A Mom of 12 Shares the Beautiful Truth about Adoption
I’m pleased that Sasha has invited me to share a little bit about our experiences with international adoption. First a bit about me. I teach piano. I love to read. I’m a bit of a brain science junkie. I am on year 21 of homeschooling. And I have twelve children. Sometimes I keep that last one under wraps for a while when meeting new people. It’s easier to get to know each other (ie let the other person think I’m normal for a while) first, because I’ve learned that once that number is out of the bag, that’s all I’m talking about from then on due to the questions and amazement that people have about it.
But if I am here to share about adoption, then it is kind of necessary to just put that big 12 right out there at the beginning. We didn’t set out to have twelve children; we thought four sounded about right. Shows what we knew.
Because I know people are curious, the first five are biological. Then we adopted a 3 year old from Vietnam, followed two years later by a two year old from Vietnam. Then I discovered I was expecting twins. And we were done. Until we weren’t, and we brought home a 9 year old from China. And then we were really done. Which was why 3 years later we brought home an 8 and a 10 year old from China. Now we are really, really done. Really. I’m old and we’re out of bedroom space. That gives us 24, 21, 19, 17, 15, 15, 14, 12, 11, 10, 8, and 8, including virtual triplet and biological twins and a whole alphabet soup of special needs.
It’s been a crazy ride, and not one that has always been comfortable. I’ve learned some things along the way. I’m glad I know these things now, but in the process of learning them, I can’t say that I was always appreciative of the new knowledge. Here’s my top four.
1. I’m not a perfect parent.
I could have probably said that before we started this whole adoption-thing, but I would have meant it differently. I knew we all make mistakes and all that, but the truth was, I was pretty sure of my game. I had the parenting gig down, and I was proud of it. Sure things fell through the cracks now and then. Sure I got behind and laundry. Sure I lost my temper. But really, for the most part, I was a great parent. My children were well-behaved and polite. We were consistent and didn’t mess around with discipline. And I will admit to thinking ever so quietly to myself that those other parents, the ones with kids who were kind of a mess, that they just needed to be more like me.
And then I met my son. My son with pervasive developmental trauma. (Think soldier-level PTSD in a child, and you have pervasive developmental trauma.) I was out of my depth, but I wouldn’t realize it for years, because, I was the good parent. It took years of God humbling me to realize what I thought was good parenting, wasn’t actually. It was painful, and I grieve the emotional hurt I added onto my son’s already full plate from being so sure of myself.
Now I know (really know), I’m not a perfect parent. I might not have all the answers. Some of my children present me with situations where I have honestly no idea what to do. I’ve thrown up my arms more times than I can count saying, “You’ve got to figure out what to do about this, Lord, because I don’t have a clue.” Which is probably where God wanted me all along.
2. I’m both stronger and weaker than I imagined I was.
As we continued to adopt, the special needs we were open to became more and more significant. I can tell you, that in comparison with severe trauma, severe medical needs are kind of no big deal. I’ve sent more children into surgery than I would have imagined I could. I’ve injected saline into a port in my daughter’s head. (I never wanted to become a nurse, by the way.) Seizures are a part of our life. It’s all stuff that as a young parent I couldn’t imagine having to navigate. I couldn’t believe I would ever be able to handle hard medical issues without gut-wrenching worry. Yet here I am. It’s a part of our normal, and I really don’t think that much about it.
Yet, so much of my children’s stories are hard. And that hard brings its own challenges. So many are so broken that many days all I can do is cry. Cry for them and their hurts. Cry for our family and how trauma impacts us all on a daily basis. Cry for the children I know are still out there and for whom I can do nothing. So much hurt and fear and helplessness. I never really understood helplessness until this season of adoptive parenting. My children’s needs are very often beyond what I can do anything about. God has used adoption to make me both stronger and weaker, all at the same time.
3. I know I have privilege.
This may not be popular in some circles, but I need to say it. We are a transracial family. This means I have had a front row seat to witness how life is different for people of color. I’ve had people have odd (read racially tinged) interactions with my Asian children that they don’t engage in with my blond haired, blue eyed ones. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does enough that I, who prided myself on my color blindness, started to be aware of it. I know it is a privilege to be able to blend in; to not always be the ‘other’. My children do not have that privilege. In order for me to support them, I also need to be aware of what they experience. Once again, God has shown me an area where I was blind, and it wasn’t in the way I thought.
4. There is great joy, even in the midst of hard.
When I listen to the questions and fears of people who are thinking about adopting, a common theme is what if this child has issues that are too hard for us? What if adopting this child means that we won’t be able to do the things we like? What if this child never is able to live on their own? This may sound harsh, but what they are really asking is, What if this child makes my life uncomfortable? We all have a certain plan for how we want our life to work out, and I know mine was pretty neat and tidy. There is nothing neat and tidy about it anymore. The change from fear of being uncomfortable to learning to live with discomfort can be hard. It’s not surprising. I mean discomfort by its very definition is not, well, comfortable.
Adopting hurt children can be scary because there is a high possibility that their hurt is going to spill out into their new family’s life. Sometimes it can be pretty unpleasant. Yet, having gone through some pretty tough stuff with my children, I can tell you that it isn’t all bad. You see, if you are comfortable, it is hard to see God work. Who needs much of God when everything is working out, anyway? Our sweet spot with God is to be completely dependent on Him. And there is nothing like parenting a hurt child to hurl you into that spot pretty darn quickly.
The Truth About Adoption
I know I’m not sounding much like a great adoption advocate here. I really don’t want to go back and count the number of times I’ve written words such as trauma, hard, hurt, messy. But I have to write those words, because they are the frame around which our family is built. It is a part of who my children are, thus it is part of who my family is. I’ve been asked more times than I can count, would I do it all over again, knowing what I know.
Yes, because in the midst of the hard and messy and painful, I have found joy. Joy in knowing that God really does love me. Joy in knowing that God is orchestrating this life we are living, and while he doesn’t make everything magically all right, He is there in the midst of it. Joy is seeing God work miracles in the lives of me and my children. Joy in the appreciation of little things that I was too busy to notice. Joy in knowing that I am doing something worthwhile with my life. Joy in understanding that God loves me no matter how much I mess up, just as I imperfectly love my children when they mess up.
For some of my children learning to love their new parents was extremely difficult. I yearned for their love, and nothing would make me happier than to hear, “I love you.” I didn’t care what they did or didn’t do, what I wanted first and foremost was that reciprocity of relationship.
Adoption teaches us, like nothing else I can think of, about God’s heart for us, His children. We may kick and scream. We may try to run away. We may try to tune God out, ignore Him, shout at him. We may search for someone we like better. All the while, God is waiting, waiting, waiting, for us to turn to Him and say, “I love you.” And just as I was finally able to gather my child in my arms as we wept together, at the utterance of those longed for words, how much more so is God waiting to gather us in His arms, when we finally accept His love.
This is adoption.
Elizabeth Curry is mother to 12 children, five of whom were adopted: two from Vietnam and three from China. She hopes that by sharing her family’s experiences she can encourage others in the trenches. When she is not taking care of children, Elizabeth writes, home schools, sews, teaches piano, and loves reading. You can follow along with her loud and crazy life at her blog, Ordinary Time.