By Jennifer Palmer
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – CS Lewis
We tried to adopt once, my husband and I brought a baby girl home from the hospital a few days after she was born in the hopes that we might be given the privilege of raising her. Those early days of new parenthood were so very sweet, even fraught as they were with the constant fear that they might take her from us. From the first moment we held her, we loved her, and we could not imagine our lives without her.
Our worst fears were realized, however, and that which we could not imagine was forced upon us. Though we had done all we knew to do, though we had followed the advice of our lawyer who was experienced in such matters, though the odds of such things happening were vanishingly small, our daughter’s biological father contested the adoption and won. Five months—five months!—after we brought her home from the hospital, we kissed her for the last time and walked away, leaving our shattered hearts on the floor of the ugly courthouse room where we said goodbye.
One month later, two pink lines made a surprise appearance on a stick in my bathroom, and for weeks, I alternated between anger and excitement, between fear and hope. My second daughter, who will almost certainly never know her older sister, was born in the spring of this year. She is a joy and a delight, a happy and affectionate baby, and, while she could never take the place of the girl we lost, she has brought some measure of healing to our lives.
We hope to give this little girl siblings some day, brothers or sisters as companions and playmates and friends. And despite the pain we suffered, despite our ability to conceive without medical intervention, we hope that one or more of those siblings might come through adoption.
Many people don’t understand how this can be the case; they hear our story and cringe, weep tears on our behalf. “How good that you are able to have children of your own,” they say, as if this child I carried inside of me is any more “my own” than the one who first made me a mother. As is the case for so many of the decisions that change our lives, we have myriad reasons for adoption, many of them inexplicable even to ourselves, but the one underlying them all is the same reason most parents choose to bring children into their lives: love.
This isn’t to say that growing a family through adoption and growing a family through pregnancy are identical experiences; even the best adoptions begin with profound loss, and everyone involved requires support and resources and knowledge to handle that loss in healthy ways. But there is room in our home and in our hearts for another, and there are children out there in desperate need of parents to love them. This seems a match made in heaven.
There are risks involved, to be sure, and there will almost certainly be pain along the way. But then, this is true no matter how we come to be parents, is true whenever we choose to love someone or something other than ourselves. Loving another, be it a child or a spouse or a friend, is a risky business. It invites suffering and hurt and sorrow. But it also invites growth and meaning and joy—joy beyond measure. The deeper the risk, I believe, the greater the potential reward, and the hope and love and healing adoption can bring to all involved is worth chancing the heartache.
Had you asked me before all this happened if I could withstand losing a child, if I could make it through such heartbreak, I would have said no. Had I known what was coming, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to walk the path I did. And yet, while I would never wish such sorrow on anyone, while I wish with everything in me that things had turned out differently, that I was living the crazy, hectic life of a mom with two under the age of two, I did survive. More than that, I grew and I learned and I tapped depths of my faith and of my friendships and of my marriage that I did not know were there. Somehow, through grace and love and the support of those who matter most to me, I was given the strength to weather the storm.
And so, if you’re considering adoption, considering making yourself vulnerable in that way, I pray that my story does not scare you away. I pray that you would heed that voice compelling you forward. I pray that you would be willing to risk the pain and the sorrow, trusting you will find the strength for what comes, and in so doing, that you would be rewarded with a joy that knows no bounds. I pray these things for you as well as for myself; though the need for foster and adoptive parents is great, though the faces of children who have no stability in their lives tug at my heartstrings, the pain is still fresh and I, too, am afraid to open myself up again in such a way.
To you on the other side of this journey, wondering if you should take that first halting step forward, to the face I see in the mirror each morning, I pray you hear me when I say adoption is worth the risk. Parenthood is worth the risk.
Love is worth the risk.
Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at choosingthismoment.com. She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.