It happened again last week. I was saying good night to one of my children, chatting nonchalantly, when questions about birth parents, seemingly out of nowhere, entered the room like Dementors. The moment became sacred as we whispered in the darkness, and inevitably turned into deep, wracking sobs through my child's body.
I've been in this place before, so I wasn't surprised, though I can never keep back my own tears when it happens. It's not often, but it's agony.
We're not shy about adoption in our house; it's woven into the fabric of our family. But most of the time, we're just an ordinary family and I forget (and they forget, I think) that there's these shadows that lurk behind my children. That as happy and nutty and normal as we are, our family was created out of loss. And grief.
I knew this, of course, before becoming an adoptive parent, but did I really know it? I was so fixated on the rescue and the redemption that it was easy to just skim over the grief.
It didn't take me long to understand. When Grace (my oldest, who gave me permission to share this) was just 18 months old, she fixated on a Dora the Explorer book. It was only five pages long, and was the story of a baby bird who lost his mommy. Dora helped the bird find her, with Map and Boots, of course.
The first time we read that book, Grace was fascinated. She wanted to read it again, and then again. The third time through, my sweet little toddler burst into tears over the little bird who was separated from his mommy. Is she seriously crying over a Dora book? I thought. But yes, she was. Because when we got to the last page, when the baby bird was happily reunited with his mommy, Grace became obsessed with that last page. She showed it to me over and over and over again. She adored that last page.
She could barely talk. At the time I thought it was impossible that this incident could be related to her adoption. But as the years went on, and I grew to better understand my children and the nature of adoption, I really believe that silly little story scraped against a raw wound inside of her--even at 18 months old.
In Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey writes about how modern culture scorns the biological family. If the biological body no longer has an inherent purpose in gender or marriage, then it has no meaning in a family. A family is therefore not created by biology, but by a contract. But contracts can be broken when they are no longer convenient, and who steps in that gap? The state. She writes, "Statism has been a recurring theme in treatments of the family since the dawn of Western culture. To an astonishing degree, Western political and social thought has been hostile to the role of the family in proposed visions of the ideal society. Secular intellectuals from Plato to Rousseau to B. F. Skinner to Hillary Clinton have been enamored with the idea of putting the child directly under the care of the state. The totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century—erected by Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Mao—all sought tight state control of education, down to the earliest years, to inculcate unquestioning acceptance of the regime’s ideology."
But even if we don't go into the realm of philosophy, up-close-and-personal reality shows us that as much as we try to convince ourselves otherwise, biology matters. More than one of my children have begged me through tears, Isn't there a DNA test I could take that would show me who they are? Don't we all get teary over adoption reunion stories? And as I read recently in the article Dear Anonymous Dad, even kids born by sperm donation aren't satisfied until they know where they came from. Pearcey writes, "We rarely reflect consciously on how much our identity is shaped by being integrated biologically and genetically into an extended family." That is, we don't reflect on it unless we're one of the ones who don't have it.
So as an adoptive mom who is walking alongside kids who grieve what they have lost, I also grieve over the flippancy that my culture treats biology and its bonds. In an age of Tinder and no-fault divorce, more and more kids aren't being raised by biological parents. Yes, God can redeem any situation, but let's not pretend the brokenness isn't there.
Of course, I still love adoption. Pearcey writes, "The bonds of biology train us to extend love beyond biology." But I hate that there has to be adoption. I think coming to that realization has made me a better adoptive parent. Sure, I weep happy tears over the little girl who finally gets a family. It's beautiful. It's redemptive. It's extraordinary. But we can't minimize the loss and grief that got her there. As much as I am a cheerleader for adoption, I've learned that I also must advocate for preventing the need for it in the first place.