Written by Nancy Langford //
We longed to be parents. Little did we know when a phone call came late on a Monday night that the next afternoon we would bring home an almost four-year-old and her 17-month old sister. Because we had no child things in our house, they took over our guest room, sleeping in a queen-size bed. Without any preparation, we were thrown into parenthood. A few months later the adoption was official.
We weren’t trying to do anything great. We were just happy to be family. It was a risk we willingly took: giving our hearts to two little girls who had been living on the streets, experiencing trauma unlike anything we knew. Looking back, we understand better the grieving they went through. The feelings of abandonment and rejection were deep-wired, surfacing unexpectedly and without warning. Three years later, as our daughters were adjusting to their new life with us, their birthmother died. Our family planned a funeral for their birthmother and our focus was on being there for our oldest daughter as she deeply mourned another devastating loss.
When someone asks me about adoption, I’m hesitant to paint a pretty picture because as wonderful as it is to give a child a home and a family, it can be difficult. Because of trauma and the lack of early bonding for some children, the more love you give, the harder they resist and push away. Fear of being abandoned and rejected does not disappear. Recently a happily married mom of three expressed to me how even though she was adopted as an infant, she still struggles with feeling secure. Healing comes in the context of relationship. Healing takes time and although the pain lessens and fades, the traumas are deeply imprinted. Adoption is not all rainbows and roses. It comes from hard places, tightly wrapped in loss.
Fast forward twenty years, which included both the added blessing of giving birth to two sons and our personal loss of three babies, and we are almost approaching the end of the road of parenting. Our youngest son was twelve when we adopted a ten-year-old boy from China. When friends visited his orphanage, they heard his plea in conversation through the interpreter as he asked, “When will I have a family?” They told us about him, and we did not really want to adopt. We were okay with our family. When we adopted our daughters, we wanted to be parents. We wanted to have children. It was somewhat of a fulfillment of our desires. This adoption, we realized, was about our obedience in fulfilling our adopted son’s heart desire to have a family. As we filled out all the paperwork and went through the home study process, we had a sense of peace, knowing that if it was meant to be, it would happen. As joyful and exciting as it was adopting him, it has also presented a wave of varying emotions as he learned how to live in a family, speak a new language, and adapt to a different culture. There are still days when he resists feeling safe in being loved. Pain is not a stranger in adoption.
Is adopting for everyone? Perhaps instead, we should ask, is doing something about the 153 million orphans in the world a problem for everyone? An estimated 400,000 of these orphans live in the United States of America. An estimated 135,000 children are adopted in the United States each year. Now, we all know that statistics can be misleading. However, it is my understanding that the definition of “orphan” may include children who have lost one parent. A more accurate estimate of children who have lost both parents would be closer to 13 million. Helping maintain family support in-country may be a more positive and viable option. In any case, taking care of orphans and vulnerable children should be a concern for all of us.
It is vital that we work toward solutions in adoption and in orphan care. Adoption in some countries is full of corruption. Thankfully, many nonprofits are doing wonderful work in supporting in-country family restoration through work training and financial stabilization. Medical organizations are assisting with better medical care of abandoned orphans. Foster families in-country are providing family for children while keeping their cultural identity intact. There are many ways to nurture and care for orphans.
In the United States, thousands of foster children who age-out of the system need parent-like mentors in their lives as they navigate the transition into adulthood. Studies have shown that one out of four aged-out foster youth end up homeless within three years. More than 23,000 young adults age out of the United States foster care system every year. Less than 3% who age-out earn a college degree. About half have difficulty finding employment. 70% of girls become pregnant within three years. Many have mental health needs stemming from the traumas and abuses of their childhoods. On a more practical note, where do they go on holidays? These aged-out foster children usually are not reunited with their families of origin and suffer loss from the lack of family connections.
Obviously adoption is not for everyone, but being involved in some way is. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were no orphans in the world? All children need the support of family love in order to grow. To love and care for orphans and vulnerable children is something we can all do in some way. It may be adopting, but perhaps not; just be open to what you are able to do. Starting out I would never have imagined how my family would be put together, but it is certainly something I daily give thanks for.