Before the Birthday Candles

I lit a candle tonight and reflected on the fact that we get to celebrate my son’s first birthday soon.

We get to celebrate the laughter, the giggles, the mischief and snuggles that is fully him.

We get to reflect on the joy of the last 6 months of being his parents. The joy in seeing him sit up, cut teeth, crawl, walk and speak his first basic words to us.

Before we celebrate the sweetness of adoption though, the bitter part of the grief of adoption has shown itself.

I told him his basic adoption story again this evening – he has heard it before.  It is his story after all, as much we are a part of it and he is a part of ours.

His story, the details of which are his to hold onto or tell as he grows.

Tonight on reflecting on our beautiful son and how awe inspiring it is to see him growing before our eyes, I was reminded of the fact that he is going to have things to deal with that we can’t pretend he isn’t.

I was reminded that  for 9 months, he grew under his birth mom’s heart – and as much as people say that adoption is when a baby grows in your heart instead of your womb, this baby grew under a heart in another’s womb and that is a part of his story.

It is a part of her story and now it is a part of our story too.

A friend recently reminded me that the Psalmist speaks in Psalm 139 of being knit together in a mother’s womb and not being hidden from the start.  She reminded me that my son was known from the start as much as we didn’t know him from the start.  I was reminded this evening that as much as adoption was always part of how I planned to grow my family one day, of the conversations my guy and I had prior to marriage that, this plan brings with it a story of loss for two others – but that they are known too.

Tonight I want to make sure that he knows that we will stand next to him in responding to the things that are going to be his to deal with as he matures into manhood.

More than that, before we think about candles on cakes, tonight I lit a candle and want to honour a birthmother, who a year ago was preparing for labour and to relinquish (the details of this are hers and his) the baby who became our son.

I want to honour her simply for being his other mother.  We don’t know her and she doesn’t know us and yet our life stories are intertwined.

So before the candles celebrating a year of life are lit, there is another life I want to honour tonight and have no idea how do that.

Other than to pray.

To hold the space with my son and to say to this other mother that you are a part of our story always.

In a respectful way.

In a way which honours a decision you made.

In a way which honours our son.

In a way that honours the unknown between us and yet shares a life.

Tonight I simply want to honour you.

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Adoption – before the child arrives – stuff.

I am not an expert in this.  I am in this.  This being our journey towards hearing that we are approved as adoptive parents and waiting to meet our small person. Along the way we have been asked by some people to voice what is helpful in terms of support and then an even more amazing question has been posed to me:

“and please tell me what isn’t helpful – we don’t know how to navigate this, so make a list, write a blog please.”

According to my Facebook feed there are a lot of do and don’t lists out there. Around adoption. Around marriage. Around singleness. Around *insert the most recent one YOU read here*.  Some of them are helpful and some of them have frustrated lots of my friends. Here are my suggestions, rather than directives, discovered in collaboration with other moms.

Yip. I did what any modern day mother to be does and sourced some input from adoptive moms on Facebook (as well as in person). I hope this honours what the moms shared with me.

DISCLAIMER: “One size never fits all!” so different people will have different needs.  I am writing this, not just for me, but with other’s input – who are not me.  Out of relationship, in your space, with me, or someone like me, this needs to be figured out!

I guess that would be my starting point:  What is your relationship to me and what will it be to my child?   Out of this relationship space, with any new mom& dad, I would suggest that the following things are helpful:

  • QUESTIONS & CURIOUSITY: ASK! Think about what you are asking though – one mom asked that people think about how they are asking as well as why they are asking.  If it’s clumsy curiosity that can be navigated VS wanting to tell a potential adoptive parent how or why they should or shouldn’t do this.  Part of why the adoption screening process is intense is to allow for things to be thought through and for parents to be prepared.
  • JOIN ADOPTION SUPPORT groups: If you are on Facebook you can access these. It was noted that it can get tiresome having to answer questions around the details. Joining a support group on social media helps you process with us, as well as being a resource for you in terms of details and dynamics. It also shows us how much you are interested in and are wanting to support the journey!
  • BE EXCITED with us – like you would for any prospective parent. Pregnant tummies and boobs don’t grow, but the process is intense in different ways as shifts, preparation, screenings and decisions are being made.

It’s helpful when people are excited with rather than simply judging the process or the potential outcome. Hearts are growing and making space for another human- some days these are more fragile than others, and so while not hormonally driven, we still need to work out how to honour them.  Our process might seem intense to you, but it’s about making sure that our future children get matched as well as possible with their future parents.  It’s about having healthy parents – much like your scans and screenings and nutrition, in hope and faith, help grow a healthy tummy baby – our prep process helps grow healthy families.

(P.s. Not all babies raised by their birth moms turn out uncomplicated, so adopted children may or may not either! “Children have glitches sometimes” to quote a child I work with: part of a good adoption prep process explores and prepares parents for these possibilities).

  • Being EXCITED SPECIFICALLY FOR THE CHILD who is coming: Regardless of the reason why people have chosen to grow their family through adoption, whether it started by choice or infertility, a family is about to grow.

It’s hard for people who have struggled through an infertility journey to have to listen to well-intended comments that they will now fall pregnant.  There might be lots of anecdotal stories to this effect, but this can offer intense frustration rather than hope for people who are excited about one child and people are already talking about another.

In chatting to someone about adoption, and how we can fall pregnant but are choosing this, the nearest they had which they could relate to was that once they had given up on a 2nd child and got a puppy, pregnancy followed soon after. so not really like us but this was well intended and meant to be a shared understanding. Instead it was a bit perplexing. The longing for a child yes – we both related to that but our choice in this wasn’t heard nor was the sad irony of comparing an adopted child to a puppy which wasn’t worth pressing into at the time – however, my social filters were 😉

  • BABY SHOWERS: This might seem tricky as the due date isn’t quite as obvious as it is for a birth mom, but actually this is one rite of passage for most parents these days.  It’s a way of acknowledging a shift (both in budget for most of us and identity for all of us!) on a journey to becoming parents. I was at a baby shower for a friend whose own story to growing her family had lots of pain and heartache in it initially – the baby shower however was one of the most joyous community oriented, celebratory events I have ever witnessed! Never mind the abundant gifts, the abundant support for this couple is what was overwhelmingly clear.  Practical preparations (guest lists and so on) for the shower had started as soon as these friends were officially approved for adoption. The final dates and logistics were confirmed once they got the call.  Other friends had their showers once their small person arrived. There are ways to make these things work.
  • ACKNOWLEDGING STARTING POINTS: Our children’s starting point won’t be with us and while this is important to acknowledge, it is also important that we recognise that in this, adoptive parents miss out on the early days spent getting to know small people in the same way as a birth mom who has kept her baby does. This doesn’t mean that adoptive moms aren’t real moms –  See below for clarification!

Adjustment, planning to be available in terms of meals and babysitting, as well as recognising that our kids need to attach to us AFTER they have attached to others matters.  This attachment process might make us seem nit-picky or super aware of being the person who baths and feeds and does the majority of the cuddling – this is all an important part of our initial story.  Starting points also include our child’s starting (birth story) – different families have different views on how much is shared around this.

Different families may do this differently – this is another relationship space which needs to be figured out!

  • THE BIRTH MOM/ TUMMY MOM/ REAL MOM thing: The government paperwork refers to adopted children as ‘being yours as if born unto you’.    That makes adopted moms A REAL mom.  The birth mom still needs to be honoured too – regardless of her story.  It helps our children deal with their two stories:  pre-adoption and post-adoption to know that there is space in our worlds for us and their birth mom.
  • If you are a person who PRAYS, PRAY for us. Pray for us in the process. Pray for us in the waiting.  Pray for our child – wherever they are.  Pray for their birth mother and carers who will be saying goodbye at different stages in their story, before we get to meet them.  Pray for our families and communities to as they prepare to welcome a new person.

Finally to paraphrase one mom 🙂

‘Stop asking when the child is coming – when we know,

we PROMISE you will know too!’

The waiting season is a hard one for many reasons  with no idea of when the due date will be.  In this time some of us are able to carry on with work and life things as they are until we get the long awaited call.  For some of us, plans need to be put in place in preparation for the call.  I know I am one of them as my work involves processes with children and I don’t get to just stop these – so while I have work timelines I don’t have much else just yet!  This isn’t craziness – it’s preparing for the next season.

We can’t wait for the official thumbs up call.

We can’t wait for the call to say there is a referral.

Thank you for waiting with us.

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.

Are there more white people like you?

In the past few weeks I have been faced with my ‘privilege’.
My white privilege.
Yes mine.

I have been faced with the fact that as much as I am surrounded by amazing people, doing things to see communities shift and healed, that there is not enough contact between different (colour)people happening to make people realise that actually there are many(white)who are seeking this change. Who think that justice matters, who think that restitution matters.

How do I know this?

Simply because too often, it’s the same people in contact with the same circles –regardless of what the circles look like. I know this because a friend boldly told me this. He heard me say that my heart was sore because in 2 days I had two friends of colour (from different contexts) voice this sentiment:

Are there more? Maybe there are more but we don’t see or hear them?

Then I got thinking about how do we make these circles bigger? How do we mix them up more?

The next challenge then got thrown at me by someone whose dreams I respect and support, whose voice is loud, whose passion for community, for people and for South Africa is being refined and yet I know that these dreams seem to belong to someone else at times for this friend, as he has other responsibilities in life that stop the pursuit of these dreams.

Why do I think that his dreams matters?
• I believe that we need more young leaders and men like my friend in communities speaking, advocating and encouraging people.

• I believe that we need to relook at how we understand supporting education in this country – for some of us it is about equipping teachers, advocating for bursaries – but I was recently challenged to think beyond that to what does it mean for someone whose very BASIC income is needed to support their family (with basics – regardless of the nature of their work) to how do we support big hearts and brilliant minds out of relationship to be able to study further. We all know that education matters, in this instance though – relationship matters too.

• I was privileged in having parents, who still had to sacrifice, but were able to put me through Varsity with no study debt. My friend’s starting point is not this but it could be if we stood next to him in this. If we acknowledged our privilege – our connections, our contexts, our means – and used it to support him. Then maybe there would be more – more people with privilege being seen as people who are there, who truly are committed to seeing things change.

I want to stand beside a friend to see his dreams come true while his family still live and eat and can celebrate his dreams too. So I am talking with others (yes more of us & mixed racial circles), and praying and seeking other people to stand alongside him. Not out of charity. Out of relationship. This is what family does. This is what we do when we are in relationship and see and hear and acknowledge each other’s dreams.

We help find ways of seeing them happen. I have had people doing this with me. And still do. I want to be a part of someone else’s story too.

This was written with the knowledge of my friend whose story challenged mine – I am grateful that he shared his story with me. In doing so it made me a part of his story as much as he became a part of mine.

Motherhood: Permission to have 2 plan A’s

Motherhood – such a loaded term for some people. Can we do this, do we want to do this, how should we do this?

My first experience of motherhood was the privilege of being a ‘weekend’ mom/ big sister to a little guy who was my angel. He taught me that it was possible to love someone who I hadn’t carried from his beginning with a love that is still there and that I did indeed have the capacity to make decisions that were good for him; that I had the ability to nurture and want the best for a little person that for all intents and purposes couldn’t give anything back to me really. Yet gave me something that sometimes I can’t find words for – it just was this beautiful relationship which I had as a gift (with all its ups and downs) until he got his forever family. Honestly, I struggled to understand why when we have 4 million orphans in this country why anyone would choose to have a birth baby rather than adopt one because there are babies & children waiting to be loved?

My plan A was always to create a family, Lord willing (note the ‘my plan’ in this) via adoption. It wasn’t something that I had to wrestle with, or figure out. It just made sense. I was jealous of friends who were in a place to initiate their adoption process when I knew that from a screening point of view I wasn’t in a position to offer a small person what they needed. I was jealous of friends who announced their adoptions on facebook, in community groups. I missed having my little person with me who I celebrated having a forever family (for him) and yet had to grieve that it wasn’t me.

Then I got married to a wonderful man, to a man who believes in adoption & who is wanting to adopt, but is also wanting us to birth babies, Lord willing. This is his dream. This is something that matters to him. His ‘Plan A’ for family has always included both: birth children and adopted children. What a gift of a husband I have. What a challenge to me though to consider the possibilities of birth babies as well as adopted ones? In my head adoption was the plan A. It was hard to consider anything else.

Until I had this conversation with a friend whose plan A was always to have a birth baby until she was told for physiological reasons that this wasn’t an option. I thought that she would totally endorse my position. Except she didn’t. She listened to me. She let me weep. She let me express the depth of my thoughts, and a position which I didn’t know until then that I felt so strongly about; and then she challenged me. She challenged me on the fact that God gives children as blessings. She challenged me to rethink what my wonderful man was asking; she asked me to think about whether I was in a position to honour my husband and the potential gift of a birth baby and the experiences that come with that in terms of opening up aspects of my husband that only I potentially could. She affirmed the fact that adoption was still a part of the plan.

This opened up a 6 month process of me sitting with these questions. Praying with my husband, praying alone, praying with friends. And then we fell pregnant sooner than anticipated & despite not meeting this baby on this side of heaven, discovered that actually we are “fertile” and fortunate compared to so many we know. I also discovered that actually I do want to embrace the experience of growing a small person. I do want to share this with husband.

As I write this I have the honour of being a facilitator on a weekend of equipping parents who are adopting, have adopted and considering adoption. I spent time yesterday afternoon with a little boy who has been declared eligible for adoption and who in my heart I wish we could adopt. His eligibility for adoption came through 3 months after we were married. Seeing him yesterday, in a family style home, 2 years since I last saw him, reminded me again that he is so ready for a family. And my heart is still to have a child like him be a part of ours.

I am grateful to my friend for challenging, listening, holding and responding to a space which isn’t neutral for her. It’s a space which held pain. It’s a space which provoked her needing to look at what was previously her plan A and still being able to look at me with compassion.

Today I sit knowing that motherhood is allowed to have 2 plan A’s, each plan with its own celebrations and grief. Today I sit knowing that my journey is now an “Our Journey” and that it means we both have decisions and choices. Today I sit knowing that there aren’t guarantees about how our family is going to be shaped but I do know that motherhood is allowed to have 2 plan A’s,

Blessed are the peacemakers…am I really one of them?

What does this mean in a time where there is so much conflicting evidence, opinion and ways of being?

What does this mean when I see one overall picture and understand that (as much as I can anyhow) and yet when I look at some of the details and nuances of the picture know that I can’t ignore those too?

What does this mean when I understand that one man’s army/ terrorist is another’s freedom fighter?

The past 10 days we have seen escalations of rockets and strikes in Israel and Palestine.
We have heard horrific stories from people who have been able to tell them out of Baghdad, Iraq.

How quickly I forgot that wars can’t be won in social media platforms.
How quickly I forgot that posting a status doesn’t communicate anything of my position rather simply puts me at one end of the extreme or the other – and alienates discussion.

Do I think that it’s important for me to know why I think what I think and be willing to stand up for it? Yes.
Do I think that I am always wise in the way that I have positioned this? No.

A friend’s Mom who has known me since I was 12, said to me in a discussion “you and I both suffer with this desire for everything to be right and fair”. She and I have been communicating via facebook and via email in an attempt to figure things out – something I so value and appreciate. Not because we want to be right, but because we have both wanted to understand more.

This weekend I have had nights of poor sleep which have involved lying awake and praying – for Israel, for Palestine and for Iraq. Nights where I have asked God to make sense of this for me, to make sense of how people can do to others what is and has been done.

Someone posted back on something I had posted on facebook and asked for input on, that “regardless of who holds the passport, one life lost is one life too many”. I totally agree with her: This I have never disputed and ironically is very much in keeping with the Israeli position on life.

A wise man I know told me to be pro-peace, pro-people and pro-the Existence of the State of Israel, a place where Jewish people – and others – have a home, in where I position myself.

In my own reflections I have read and been sitting with Ecclesiastes 7: 18

“It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The wise man who fears God will avoid all extremes” (NIV)
Or
“It’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it” (The Message)

So what does this mean for me, in my (limited) understanding of the current, but ongoing, crisis:

• I understand the fact that Israel has rockets launched into it weekly, if not daily, from Gaza and that these go unreported and unknown for the vast majority of us. Someone I know lives in a part of Israel that has rocket alerts at the very least, once a week – he is a peace loving person, who sees value in ALL people and wants peace. He has no political agenda in sharing this information. These ongoing “rockets” have happened in one way or another since the establishment of Israel in 1948.

• I understand that to be a Palestinian means to be treated differently. I know that there are aspects of this that don’t make sense to me at all and I know that there are aspects of this that need to be addressed and looked at.

• I also know and have personally witnessed Arabs and Israelis co-existing and doing life in Israel – living, eating, shopping and studying together. I ate & shopped in Arab owned businesses which my Jewish friends took me to and where they were all known by name.

I see a piece of the picture for Israel. Israel who has heard repeatedly that they are not recognised by certain parts of the Arab world, that they need to wiped out and I see the horrible details in this picture belonging to the people of Palestine.

I have learnt this week that I feel strongly that to see one without the other is to not see the full picture:
That they are different parts of the same picture.
I have learnt that I have failed in being a peacemaker in this – and I am sorry for this.

I have learnt that it matters to me that we are not selective in the “justice via social media” that we are dispensing – that what is happening in Iraq matters just as much as what is happening in Palestine and Israel and that my frustration levels at people not acknowledging this is what has contributed to my failing in part, in the way I have responded.

I have learnt, that to quote Solomon:

“Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (Ecc 9:18)

Blessed are the peacemakers in our world who are weeping together, walking together, mourning together.
May I learn what it means to be one of them.