thankful that this healing wasn’t minimized, covered up or taken away from me. Especially for the sake of satisfying your friends and silencing their platitudes. Because the same ones telling you to adopt, would have shushed me in my teenage lament and shamed me to silence, assuring me that the polite response is to just be grateful you decided to adopt me.
OK, these seem like really big things. Impractical, maybe. So try these:
- Be present in places where there are other children. In the grocery store, see the children begging their mother for the chocolate cereal. In the movie theatre, hear the children who are laughing at the movie.
- Be present in places where there are other mothers. In the grocery store, see the mother who wants her children to eat healthy but also doesn’t want them to feel sad in the store. In the movie theatre, hear the mother’s fierce shush as she tries to quiet her children for you.
Or maybe, try these:
- Believe you are a mother. You don’t need to prove it to your friends through adoption.
- Believe you are a mother. You don’t need me, the orphan, to show you how to mother.
- Believe you are a mother. You can see children, really see them, you can serve them, really serve them, you can love them, really love them, anywhere.
- Believe you are a mother. You can see other mothers, really see them, really value them, really identify with them, anywhere.
- Believe you are a mother.
- Believe. You are a mother.
I want to thank the mothers who did not adopt me. Thank you for being strong to overcome the platitudes, empty suggestions and ultimately potentially harmful messages you were given by your loved ones. I want to thank the mothers who know that you cannot brave the hardest suggestions I offered here.
I want to thank the social workers, the orphanage workers, the school teachers and the foster mothers who brushed my hair, who gave me Christmas presents, who helped me learn how to sharpen my own pencil.
I want to thank the children who grew up in “normal” homes who bullied me so that you could feel safer because it meant that you saw, that you recognized, that I was different. From you, I learned to see that I am, to recognize that I am, and how to be proud that I am.
I want to thank the mothers and others who do brave the hardest suggestions I offered here. You are glorious and regal and truly magnificent.
I want to thank the loved ones who tossed that Band-Aid platitude our way. Because you’ve challenged us and inspired us to open up the whole box and take a look at what real healing looks like.
Maybe, you’ll consider joining us in this pursuit of healing. Truly, not a platitude, you are invited.