I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the awkward line of bonding and attachment, it did. I looked at this child, who just months ago was a complete stranger and realized I couldn’t imagine life without her.
I’m not sure how it is for other adoptive families, but for me, creating a familial bond with someone who we had received custody over literally ten minutes after meeting her for the first time and almost a dozen years after she was born, was anything but natural.
I remember driving home from the airport after landing in Boise, my newest daughter climbing the walls of the minivan- delirious from exhaustion and anxiety from the long flight. My children, who had waited at the arrival gate excitedly with balloons and banners now watched her anxiously, unsure of who or what we had just brought home from China. She gruffly muttered a bluestreak of frustration as she yanked on her seatbelt, looking out the window at what was now be her home. She looked anything but excited.
I remember staring out the window sullenly at the gray afternoon in early March. We were finally home with the daughter whom we had fought for for a year and half, literally shedding blood, sweat and tears for- and all I felt was an overwhelming sense of loss, like someone or something had just died.
What was wrong with me? I should have been ecstatic but all I wanted to do was go back in time to the day I first felt the stirrings that adoption was part of our path and choose the other way- like the Choose-Your-Own Adventure books I used to read when I was a kid. Except this wasn’t the path I would have ended the book on.
The next few days were like having an awkward relative in the house that was there to stay. I can barely remember the daze of those first few weeks, hung over with jet lag and the fear of wondering if the robotic voice of Google Translate would forever echo the walls of our home. I hated that voice and what it represented- the concrete barrier that stood immovably between me and my new daughter.
Yes, something had died. My former life of relative simplicity was gone forever and I ached for it more than I ever thought I would. My sweet little family of seven was now an awkward family of eight.
How I wish I could go back to the terrified woman I was 5 1/2 months ago, and tell her to trust- trust that it would all be worth it. Not just in a far and distant time, but soon. I would tell her not to underestimate the power of Him whose errand we were on. I would remind her that the greatest of God’s miracles were not raising the dead or calming the seas, but the changing of hearts. And how my heart would change.
I would tell that terrified woman a few things that might get her through another day- that within 5 short months her daughter’s health would stabilize and the craziness of surgeries and endless visits to specialists would soon subside. She would learn English quickly, astounding everyone around her. Her younger sisters- especially little Beasty- would adore her, and everyone who met her would fall in love with her. She would become my most reliable helper in the home and she would learn to love hugs. She would teach my other children a thing or two about obedience and hard work. She would eagerly call me mama and seek me out each night for a bedtime hug. Her self-protective walls of stoicism would eventually come down and she’d tearfully look to us for comfort when she was sad or lonely. But most of all, I would tell that terrified woman that the day would come when my heart would swell with love when I think of my little girl.
But these things won’t come cheaply, I would add. They’ll be won- each and everyone of them through painful persistence, awkwardness, and prayer. Lots of awkwardness and lots of prayer. I would tell that woman from 5 1/2 months ago that there will be plenty more days ahead when I will wish we had never done this. It will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That any of us have ever done. But I would tell her to remember that all anger is born of grief. All of it, and most of it cuts more deeply than anything I could ever imagine. I would tell her that some of her biological children will lash out in anger as well as they also grieve the life they lost and the perceived loss of a mother. There would be slamming doors and angry tears, and one child would even try to run away. But to take them in my arms and try to love them the best I could in my own imperfect way. And then the walls- the ugly ones we had all put up to protect ourselves- would begin to crumble one by one.
I watched Hengxin sit at the counter for two hours on Monday afternoon, intently working on an essay her teacher had given her to complete after her first day of school. Hunched over her tiny composition notebook she carefully tried to describe, in broken English, what the first day of school felt like to her: scared, anxious, excited. After two hours, she proudly showed me the full page she had written. I was so proud of my little girl. Yes, the day would soon come when my feathers would fluff over her accomplishments like the proud mother hen I am towards my biological children. I would tell that woman that I would soon be able to take this little girl in my arms and not feel like I was hugging a stranger.
I’ve often made the mistake of believing that once the cloudy mists of trials pass come the sunny days of ease. But that’s never the case. There will always be challenges. Always. And if the storms seem to have subsided for a while, then it’s to gather strength for our next one. But I think what the past 5 1/2 months has taught me, is that no matter the darkness, no matter the discouragement, the storm clouds will pass and we’ll catch glimpse of what that investment is that we’re making. And it will all be worth it, not only in the end, but now.