Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What have I done?

"What have I done?"

It is the words spoken in great desperation and grief by the mouths of many adoptive parents, particularly those who have adopted an older child.

I think of an email from a friend in the early weeks after she and her husband brought home two children from Ethiopia.

After the kids are in bed asleep, I will be walking by their door and I will feel a pit in my stomach. I ask, "What have I done?" I used to have such a nice life with my husband and our three birth kids. Now that life is gone.

I think of one of the adoption stories that Melissa Fay Greene tells towards the end of There Is No Me Without You

More than one of the family members began to wonder, on the long highways across Pennsylvania and Ohio, "What have we done?" Which question could be subdivided into "What have we done to him?" and "What have we done to our family" (p.390)

"I am completely exhausted," said Dave in his second week home. "I don't know if I can do this". (p.391)

Although spring in Michigan usually signals the end of cabin fever, Dave's was just starting. He felt himself a prisoner in his own house, a prisoner of the demanding, fit-throwing, clinging boy. (p.392)

But Dave was reeling into a depression. By whose slip of a pen on what paperwork, by what strange spin of the globe, had this orphan of Addis Ababa landed in Dave Armistead's kitchen? "I love teaching," he was thinking, as he staggered around the house or the backyard with Ababu's stranglehold on him. "I love history; I love teaching high school history. I traded that for this?" (p.393)

I think of a training session that I went to where an adoptive dad was brought in. He had just had one long, tearful, gut-wrenching, hair-pulling year. As he spoke to us there was no controlling the emotion in his voice or the tears that flowed.

I, too, have asked this question. It was even during the first 24 hours, while I was still in Ethiopia realizing the dream. I remember standing there, looking at a misbehaving boy and projecting that behavior forward for the next 13 years. The question screaming through my head was, "What have I done?"

And what is worse, adoptive parents can think that the proper question is, "What have I done?" This seems like the right question to ask because it feels that there is no one to blame but yourself. After all, you are the one who rebuffed critics. You are the one who quoted stats about the needs of children around the world. You are the one who advocated. You are the one who insisted on adopting. You are the one who believed that God was calling you to adopt. And now you are filled with self-doubt as you realize that the adoption attachment issues you read about are yours and not your child's.

And how can you complain to others? All they will say is, "You made your own bed. Now you have to lie in it."

But the blessed news is that this stage will pass. Though in each of the above stories there were times of doubting, grief, and feelings of disconnectedness that sometimes lasted up to a year, they all passed. Each family is now strong and in love. They can't imagine life without their adopted children.

I know not every family emerges from the "What have I done?" stage. A small percentage of adoptions do disrupt. My advice to perspective adoptive parents is to gird your loins beforehand, prepare for the worst, make sure you have emotional reserves, educate yourself, read Green's article on post-adoption panic, and get connected with other adoptive parents. Then you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at how well your adoption is going or, if the early times are tough, you will be well prepared.

Oh, and just one last piece of unsolicited advice for those thinking about adopting. Depend on God. The Father of the Fatherless wants his orphaned children cared for and He has chosen us to be His hands and His feet to them. He will give you the strength to see it through.


Owlhaven said...

Good post - thanks!

Mary, mom to many, and preparing to leap into my first older-child adoption

Anonymous said...

Hi, my daughter, Kidest (Serena) was watching me read your post and recognized your kids - Fisun (?) and Kassahun? She affectionately messaged the screen around your daughter's face.
Rose S. - just returned 2 wks. ago with 2 new kids.

Innocent Observer said...

Thanks for bringing this up. It's like the pink elephant in the room that no one wants to mention.

Anonymous said...

well put - jcn

Anonymous said...

Delurking to say thanks for that--"The Father of the Fatherless wants his orphaned children cared for and He has chosen us to be His hands and His feet to them. He will give you the strength to see it through."
Absolutely beautiful! God is so passionate about these precious little ones, and will equip us to care for them. Thanks :)

Nicky said...

Thanks D - I really thought this post was powerful - it addresses the concerns I have down the road to. One scenario in my overly-active imagination is my husband saying "what have YOU got us into?" since this was my whole idea in the first place.

Of course, he wouldn't say that. That's why I married him.

Still scary though. It's a tall bridge we're holding hands and jumping off... eyes open.


CrazyD said...


"What have YOU got us into?" is a question that an adoptive father told me he wanted to say to his wife many times about a child she suggested adopting. The good news is that he was telling me after the rough part was over and the family had fully bonded.

You bring up a good point. Either the wife or the husband will think of adopting first and mention it to the other. When times are rough, this fact might be brought up with resentment.

It is certainly crucial that both the husband and the wife see the vision for what they are doing and they both buy into it. One certainly can't drag the other one in. My wife was on board before I was and she lovingly waited for me to get on board as well. It is a good thing that I was not on board first. I would have dragged her in.