To Love a Rose: An Ethiopian Adoption Journal

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Labor Pains of the Heart

Outside is all misty and wet.  It has been a deluge all day; the same inside my heart...

I recently started reading the book Labor of the Heart by Dr. Kathleen Whitten, a psychologist and adoptive mom of a girl from Vietnam.  I've read lots of memoirs and personal accounts of adoption; so, I thought this was going to be a similar experience for me.  But Whitten is not just writing to remember or exorcise some necessary emotions of her own, she has written this book to help - better yet, force - the future adoptive parent to really evaluate his/her thoughts and emotions along the journey of adoption.

Honestly, upon reading the first chapter, I was almost angry.  Whitten is constantly referring to the sadness and loss of biological parenthood.  In a sense, it seemed that she was saying that adoption is only logically a last resort, not a first choice.  To someone like me, who is choosing adoption first, it was more than a little off-putting to hear the process stated in such a way.  Although Whitten obviously has a very specific point of view having herself been through several rounds of botched IVF, I think at first I was missing the more important themes that she was touching upon.

What really caught me were the discussions of sadness and grief, anger, guilt, shame, and fear.  Specifically, she is speaking to those who have had to come to terms with the loss of pregnancies (not only miscarriages, but perhaps even still births), loss of fertility, loss of hope, loss of options.  When all of these are taken away from you as a potential parent, I'm sure it's simply devastating.  But, still I was at a kind of loss - I'm choosing adoption first, I have no idea where my fertility stands.  It could be great, it could be in trouble, who knows?  My husband and I aren't trying to get pregnant; we're waiting for our adopted child.

I almost put the book down when I started reading about fear and anger.  It dawned on me, that although I'm not dealing with adoption in terms of loss like she and so many other women are; but that I still had so much to deal with emotionally when it came to grief and anger and fear and worry.

The problem with adoption is that often the people surrounding you don't know how to act or what to say or do.  This is a process that will at least take months and at most take years upon years.  When a woman is pregnant, you see her belly getting bigger, her clothes getting tighter.  Everything is affected in a very outward way - it's visible and tangible.

From the outside viewer, adoption is entirely internal.  I think this can be a very dangerous thing for potential parents.  It's stressful enough to be expecting a child, but imagine never having the comfort of a due-date, an ultrasound, or even (in many cases) a gender!  Forget about painting nursery walls and buying diapers, all of those variables could all change within a moment's notice!

While I read Dr. Whitten's words, I realized that I had been struggling with all of these things.  Not that I was having to grieve loss of previous pregnancy per se; but that I was angry with my situation and circumstances, because they were/are keeping me from my daughter.  Once I was truly able to be honest with myself, I could feel all of the emotions I had been bottling up for (literally) years overflowing in my heart.

So much pain...  The pain of separation.  The pain of knowing that, unlike my own mother, my daughter will likely never be able to track down her birth family at any point in her life.  The pain and loss of my own biological grandmother...watching my mother search and search for her for decades.  The pain of feeling as though I was not important enough for her to even know.  It is worse for my mother, I know; but that does not mean that I don't feel abandoned too.  So, I worry thusly for my future daughter; how can I help her get through that pain?

Then anger.  Anger at my circumstances; anger even at God at times(which makes me ashamed).  Why hasn't he allowed me to find the path that I need to take to have success?  I feel stunted.  I feel as though I've been in limbo for years.  I'm at a point career-wise and life-wise that I wanted to be at a decade ago.  If I were further along in my career (and in life in general), I would be able to bring my daughter home more quickly - possibly within months.  Oh the anger...oh the shame.

I'm ashamed...ashamed for many of the reasons that I'm angry.  Perhaps it's my fault nothing is going the way I want it to - No! the way I need it to go!  What could I have done better along this path?  So much that needs to be done; I just keep missing the mark.  What kind of mother could I possibly be?

Which brings me to worry.  If a woman is pregnant, she can have an ultrasound.  She can see the baby growing inside of her.  If there are medical and health concerns, she and her partner can plan for them, get used to them, get ready to fight them and work through them.  In adoption, you have no idea what you're up against.

Will my child be healthy?  Will  he/she be able to bond to me?  What if they don't like me?  What if Ethiopia changes it's fees, their age limits, their policies - what if they decide to not allow international adoption anymore at all???  What will I do then?

International adoption policy is constantly changing.  Every country has their own rules, their own standards and practices.  When we were advised to consider another country due to China's extended waiting lists (8 years, 10 years and more!), political unrest, and social disapproval of "excessive" American adoption of Chinese children (within China), I think I went into a sort of protective mode for my heart.  I was extremely disappointed.  Did we have an LID yet?  No.  It's not as if I accepted a referral or held a photo of a child in my hands or anything even remotely close to that, but I was attached.  My heart was in China.  I had read several books about Chinese culture and memoirs of Americans who had adopted (sometimes several times) from there as well.  I had tracked down (through no easy means either!) an Asian Cabbage Patch doll on Ebay...I was preparing, I was "nesting".

In a sense, I was pregnant.  I was pregnant in my heart with this adorable little Chinese toddler who was going to be mine.  Then, as quickly as she had been placed in my heart and mind, she was gone.  Like a puff of smoke, she vanished.  It really was like having a miscarriage.  I felt totally lost.

To make matters worse, it seemed as though every other option was quickly being shut down to us as well.  Korea was in much the same state as China.  Russia was getting bad reviews by adoptive parents due to the supposed bad health and mistreatment of their children, resulting in general bad blood in adoption relations between our country and theirs.  Guatemala had to completely shut their program down due to an alleged epidemic in baby laundering.  Colombia was said to be "out of the question", as was Mexico.  What's left?  Rwanda and Ethiopia.  Of course, each of these countries are plagued by health concerns such as HIV, AIDS, HEP, and TB - so much power and worry and pain and death in those tiny, little abbreviations.  We continue to worry, what if the medical tests are done incorrectly?  What if my child is dying of HIV or AIDS, and we don't even know it?!  How can we possibly afford to care for our child then?  Or worse, what if they die before we even know what's happening?

But then, before we can even look over the details and make a decision, we get a phone call from the agency not but two weeks later saying that Rwanda has changed their rules; so, we're not eligible, won't be for at least five years.  Hmmm, my husband will be over 40 at that time.  What to do, what to do?

So, Ethiopia it is!  Don't take this the wrong way, it's not as if Ethiopia is a "last resort", we're absolutely thrilled to be adopting from this country!  In fact, I really feel that God has answered my prayers by "forcing" us to choose Ethiopia.  (And again, I don't mean "forcing" in a negative way, I only mean that it is the only country option available to us now.)  I pray daily that God will "place his hand upon my head and turn me the direction he will have me go."  In this way, I know that he will lead me to the people I need to meet, I will encounter the situations I am supposed to encounter, and I will have a better chance of fulfilling his perfect destiny for my life.

I feel as though he has done this for me in leading us to Ethiopia.  International adoption can be confusing and overwhelming.  Choosing a country is one of the hardest and most important decisions.  We chose China, because there seemed to be a huge need for adoption; but there is a huge need in Ethiopia too.  I know without a shadow of a doubt that my daughter is from Ethiopia, and that God wants us to be together for always.  He's made sure of it by making certain that my husband and I can go nowhere else for our international adoption - it's fate.

This blog is rambling on, I know; so, I'll try to sum things up!

I suppose what I'm trying to say in all of this is that Dr. Whitten struck a nerve with me.  I thought I was strong, and that in a sense I had no right to be upset when things went wrong in this adoption journey - after all, there have been couples enduring through this process for years upon years and we've only just begun, right?  But I realize now that I was wrong.  The adoption journey is a type of pregnancy, and it's MY pregnancy!  So, I have the right to be hurt when things don't work out and worried when laws or country relations go awry or anything else along the journey!

It felt so good to cry and cry and just get these emotions out!  I had never realized how much they were bogging down my heart and spirit or how much pain I had been in getting to this point.

If you are on the adoption journey too, just know that you're not alone.  It's so very hard at times to keep your head up and fight through; but in the end, just as in a biological pregnancy and labor, "it's all worth it"!

I don't know if these labor pains of the heart will go away throughout the process or if I'll feel them until the day I'm holding my daughter in my arms; but at least now I feel justified in feeling them.  That alone is like an epidural to my soul!

Blessings and Love,

Dr. Kathleen Whitten's book (above) can be ordered through Barnes and Noble Booksellers here:

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