Someone Else’s Baby

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One incident from my daughter’s childhood has stood out in my mind the past few days. I often took my children to parks and play areas. While my son was in kindergarten, I took my daughter to a nearby playground, and let her dig in the sandbox while I sat a couple feet away from her on the edge of the box. Other moms and children came and went, when one mom approached the area, and began to exclaim, “Where is this baby’s mother?” I gave her a confused look, because I was closer to my daughter physically than any other mom, and then responded “Right here beside her.” She looked surprised, muttered, “Oh,” and then went to another area of the park with her child in tow.

I immediately understood the issue. I am a blondish Caucasian, and my daughter is a petite Asian. It was just the first of many times people have assumed we could have no relationship because of our appearance and races. Ava was adopted from China as a baby, so naturally we do not favor each other. I always knew I wanted to adopt internationally and cross-racially. I took on this dream when I was in junior high. The dream originated with the understanding from the Bible that every single person is a child of God, and deserves to be loved and wanted. I knew there were lots of children in the world who needed homes, and I wanted to provide those. How that child looked was a non-issue. And if my dreams had really continued, I would have adopted many more from around the world. (I keep trying not to envy Angelina Jolie for being able to do just that.)

Yet, the world continues to be filled with people who think their “own” children are of more value than other children. The devastating refugee crisis in Syria is a perfect example. We turn our eyes, and try to wash the blood from our hands, ignoring the innocents who are living in pure hell, while spouting invalid information about protecting ourselves. We have elected officials who claim we have to have our “own babies” for a civilization to grow and thrive, and refuse to acknowledge the many cultures and skin colors which make up “America,” instead wanted to create a culture of exclusion. We live in a world where stats bear up the belief held by many that white children matter more than non-white children. We have a government keen to exclude millions of more children from health care and programs to help those in poverty, while beefing up the already largest military budget in the world.

Every baby is our baby. I come at that from a deep-seeded spiritual belief, grounded in the message displayed throughout the Bible. We are responsible for the children of the world. Even if someone does not agree with this theological statement, it is simple common sense to care for the children of our society and our world. We cannot completely remove ourselves from others. We are interconnected in more ways we can image – whether economically, socially, or scientifically. Labeling a baby as “someone else’s” is like saying our foot or hand does not belong to us.

We are all one body. Each child is our own. We are all in this together.

 

 

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Adoption and Being Real

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Gold Medal Winning Gymnast, Simone Biles

I’m an Olympics junkie. The tv or computer (or both) run constantly during those two weeks, anxiously awaiting the next exciting event. I’ve uncovered a love for women’s rugby during the summer, and can’t wait to catch up on curling when the winter games roll around. I’m fortunate that my daughter enjoys watching much of the games with me, although gymnastics is her favorite for the summer games. Ava was a gifted gymnast in elementary and middle school, and maintained the skills throughout years of cheerleading. We turned up the tv for the qualifying round Sunday night, ready to see Simone Biles’ domination. We cheered with her teammates and parents. Except not all the commentators saw the event the same way we did.

“Simone Biles’ grandparents…” was the usual talking point. Al Trautwig even tweeted that they were not her real parents, even though they legally adopted Biles as a very young child. They are the only parents she has ever known, legally, spiritually, and emotionally. Biles speaks about how her family came to be, and has said “It’s so normal.”

As my daughter and I sat on the couch, watching tv and the twitter feed, I told her how irritated the dismissal of adopted families made me. “I’m your real mom, and you are my real daughter.”

“I know. Some people are just stupid.” Ava shrugged it off, but I’m still irritated. Just like Biles, a family being formed by adoption is normal for my daughter. Yet, I’ve spent 18 years explaining that I love my child who was adopted just like I love my child to whom I gave birth. I’ve spent 18 years explaining that I am Ava’s “real” mom, just not her birth mom. I’ve spent 18 years explaining that we are like any other mother and daughter, even though we are of different races and came together in a less than common manner.

As a person of faith, I believe adoption is the highest form of parenting. The New Testament (Romans 8) proclaims that we are all adopted by God – loved and cared for as God’s own child. And even when we have birth children, we have to “adopt” that baby – promising to love and care for that child. We know of too many parents who don’t “adopt” their birth children, instead offering neglect or intentional abuse.

My daughter summed it up nicely, “Some people are just stupid.” And some people are just mean. Al Trautwig doubled-down before he finally apologized. I don’t know if he has learned anything from this. I don’t know if non-adoptive adults will stop making insulting statements to adoptive families. (“Do you love her like you do your own child?” “How much did you pay for her?” “I guess kids who are adopted have all sorts of problems.”)

It is more challenging being part of an adoptive family – the challenge comes from others who don’t understand what it is truly to love someone for her own sake, regardless of how she came into your life. The challenge comes from a lack of Christian charity and compassion, and the desire to make everyone over in their own likeness.

As God has adopted us, so adoption is the highest form of parenting. I’ve adopted both my kids – birth and adopted, alike. I hope Al Trautwig and others like him will realize families formed by are adoption are real and normal. Otherwise, it’s just plain stupid.

The Lucky One

 

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Ava and I at the baby shower my church gave soon after bringing her home.

19 years ago today, a tiny little girl was born in Southern China. She was possibly premature, and circumstances were challenging at best. The mother was unable to keep her, even though I imagine she loved that baby as much as any of us do when we hold a newborn. She loved her enough to make certain she found a home until a couple from America could arrive to bring her to a new home. 9 months after that difficult day of birth, those new parents arrived to find an infant wearing a Hello Kitty bib and obviously well-loved by her caregivers. Baby Ava looked at her new parents with a puzzled face, trying to figure out this odd-looking couple. She received the devoted attention of her big brother, new grandparents, and many well-wishers with casual grace in the weeks that followed. She couldn’t have been loved more.

As do many mothers, I recall the early days with my babies with great fondness and moist eyes. I had waited so long for this little girl to arrive in my life, and the days were more joyful than I could have imagined. So many others – friends and strangers – seemed happy for us as well. Yet, one sentence kept being repeated. “She is such a lucky little girl.” Even in China, people would approach us with the only English they knew, which was “Lucky girl.” I never wanted to receive such words about my daughter. Sometime in 8th grade, I realized I wanted to adopt, especially trans-racially. That was back when I was toying with going to the far reaches of Africa and translating the Bible for my life’s work. That desire faded within a year, but the idea of adopting children did not. I knew there were countless children who needed homes, and I didn’t particularly feel the need to have birth children. (And I know there are many women who feel this biological need, and I certainly do not wish to downplay that. I’m just made differently.) It never felt to me like I was doing a child a favor – I just thought of this as the way I wanted to arrange my family. My teenage musings had me surrounded by 4 or 5 children, all adopted from around the world. I can’t tell you the envy I felt for Angelina Jolie when she began to live out my dream.

I always knew I was the lucky one – not my baby girl. God had gifted me with the most incredible child – not perfect; no child is – but just perfect for our family. When people wanted to compliment me on the decision to adopt, I always responding by telling them I was truly the lucky one. Both my children are such complete gifts, the best things in my life. I offer untold thanks for them each and every day.

Every family is centered around the concept of hospitality. We welcome new persons into our inner circle, whether by choice or by blood. We choose to offer the most intimate part of ourselves, the good and the bad, the strong and the weak. We support them in the difficult days, and let them comfort us when our tough times come around. Ava and I have comforted each other when the tears came, and laughed far more often than that.

She is a gift, and on her birth day each year, I give thanks to the petite Chinese woman who offered this precious child for our family.

The Other Mother

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My lovely daughter recently celebrated her 17th birthday. On each birthday, I awake with one thought in my head, “Dear God, please help her other mother know that she is healthy, happy, safe and well-loved.” We adopted Ava from China when she was 9 months old, so a different woman gave her birth. A different woman nourished my daughter in her womb for several months. A different woman then made certain she would be taken care of at an orphanage, until a new family could give her a home. We will never know why she couldn’t keep her little girl. It was probably due to financial reasons – there is a heavy tax on families who have more than one child. Yet, there could have been health concerns or other causes that led this Chinese woman to give up this beautiful baby girl.

Ava’s orphanage was a nice, clean facility in southern China. It was more than obvious she had been well loved during her few months there. A number of elderly who had no family to care for them also lived at the orphanage. During the few days we toted Ava around China, she lunged for just about every gray-haired woman she saw, so we imagined they gave her a great deal of attention as well. (Wouldn’t it be great if we could combine child care and retirement communities in our country? Think of all the great benefits to everyone involved!) Over the years, we have sent pictures and letters back to the orphanage. I know they post them on a board, and it is my hope that Ava’s other mother has been able to come by and see how her little girl is doing.

It might seem strange to start my child’s birthday each year with a prayer for her other mother, but I can never forget this stranger. Without her, and this incredible gift of life she gave us, I wouldn’t have my daughter. And I certainly can’t imagine life without her. One of my favorite passages from the Bible is found in Psalms 139:13 – “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” While Ava was being formed in her other mother’s womb, God had a plan for her. Our family planned and prepared for her arrival, well before we even knew who she was. Six months before we brought Ava home (and certainly long before we know who our daughter would be), our 3 year old son offered this prayer at Thanksgiving Dinner, “God, please bless my little sister and help her have strong, healthy bones.” The entire extended family was too choked up to offer much thanks beyond that ourselves. On different sides of the globe, various people prepared and waited for the arrival of this tiny babe, and then cared for her until she could be brought to her permanent home.

Studies show that many adoptive children are very curious about birth parents, some even to the extent that they search out information or have difficulty coming to terms with it. I imagine I would have been this way if I were in those shoes. Yet, Ava – for all her curiosity – seems perfectly content in our family. A little over a year ago, I was in a café with her and two of her friends who were also adopted. The other girls were talking about not always getting along with their mom. Ava said, “My mom and I get along great. We don’t argue. We’re really close because we’re so much alike.”

I didn’t cry in front of them, but I wanted to. For so many years, I had focused on the difference – between a petite Asian girl and a big blond Amazon, between a well-rounded athlete and a serious scholar, between a rather chill teen girl and a dramatic one – we had seemed so different in my eyes. I always thought perhaps she was more in the mold of the other mother.

Yet, perhaps she is also in the mold of her mom, or Ma Mere, as she sometimes calls me.

Your Friends Are So Nice

“Your friends are so nice, Mom.” The words alone sounded like a compliment, but the tone from my teenage son definitely gave it a different meaning.

 “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. We sat beside each other on the first bench seat of my parents’ van, my parents in the front while my daughter and husband relaxed in the back. Late afternoon sunlight filled the car, as Dad drove along a two lane mountain road back to their house. A pleasant afternoon had been spent at the 50th anniversary reception for my oldest friend’s parents. The little church fellowship hall overflowed with food, pictures, family and well-wishers. My kids regularly see my dear friend, Sandra, and her family, but other childhood friends were present as well. These now middle-aged women were excited to meet my two teens, hear about their joys and dreams in life, and retell old stories for their entertainment.

 “Well, mom, I mean, they were just really sweet. It’s kinda hard to imagine those were your best friends growing up.”

 “Thanks for the compliment, buddy.” I responded with a fair amount of sarcasm.

 “Hey, don’t pick on my little girl,” my own mother chimed in with a laugh. “She’s very nice, too.”

 “Mom, you know what I mean,” Caleb added quickly. “It’s just – you know – they are really nice.”

 “And I’m not?” I bestowed a look that dared him to contradict me.

 “That’s not what I mean. But you know you can be critical.”

 “They haven’t been raising you, buddy.” The rest of the car’s inhabitants joined in the humor, as my poor boy smirked with chagrin.  “I know. I’m not as nice as they are. I can’t really explain why they wanted to be my friends – why we were all so close.”

 “Now, Amy,” Mom added. “You are as nice as they are. I just didn’t go around telling your faults to other people.”

 “Well, thanks for that, Mom.” I grinned, as Caleb continued to defend himself. In the weeks that followed that day, and in reflection on my son’s comments, I have pondered how I grew up with a very nice bunch of girls – girls who always had kind words for others, who never saw the bad in someone else, who worked hard, who loved their families, girls who were loyal and true friends. I realize my own family of origin modeled this for me. It didn’t mean we were blind to the faults of others. But it did mean that we showed grace and kindness in the face of others’ faults, because none of us were perfect. I thought about how great my friends looked physically – in the midst of their 40s – and realized that harsh lines of judgment, envy, and hate had not marked their features. I examined my own face in the mirror and yet could not be certain if those lines were there or not. I always knew they were nicer than I – as my son so obviously exposed to the rest of the family – but did it show on my face as it did on theirs?

 Those girls taught me a lot when we were little – more things than I can remember. And these wonderful women still are teaching me. They teach me and remind me each day that living a life of grace, compassion and forgiveness is the best way to truly live.