One year ago, I started my adoption journey. I’d been pondering adoption for years…well, for decades, actually, because Cindy Whelchel (my best friend in high school) and I had made a pact when we were seventeen that we were going to adopt “brown” babies that no one else wanted. We’re both white but love black culture, abhor racial prejudice, and—truth be told—were probably hoping that having mocha-colored children would give us the opportunity to talk back in church!
Of course, we had no idea when we made that solemn promise while wearing matching pink Izods and poufy hair in the eighties that Cindy would marry Peter in the nineties, that they would struggle with infertility and then go on to adopt two beautiful biracial children. Nor did we imagine that thirty years later, in 2012, I’d still be single.
Frankly, being unmarried is the main reason I pondered adoption for so long but never seriously pursued it. I grew up in the Waltons and Huxtables era, so the idea of having a child without a dad was pretty foreign to me. But when an old friend called last year and asked if I’d be willing to adopt a hard-core crack addict’s baby that no one else was standing in line for because of the inevitable neurological problems and possible birth defects, I thought, “This soon-to-be mama and the baby she’s carrying need someone—anyone—to love them and even a single chick with chemically dependent hair like me can do that!”
And so began a five-month roller-coaster ride doing life alongside a precious young woman who sold her petite, scarred body to a steady stream of men for ten or twenty dollars per encounter…just enough cash to score another hit. “Marie” was rarely coherent enough to care about what the drugs were doing to the baby girl growing inside her belly; she was little more than a child herself emotionally. But every now and then her eyes would focus and she would listen intently when I told her she was worth so. much. more than the way she was currently living. In those rare moments of clarity, she would let me throw away her crack pipe and would promise to go the rehab facility we found that was willing to take her in.
However, just about the time I thought hope had created a permanent foothold in Marie’s life—all of the adoption papers had been signed, her boyfriend/pimp had gotten sober during a jail stint, and she had verbally committed to checking herself into the rehab facility—the bottom fell out of this story. I’m not at liberty to share details, but suffice it to say two more little girls have essentially disappeared into the seemingly bottomless pit of drugs, violence and poverty.
Friends of mine who’ve experienced both late-term miscarriages and failed adoptions tell me the grief is similar. That each of those losses leaves the same shaped hole in your heart and mind. All I know is that I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Hard. It felt like the wind had been knocked out of my life.
So it might sound masochistic to you that three weeks later I signed up for another “special needs” situation and committed to adopt a three-year-old orphan named Missy from Haiti with HIV and tuberculosis and a host of other physical problems. Mind you, her medical issues aren’t why I think this adoption will be special. This one is special because the elderly mother of a dear woman who died of AIDS in a hot, overcrowded hospital in Port au Prince has chosen me to raise her granddaughter. It’s special because Missy would probably die before her fifth birthday in Haiti, but with a few surgeries and regular visits to an infectious disease specialist, she’ll have a normal life expectancy in Tennessee. And it’s special because Missy is brown, petite and quiet—an absolutely perfect match for my Caucasian, sturdy and loud self!
Now I’m well aware my heart could get smashed into smithereens again. Because while I’ve been finger-printed, interviewed, poked and prodded ad infinitum, and have written several Porsche-worthy checks, the adoption isn’t finalized yet. It’s been in process since April but according to my adoption agency, we’ve still got many months to go . . . possibly another year until I get to bring Missy home. Yet I’m strangely at peace about it, most days. I’ve gotten used to this marathon called adoption and the ankle-twisting holes scattered throughout its course. Plus, I’ve decided I like my heart much better with scars instead of tucked away safely on some self-protective shelf. C.S. Lewis says it best:
“Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and positively broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Adoption is the most heart-wrenching adventure I’ve committed to thus far in my life…and my only regret is that I didn’t begin this journey sooner.