Today I get to share a post written by one of our adoptive moms back in 2013, over two years after she and her husband brought home their son from Ethiopia. Haley Ballast has a gift of crafting words to beautifully express what’s in her heart. In this post, she shares about the on-going journey of healing that adoptive families are walking.
I was not the first woman to mother my son. Not the first to kiss him goodnight, or comfort him when he cried, or carry him on a hip. I didn’t see his first steps, hear his first word, or celebrate his first birthday. By the time I met Zeke, he could kick a soccer ball, drink from a cup, and throw a right wicked tantrum. I had missed a lot.
None of this came as a surprise to me, of course. These small losses are par for the parenting course in international adoption, and they pale in comparison to the much heavier losses sustained by my sweet little boy before he reached his second birthday.
Insignificant as they may be against the backdrop of my son’s experiences, these missed milestones are part of my story. They have woven a thread a grief into the fabric of my mothering, one that shows itself at turns, often with the power to unravel me at the seams.
When my daughter was born in January, I held her close and it was different this time. My first two newborns were every bit as precious, but my heart was as yet unseasoned and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Waves of overwhelming love for this tiny pink person washed over me and I cried: I missed this. These days of warm weight on your chest and the smell of breastfed baby, of tucked-up legs and fuzzy cheeks, they sink down deep into mother hearts and become the strength we need in the whiny witching hours before Daddy gets home, the pity-parties because everyone else’s mom lets them watch that show, and (I can only assume) the nights of missed curfews and eye-rolls and dented fenders.
What happens when you tap into that tank and it’s empty? What happens when you find yourself squaring off with an angry toddler trying to cash a massive emotional check from an account with far too few deposits in its balance history? These moments have been peppered throughout Zeke’s time in our family, and they have been moments of deep grief for me as a parent. Grief for all that my son lost before he came to us. Grief that my gut reactions to his angry behavior are often selfish and lacking compassion. Grief, and even shame, that I should have to work so hard on something that I feel should come naturally (namely, motherly love and affection). And grief that even after two years in our family, my son is still waiting for the other shoe to drop, still keeping a lookout for the next upheaval, still guarding his heart.
Sometimes we take turns grieving, him falling to bits over the wrong kind of breakfast cereal, me crying through our bedtime prayers. Often though, we are in the trenches together. He won’t hug me when I pick him up at preschool and I am not gentle when I put on his jacket. If he is testing me, I’m failing, and we both cry on the way home. It’s not because he hurt my feelings, though that does sting for a moment. It’s because he has to be so smart in all the saddest ways — a baby learning that people leave, that everything can change at any minute. Learning how not to need anyone, how to keep a distance, how to prove we’ve all failed him, even if it’s only in the small things, like jackets after preschool.
By faith I believe that these hard realities are the fertile fields where God is at work, that these bitter truths will somehow bear sweet fruit in the end. But we are not at the end: we are in the thick of it. What do we do in the thick of it? We grieve, and we let our grief become lament. In grief we can be alone, but in lament we are never alone, because lament places our particular pain within God’s greater story. So here we are, my son and I. We get home, and I say a prayer through shuddery breaths, remember Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to go after the one. I get us both a tissue, letting Zeke wipe my eyes because he likes to have a job. We have lost, but we are loved. We are together, and when it is hard to be together because of all we have lost, we lament, and we are not alone.
Haley lives with her husband Jon and their four children in the Pacific Northwest. They are in the process of their second adoption from Ethiopia. She blogged here about the adoption process and Zeke’s first year home,