I often wonder about my boys’ lives before they joined our family (for newer readers, my boys were adopted at 26 months and 41 months, respectively). I wonder how they will see their adoption stories when they are older. I wonder in vain because I’m not going to get answers right now. Their pasts are a mystery and their tomorrows are unwritten.
I have heard other families talk about how adoption was “meant to be” or “God’s plan”. Whenever someone talks about God’s plan I think of a song I learned when I was little called the Purple Puzzle Tree. The song is about how events in life fit together like puzzle pieces. I’m not sure the significance of purple; maybe it just fit with the tune.
I’m not going to shove my views down anyone’s throat but I’ve always believed God knows what is going to happen next even when we don’t. Sometimes I wonder how far out this puzzle is planned. Are there twists along the way that change how the puzzle fits together? Is the layout fixed and decided in advance but unknown to us? When I hear someone talk about how their adoption was meant to be I wonder how they can think this way. In the case of my children, I look at it like this:
Their birth families could not or would not parent them;
They lived a chunk of their early lives without a family to call their own.
These are not things appropriately labeled “meant to be”. Maybe better described as “Plan B”.
Think about it. And forget, for a moment, all of those people who present their adoption stories as ladybugs, red threads and unicorn farts because they’re full of crap. They’re telling you what you want to hear or what they want you to hear. Maybe these “adoption is a miracle” and “meant to be” families haven’t considered that there is another side to the coin, but chew on this, people:
Adoption is about loss;
Adoption is also (usually) about happy endings and building families, but at the root, there is no adoption without loss.
We don’t always stop to consider these things. Maybe because it’s uncomfortable. Maybe because “meant to be” is more socially palatable.
We don’t know a ton about Doodlebug’s early story. We know his “finding ad” was published when he was approximately 4 months old. [A finding ad is an ad placed in the local Chinese newspaper announcing abandoned children, inviting their families to come forward. This formality must be satisfied for children to become wards of the government. Ages at finding are estimated, so there may be wiggle room with the actual birthday]. Doodlebug was placed in the custody of the local social welfare institute upon finding but lived part of his early life in with a foster family. We don’t have full details but based on the pieces we’ve been able to put together Doodlebug was with this family for the majority of his life until we showed up when he was 26 months old.
We don’t know anything about his first 4 months with his birth mother. We don’t know what led to her decision not to parent him but we assume it had to do with his limb difference. Although people’s perception of the one child policy in China isn’t always accurate, children with obvious physical imperfections are often considered unlucky or undesirable. They are often left in public places where they will be taken in by the authorities.
I have always wondered if Doodlebug’s birth mother wanted to keep him. I wonder what their time together was like for those first 4 months. Although many people can easily find fault with her actions, I feel nothing but gratitude for this woman whose name I will never know.
I am his mother but another mother came before me. One who carried him for 9 months and nurtured him for 4 months. Did she agonize over the decision to give him up? Did she put her mental health and well-being in jeopardy to choose as she did? Does she think of him every July? Does she think of him every day? I’ll never know the answers to these questions but I’m going to go with “yes”. I’m not going to diminish her role in our puzzle by saying I was “meant to be” his mom. To say this means that the powers that be meant for this child not to stay with his birth family. Is that what God (or destiny, or karma, however you look at things) intended? I feel it is presumptuous for me to make that generalization.
I am “Plan B”. And I can live with that.
Doodlebug has experienced a hell of a lot of loss in his young life. He lost his birth mother at a very early age. He lost the only family he knew at age 26 months when one loud redhead showed up, smothered him with unsolicited affection and declared “I’m your mommy”. (That was me).
These losses haven’t had too much of an impact on Doodlebug’s big picture to date, but he’ll probably feel it at some point in his life. There will come a day when Doodlebug realizes that we look different. He’ll understand that other mommies came before me. He may be angry. He may be resentful. He may be curious. He may not give a rat’s ass. Regardless of how he feels, he’ll ask questions someday:
Did my birth mom love me?
Why didn’t she keep me?
Can I call her?
Can I see my foster family?
When is my real birthday?
I’m not sure I will have answers. I’m making this stuff up as I go along. But I do know this: any derivative of “meant to be” would be a lame response and I owe him better. I want to believe Doodlebug’s birth mother loved him. I want to believe his foster family loved him and viewed him as more than a source of revenue. When he asks me the hard questions will “I don’t know but you’re where you’re meant to be now” be good enough? How can I tell a child that lost 2 families in order to be in this one that this is “meant to be”?
I couldn’t love this child more if he shared my DNA – of that, I am absolutely certain. We are going to give him the best life we can. He’ll have more advantages than he had in China, but is it for me to say he’ll have a “better” life here? Who decides what “better” means? Me?
We chose the best adoption scenario for our family. We wanted to add to our family. We knew there were children in China waiting for families. Doodlebug was one of those children. We stepped out in faith and raised our hands to be his family. At the end of the day, being in this family was part of his purple puzzle tree and part of mine. Whether it was planned out that way all along or whether there was a fork in the road along the way somewhere that caused our paths to collide and Plan B to materialize…I really couldn’t tell you.
The next time you use the phrase “meant to be” in reference to an adopted child, I challenge you to stop and examine the other side of the coin. Think about the hardship that child had to endure prior to adoption. Think about the loss felt by the birth family. Take away your “I could never” notions when you think about the birth family. They made a hard choice that is probably not easily forgotten. I feel nothing but gratitude for my boys’ birth mothers. I don’t understand their actions. I might not agree with their decisions. But they have given me a blessing at great personal cost.
Adoption has been a blessing for my family but the loss factor isn’t something to make in to a fairytale. There are still happy endings but it’s not all ladybugs, red thread and unicorn farts.