My first granddaughter was born last week, with a full head of black hair and the sweetest little face. I was blessed to be in the delivery room, and at one point I stood back in reverence thinking about the countless women through the ages who have gone through the ritual of labor to bring new life into the world.
When Naomi was born, the elation in the room was unmistakable. There were tears of joy, laughter and smiles – and when I was handed my granddaughter for the first time, I was filled with wonder at just how tiny she was. She was utterly defenseless, and it quickly crossed my mind that newborns are completely dependent on those around them. They cannot survive without an adult to watch over them.
I don’t know if it was the jet black hair that did it, but suddenly my mind was in China, as the realization hit me that my two youngest children had both been left on the street within hours after their births. Of course I knew that in my mind from their adoption paperwork, but I suddenly was fully aware in my heart that my children had been left when they were as tiny and helpless as the baby I now held in my arms. I had to take a deep breath as it washed over me. It is of course the part of their life story that is the most painful to think about.
I know the odds are slim that my children will ever know the exact circumstances surrounding their births, and so understandably we let our imaginations take over. As I stood watching all of the joy and excitement in the labor room for Naomi, I wondered at what point after my youngest daughter’s delivery someone finally placed her in the basket in which she would later be discovered. Were the birthparents hoping for a boy? Did they know ahead of time they couldn’t keep her if she was a second child? We all like to think of birth as a joyous occasion, but of course there are many times when heartache fills a delivery room instead. Did Anna’s mom get to hold her? Or did another relative quickly take her away? We will probably never know, but what different emotions must have surrounded her birth versus the celebrations over my granddaughter’s arrival.
My youngest son also found himself completely on his own immediately after his birth, and the records imply he was left overnight. It hurts my heart to think of him being just hours old and alone on the street. For my son, I tend to think it is clearer on the “why” of his abandonment, as he was born missing part of his arm. When I envision his birth, I actually get quite sad – as I imagine the joy the parents must have felt if they had learned ahead of time that he was a boy, and I wonder how quickly everything changed when they were told his arm had been amputated in utero. I wish they could know him now. I wish they could see that he can do everything with one hand, from riding his bike to swimming like a fish to beating everyone around him on Xbox. But instead, almost immediately after his birth, he was taken away in the night and left on his own. Nothing I do can ever change his newborn reality.
This is the dichotomy of adoption, isn’t it? The yin and the yang. We as adoptive parents get to experience the wonder and blessings of raising our children, while also silently imagining at times the sorrow and grief of the birth family who were either unable or unwilling to keep their child. And of course with Chinese adoptions, there is rarely an easy way to know the actual truth of what they were feeling when they made that fateful decision.
After working in China for eleven years, I now know that every single child has his or her own unique story on how they ended up in an orphanage – but there is no escaping the fact that every abandonment carries a true loss for the child, regardless of age. A wound to the heart. We as adoptive parents often feel a loss as well, as we love our children so much that we wish we could have been there to keep them safe from the very first day, to see their first smile or to celebrate their first steps. And then of course there is the immense loss of the birthparents as well, as they usually have no way of ever learning what became of their child. In so many cases they simply lay their baby down and have to walk away. They will never get to see who the children they brought into this world become.
Joy and sorrow. Gratitude and regret. Our lives are interconnected even if we never meet in person. How many of us when we first got involved with adoption fully understood just how complex it all is? I know I certainly didn’t. And yet every day I give thanks that I am allowed to be part of it, as adoption has changed my heart in ways I never could have imagined. It has opened my heart to the needs of children all around the world. It has deepened my compassion for people who often have to make decisions they never could have imagined. It has reminded me countless times that every day we are given with our children is a day to be treasured.
So I will hold my new granddaughter with awe for the beautiful miracle she is, while giving thanks that somehow I was allowed the privilege of raising two children born to women across the ocean as well. What an astonishing and often humbling world this is.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer