6 years. 6 long, hard years. It has been 6 years since we brought our adopted son home from Korea. I wish I could say that it was love at first sight and that it has been nothing but heart eyes for days…but I can't.
For some of us, the process of attachment in adoption is an arduous labor of love. Many pages have been written in an attempt to help us better understand the adoptees' experience, and rightly so. However, this story is not about my adopted child. This is the story of his adoptive mother and her journey of rediscovering the meaning of love & grace. This is my story.
Ever since I was little, I knew that adoption was in my future. Maybe it was because my mom had been an orphan or because I had been exposed to children in need at a young age. Whatever the reason, I had a soft spot for adoption. In fact, because I had no doubt that I could love a child that was not biologically mine, being “open to adopting” became a prerequisite for my future spouse!
Well, fast forward a few years... I married this great guy, we had 2 biological daughters, and then decided it was time to adopt. After jumping through the necessary hoops, we were finally on our way to Korea to meet and bring home our 10 month old son. Our Gotcha Day was tearful and emotional for all. Our son was a healthy, happy-go-lucky boy whom his foster mother just adored. Despite the radical changes in his environment and caregivers, he adjusted rather quickly to his new home and family. The adaptability of children, despite major losses in their young lives, is truly an amazing thing.
Everything was so new and different for everyone. As a family, the kids outnumbered the parents for the first time. We went from having only girls to having our first boy (a 2nd boy was to come later). More than all that, though, he was so new to me. He looked different; he smelled different; his temperament was different. He just didn't feel like one of mine, and I did not have any maternal feelings toward him... like, at all. In truth, it was not simply a lack of feelings. That void was quickly replaced by the strongest, negative emotions I had ever experienced in my life.
I was quickly sucked into a downward spiral that landed me in the deepest, darkest pit of doubt, confusion, anger, shame, and despair. What is wrong with me? What kind of mother can't love her child? Why is this happening? These were some of the questions that were daily plaguing my mind & ravaging my heart.
I turned to medication and therapy in search of some relief and answers. While the magic pill was not to be, the therapy did help illuminate some things in my past that were likely affecting my ability to connect with my adopted child.
God and I were not on good terms during those first few years. You can say that I had a crisis of faith.
For the longest time, the fact that I did not "feel the feels" was a source of much guilt and self-hatred. I felt so broken, dysfunctional and alone. I felt like THE worst mommy on earth, more monster than human being.
I scoured the internet to try and find others like me, to reassure myself that I was not alone in this. I didn't find much, but I did find an online support group and, more importantly, I was able to connect with some local moms with similar experiences. These dear friends have become my lifeline. I could not do this without them. There is nothing worse than going through something awful and having to do it alone. If you are going through this, know that you are not alone!
I ultimately came to the realization that I can't help the way I feel (or don't feel). I accepted the fact that it was not my fault that I did not have those warm & fuzzy feelings. It's not ideal, but it's also not something I maliciously did. I did not choose this. It just is. Letting go of this guilt was so freeing! In fact, I'm done with all forms of mommy guilt. We women seem to love heaping guilt upon ourselves (and other women) for everything under the sun- the way we feed our babies, the way we put them to sleep, how much screen time we allow our kids, for working outside of the home. Only good mommies worry about being bad mommies. Guilt shouldn’t be ignored, but rather, properly addressed and then released. It is toxic. Let go!
That being said, I know I'm not off the hook here. I have a child in my home who needs love; and, as his mother, it is my job to give it to him. I know that I have been called to love this precious boy. Once upon a time, I used to believe that the only love that was real was the kind that flowed easily and burned brightly, not unlike the love I have for my biological children. It's effortless, unconditional, & undeniable. However, being married (15 years this year!) has also taught me of a different kind of love that is just as real, but that involves a lot of self-sacrifice and hard work.
I think the saying, “Just follow your heart!” is the stupidest saying in the whole world. I’ve seen my heart and it definitely cannot be trusted! Whatever my feelings may be on any given day, I have to choose to love on a daily basis. I have to choose to be gentle and kind, even when my patience is running thin. I have to choose to treat all of my children fairly and equally without showing favoritism. I have to choose to play a game or read a book, even when my Type A personality would rather get something useful done around the house. Needless to say, I do not always choose wisely… and then, the guilt and despair come knocking at my door once more. That’s when the lie that I am unlovable because I struggle to love my son threatens to take hold.
The amazing thing about love is that the more you accept and receive it yourself, the more capable you are of giving it to others. I need to allow myself to be loved, in spite of my own failures, mistakes and dysfunctions. As I continue to choose love & grace for myself and for my son, once in a while, I am utterly surprised by an unexpected surge of warm feelings. And in those brief moments, I make sure I sit and savor the sweetness with him.
I do still hope that those feelings come more often and more freely, but I am not sitting around waiting for them any more. This may not have been the kind of love I would’ve chosen for us, but it is ours. It is hard-won, invaluable, and so very real.
Wishing you love,
Owner & Creator