Writing Elijah’s story has offered me space to reflect on the frenzy between the night of March 29 and the morning of April 2. I know that with parenthood the frenzy does not stop, but how our son came into the world and into our home seems to me to be an account worth recording and sharing. While the posts have been long, I have left a lot out because some of the stories are not mine to tell. Carey and I also believe Elijah needs to be the first person to hear certain details and, well, his language faculties are not that strong at this point. We are working on his spelling.
We adopted Elijah on April 1, 2012, Palm Sunday. The fact that we adopted our son at the beginning of Holy Week rings with significance for me. Beginning with Palm Sunday each year, the Christian Church remembers the events of a week that culminated in Jesus’ unjust death and glorious resurrection, changing the world forever. We remind one another that death and evil never have the final word. We remember God’s great power is seen not only in the ability to orchestrate events, but more in God’s ability to take the worst humans can do — executing an innocent and holy man — and redeem it so that it becomes the means of salvation and reconciliation for the whole world. A hateful crime is transformed into the most loving act ever known. We celebrate redemption and resurrection. Elijah’s young life is a resurrection story, full of surprise and grace.
I mentioned in the first post of this series that our Christian faith greatly influenced our decision to adopt. Adoption stories are often significant in the history of God’s people (e.g., Moses, Esther). It is hard to read the Bible without seeing a command to care for the orphan (see this list of verses for examples). Yahweh is described as “the great God” who, “who executes justice for the orphan…providing them with food and clothing.” (Deut 10.18) Because caring for children who need homes is central to God’s character, it is also central to who the people of God are — it is not an extracurricular activity. Finally, I have to see that I too am adopted, for the Bible speaks of God’s people as adopted children. Paul beautifully writes about this reality in his letter to the Romans:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (8.14-17)
From the perspective of the Bible, adoption is a picture of grace. God takes people who are not in God’s family and welcomes them as sons and daughters. I have to remember that I was a spiritual orphan, without family or home until God welcomed me as a son. As people whom God has adopted, Carey and I believed we needed to extend that same love to a child who needs a home.
As I said in the first post of this series, Carey and I have wanted to adopt even before we knew each other. Adoption played a significant role in each of our families’ histories. The adoption of Carey’s great-grandfather changed the trajectory of his life and created a legacy of higher education in her family — Carey attending college and becoming a physician can be traced back to that adoption years ago. Elijah represents at least the third consecutive generation in my family to have an adopted child. Adopting on my mother’s side is as common as eloping, also on a three-generation streak. In our family we do more than merely accept adoption as a reality, we embrace it as a beautiful way to grow a family. The adopted children know as much of their stories as possible from an early age. I have never seen any of my adopted relatives treated differently and I am so thankful that this has been my experience.
Although I knew my faith and family history prepared me for adopting a child, the great joy and love I have felt in the past week and a half has surprised me. I knew adoption was good, but experiencing its sweetness firsthand as a parent has caught me off guard. I find myself speechless, full of gratitude that can only be expressed in tears as I hold my son, feed him, pray for him, tell him his story, read to him the biblical accounts of Elijah and Jesus’ resurrection. Carey remarked last week that she could not remember the last time she saw me so happy and I have to agree with her. When we met Elijah on April 1, he was a stranger to us. In a short time we realized he was the child, the exact child for whom we prayed and wanted. We did not want to adopt just any child, we wanted to adopt Elijah specifically — we just did not know it until we met him.
Many people have wondered what it is like to become a parent in 48 hours. It was not easy, but the anxiety I felt is slowly melting away each time I hang out with my son. I know we made the right decision. I was so worried that we did not have the infrastructure to care for Elijah. Usually when families go on the last-minute parent list, our agency requires them to provide proof that they are ready to bring home a child at any time. Because we were not officially on the last-minute list, we did not have to provide similar proof and were caught off guard. The generosity of our families, friends, and co-workers has humbled us greatly. People have given us so much stuff that we started returning things we purchased. The grandparents stayed with us, supported us, and gave us great parenting lessons. The meals from friends and friends of friends remind us of God’s providence. The prayers and congratulations have encouraged us, especially as we feel the cumulative effects of interrupted sleep and the stress of constantly looking out for the needs of a helpless infant. While I would not recommend every adoption happen so quickly, we have seen God’s blessing and love expressed in inventive ways.
The process of adopting Elijah has also turned my mind to societal and more controversial matters, namely abortion and the difficulties facing parents who want to adopt. Elijah’s birthmom found herself with an unintended pregnancy and knew early on that she did not want to parent him. So many similar cases end in abortion in the U.S. Make no mistake, the circumstances leading to abortion are often the same circumstances leading to placement for adoption. Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and half of those end in abortion, meaning there are 1.3 million abortions a year. According to a Child Welfare Information Gateway study done in 2011, only 135,813 children were adopted in the U.S. in 2008. I mourn the fact that adoption is not seen as a reasonable option either for women who find themselves with unintended pregnancies or for many prospective parents. I cannot now imagine a world without Elijah and it frightens me to think that if he had a different birthmom, he may not be alive today. I am so grateful, eternally grateful, that Elijah’s birthmom chose to bring him to term. What an incredible act of love.
Having heard the stories of birthmothers who have placed their children for adoption, I know that it is not an easy choice. I also know the way our society views the participants in our situation discourages women who do not want to parent from placing their child with another family. Adoptive parents are often seen as heroes, rescuing innocent children from the jaws of poverty and neglect. A birthmother is viewed as immoral and unfit and clearly does not love the child growing in her womb because no good, loving mother would never abandon her baby. Birthfathers are talked about even less and are seen as deadbeats at best. Abortion thus becomes a more attractive option because it can be done with greater secrecy and seemingly with less societal shame. But the stereotypes of birth families are not based on much reality. The fact is Elijah has been surrounded by love his entire life from his birth family to his adoptive family. His birthmom and birthgrandma made sure he received his prenatal care. Carey’s colleagues worked hard to keep him and his birthmom healthy and safe. This is not to make adoption a pollyannaish process, but to say that though this situation was born out of difficulty, the people involved truly love Elijah and express it in unique ways.
Having gone through an adoption, I can say there are many disincentives for adoptive parents along the way. Private adoption, either domestic or foreign, is expensive. We were subject to background checks, financial checks, fingerprinting, and home inspections. All of these are reasonable, but as we proceeded in the process, I kept thinking, birth parents never have to do any of this stuff. A pregnant couple’s custody of their child does not depend on correctly answering questions about their philosophy of discipline or making sure all their medicine is in a locked box. Adoption agencies are non-profits and ours certainly earned their fees, but I could not help thinking that while adoption was an excellent use of our money, a good portion of our fees could have started a college fund for my child. In our research of which adoption route to take we also looked into the public foster-adopt system, which is even more difficult to navigate. There are similar background checks and home studies. While it is less expensive, the bureaucratic maze is worse than the private option. There are mandatory classes held over several weeks, each offered only once a year, meaning it could take years for parents to be considered ready for adoption if their schedules do not line up with the local government’s. There are groups in America working hard to ensure abortions are available regardless of ability to pay. I wonder why there is not a similar cry for making adoption available regardless of ability to pay. How many incredible parents are out there who would gladly adopt a child who needs a home but cannot because they are unable to afford the high costs? Health insurance plans often cover infertility treatment, but offer little help with adoption. With the large amount of kids in foster care and the continuing high percentage of unintended pregnancies, why do we not support adoption and adoptive parents with more resources?
The day we adopted Elijah I turned 33 years old. It was, as many people have stated, the best birthday present I could imagine. And as someone who has studied Christian theology, I take great comfort in the fact that no one has ever accomplished anything of importance at the age of 33. Wait a minute.