Yesterday, on Facebook, I saw that two friends spent the weekend decorating the nursery for their unborn baby, hanging the sweetest bunny rabbit wallpaper and assembling the crib. Their baby is due in mid-August, two weeks after the baby boy my husband and I hope to adopt will be born. I didn’t spend my weekend hanging bunny rabbit wallpaper, though. Our future nursery is still a guestroom. The only signs of a newborn’s pending arrival are a handful of baby gifts, sent by others, that sit stacked on a dresser. I don’t know where else to put them.
We haven’t bought the crib yet … or car seat … or stroller … or even a pack of onesies. In part, that’s because I don’t quite trust this will happen. August is a long way away, and birth mothers change their minds.
More fundamentally, though, our baby preparations are on hold because, last weekend, while my friends were wrestling with the directions to assemble their baby’s crib, I was on the phone and computer, desperately trying to find housing for my son’s birth parents, who live 3,000 miles away in California. Through little fault of their own, they had become homeless, and if my husband and I didn’t solve the problem, no one else would. They would be living on the streets, and we would no longer be expecting a baby.
Welcome to the process of domestic infant adoption.
The Gift of Adoption
Adoption, undertaken lovingly, with open hearts and a desire to welcome a child into those hearts, is a beautiful — and sometimes necessary — way to build a family.
After all, we live in a fallen world, which means that not everyone who can conceive a baby is in a position to raise a baby — even with assistance and support. And not everyone who can raise a baby can conceive a baby — even with medical intervention and countless prayers. Adoption can solve both those problems. It can give babies stable homes and give couples children to call their own.
Adoption is not for everyone, but for those who feel called to it, it is a great gift. It is one of the ways Catholic couples can honor the promise we made to God on our wedding day: to welcome children into our marriages. Adoption very much is part of what it means to be open to life.
At the same time, for as beautiful and blessed as adoption can be, it’s not the same as pregnancy. It is a different way to build a family — a way born out of personal tragedy. Accordingly, before a baby is even born, the adoption process brings with it its own set of crosses.
The Constant Crosses
Every adoption is different. Every child is different; every birth parent is different; every adoptive parent is different. There is no one-size-fits-all description of the adoption process, just as there is no one-size-fits-all description of pregnancy. Everyone’s mileage will vary.
Nevertheless, certain constant crosses exist.
For the birth mother (and sometimes birth father) there is always the gut-wrenching, life-upending decision to carry a child to term and then place it in someone else’s arms. No matter who the birth mother is, no matter how rich or poor, what age, healthy or high on opioids she might be, entrusting one’s baby to another’s care requires heroic generosity. Even when adoption is clearly the best option for both the child and the mother, it’s never an easy option. It’s always, in some way, a crucifixion.
For the adoptive parents, the constant cross is the unparalleled level of uncertainty. Unborn babies are always vulnerable. Little lives can and do pass into God’s presence at any point, from conception to birth. Adoptive parents have to worry about that, just as all parents do. They have the double uncertainty, however, that, at some point, the birth mother might change her mind. She might decide at four months or eight months or three days after giving birth that she wants to parent.
Alternately, she might decide that she’s picked the wrong family and back out of her agreement with one family to choose another — one that is less religious or more religious, one that makes her laugh more, or who can provide her with more support during her pregnancy.
Until the relinquishment of custody forms are signed, nothing is certain and no decision is irrevocable.
Those are the constant stressors of the domestic adoption process. There also are less predictable stressors.
Adoption can take years to come to fulfillment; it can involve the stress of waiting for a call that feels like it will never come. Or it can involve the stress of a phone call that comes too soon, before the money has been saved or home study completed. It also can involve the stress of getting a call on Tuesday announcing that a baby is arriving Thursday, and that the birth mother has chosen you.
Likewise, in an age that no longer stigmatizes single parenthood, domestic adoption frequently pulls you into the lives of men and women who are placing their child for adoption because they are struggling mightily to find even a semblance of stability.
During the process of an adoption, their instability becomes your instability. Their problems, their addictions, their criminal records, their childhood trauma, their financial difficulties, their volatile tempers, their inability to make good life decisions — all of that become your problem.
In these cases, adoption becomes an intense experience in loving others through practical works of mercy, gently accompanying them in the midst of their ongoing struggles. It is very much a descent into the messiness of the world, to which Pope Francis has called us — hence, my newfound knowledge of every maternity home in California, the state’s affordable-housing shortage, and the difficulty of buying a travel trailer from 3,000 miles away.
Before we began the adoption process, I thought I knew what we were getting into. I have friends who are adopted, have adopted and have placed babies for adoption. Adoption is almost as normal in my world as pregnancy. But walking this journey is different from watching it. It has forced me to rely on the prayers and kindness of others and the promises of God, as few other things have.
If you, too, are walking this path or discerning a call to it, know that you’re not alone and that this journey, while immeasurably hard, is also immeasurably graced.
And if you are watching someone walk this path, help them. Encourage them when the going gets tough. Ask questions about what you don’t understand. Remember that the process and the lives of the people involved are usually messier than you can imagine and that simple solutions rarely work. Also, provide practical help when possible: meals, gifts and contributions to adoption fundraisers. Both domestic adoption and international adoption cost tens of thousands of dollars, and adoption shouldn’t just be for the rich.
Above all, pray. Every family is a miracle, and families created through adoption are no exception. It takes an unimaginable amount of prayer to get an adoptive family to the point where they too can hang bunny rabbit wallpaper on their nursery walls. Your prayers can bring them one step closer to that day.
writes from Pittsburgh.