Approaching Our Journey’s End: The Complicated Joy and Tragic Gift of Adoption

This past Friday, I spent hours and hours online, reading stories about failed adoptions. I did the same thing Thursday. And I’m fighting the temptation to do the same today.

I know. I have issues.

In my defense though, I am part Irish. It’s in my blood to expect the worst…or, as I call it, to be “extra realistic.” Besides that, this whole adoption process has been so fraught with problems, from first to last, that expecting these remaining days to be anything less than traumatic seems foolish.

Friends and family, trying to be helpful, keep telling me to relax, to put it in God’s hands, and trust that it’s going to be all right. But human hearts don’t trust on command. If they did, I assure you, mine would be trusting right now. I order it to trust God daily, explaining to my heart how loving and merciful He is, and how He is working with the mess we’ve handed Him to bring about the eternal good of everyone involved in this adoption.

But my heart can’t hear those explanations. It’s too busy flipping and flopping about in my stomach—anxious, distracted and overwhelmed—to really listen to what my head is telling it.

Even my head, however, for all that it knows about God’s goodness, also knows that so much could go wrong in the next nine days. The baby’s mother could decide to give him to another couple. The baby himself could stop breathing. Our plane could come crashing down in some Kansas farm field. Heck, a nuclear bomb could fall on Sacramento. Yes, it’s a stretch, but we just don’t know.

Then, there’s the baby’s mother, who is worrying me as much as the baby himself. She is in so much pain—so much gut-wrenching, heart-searing, soul-piercing pain—not just about the adoption, but about all the uncertainty that lies ahead for her. And it’s only going to get worse.

I hate that. I hate that my joy can only be made possible by her sorrow. I hate that my prayers can only be answered through her suffering. It’s like praying for an organ transplant, where one person has to die, so another person can live, except, in this case, one woman has to give up her child, so I can have a child. One woman has to renounce her motherhood, so I can become a mother. It’s not a physical death she has to go through, but it’s a death just the same.

Moreover, this particular someone who has to suffer is already the most wounded person I’ve ever met. She’s had every bad hand possible dealt to her in her 36 years, and the one beautiful thing she has in her life right now—this precious baby—she has to give to me, a woman with so many gifts, so many loved ones, so many advantages. It’s just not fair.

I know: life isn’t fair. I also know there is no other way for her. She has to place the baby for adoption. Not because I need it, but because the baby needs it. She is not physically, mentally, or emotionally capable of raising a child, nor is there is any one else in her life or the father’s life who can care for him. Adoption is the only and best option for this little boy. But the whole thing, on a cosmic scale, is still massively unfair.

I don’t understand it. I don’t know how God will bring all these things right in the end. I know He can. I know He will. But it’s impossible, from here, to see how.

And so, I fret. I suffer and pray and sacrifice for a little boy who feels like my own, but who still belongs to somebody else. I wash and fold and pack mountains of baby clothes, not knowing if I’ll ever dress that sweet boy in any of them. I hang pictures in a nursery, where no baby may ever sleep.

And the whole while I do it, I mourn for the woman who carries him in her womb, who is anxious, scared, and grieving, and who doesn’t have the emotional or spiritual tools to cope with that grief. I think up 100 different ways to help her, knowing she’ll reject or squander every offer made. And then, late at night, instead of sleeping, I sit in a dark, empty nursery and pray another Rosary for her, because that’s all I’ve got left.

Adoption is a beautiful thing. But it is also a terrifying thing. It is a maddening thing. It is a mystifying thing—a joy born of tragedy, an echo of that happy fault that led to our own adoption, as sons and daughters of God. It is a type of grace…but it’s still vastly more complex than I ever imagined, from the outside looking in.

Pray for me. Pray for us. But especially pray for her, the mother. If baby still looks good at today’s doctor appointment, we’ve got nine days to go. Two weeks from now, one way or another, this part of our seven month journey with this woman and this child will be over. Here’s hoping another journey with them will soon begin.

**Yes, that’s where the crib is going. No, a baby won’t be sleeping there for some time. Yes, we’re taking down the curtains and putting up cordless roller shades. No, a baby can’t open or break the windows from the crib. Yes, it’s very warm there, even in winter. And no, it’s not an antique; my parents bought it for us from Wayfair. Thank you for your concern. 😉

20 thoughts on “Approaching Our Journey’s End: The Complicated Joy and Tragic Gift of Adoption

  1. Tiffany says:

    Praying for you, that this journal gets better. I cannot begin to imagine all these multitude of feelings everyone in this situation is facing, and I really do pray that whilst there is pain, there is beauty at the end of this journey. xo

  2. Patricia says:

    Prayers offered for all involved. I hope that in the end, your fears are unfounded and God shows you his mercy.

  3. Emily D. says:

    So, vis-a-vis joy made possible by sorrow–when I was waiting for my transplant, my mindset always was that God’s will was going to be done. Someone was going to die–but that person was going to die *anyway*. Not in a callous way. But since God is the author of life and death, to me, if was more like, her time will come–and then, if it’s God’s will, I will receive what I need. So I didn’t look at it as someone has to die so I can live, although that’s how it was working–it was more like, God is sovereign, and this has been ordained, and I just have to hang on. I had an odd sense that I was going to get my transplant, anyway, but I wasn’t sure about that.
    A priest I talked to after the surgery said that yes, it is a gift–but if you think too much about the person that died, you’ll go crazy, feeling the weight of obligation and burdens that I can’t possibly fulfill.
    I know it’s different for you, because you intimately know this mom–I didn’t know my donor. It’s much more real for you, in a sense, than it was for me. But one of the things I’ve learned from the donation community is that the donor families feel a lot of joy in SEEING recipients–it gives them peace knowing that their loved one’s death brought about life. So maybe, for Toby’s family, that will eventually come?
    You and Christopher and Toby and everyone involved are always in my prayers! I don’t know if any of this helps but I thought I’d share my two cents.

  4. heidihesssaxton says:

    What a beautiful nursery! (The comments made me chuckle … I could just see your little one swinging from the curtains like a monkey in a tree!). I apologize, Emily, if my advice to trust was like salt on an open wound. I will simply pray for you these next nine days, that love would cover all. The little boy is blessed to have two mothers who love him so much.

  5. Katie H says:

    So many prayers are with you! I cannot even imagine how hard this whole process is, but I really appreciate you writing about it as it’s happening. I have only two comments which might be helpful or unhelpful. When I’m struggling with trust (especially at this time for a future spouse) I try to remember the times when the Lord has been faithful in the past. It doesn’t always help, but sometimes it does, it’s at least distracting and makes me think of amazing things that have happened to me in the past. Then I go right back to being worried, concerned, and forgotten from Him. But for a moment, I was trusting. And the second is something that Brene Brown says about “foreboding joy” (video: … that joy is scary. Why do we think of the absolute worst when what we’ve always wanted is about to become ours? Why do we immediately think of something terrible when something good is about to happen? She says it’s because we can be afraid to be happy because we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. It doesn’t always make it better, but it helps me understand myself and be okay with “not being okay right now.” I’ll be praying for you – for your son, his birth mother, your flight, rain in Kansas, and no crazy people in the Sacramento airport for the entire time you’re in the state! I don’t know how the Lord will accomplish this in your life, all I know is that He will still be the Lord when it’s over.

  6. Theresa says:

    Dear Emily,

    As I just read your post, I truly felt like a sister, lifelong friend, or relative that has known you for years–has been rooting for you along your journey –hoping and praying for the final victory. To be completely honest, my heart and guts were wrenching inside as if this were also happening to me. You have a beautiful gift of conveying your inner life with such genuineness, vulnerability, true humility, and grace. You are allowing the Body of Christ to suffer together and glory together by sharing your unique gift of writing that the Holy Spirit has bestowed you with. Thank you for your transparency and for giving of yourself to all of us. I will pray hard for your story to have a fabulous end and new beginning.

  7. Drusilla Barron says:

    What a beautiful nursery. Thank you for being willing to help bring joy out of such horribly painful and confusing human relationships. Thank you for exposing yourself to such potential pain. I’m praying for you, for the baby, and for his mother.

  8. Amanda says:

    Praying deep prayers for you all! Had to chuckle at the end of the post..never would have considered all of those concerns. Thought the nursery was simply beautiful 🙏🏻

  9. Judy says:

    What a heart breaking journey. I will be keeping all of you in my prayers. MY God bless all of you in the weeks ahead.

  10. Amy Salas says:

    Hi Emily, I’m sorry for all the pain and confusion. I’m an elementary school teacher and registered foster parent in Northern California and have been following your adoption story. My prayers have been with you all – and last week I included your intentions in my rosary for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I haven’t ever been in your situation but have been through a very painful divorce which ultimately came out in the most positive way possible for the sake of myself and my son. When I cry and hurt and cry out with a mother’s pain I call to Our Lady who knows a mother’s pain like no other. She knows your confusion and she prays for you and all whose lives are touched by this baby. Thank you for sharing yourself. Please know you are not alone.

  11. MB says:

    I have been reading your writing for a long time and never commented. I have all your books and take so much inspiration from your words, and the story you are living. When you look back at all this in the future, you will see how much strength you had to survive it. “For in fire gold is tested” Sirach 2:5

  12. ninaonfood says:

    I am a Catholic and an adoptive mom. My girlie is now 28. I look back and have no regrets. We weren’t in your situation with an intense-sounding relationship with the birth mom. That is a tough place to be for you. I couldn’t do it, honestly. It is an unjust burden on you. Will say my rosary for you today.

    You adopting out of Sacto?

  13. Vicki Marani says:

    Dear Emily — On 7/16/18, the day you wrote this heart-wrenching piece, the morning readings in Magnificat included this one, Isaiah 30:15b: “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies.” Hang on to that, even — perhaps especially — if you can’t quite believe it. It will remain true regardless of the outcome, which you have rightly and faithfully acknowledged is in God’s hands.

    • Emily says:

      Oh Vicki, you have no idea how much that particular Scripture verse means to me. It was the one God gave me over and over again during all the years I was waiting for Chris. I even demanded from God a letter in the mail once telling me what to do, and a letter arrived a few days later with that verse written across the back! Thank you for listening to the Holy Spirit and sending it along!

  14. Sharon says:

    So many prayers for you! Our daughter joined our family through the gift of adoption 2 years ago. We have a wonderful open adoption with her birth mom and family, but knowing that my joy comes out of her birth mom’s sorrow is still very difficult for me. Adoption is so complicated, but also so worth it. It’s a unique cross we take on when we say yes to God’s call to adopt. God has you through this phase of the journey and He will have you in the next phase too!

  15. Jann Elaine says:

    Dear Emily,

    Our family continues to pray for you and your adoption daily, and our priest prayed for you on his pilgrimage to Rome recently. Just hang on.

  16. Karen Barth says:

    Beautifully written. I sent you a picture on Twitter, my favorite image of St. Anne and the Blessed Virgin, in stained glass.

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