In the middle of October, my step-brother, sister-in-law (who has doubled as my best friend since we were 16), and their three kids boarded a flight headed across the ocean to spend an undetermined amount of time adding a new little boy to their family. Albeit a much quicker process this time in comparison with how long it took to get their daughter from Rwanda a few years ago (several years as opposed to several months), the actual time in Africa, and more specifically, Uganda, has been much longer. In fact, my sister-in-law is still there with her oldest daughter and newest son while the rest of the family are back in the States. Their hope is to be reunited by Christmas so if you happen to be a praying person, please keep that in mind during your conversations with God. 🙂
I sat down to write this post because the addition of a new family member is always big news, but also because in the last few years I seem to have developed an enormous, soft, squishy spot in my heart for babies, particularly those who have been marginalized or are unwanted. I honestly didn’t have much of an opinion about babies prior to having one of my own, so I never thought about them very much. But now that I’ve experienced firsthand the wonder that is a tiny, helpless infant, my heart for them has grown exponentially.
I was an unwanted baby. I don’t say this to elicit sympathy or play the world’s smallest violin for myself, but rather to state a simple fact and give some background as to why this hits so close to home for me. My dad and birth mother weren’t married and not even together anymore when I was born and I was extremely inconvenient to them both. I was not a planned and hoped-for, precious little bundle of joy or even a “happy oops.” I was an “oh crap.” Because of various circumstances, I spent the first two months of my life in a foster home being cared for by people who were paid to do so. I honestly have no idea about the care I received and it could’ve been amazingly loving, but in my mind, there is absolutely no substitute that is as good as the arms of a baby’s own mama, especially in those months just after birth. Period. We live in a fallen world and I know that what is ideal isn’t always achievable, but I still believe this to be truth. Nothing can replace the warmth, scent, and feeling of being with the woman who carried you for nine months when you’re just exiting that environment and trying to figure out what this bright, cold, dry “outside” thing is.
As a result of this new-found heart for babies, I get pretty emotional when I think about them being forgotten or left to cry. I won’t go into the various parenting styles (eg. Ferber, Babywise, To Train Up a Child, etc.) that advocate cry-it-out as that’s not what this post is about (though I’m wholeheartedly against them) as generally even those methods are used by well-meaning parents. And though the stories of those babies do tug at my heartstrings, it’s the children who don’t have their own parents to care for them during those formidable first few weeks, months, and years and spend that time in foster homes and orphanages, especially in developing countries, that absolutely break my heart.
A few years ago, when I was deep in the throes of new mommy land, I read an article somewhere about an orphanage in the Philippines and whoever had gone there mentioned offhand that they saw a little girl on the floor, jamming a fist in her mouth and sucking on it to try and get any kind of comfort she could, while it was evident that her diaper hadn’t been changed in a very long time. The visualization of that little girl was more than I could handle at the time as my brain immediately puts my son in that situation when I hear stories like that. Likewise, when Adrienne showed me the first picture she ever received of her youngest son, jamming a skinny little fist in his mouth, laying on his back in a crib, and quite obviously crying, I felt the same way. I don’t get angry or start flipping tables because, really, who is to blame? I just get so, so, very sad. And I want to scoop these babies up and hold them and rock them and tell them that they are not worthless and this is not their fault and that I’m so sorry that they have to start their existence this way.
The beauty of adoption is that it doesn’t erase this start, but I think it can negate it in so many ways. For the adoptions of both my niece and nephew, I’ve seen how HARD they have fought to bring these children into their family. Aside from the enormous amounts of money it takes to adopt, they have spent months and years praying for and loving these children from afar, even before they had pictures or dossiers or really even knew who they were. Adrienne has spilled her guts many, many times, especially when they kept running into so many delays with even being able to travel to get their daughter, about how she yearned for these children. Yearned to take them out of the situations they were in and put them in their rightful place in her arms, being cared for and loved, maybe not by the women who carried them in their bodies for nine months, but certainly by a woman who carried them in her heart for nine months and longer.
No, it’s not the same thing and those difficult (to say the least) starts can’t be erased. But to go from the neglectful, sometimes awful situations they were in to the warm arms of a family who has anticipated and very much wanted their arrival can be incredibly healing in and of itself. I think of the start my nephew has had in this world and in just one Skype conversation with Adrienne, I saw him smiling, laughing, cooing and displaying other “happy baby” behaviors and every little chubby-cheeked, dimpled, drooling grin I got to experience was a testament to the healing power of love.
Babies deserve so much more than we give them and I’m so thankful that my step-brother and his family have a heart for the unwanted ones in this world. That’s the kind of love I’d like to emulate.