Shades of grey

When you go into adoption, you tend to do it with best intentions.  Such clear goals.

We want another child.

How great it will be to help a kid who needs a family.

For many people it’s exactly that simple.  At first.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that clarity of focus.   It makes it easier to take the next step, to move forward to bring a young stranger into your circle.

But the deeper you get into adoption, the longer you are an adoptive family, the more you understand how truly complicated adoption is.  How other’s losses are inescapably entwined with your own family’s gain.

Today my Ethiopian daughters and I went thrift-store shopping for Easter dresses.  Did quite well, considering I was shopping with girls ages 14, 12, 7, and 5.  We came away with dresses they didn’t hate.  (Take my word for it:  when you have kids who prefer jeans and t-shirts, ‘not-hating’ a dress is a major win.)

On the way home from the shopping trip, a song came on the Christian radio station and my 14 year old started singing along.   Three years ago she’d never heard this song.  Three years ago she was in Ethiopia, living at a children’s house where evening worship was syncopated with energetic drumming done on a wooden cupboard at the back of the room.  I have pictures of her and her sister and her friends lined up, pounding intricate rhythms, all in a row, smiling with the joy of it.

Since witnessing that ebullience, I’ve thought many times that worship at our quiet Lutheran church must seem staid and dull, after the raucous enthusiasm with which she worshipped when younger.   I think she’s used to it now.  She sings along, participates, even seems to enjoy various songs.

And yet I can’t shake the picture of that girl, that daughter now mine, in the land of her birth, surrounded by friends, singing and drumming in the center of the action.  I know that there are advantages to her new life in America.  Flush toilets and better education and medical care and a mom and a dad….those are just a few benefits that spring to my mind.

But I mourn the fact that she had to say goodbye to her old life to have this new one.

I’ll never forget that girl on the drum.

And you know what?  I don’t want to.

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  1. Thanks Mary. Can’t express what I want to say, but thanks.

  2. That brought tears to my eyes. I guess you just do the best you can. And I’m sure you’re doing that.

  3. oh I struggle with this too!!! My little one is just a baby still, but every time I try to get her to say Mama (to which she gleefully responds “Dada!” and laughs-rotten egg), I feel a tiny prick that I am robbing her birth mother or something. I KNOW that I AM her mother and that God has placed her in our home for a reason, but when I think abotu what her birth mom does not have/know/see/hear and I do get to, well, it just makes it a little more..complicated, like you said. And you cannot know it until you are in it. Thanks for putting it out there that it is just not black and white…

  4. Mary, I thought this was a beautiful, honest post.

  5. I second Becky’s comment…
    Thanks Mary. Can’t express what I want to say, but thanks.
    I absolutely drink up anything you say about adoption… keep it coming!

  6. This post brought tears. My kids left family they loved. They were only three at the time and so often I think they feel loss but can’t even attach it to anything because they don’t remember. Thanks so much for expressing what you did.

  7. I agree that the loss of adoption is something that’s often unrecognized. Our daughter came to us when she was two, and I can’t ever shake the horror of watching her birth mother walk away from court empty-handed. Her life now is better in many ways, but that doesn’t mean she has lost some good things as well.

  8. Such bittersweetness. Having my son in Seoul Korea right now, I think a lot about kids and cultures.

  9. …”How other’s losses are inescapably entwined with your own family’s gain….” that’s been very heavy on my mind & heart lately as we go through the steps to becoming a foster family (with the intention of adopting through the foster care system).

  10. Lots of American churches have drums 🙂
    Our kids even sing African songs in their children’s church! Shake things up a bit at your church and bring Africa here!

  11. Very well put! Thanks for articulating this – I can relate!

  12. What a touching post, Mary! I have read you for quite some time now and didn’t realize you were Lutheran. So are we – my husband is a pastor, in fact. What church do you belong to?

  13. This is beautiful, Mary, and something I hadn’t thought of before, so thank you. I’m reminded of children of divorce, no matter where they are, they are always missing part of their family. Your children have an advantage over that, a stable home life.

  14. I am also an adoptive mother, and it is so true that adoption, as wonderful as it is, is also born of great pain, loss, and suffering.
    It’s hard for people to understand sometimes- one of our adoptive children is glad to be part of out family, but the adoption experience itself was traumatic for her. She didn’t have a choice, and it was a rupture. She didn’t like people knowing she was adopted, and nosy people, who knew we’d adopted, would ask which children and be annoyed when I said it was private, and they’d be unable to understand that one could be glad to be in *this* family and still sad at the circumstances that created the adoption in the first place. I have explained sometimes that, if we think carefully about it, in an ideal world, adoption wouldn’t need to exist. It begins with a trauma somewhere, of some sort. It can have a wonderful, joyful story from that point- but still, it has to begin with a trauma of some sort.

  15. Mary, I was pondering your article some more yesterday and I thought about how there is loss is so many aspects of life. When I was an immature Christian, I thought that the paths God would give me would always be the easy paths. I mean, if I was following God’s will, then it should be easy, right? But, it was so short-sighted of me, even His Son wasn’t given an easy path. I was thinking this because I remembered reading about addicts and how one of the obstacles that they have to getting clean is the loss of their former lifestyle, their friends and the only life they knew. Of course, they know this life is killing them, yet even so, to leave that, there is loss. And, I remember just this last fall how I felt some jealousy when a couple I know were able to drop everything and take a last minute cruise that they got a great deal on. I have children, altho not as many as you!- but there is no way we could drop everything and take a cruise. Still, even within that jealousy, I would never, never, never, a thousand times never, trade my children for that. Anyway, I was thinking about how God places these grey areas before us to overcome and, how, when we do, we get a little closer to Him. So, as you can see, your article gave me much food for thought, and I thank you! 🙂

  16. I’ve often wondered about this–the losses, the gains, the change and how it affects the child. Thank you for all your adoption posts.

    (We’re Lutheran, too–WELS. Some of the churches are very open to new music, different styles, etc., while some don’t want my husband there with his guitar. 🙂 )

    • Yes, we have guitars and drums at our church, for part of the worship. But it is still tame compared to what I saw in Africa.



  17. Thank you for sharing this Mary. Life is beautifully imperfect!
    Glad you found dresses that your girls don’t hate, I have quite the opposite problem, but mine is 3 years old & only ever wants to wear dresses.

    • Hi Erin,
      My 5 and 7 year old daughters LOVE dresses. It is the older girls who aren’t so thrilled.
      But we did ok the other day– hooray!


  18. Thank you. This was lovely, profound, and wistfully sad and provoking.
    Spoke to me of heaven somehow – of the unity and pefection, the completeness, we will all have there. Seems especially powerful to reflect on that in light of adoption.

  19. That was beautiful. I really feel the same way as we have just accepted our referral of our daughter. I would love to share more with you once the adoption is complete. Her parents loved her so much. It is a beautiful story, but there is a part of my heart that hurts that she cannot be with her family and not by their choice. They rescued her from certain death. They love her and having children myself, I know the sacrifice and what they must feel. Thank you for sharing about your daughter. It really touched my heart.

  20. Too true…life is never black and white. However, the fact that you recognize that is such a huge gift that you can pass on to your children. ‘Shades of gray’…I love that term and it really defines most of our lives, especially those of us with adopted children. Thank you for sharing.

  21. It is these shades of grey that we try to keep in mind as often as we can – but then they always seem to hit us at the strangest moments. It helps to be reminded that we are not the only ones… Thanks for sharing!

  22. Kristin says:

    My husband and I are in the middle of our first adoption and currently have 4 kids. My heart aches for all those first families that didn’t weren’t able to stay together. Having joy come out of sorrow does not negate the initial pain. I had a miscarriage before my first child was born. I love my daughter so much, but know I would not have this particular child if I didn’t have a miscarriage. In this case and also adoption, I do struggle with the duality of my feelings, and pray that I will be able to help my new child with those feelings, too.

  23. Amen.