Adoption is about the creation of a family, the joining of a child to parents for a lifetime of love and belonging. Most conversation about adoption stems from this understanding. It’s common to hear stories about the complicated adoption process, all the waiting for a placement, the jubilation of homecoming, and the adjustments to the new life together. We listen to scenes from the life of the nuclear family and easily assume adoption only affects them.
Limiting adoption to a single household, however, is too restrictive. While the immediate family is the nucleus, there are many others who orbit the family. These others generate energy, exert force and share in the dance and function of the adoptive family. They, too, are touched by adoption’s goodness, its complexity and emotional impact. So godparents and grandparents, siblings and spouses, nieces, nephews and neighbors all belong in the company of the adopted. Together we shape adopted living into something sacramental and communal.
Today, as part of Adoption Awareness Month, I want to share about one member of the company of the adopted – my husband.
As Claude and I grew closer and moved toward marriage his questions about my adoption gradually grew. Western adoptions function different from the African variety he was accustomed to in Burundi. In the West it seemed that unconnected families passed babies around with little or no concern to clan affiliation or bloodlines. What fascinated Claude most appeared to be my lack of curiosity about my birth mom. Over years and a myriad of conversations about family, he still couldn’t quite comprehend how I could fully understand my own heritage without knowing her. More than once he pushed the issue, asking if I ever wanted to find her or did I want to start that search now? No was always my reply (and still is to this day).
Now, thirteen years into our marriage, Claude shared that the question of my birth mom truly perplexed him during the days of our courtship and even in the early years of our marriage. He spent many hours with my family and had ample opportunity to observe us together in our California home and his Burundian neighborhood. He watched our natural connection, what he discerned as a true affinity for each other. He also had many occasions to see me with friends and notice my ability to embrace people and allow them into my world. Of course he evaluated our own relationship and how affection and fidelity seemed to thrive between us. So why this disconnect with my birth mom?
Every time he asked the questions around her and her absence in my life we danced the same well-choreographed dance: his insistent questions, my easy answers. His furrowed brows, my laughter and shrugged shoulders. It wasn’t that I met his serious inquiry with anything less than candor, but I didn’t understand his persistence or his fascination with her. He often seemed more interested in my birth mom than I ever did. I’d learn later that he read my response to her as indifference and found it hard to square that with all that he knew of me in all my other relationships.
We don’t know how or exactly when, but somewhere in the past few years he’s come to understand that my lack of active interest in finding my birth mom is not indifference or animosity at all. I’m just one of those adopted adults who’ve never needed the direct presence of a birth parent to be at peace. I truly believe she deserves her privacy and I can respect that. Claude now knows I honestly harbor no deep-seeded anger or unresolved resentment toward her.
Still we dance; he still thinks there will come a day when I want to find her. So he can ask and I can answer, a light-hearted bow and curtsey between an adopted girl and her beloved spouse.
I share this shard of our history as a gentle reminder to adopted friends. We ought to be kind to our spouses as they enter our adopted life; it is a story already in progress. The truth is they marry into the company of the adopted right alongside us! So we ought to be aware our spouses want to understand us, how we forge connections and why we don’t sometimes, how we feel about birth moms, adoptive parents, and all the rest. Allow them in, answer all the questions over and over again until they feel grafted into the adopted story, too. I doubt my husband realized all his queries about my birth mom and me would become part of his own process of absorbing adoption and one day becoming an adoptive father himself.
Next I will share about another member of the company of the adopted – grandparents!