By Elaine Pratt
My dad often told the story of bringing me home from the hospital with a sparkle in his eye and a grin on his face: “You were the smallest little bundle of baby, diaper rash red as a beet, and we were SO thankful. You were our precious daughter.”
Not much different than how most dads might describe it (minus the diaper rash!), right?
Except that my parents didn’t know they’d be bringing me home (or that I even existed!) until 24 hours earlier. Literally, the call came the day before that there was a baby, their daughter, ready to be brought home.
I was adopted.
In the years that followed, God blessed me with an amazing family and a story to shout from the rooftop. Adoption is beautiful! Indeed, the physical reality powerfully illustrates the spiritual truth of God’s adoption of us. But I’ll leave that theology lesson for another day.
What’s your A.I.Q. (Adoption I.Q.)?
Today I’d like to spotlight the amazing people who are involved in adoption and foster care. I will introduce the players, discuss terminology, and suggest ways we can support those who have chosen this path.
In adoption it begins with the birthmother
Faced with circumstances most of us could never imagine or understand, she makes a choice that is both agonizing and heroic. She endures the physical realities of 9 months of pregnancy along with the emotional burden of others’ judgment and her own shame. She often faces people questioning her decision. And often she wages war with her own doubts.
Finally, she labors to deliver, faces post-partum grief as empty arms leave the hospital, and does the hard work of reorienting to life without the child she bore. Her heart will always carry the scar, but she knows her fierce love and courage enabled a better life for her child.
In adoption it continues with the adoptive family
Specific motivation to adopt can vary: childlessness/infertility tops the list, but others simply want to provide a loving home for a child who needs one. Some offer homes for older children or those with special needs. A common denominator is selflessness, because as rewarding as adopting can be, it is not primarily about making one’s own dream come true. It is usually more like fitting broken pieces together so God’s love can be known.
Adoption is messy, and the path to a child will often involve several “failed” placements. These are heart-wrenching events, as a birth mom may change her mind, or as an adoptive couple endures months of waiting to be selected. Receiving a child in one’s home is rarely smooth.
In foster care, it is the constant state of uncertainty
When a child joins a family, how is she best loved? What trauma creates her backstory? What is the impact on our other children? What risks are actively taken on? What specific wisdom will help guide in this story that requires a child be apart from her family of origin?
How long will he be with us? What will the toll be if/when our attachment is severed? How can one bear the risk of his biological family re-entering his life? How does one face the hurt, harm, history, and injustice of this fragile little (or big) person?
As we live alongside those choosing adoption or foster care, what do they desire? How can we help?
1. Interest and Understanding
It is normal to feel awkward in a situation that is unfamiliar. That’s ok. As you engage and interact with those who’ve chosen adoption or fostering, start with the similarities in this situation to a traditional family. Then delve into the unique dynamics to show awareness and care, too.
Ask simple questions that invite their sharing. How is Janna sleeping through the night? What does Ryan like to do as a 2nd grader? How is life going with an infant and 2 older kids, must be an interesting schedule?
Ask follow-up questions that invite transparency. Can you share the dynamics of adding Ben to your home and how that transition is going? Can you tell me how YOU are doing amid this big change?
Ask how you can pray for them. I’d like to pray for you and your family. Can you share some specifics that are hard right now, or maybe some particular needs, so I can pray?
For one further on in their journey (maybe years since the adoption was final or they began fostering): How have you seen God’s goodness in your family’s story of adoption/fostering?
2. Informed Language
It will be helpful to become familiar with some common terms and language.
Adoption plan: birthparents’ decision to place their child in an adoptive home
Closed Adoption: No identifying information is shared between birthparents and the adoptive family. Though this was historically predominant, it is less common in today’s adoption practices.
Open Adoption: Allows disclosure of information, either identifying or non-identifying. There are many levels of openness which can include letters, phone calls, and/or visits, and the degree of openness can change over time. This is more common in current adoption practices.
Foster Care: Temporary, short to long term (often w/indefinite end) care of a child in an approved home
Home Study: Process which involves extensive interviews, reference checks, medical assessments and background checks in order to approve an adoptive family for placement.
Fos-Adopt: A period of time where a couple is caring for/fostering a child while deciding about or waiting on final legal status of adoption.
Outdated language can be unintentionally hurtful; be aware.
Avoid real mom, real children ; instead use birthmom, birthchildren
And remember, once the adoption is final, she/he is simply their child, the couple is simply his/her mom or dad
Avoid giving up, give away their baby; instead use making an adoption plan
Avoid keeping the baby; instead use decided to parent
Avoid child is adopted, instead use child was adopted (Adoption is part of his story, but not part of his identity.)
Avoid unwanted pregnancy; instead use unplanned pregnancy
3. Support and Help
The ideas here are limitless. Here’s a few to start with:
Weep and Rejoice. As appropriate in their journey, grieve the sorrows and delight with them in the joys. Be purposeful in conversation and keep updated on developments.
Don’t ignore the obvious uniqueness of their situation, but don’t make it their family’s identity. Let them be a normal “Redeemer family” whom you know is living some very abnormal challenges that you want them to know you’re aware of. Proceed from there.
Pray. We have been helpfully provided with a list of RBC families, one for each day. Ask God for His flourishing of their hearts and homes as they walk the road of their unique callings.
Speak your encouragement and affirmation for their faithfulness. “I am so blessed by how I see God’s grace lived out in your love for Lilliana. Thank you for that.” (Will I get to Heaven one day and ever regret having spoken a word of tribute to another, as a way of spurring them on to greater faithfulness, even though it felt slightly awkward to do it?)
Give. Financial need is a huge factor in adoption because it is so costly. If you are able, share your widow’s mite to encourage your brothers/sisters in Christ at any part of the process.
I have a 59.5 year story of my own adoption that continues to sing its sweet-sounding melody. In God’s providence our oldest daughter began her story 23 months ago as they adopted our precious granddaughter, Luisa. In each story, thankfulness to God is abundant. As my dad affirmed all those years ago, God is the giver of the most precious gifts.