Choosing Children. Or Not.

Adoption as a choice.
Not a default. Not because of. A choice.

This is a vent post.
I am currently frustrated. Intensely, immensely frustrated by a post I just read on a friend’s facebook wall where someone stated that to actively choose to adopt or stay “sterile” for the sake of not having children, and so that you could have sex without procreating, he didn’t believe was biblical.

Song of Songs seems to suggest otherwise.

He also believed that women are saved through childbirth – a little out of context as the Word clearly states that women and men – both are only saved in the Christian faith through the Cross. In other words through Jesus.
That aside.
When did we become the police of people’s choices to have children, or not to, or how to?

I selfishly love the spaces & freedom my friends who choose not to have children invite me into. Not because I don’t want to be a mother. But because it speaks to other parts of who I am and who they are.
Before we got married my guy and I spoke about how we were going to grow our family. My vision was ALWAYS adoption. It was just a matter of when we were going to adopt.

Not because I want someone else’s child, but because the reality is that there are children who need to be in families and I wanted to be a mother and actually, I still continue to want to be a mother.

I don’t have strong need to be pregnant. The only time I did have strong need for this was after 6 months of considering this as a possibility and knowing that it mattered to my husband AT THE TIME and wanting to honour him in this – the perfectionist in me felt the need to get this right. Sadly, we had a miscarriage, but even so, according to the Gynae, there was absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant should we CHOOSE too. See that word? It’s been a loud one in my head and heart.

We did adopt. We have a gorgeous one year old son.
We want him to have siblings. We have recently wrestled and worked through which way we want to grow our family next. We have prayed about this. We have spoken at length to each other. We have sat with the options individually. We have had to take a long hard look at our motives and ourintentions and selves (the good and the ugly) and come to a decision.
A decision based on CHOICE.
A decision based on who we are, where we are, who our son is and what we believe about parenthood.

Regardless of whether people come to the point of adoption through the initial plan A or a journey with the grief of infertility or a journey of life not working out quiet the way they envisioned with a partner – It’s a CHOICE. It’s a choice to love another. (Like you choose to love your partner who wasn’t born to you). It’s a choice to do midnight nappy changes, feeding, teething, hospital visits, interrupted sleep, reallocating budget. It’s a choice to be a parent – regardless of whether we get there through sex, adoption or marrying someone who already has children.

It’s a choice to not be a parent too.

Our lives exist outside of our children, we are people apart from our children and they are people apart from us.

We have the freedom to choose. Most of us reading this anyway.
Maybe we need to honour other’s freedom in this too.

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The grief of adoption

Some reflections on our initial screening to becoming potential adoptive parents

Celebration. Joy. Permanency. Family. Forever (in faith). These are all words we see and hear around adoption. The past few weeks though as we have journeyed through our initial screening and preparation to be presented as prospective adoptive parents, I have become acutely aware of the grief in this whole process.
My professional world is predominantly child focused, so it has been easy for me to be able to think, focus and identify the grief process for a child whose birth family isn’t the one that they get to do life with. Regardless of how good the reasons are for this.
My grief for the birth mother – whether someone who has signed over their baby for adoption or has abandoned them (whether through leaving them safely somewhere or otherwise) is something I have had to grapple with. No one dreams of having to make an adoption plan. In my circles questions around parenting range from your birth plan to whether you believe in co-sleeping or not to which school do you think that you would like to send your child to and why. What a contrast to not knowing what you are going to do with the small person that has grown in you, but that you can’t (for whatever reason – from age to finances to addiction) care for and having to decide what to do with the small person.
Then there is a grief for us. Our grief is less complicated or compounded in some ways as we are not grieving infertility issues. We are choosing this. In choosing this though, there is still grief.
There is no romantic standing in the hospital while a mother gives birth (thank you Hollywood) for us. Our meeting our small person only happens once there is no chance of it legally not working for the baby or us – once all the I’s have been dotted and the T’s crossed – such a good thing for everyone actually but so hard in terms of the knowledge that from the time the small person is born until we meet them, they will have had at least a birth mother and one other carer in their little lives that they will have to say goodbye too.
My heart is sore in ways that by the time I get to meet our small one, that he will have been held by many arms, not mine. My heart is okay with the not carrying him. My heart grieves at the knowledge that I don’t get to delight in his initial newness in life (sleep deprivation and all). That’s sad for him and us…it’s a part of the bonding that birth moms and dads have with their smalls. It’s not insurmountable grief. It’s just something we need to process.
I have recently heard more than once the declaration that we are lucky to skip the exhaustion of pregnancy, the birth process and the repeated wake ups of a new born baby.
I have witnessed more than once the surreal reality of friends anticipating the phone call saying that their small is ready to meet them, but none of the ‘natural’ preparation of a visible pregnancy in the future mother for people to be engaging with.
Adoptive parents are expectant but the way in which we process this has to happen a little differently to a set of pregnant parents. Choices to get ready to meet a small person happen along the way too – but our timelines, our bodies, our planning is not benchmarked by bellies and breasts.
Our world is about to be turned upside down. We will have to get to know a small one from when they have already engaged with the world. There are going to be joyful discoveries and heart rendering moments of oh my goodness. Life is never going to be the same again. That’s not lucky though – our journey to the discovery of each other comes with a cost to all involved – one we choose and process. We are still figuring out what this all means – luck doesn’t need any of that work!

Faith vs Hopelessness. My wrestle with my country.

PRE-READ DISCLAIMER: This is my wrestling space thinking & I know that I am not alone in it, hence my sharing. This isn’t an answer. This isn’t I have it all figured it out. This is I am hurting for friends whose stories are slowly being revealed to me. This is I am sore for my country at the moment. This is I wish I knew how to engage in this space better. This is I wish that collectively we had more sway in influencing healthy change and new ways of doing things. This isn’t party politics as much as it is about where does the power sit. This is about my wrestling. This is the context of my wrestle. If you want to wrestle with me in faith and hope and love. Grateful for grace to cover where I get it wrong.

‘Faith makes hopelessness forbidden’ – part of a WhatsApp that a friend sent me last night. I have been wrestling with what it means to have relentless, unfailing HOPE and what that looks like for us as South Africans. Beyond just for us as South Africans – what does us it mean for me as a believer in Jesus – the giver of hope and a different way? How do I live hope? How do I speak hope? How do I encourage hope?

So I started thinking about what is taking up energy – not just in terms of my focus but also of taking away hope.

• I realised it’s the lack of engagement – the lack of skills being imparted to people to know how to engage in this space, to be invited into this space at times by people already in it and also skills to know that saying sorry for something doesn’t mean I maliciously hurt you or are carrying shame. It’s about saying I am sorry that you are hurting, were hurt and have been hurting still despite the fact that things are said to be changing.

• I realised it’s the lack of listening from all of us – especially those of us with a history of speaking first and loudest. Yes, we also have feelings and opinions about what is going on, but I am so used to speaking up and out that sometimes I forget that others might be quiet simply because of what was my normal rather than what I would prefer to be OUR normal way of engaging where we both get a chance to be heard and understood.

• I realised it’s the slowness of change, but not being sure how to see practical change implemented as MANY people who have power to ensure these changes in our country are more concerned with their own positions of power and gain than they are with ensuring that people move from absolute poverty to a place of opportunity because the basics are being met (as a simple starting point)

• I realised it’s the language that is being permitted without looking at what do these words mean – my focus and energy and hope gets drained when I hear calls for revolution without looking at what revolution has done in other communities – without asking what will this mean for the children and vulnerable in all our communities. It gets drained when the language we all use from ‘get over it already, its 20 plus years’ to ‘ revolution is now and the white oppressors must realise this’ to a nation whose leader orchestrated exploitation, violent revolution and murder and mayhem and political intimidation being honoured in our own country without recognising that under his leadership people lost everything, feel still live in the knowledge that you can’t speak out against him and that despite his language use publicly, the exploitative nature of his regime continues.

I get tired and struggle when the word revolution is seen as interchangeable with resurrection.

Revolution is about one world system replacing another world system.

Resurrection is about overcoming a world system with a new way of life system. It’s about hope.

Sitting with these realisations makes me want to weep. It makes me want to wail and lament and cry out loud ‘Can’t you see we are simply repeating a system from the past which on the surface looks to benefit the many but experience not just here, but elsewhere has shown us that it simply serves to repeat a cycle’?

I know I sit in a position of privilege. Not only am I historically advantaged, I am protected financially by virtue of being married.
I know that I sit in a faith community that is striving to engage in this space.
I know that I sit in the midst of people working this out. Where we can talk and speak and make mistakes and listen and say ‘’ I am sorry’’ on a micro inter-personal level. Not just where things went wrong in the past, but also where we get it wrong in the present. When I get it wrong with you.

In faith what do I wish and pray for?
• I pray that we will become comfortable with being uncomfortable so that we can have the discussions and engagement as individuals and collectively that we need to have.
• I pray that we will start looking at what we are inviting or engaging people to be a part of through how we speak and what we do: whether we are imparting life giving hope or simply providing a space where energy and a lack of hope finds a space to be expressed.
• I am more and more convicted that within our faith circles as in the pre-90’s faith circles when the church as a body was part of calling to account, that not only do we need to be calling to account our leaders, but also each other as we respond from places of passion, purpose, but also places of fear and hurt. We need to be mirrors to each other in this else the bigger image of what we are wanting to see happen is never going to happen.
• I pray that each and every person who is passionate about this country will see that they have a role in it, beyond simply being nice to people – but actually to ask questions and invite understanding through listening.
• I pray that we will actively choose hope and that this hope will determine our actions, our engagements and our responses.

First prize for our family

Recently my guy and I decided that the time was now for us to start the process towards becoming a family via adoption. In fact after during our December holiday we agreed that by March we wanted to initiate the process. Our December holiday included conversations with friends who have adopted, who work in the space of adoption, who have birth babies and adopted ones but claim them ALL as their children. In fact, it’s been interesting chatting to friends who chose to adopt first around their fear that they may not love the birth baby should they fall pregnant as much as they do their first child.

Before we even said yes to maybe I like you enough to exclusively figure out what life MIGHT look like with you as my SO (significant one) we had conversations that included the A-plan.

The Adoption plan.

FF 3 years, a cross country move back to the homeland (me) and figuring out what it means to be a CapeTonian person (him), a marriage, miscarriage, job changes, moving homes and lots of dreaming about what do we want our family to look like and the plan A of including adoption is and was always there.

It’s been sad, frustrating, interesting and sometimes bizarre listening to people’s responses when we say this. Responses that have included:
Are you giving up on birth babies? (According to the doctor for those of you who have asked, wanted to ask or the thought had crossed your minds, there is absolutely NO reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant if we choose to. In fact I checked this again last month during a consultation with him).
ADOPTION for us is is NOT PLAN B if plan A failed. It was always part of plan A. Regardless of how our children arrive, they are our plan A for having kids.

It’s not the same you know: Yes, we do know. We do know that there are no guarantees of genetics or medical history or knowing how stressed the mom was or the level of prenatal care and antenatal care that our future small person received. We know that we don’t have the experience of bonding as a family during a pregnancy of kicks, nausea and bathroom runs. I also work in a space where children have been loved, had parents make informed decisions about how to raise a child and yet are dealing with Autism Spectrum, ADHD, learning challenges, anxiety and other things like managing my feelings (to name the safe ones).
None of the parents whose children are said to be atypical dreamt of these things either so maybe my fears around not knowing how our children will turn out are as grounded in the unknown as they are in my known working world.
I also work in a space as well as have friends who will tell you that every pregnancy and bonding experience with their different children has been different – sometimes guilt inducingly so.

Horrific stories of failed adoptions: I have the (mis)fortune of being able to tell heartbreaking stories of failed parenting in families where mothers’ carried their babies to term despite addiction and violence and everything else and as support therapists are working on how do we love and embrace these families and children to wholeness. I know social workers who have to make calls on removing kids from families or families who weren’t adequately ready, supported or prepared for the challenges of adopting children with learning and attachment issues.
– AND the list goes on….

WHAT I DO KNOW IS THIS:

Neither Charlie nor I believe that becoming a parent is about being in the delivery room.

We know that our future child’s story has to begin with loss and temporary care and this makes us sad – for the moms’ whose decisions to not keep a child (regardless of the reason) as well as for the child whose story doesn’t get to start in a nursery that has been colour coded and prepared from before the due date of pregnancy.

We do know that we are in a community of family and friends who are waiting to meet our children-however they arrive & that we are in the privileged position of being in a community where adoption is normal. Where diversity is normal. Where blended friendship and family circles are normal.

We also know that there are amazing professionals who can walk alongside us when we hit hiccups.

We do know that we need to be thinking through what it means for our transracial family to thrive in a country still wrestling with identity which is linked to race.

We do know that there are a lot of unknowns and things that we still need to figure out but that we don’t have to have all those answers now.

My first experience of ‘motherhood’ was thanks to a little guy who climbed onto my lap and into my single woman heart as a weekend and holidays ‘family’ and I know that as much as I celebrated his adoption, my grief at saying goodbye to him forever when he was adopted was harder for me than losing my pregnancy was last year. I knew what comforted him, what he ate, how to manage tantrums when he was with me, what choices were helpful and which weren’t and we figured this all out as we got to know each other. I am not made to be a temporary foster mom – very clearly!

During a conversation about adoption the amazing guy I married said ‘being a dad is a choice – there are many men who father babies who don’t choose to be dads despite being physically present’.

We know we are choosing to do this.

We are choosing to love, live and grow our family with a small person whose presence in our lives is being welcomed and prepared for. As individuals, as a couple and within our broader community.

I sat in church this morning watching the families around me. I was saddened that people think, for us, that this is a plan B. There was a poignant moment as I watched a small person snuggle into their safe grown up’s neck and arms and just relax – and remembered what it was to have someone trust and KNOW that in that moment I was his. His fingers fiddling with my hair and head resting on my shoulder as we sang. THAT had nothing to do with where he came from and everything to do with where he belonged at that moment.

I can’t wait to see my guy hold a small person that way.
I can’t wait to get to know the quirks and wonders of the world through the eyes of a child.

I am petrified at how life will be changed. I can’t wait.

SHOWING UP LOVED

Walking through a forest, reflecting on life, justice and the wide world, a friend said the following to me:

“What would life look life if we showed up every day knowing that we were loved?”
(Marlyn Faure paraphrasing Henri Nouwen)

Eugene Petersen paraphrases 1 John 4: 17 – 21 in a way that explores this too:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home, and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgement Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgement – is one not fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
….Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

This morning I was convicted of the fact that I often DON’T show up loved. I show up like I need to protect myself, like I need to question the people in my world, like I need to do more, be more and try more than I do. I need to control what is happening around me because if I don’t I fear what will happen. I don’t show up loved when I behave this way.

I am not saying that we should not put in effort, that we should strive to be the best we can be, but if we are not doing this from a place of love, then what is our driving force?

Making this real meant figuring out how would my life look different IF I SHOWED UP LOVED:
– What would my marriage look like?
– What would my work space look like?
– What would I be like and my attitude to the different dimensions of me (physical, emotional, intellectually, spiritually)?
– What would my friendships be like?
– What would my family space be like?
– What would my life dreams look like?

Doing this exercise made me realise how much fear had been allowed to show up – out of habit now rather than always for a good reason.

Fear meant that I took shallower breaths, focused on what could go wrong, focused on needing to protect me, and focused on needing plan B, C or H! Fear meant that I worked harder, pushed harder and judged myself harsher than I would anyone around me. Fear meant that things became personal when they weren’t intended that way always.
Fear meant pulling boundaries into rigid spaces rather than letting them be permeable and healthy spaces.
Showing up loved meant that words like the following peppered my page when I did the above exercise. TRUST, SAFE, GROWTH, FUN, VULNERABLE STRENGTH, DEEP, HEALTHY, GRACE, SATISFIED, PURPOSEFILLED, INSPIRED.
Showing up loved means trusting, checking in and then responding to God, to others before reacting from fear and behaving like I wasn’t loved.

I am re-committing to showing up loved.

showing up loved jpg

The “White” Privilege that I never knew I had

A while ago I got into some interesting discussions with some friends.  These friends of mine happen to be people of colour – more specifically belonging to what South African’s understand as Coloured People – this is a “stand alone” cultural group in South Africa

Recently two of these friends returned from an international conference where they had had to explain to people that they weren’t white – they aren’t “black” looking so some of the conference delegates had placed them as being “white”.  I love the fact that these friends are able to clarify and confront and explore social constructs such as race and gender, and yet I know that part of this process means confronting some of the pain of the past too.

 

A few months ago, one of these friends mentioned to me that whilst black South African genealogies are tracked, and white genealogies are nicely archived, the coloured communities genealogies are in boxes – if you want to know your family tree, you need to go scratch through boxes.  When this was told to me, I got very weepy.  See the fact that our old social system of apartheid, denied many people their right to their language and thereby made them submit to the dominant, ruling culture and expectations I was mindful of.  I had never thought that about the details of what this meant in terms of family histories and stories and recognition. 

This weekend we were chatting generally over a braai, talking about life and catching up – and in passing a (coloured) friend made a comment that due to the fact that one of their great grandparents was the result of an affair between a white parent and a parent of colour, the genealogy, my friends genealogy,  on that side of her family just ends. It stops – dead.  Simply as beyond that, no one was allowed or able to access more information due to the old social system.  In contrast to this, our family holidays always included exploring old graveyards (yes, I thought this was weird as a kid) to confirm family details for my uncle who wrote up family histories and assisted people writing up other branches.

I have a strong sense of where I come from and what makes me “me”.   When children are adopted, we do our best to make sure that the family adopting, as well as the child will have a sense of history – as much as is possible.  (One of the crises that may happen for some adopted children is: “Where did I come from originally?”)  

And then I listen to some people who I respect and love, and value that I get to call them friends whose written history is untraceable or oral history ends in places because a social system said it had to. 

We may be addressing the structural injustices of the past – but sadly, there are nuances of things that I am always going to be able to access that some of my friends aren’t – simply because I was born into the “right” people group.   This is white privilege.  I didn’t choose it.  I still got it.  I still get to witness friends work through heartache of some of the past. 

The privilege I can choose is this:

The responsibility that comes with supporting my friends in a way that they choose and ask for is a privilege, as we seek to see hearts and homes healed where history was “dismissed”.

*a braai is the equivalent of a barbeque with a wood fire*

Was he worth the wait?

So much excitement about a wedding & so many people sending love, wishes and hopes for us!  People love to celebrate love.  I know this because my blog got more hits and views and links on the WEDDINGS, DETAILS and WHAT I AM REALLY EXCITED ABOUT than it did for any SOCIAL JUSTICE writing.  I also know this because I am closer to 40 than I am to 30 and there have been so many different reactions to the news that I am getting married. 

Reactions ranging from “he must be really special” *he is* to “ah, see, he was worth waiting for” and “Wasn’t he worth the wait?” I wouldn’t swop my Bear for anyone else.

 If I am going to be annoyed and driven crazy and love and loved, I want it to be with & by him rather than anyone else

Please re-read that before you carry on reading the next line – seriously –make sure you know that I mean it and I want to love and commit to loving him forever – on the good days, the mad days, the sad days and the deeply content days.

However to ask me if “Wasn’t he worth all the waiting?” in some ways is a trap of a question.  The way I understand it is this:

–          I wouldn’t want anyone else

–          I wouldn’t want the waiting time ever again

I shared this with a friend who waited a long time before their child was conceived – she had had the same responses from well -meaning well-wishers – “wasn’t your baby worth the wait?”  She wouldn’t swop that little person for anyone else BUT the heart-ache and grief of being single or child-less is something that neither she nor I ever want again regardless of the outcome.

Walking, talking and listening to friends who are still single – whether younger, my peers or older than me – I am mindful of the amazing gift I have been given in the man who chooses to love me – and still mindful of the chaos of the world as a single person:  of the assumptions made about the amazing men & women I know who love God, love people, are passionate about life and love and yet haven’t met their other.  Being in a relationship is hard at times; iron sharpens iron –we know this.  Being single at times was hard too.

The wait meant some odd choices of dates in perpetual hope; the wait meant that the inner part of me seeking companionship was lonely, not in solitude, in heartache and was sometimes judged when it was expressed for surely I had a life fulfilled – and I did:  I get to do work I love in a country I am passionate about on a continent that pulses a beat of challenges and craziness and creativity. It was hard not having someone to share that with.  Angry, fist raised, crying at God hard some days.

There are no guarantees about the wait just like there are no guarantees that life is necessarily easier in relationship.  I do know this.  I am grateful for a hope fulfilled in the longing for an “other” – especially for the other that I now have to do life with.  I am also grateful that the wait is over and there were moments of growth and hope and amazing adventure in it yes, but that’s not the same as the value of who I have in my life now.