I was thinking today about how understanding between people is the highest goal, but that in the many cases where this can't be reached, respect should be given. While this feels basic, I was pretty disappointed this weekend by the conversations going on at one of the adoption message boards I'm a member of about the varying degrees to which adoptive parents engage emotionally in the process. Some of the posters on both sides showed a fair amount of close-mindedness and disrespect (I'm more of a lurker than anything, which you may understand if you could read how the occasional voice of dissent is treated).
Providing here the whole backstory that resulted in the message-board nastiness isn't necessary. I couldn't help feeling frustrated by posters who chose to use disrespectful and alienating wording, many times while prefacing their comments with a phrase supposedly giving credit to their openness like, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion" or "This may work for you, but for me..." or "We're all different, but..." and so on. What would sometimes come after one of these prefaces was an expression of an opinion that sounded judgmental and inflammatory.
As one great twentieth century philosopher said, "Can't we all just get along?" We're all people who are interested in adoption; shouldn't we of all people be models of inclusion to other ways of thinking and doing?
Her honesty is the thing I admire most about Melissa Faye Greene (author of There Is No Me Without You). There were so many moments during her reading Sunday that I laughed out loud, felt my heart break, and shoved down the compulsion to stand on my chair and shout hallelujah. She is a pioneer in this world of Ethiopian adoption and such a God-sent impassioned voice to the orphan crisis in Africa.
But what means the most to me as a future-mom is the way she lets us off the hook, so to speak, outright telling us that it's okay not to always believe what a lot of adoption literature says. She lets me know that it's normal if we all don't experience that "love at first sight" when we meet our children. In fact, she even said in her talk Sunday that, not only was she panicked and terrified when meeting all her adoptive children but that she even nearly threw up once or twice. That's not a picture you're likely to see on the front of an agency's brochure.
Since we haven't received our referral yet, I really have no idea how we will respond when seeing that face for the first time. It's a big unknown. As excited as I am as the weeks creep by on the Waitlist, I am growing more familiar with that sense of panic as I drift to sleep, thinking, "Oh my god, this is for real. Our lives are going to change forever. This is a small, fragile little person we're going to be responsible for..." It's always nice when friends of mine who are mothers already tell me that they had the exact same thoughts during their pregnancies or Waiting periods. Whew.
What really struck me Sunday is what a good mother Melissa Faye Greene is, how this is a role she embraces and is honest about. Someone in the audience asked her if any of her kids have had ongoing emotional or psychological issues (he kept using the word "damage") the way that some children whose mothers were drug-users during pregnancy sometimes do. I thought it was a terribly personal question and sort of cringed when he asked it, but she answered with such grace and honesty.
She answered by telling us about one of her sons that very morning refusing to go to Hebrew school, even running away to parts unknown as his siblings were getting in the car. Later that day, the family found him asleep in the treehouse with his bag of Halloween candy tucked under his arm. She said she didn't know where this behavior was coming from, whether it's "damage" or not. She just shrugged and said that sometimes a boy just needs to nap in his treehouse with his Halloween candy.
I loved her honesty and her understanding of her boy. I love that she takes these things in stride. As much of a role model as she is for a lot of us, her family is not perfect and she doesn't claim to be a perfect mother. She didn't feel the love at first sight. The bonding she experienced with her children was sometimes a slow process.
And this is okay because in the end, her kids know they belong and are loved. Shouldn't that be the goal, no matter how we get to that point? If we celebrate the milestones along this long path to adoption, have our showers before we've met our children, and introduce with joyous fanfare to the world the children referred to us, this should all be okay and good and I cheer loudly right alongside anyone who chooses to do this.
But the same should be true if we choose not to do these things. If we choose to be more guarded and private in our experience, that should be okay as well. Our children will not suffer for it. This I strongly believe, and I was saddened this weekend on the message board by being made to feel like a bad mother for not doing things the other way.
We have some close friends who adopted a daughter domestically and were involved pretty close with the birth mother throughout the whole pregnancy. They were there for the birth and got to hold her immediately. But because it was a few days before things were officially finalized, our friends stayed guarded with their emotions. Even while holding the baby, the mom told me that she felt very little. It was only after things were finalized that they truly celebrated and opened wide their hearts.
And I can tell you: their daughter is nothing but well-adjusted, completely confident, and a true charmer who knows that she is loved with ever fiber of her parents' beings. She has suffered no damage because her parents tried to guard their emotions through the process. Her parents lavish attention and love on both her and her sister.
I just hope that we can be, if not understanding, at least respectful of each other. We all know our emotional limits. And we all love our children. I hope that is enough for us to cheer each other on, no matter what path we take.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.