Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Lee Ann M. Pomrenke
“I have never heard of this before,” the judge declared.
She had asked – through our translator – why we wanted to adopt a child. Were we not able to conceive? We later learned that ours was the judge’s first adoption case; clearly she had no inclination to beat around the bush.
“We don’t know about that yet,” I had responded, “We wanted to adopt first. Our faith encourages us to care for widows and orphans; we are ready to become parents. We feel called to adopt.”
Some parents choose adoption because of fertility struggles, but that is not the impetus for all of us. Some of us feel the pull towards adoption because of religious convictions or moral decisions not to increase the earth’s population when all human beings on this planet are not yet included in loving families.
Theologian Frederick Buechner says that one’s calling is where our great passions and the world’s great need intersect (I’m paraphrasing). That’s how my husband and I felt about adoption. Our personal family histories, our faith and our capacity to love and parent a child or children all combined into what we understood as a calling to adopt.
We acknowledge that there are many ways to support birth parents in dire circumstances, so that they are capable of raising the children they have birthed. Creating employment and improving access to health care in communities of great poverty, working on social stigma surrounding children born outside of marriage, or raising the perceived value of girl children in certain cultures are worthy goals of organizations we can support, talk about, and volunteer with. Supporting institutional work is less labor-intensive, less emotionally-fraught, and probably a more effective use of financial resources than an adoption process.
Yet all our best efforts to combat injustice, poverty and disease can’t work fast enough. There are children who are already in the care of the state (in many countries, including the U.S.) who need loving families.
What we have found, by adopting our beloved oldest child, is that she has challenged us to live out the faith that drove us to adopt, in really concrete ways. We had to trust like we’ve barely ever trusted in our adult lives otherwise, that complete strangers would choose the right child for us. That their questions and approval and assessment of us would make us the right parents for her. But of course there’s no such thing as a “match.” We all show up and do the work every day to create attachment and become a family. In my faith tradition, we give credit to the Holy Spirit for binding us together against all odds.
Sometimes when my husband or I share that our religious convictions were part of our decision to adopt, people respond by directing weird theology at us. Since I gave birth to our second daughter a year and a half after our adoption of our eldest, I have been told: “You did that good thing, and God has rewarded you with a child of your own.”
What?! Where do I start, on the ways this is wrong? First of all, both of our beloved daughters belong in our family as much as can be; they are “our own,” yet also only ours to care for and raise in order to launch independently into the world!
Second, we don’t believe this is how God works, rewarding or punishing us for behaviors. I resent the implication that our two daughters are of different value or belonging in our family.
Third, my husband and I are no saints; yes, we chose and endured an intense adoption process. But many people are capable of such things; putting those of us who go this route on a pedestal might discourage others who think they are not good enough, not “capable of loving a child who wasn’t biologically mine.”
Also, the method by which we became parents is one choice among many in parenting; there are plenty of ways we fail each other and our kids, despite our best efforts. If anything, becoming an adoptive mom has been humbling.
What an incredible privilege it is to be able to mother this amazing human being, none of whose inherent characteristics I can take credit for. I get to be witness to her strength, her resiliency and her bravery, hoping not only that I can impart some of my own best qualities through nurturing, but that some of hers will rub off on me!
Our daughters also resemble each other a bit, so sometimes people also say to us, “God had a plan!” I would never ascribe the losses and hardships my eldest daughter has endured to God’s will.
Did you really mean to say that it was “God’s plan” for her birth parents to be incapable of parenting? To me, this summons an image of God who is a puppet-master in the sky similar to Fate, who causes whatever to happen.
I do not think that is what most who utter such comments intended. They sought to be supportive and affirming. Maybe physical resemblances seem like an outward “sign” to some people that God turned brokenness into a new family.
Yet I think it best to emphasize human agency in the process, that we all try to do the best thing for beloved children of God, when families and society are full of brokenness. Sure, the Holy Spirit can be a guiding force, and even those who are not religious may find themselves praying through the adoption process.
But in the end, from start to finish, the adoption process was run by human beings – making decisions, typos, misplacing paperwork, taking vacation at inconvenient times, and being moved by the astonishing love we could feel for a child in such a short time.
When we left the courtroom that day, there was hardly a dry eye in the place. That human beings with all our flaws, could conspire to care for a vulnerable child made it a divine moment indeed.
Lee Ann M. Pomrenke is a mom, a writer, and a Lutheran pastor. She blogs on “adoptheology” and other subjects at leeannpomrenke.com.
* * * *
Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter.