Adoption – meant to be or plan B?

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I often wonder about my boys' lives before they joined our family (for newer readers, my boys were adopted at two-years-old and three years-old, respectively.) They are four months apart and are now eight and in the third grade. I always wonder how they will see their adoption stories when they are older. I wonder in vain because I'm not going to get answers right now, or maybe ever. Their pasts are a mystery and their tomorrows are unwritten.

Adoption – Meant to be or Plan B?

Adoption – meant to be or plan B?

I have heard other families talk about how adoption was “meant to be” or “God's plan.” Whenever someone talks about God's plan I think of a song I learned when I was little called the Purple Puzzle Tree. The song is about how events in life fit together like puzzle pieces. I'm not sure the significance of purple; maybe it just fit with the tune.

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I’m not going to shove my views down anyone's throat but I've always believed God knows what is going to happen next even when we don't. Sometimes I wonder how far out this puzzle is planned. Are there twists along the way that change how the puzzle fits together? Is the layout fixed and decided in advance but unknown to us? When I hear someone talk about how their adoption was meant to be I wonder how they can think this way.

Adoption - meant to be or plan B?

In the case of my children, I look at it like this: first, their birth families could not or would not parent them. Second, they lived a chunk of their early lives without a family to call their own. I have a hard time calling these things “meant to be.” Maybe better described as “Plan B.”

Think about it. And forget, for a moment, all of those people who present their adoption stories as ladybugs, red threads and unicorn farts because they're full of crap. They're telling you what you want to hear or what they want you to hear.  Maybe these “adoption is a miracle” and “meant to be” families haven't considered that there is another side to the coin, but or don't choose to focus on it, the other side of the coin being that adoption is rooted in loss. Adoption is also (usually) about happy endings and building families, but at the root, there is no adoption without loss.

We don't always stop to consider these things. Maybe because it's uncomfortable. Maybe because “meant to be” is more socially palatable and it looks better on a coffee mug or on a sign you ordered from Etsy that hangs in your entryway.

Adoption - meant to be or plan B?

I know very little about my son Zack's story. Almost nothing. We know his “finding ad” was published when he was approximately 4 months old. A finding ad is an ad placed in the local Chinese newspaper announcing abandoned children, inviting their families to come forward. This formality must be satisfied for children to become wards of the government. Ages at finding are estimated, so there may be wiggle room with the actual birthday. Zack was placed in the custody of the local social welfare institute upon finding but lived part of his early life in with a foster family. We don't have full details but based on the pieces we've been able to put together Zack lived with this family from nine months until we showed up when he was 26 months old.

We don't know anything about his first four months with his birth mother…or if the first four months were with the birth mother at all…we only assume they were. We don't know what led to her decision not to parent him but we assume it had to do with his limb difference.  Although people's perception of the one child policy in China isn't always accurate, children with obvious physical imperfections are often considered unlucky or undesirable. They are often left in public places where they will be taken in by the authorities.

I have always wondered if Zack's birth mother wanted to keep him and what went through her head as she decided not to and made her plans. Although I'm sure many people can find fault with her actions, I feel nothing but gratitude for this woman whose name I will never know.

I am his mother but another mother came before me. One who carried him for nine. Did she agonize over the decision to give him up? Did she put her mental health and well-being in jeopardy to choose as she did? Does she think of him every July? Does she think of him every day? I’ll never know the answers to these questions but I’m going to go with “yes.” I’m not going to diminish her role in our puzzle by saying I was “meant to be” his mom. To say this means that the powers that be meant for this child not to stay with his birth family. Is that what God (or destiny, or karma, however you look at things) intended? I feel it is presumptuous for me to make that generalization.

Adoption - meant to be or plan B?

I am “Plan B.” And I can live with that.

Zack has experienced a hell of a lot of loss in his young life. He lost his birth mother at a very early age. He lost the only family he knew at age 26 months when I showed up, smothered him with unsolicited affection and declared “I’m your mommy” using funny words he couldn't understand.

These losses haven’t had too much of an impact on Zack's big picture to date, but he’ll probably feel it at some point in his life. He asks questions and talks about his “other mommy” or “old mommy” and the things he did in China with her. Obviously, he's doesn't remember these things and his China stories change every time he tells them. He's asked why he didn't stay with his birth mom and has asked if we can call her or visit her. These questions break my heart, not because I'm upset that he craves connection with his birth mother but because I can't give him answers. I'm not even sure if the birthday on record for him is actually the day he was born. There will come a time when the lack of information will frustrate or upset him. Right now, I do the best I can with his questions…I feel lame and frustrated at some of my answers. I try to be honest and loving but I'm not going on a whole lot of info with this. ?

I've been a mom for over 26 years and although I know a few things, most of the time I feel like I'm making it all up as I go along. But I do know this: any derivative of “meant to be” would be a lame response and I owe him better. I believe in my heart that my kids' birth mothers loved them. I want to believe the foster family and the orphanage workers who cared for them in their early lives cared for them. They will ask me harder questions that they have…of this I am certain. I might not be ready for what they will throw at me but I do know telling them “You are where you're meant to be now” won't cut it. Zack lost two families to be in this one. I can't imagine a life without him but I still can't use the phrase “meant to be” and not feel a little icky.

I couldn't love my kids more if they shared my DNA. We are giving them the best life we can. They'll have more advantages than they would have in China but is it for me to decide what life is “better?” It's a moot point, really.

Adoption - meant to be or plan B?

We chose the best adoption scenario for our family. We wanted to add to our family. We knew there were children in China waiting for families. Zack and Kyle were two of those children. We took a leap, raised our hands and…well, here we are now. At the end of the day, being in this family was part of their purple puzzle trees and part of mine. Whether it was planned out that way all along or whether there was a fork in the road along the way somewhere that caused our paths to collide and Plan B to materialize…I really couldn't tell you.

The next time you use the phrase “meant to be” in reference to an adopted child, I challenge you to stop and examine the other side of the coin. Think about the hardship that child had to endure prior to adoption. Think about the loss felt by the birth family. Take away your “I could never” notions when you think about the birth family. They made a hard choice that is probably not easily forgotten. I feel nothing but gratitude for my boys' birth mothers. I don't understand their actions. I might not agree with their decisions. But they have given me a blessing at great personal cost.

Adoption – Meant to be or Plan B? I think for my kids, adoption is definitely Plan B. And I'm okay with being their Plan B. 100 percent.


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  1. As a sister of adopted siblings, I think I purposely suppressed the idea of suffering. I was aware that my brother and sister went through a lot of hardship before being adopted, but I tried not to think about it too much because it made me sad. Obviously that was probably to my detriment, because I think I wasn’t the most sensitive to my brother and sister as I should’ve been. As I got older I finally contemplated the reality of what had to happen to bring about our adoption: essentially, a family was broken up, and it may never again be reunited. It’s humbling to think is my family over here really any better than that family over there? I don’t think that question can ever be answered. I try not to give in to adoption guilt, because things can’t be undone. But I’m selfishly grateful that we did adopt.