Over the weekend, we marked two months as Elvie’s family. I’ve been working on the wall her crib is on, trying to get it just right since she won’t have a whole nursery to herself. Last night when she fell asleep, I sat and looked at her in her crib, underneath the bunting with her name on it, next to the stuffed toys that are all hers. I marveled at how much her life has changed in the last two months, how much better things are for her now.
Elvie isn’t sick anymore. She isn’t so frail that I have to watch her chest rise and fall all night to reassure myself that she’ll make it through until morning, though sometimes I do still wake up and look over at her, just to check. She has so much more than she had before. And yet, I would never say that all of this was meant to be. If someday she feels that, then that is hers to own, but as her parent, I don’t have the right to say what is or is not meant to be about her life, and especially about something as complicated as adoption.
There has been a lot of talk in the adoptive community lately about Matthew Hutson’s article Adoption, Destiny, and Magical Thinking. I knew it was fairly common for adoptive parents to tell their children that they were destined to be in their adoptive families, but I was dismayed that the article said that most adoptive parents believe this and pass this on to their children. Most? For the sake of adopted children and adoptive families, I certainly hope not.
It’s not that I havent engaged in my own version of magical thinking in my own adoptions. In fact, I sensed that both of my daughters were coming before I actually saw their faces or knew their names. With Zinashi I had a dream, so vivid and alarming that I couldn’t shake it, and I knew it had something to do with her, my someday daughter. When we learned her whole story, the dream and its timing suddenly made sense. With Elvie, I simply felt deeply sad for a few days, unconnected to anything, and felt strongly that it had to do with my next baby. The timeline in her case adds up as well, just like in Zinashi’s. And yet, just because I felt a connection to them before I knew of them personally, does not mean that I feel that this whole thing was supposed to happen. Because saying that would imply that the great hurts my daughters have suffered were meant to be, and I absolutely don’t believe that one bit.
One of the things that we aim to do as a parents is to allow our daughters to feel however they feel and not discount it, particularly about their own stories and hard beginnings, or the complications of having two families. We want to leave doors wide open for them to talk to us about what they are feeling and experiencing, so that we can help them or find appropriate help for them when they need it. We talk openly about both girls’ adoption stories and have from the beginning. Elvie is too young to talk back, but Zinashi has all sorts of questions and feelings. If I were to tell her that it is simply meant to be that she is in our family, and everything in her life was simply leading her to be our daughter, I would invalidate some of what she is expressing to me. I would be telling her that her feelings of longing for her family in Ethiopia were somehow wrong, and they are not.
I am sorry that both of my daughters went through what they did before they joined our family. At the same time that I love them and cannot imagine life without them, I wish that we had never been needed. I wish that the world we live in were more just and that everyone would have enough food and medical care and all the things that we have that allow us to raise our daughters while their Ethiopian families can’t. If I were to tell you what is truly meant to be, I would say that it would be that our daughters had never had to suffer, never had to leave their families, never had to be placed into the arms of strangers and make a new family. But this world isn’t perfect, and we are privileged to be second best.
I don’t say that last part to imply that we are somehow a lesser parents, but simply that while coming to our daughters was our first choice for how to build a family, it was not theirs. Maybe this wouldn’t have even been their second choice, and that’s okay. We hope that we can shower them with enough love that they will understand that we always have and always will want what is best for them and will help them get it. We hope that we can be a light on the way forward as they wrestle with their own stories and hopefully find peace. We hope that we can do the one thing that is meant to be in this situation, which is to love our daughters well and honor their lives and stories.
Print featured in lead photo is from Children Inspire Design.