I’m surprised no one brought it up. None of my friends. None of my family. Not even the social worker. As we moved forward in this process, I steadied myself to hear: Are you trying to fill a hole in your heart by adopting a child?
The question is valid. I’d ask it if I were on the outside looking in. But maybe it’s because I am on the inside that I even think about asking?
I’m not trying to fill a hole in my heart, for that space will never be filled this side of heaven. But I am obeying a call to let my broken heart fill the space in this child’s life, space she does not even know needs filling.
I sit five feet from the far corner, facing the door in a straight backed chair upholstered in a soft tweed grey. The room is an intentionally soothing cream. Photographs, surely from extensive personal travels, frame the walls around the mahogany desk and bookcase. She sits across from me with pen poised and a notebook on her lap. All the questions. All my answers. The hour comes to an end, and she begins to summarize this first session.
“Often times, people struggle when issues from their past prevent them from moving forward with decisions or with life in general. But you’re doing all the right things. You're honest about your fears and feelings. You’ve taken normal life steps and continue to move forward.” She tilts her head (in what I’m wondering is a trained counseling skill), “You seem okay.”
I nod. I’ve been at this grief thing long enough to know big transitions bring up big emotions, and I made the appointment thinking I’d just touch base with someone before we travel.
“I know you said you wanted to make sure you were doing okay before your upcoming adoption, but I don’t think you need to come back, unless a specific issue pops up.”
So … first and last session?
As for specific issues — where would I start? My desire for affirmation, my frustrated outbursts at my family, the it’s-such-hard-work communication in my marriage?
I swallow the tears gathering in the back of my throat. If I opened my mouth to say the most pressing issue on my heart, “I just miss my mom …” we would need another hour for me to sit here crying. Instead, I purse my lips, smile, blink hard, and nod.
“I’m so glad you came in. And if you want to talk about anything specifically, I’m always here. But if you’re looking for reassurance, I don’t have any concerns about you. I don’t see any issues.”
Another head tilt and she says, “Unless you tell me otherwise.”
I catch the ball she throws in my court and tuck it in my purse, thank her with a handshake and a smile and walk out the door to my car; I drive through blinding tears until I reach my house.
I’m listening to a message from a friend, one who happens to be a licensed social worker. We don’t converse. We just leave messages (tis’ the season of motherhood that we’re both in). Although we don’t live close to each other, she’s walked by my side through this entire adoption journey. As I’m preparing to travel across the world to add a member to our family, she asks, “How are you feeling — really feeling?”
I leave her a short reply: I’m excited and happy. Those are the emotions everyone wants to hear, right? And of course I am those things. But I’m also scared. Honestly, I’m just dealing with a lot of fear.
In her return message, she pointedly asks, “Tell me: what is at the root of your fear?”
I sit facing her desk in a beige linen arm chair. She faces me and the door, her hands interlocked on the desk between us. I am getting married in a few months, and I read that big transitions can bring up big emotions, so I called up a counselor at the hospice center to schedule a meeting. I thought I should talk with someone to get through any unresolved issues before I pack up the life I’ve always known, move away from the tangible memories of my mom, and connect myself to a man for the rest of my life.
“It’s okay to be angry,” she says with an empathetic smile, tilting her head, as if to get a better angle into my soul. Forceful tears hurl themselves against the back my eyes but I don’t let them fall. I don’t dare speak.
She unlaces her hands, pounds on the desk and says, “It’s okay to say ‘DAMMIT, this isn’t fair!’”
My parents never swore — ever. So this profanity from an older adult shocks me. (All these years later, I get her completely. But at the time, I didn’t know what to do with it.) Because it had been almost two years since my mom died, I didn’t expect to still feel this raw.
“It’s okay to have these emotions. It’s okay to let this out.”
Our time is up and I smile through a shaking face, “I do. And I will. Thank you.” I pull a tissue from the box on the corner of her desk, turn around, and walk out the door.
The tears fall in torrents the second my foot hits the asphalt.
The root of my fear?
She’s a good enough friend I don’t rehearse my message. I just start talking.
“I fear the unknown.” I pause. “Maybe it’s not fear, actually. But I am just so sad for her. She’s going to grieve and I know — oh God, I know what grief feels like. And my heart breaks for this child.” My voice begins to waiver. “She doesn’t know those were foster parents — she just knew them as her parents.”
Dear Child, once we get through this initial transition, there may come a day in the future when you find yourself freshly grieving your birth mom or your foster parents, people I know nothing about, save through them, you came to me.
There may come a day when you want to cry or rage and grieve over the hurt you feel over missing the people in your life you don’t remember, a culture, your birth country, and a life you can only look at in pictures. Our griefs are different, yet I know the hurt doesn’t always leave for good.
No matter how nice your life looks on the outside, and how much you have healed on the inside, very real and suddenly intense emotions sometimes find their way to the surface. And, like me, you may not always know how to say, understand, or accept them.
I cannot fix your hurt or change what was. Nor will I wait for you to know how to tell me.
God chose me to be your mother, and I already know.
Photo by Emily Gnetz.