Editor’s note: In honor of the upcoming Orphan Sunday, author and mother Sara Hagerty shares with us the following essay about how the language we use around adoption reflects our understanding of our adoption into the family of God.
“We prefer not to refer to our children as ‘adopted children’ as we see adoption as having been a one-time event. We just call them our children,” Hagerty said.
“If Mommy gets a baby in her belly, will you send me back?” my daughter asked, with nervous eyes searching the floor, inhaling the shame of those words as if they were her indictment.
It’s often near the surface for this one — not the year she was “chosen” and a mommy and daddy flew all the way across the ocean to look her in the eyes and call her daughter — but the too-many, earlier years that still seem to weigh heavier. These days, she lives buoyant and giddy. Her eyes have found a sparkle, and we see them more than we see those hands that spent nearly a year awkwardly covering them. My little girl laughs. A lot. And this week when I hugged her I could tell her body wanted to melt (not stiffen) in my arms.
But just within her reach is the shame she feels about her life on the other side, when her given last name tied her to no one. One phrase or question or hint of her past and I watch those eyes, which just harnessed a sparkle, go dark.
Adoption saved her and it haunts her, because of its open-ended definition to her. It’s still a question. She, like many of the rest of us, has yet to reconcile the power of this one act.
Children of My Own
I hadn’t even kissed their foreheads or tickled their feet and this stranger’s words about them stung.
“Oh, you’re adopting? Just you wait. Once you have them at home I’m sure you’ll be able to have children of your own.”
A phrase I’ve heard a hundred times, and it never ceases to give my heart pause. Children of your own, words that expose a subconscious understanding of adoption as charitable affection versus primal love. As if these, once-adopted ones, were somehow, not truly mine.
There is a distinction in our language about those children, once adopted, and their biological counterparts that reveals much more about the state of our hearts — the state of my heart — than it does about the children to whom it’s referring.
That simple phrase, often spoken by beautifully intentioned people, reveals the shame under which my daughter sometimes lives. But she’s not alone, she just lives an outward existence that represents the battle each one of us fights in our understanding of him.
It is inherent to human flesh. We are interlopers, or so we think, hanging on to the coattails of another person’s inheritance. Certainly we’re not “one of his own,” we hold deep-down; instead we grasp at something we believe will never really name us. We are simply recipients of his charitable affections, we subconsciously reason.
Our language about physical adoption reveals the gaps in our understanding about how he has adopted us. And those words that sting when I hear them make me hurt more than just for my children, but for the representation of his name.
Most can’t imagine a love beyond what we see in the natural as the most intense form of love — the kind birthed when a mother’s body breaks open to give life to one that shared her flesh and her breath. How could it be that a mother could not only love, but see as her own, a child that her womb did not form and who wears another mama’s skin? We see the struggle of attaching, mother to child and child to mother, that so often happens in adoption, and it only reinforces our subconscious belief that true love between mother and child is only inherited through blood … and not won.
Adoption Changes Everything
When my daughter’s eyes fill with the shame of her history and her heart begins to clamp behind them and adoption is still her question — am I truly “in” or just posing? – I see me. I see a hundred weak yeses as just plain weak and all the things I’ve declared with my mouth that my body never fulfilled and the times I poured out prayers to him only to forget him, the real source of my strength, hours later.
I see a never-ending list of failures. I live, subtly, as if I am on the outside of that fence. Just like her. All things that could be wiped away in an instant if I understood the power of his having adopted me. This reality changes everything.
I am a child of his own, this God-Man who wrapped his holiness around my sin-stained existence and renamed me. Adopted. Grafted. I am one who is marked by his name more than any of my failures.
A child who knows that adoption isn’t really about the past that haunts her, the forever stamp of separate, not included, but instead the name of the King who fought, hard for her — she wears a love that is fierce. She’s a force with which to be reckoned, this wildly-loved former-orphan. Me.
So when I hear that phrase “a child of your own” separating the children under my roof from the one born from my womb, and my heart saddens at the misunderstanding of this wild-love that’s been birthed within my home among children who wear another mama’s skin, I can’t help but think of him.
He calls me “his own” when the world and my heart wants to label me forever severed.
Adoption is his great declaration.
Sara Hagerty is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. Sara is the author of Every Bitter Thing is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God In All Things and she writes regularly about life-delays, finding God in the unlikely, motherhood, marriage and adoption at http://EveryBitterThingisSweet.com, where this article originally appeared.
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