Up until the time I became a mom through adoption for the first time (I was well past 30), nothing had ever broken me open. I mean that truly frightening and sucky feeling when you are stuck naked & exposed & totally outside your comfort zones. No way to spin it.
It happened after we had gotten W’s pictures and medical information and had already fallen in love with her. We had a consultation with an international adoption pediatrician.
I still cannot drive past the bend at the north end of the Shawangunk Mountain Road where I pulled the car over to listen to the doctor tell us something was wrong. That W’s head circumference was too small. That he would advise against accepting the referral to adopt her.
Although I’d never met W, although we’d had her picture for only a week, I cried and cried and couldn’t get off the couch for days. As if a parent or best friend had died. I had no idea why I reacted so strongly. How to cope. How to fix it. It shattered me into a thousand tiny shards of glass. Or maybe it simply revealed a part of me that had been broken a long time.
I wonder if this is similar to labor during childbirth. Is this why so many women need epidurals? Where it all gets so painful and intense, you just want it to be over with & your baby out of there– NOW.
I don’t know. But I do know that in each of our four adoptions there came a time exactly like this first one. The circumstances totally different (Adoption #2: Guatemala adoption program closes while we are living there with T’s adoption incomplete; Adoption #3: M’s tuberculosis diagnosis potentially stranding us for six months in Kenya while W and T waited at home; Adoption #4: Learning of B’s near death malnutrition)
The powerless smashed up feeling the same each time. Where from one minute to the next you simply struggle to stay on your feet, to keep your equilibrium.
But the first time is definitely the worst. Because you think the world is ending. You think you are dying. Which of course is not true. Whether you adopt or not, whether you have children or not, something in life is going to get you. Best to learn it sooner rather than later: The world is going to break your heart. Maybe the world is meant to break your heart. (A broken heart is an open heart, after all.)
We all have hidden, broken places inside us. Some people orchestrate their lives so as not to encounter them. Every person is broken differently: if you kind of get over the excruciatingly sorrowful part, there is something underneath all this broken stuff that is kinda cool. We are each beautiful mosaics.
At one point, when it seemed like our two Rwanda adoptions might not happen at all, I wrote this in my journal:
In this broken moment, I feel my Rwandan children in my arms, like a physical, visceral reality. I also feel close to the birth mother. Because just like me & just like all the little adopted children of the world, something in her is broken and will always be broken because of this.
But is that necessarily a deal breaker? If you embrace it, can’t it becomes a kind of beautiful broken? It makes you you.
Over time, as we go through life, we acquire scratches & bruises and sometimes breaks. We patch ourselves together as best we can. Most people recoil from the irregularities & imperfections. But through a certain kind of lens, I see a new, truer beauty emerging.
Elizabeth Hunter is the creator of Adoption Goddess, the adoptive mother’s online empowerment circle and author of the upcoming book, The Absolute Beginner’s Freak Out Prevention Guide to Adoption.
She blogs about adoption, family life, motherhood, and creativity.