In the great journey of raising an infant, each month comes with its own milestones. One month is the first time they smile. One month they are sitting up. The months and milestones gather in unbelievable progression: from holding their head up to pulling up.
I have heard my daughter’s first laughs. I have seen her struggle to roll over for the first time — and do it. I’ve seen her take in the ocean with can’t-stop-staring eyes and the expressions she makes when trying new foods. I have worried over her in the hospital, soon after we brought her home, and watched her light up at favorite songs. I’ve heard her carefully turn sounds into syllables, and those syllables into first words. I’ve seen her eat finger foods, and feed herself, and I’m now seeing those first stumble-steps as I hold her tiny fingers.
And on her 9-month birthday, I think that right now, even today, I still have not had her as long as her birthmother had her.
We brought her home at 2 weeks old: tiny, beautiful, 6-plus pounds of God-given grace. The baby girl chosen for us. A miracle in her own right.
It is incredibly humbling that such a blessing comes from another person’s loss. Our daughter’s birthmother made the beautiful, right decision to choose life. She then made the courageous, selfless, difficult, loving choice to make an adoption plan* because she believed it was the best thing for her child. We are unspeakably grateful, every day, for both of those decisions.
My husband and I had decided to adopt as a first choice, feeling called to pursue adoption instead of having biological children, and I have no doubt that God was weaving our stories together in a way that only He could write. On that day this past November, that day our stories turned the same page, we got to meet our daughter — whom I was meant to mother but not to carry. I didn’t know her yet, but something huge was ushered into the room that day: a love that had been quietly unlocked on the day I didn’t know she was born.
And I did nothing to cause her to be.
I have a big responsibility to recognize and steward the loss our daughter has experienced. The time we’ve had with her has been filled with wonder, discovery, play, exhaustion, learning and great love. But there was a lot that happened in those first 9 months — milestones that I missed, you could say.
The words “grief,” “loss,” and “trauma” might typically be associated with foster care, older-child and/or international adoption. Recently, as my daughter’s 9-month birthday approached, I came across a timely article on something we were (gratefully) trained on by our agency: But I adopted my child at birth. What do you mean trauma? It spoke of the trauma associated with infant adoption. Much research has found that there is a significant and lasting impact (and resulting effects) when a separation from birthmother takes place — the sudden removal of a deep bond, nine months in the making.
The developing baby has this time to become very familiar with its mother’s voice, smell, the way she moves… It can recognize its mother’s voice upon birth. Studies have also revealed that babies in utero are capable of not only auditory processing but, if the case may be, actually processing rejection or feeling a sense of disconnection as well. Incredible!
Reflecting on the article I read, and thinking about the beautiful complexity of life she knew before I ever laid eyes on her, was a good reminder for me. Her history is something to both recognize and regard. Simultaneously, the outbreak of news surrounding the horrendous and horrifying actions of Planned Parenthood broke lose around this time, and it certainly gave an even deeper perspective to what has been happening.
Here is not just a life with physical body parts and a heartbeat, but a relational being with the emotional and physiological capacity for attachment. Is it any wonder, when you think about it? That the God of the universe, who also calls us by name — He who is a relational being Himself and desires a relationship with us — would give us a relational capacity even before birth?
And so, in what has really been her second 9 months, my daughter and I have traversed an out-of-utero attachment and bonding.** She has learned my voice alongside learning the feel of a swaddle blanket. She has learned my smell alongside discovering the world. She has learned my touch and movements alongside feeling a crisp winter air and seeing life happen around her. We learn each other, and I earn her trust. It is earned.
And through this seeing more of the world through her eyes, I am learning and re-learning my Father as well — who, in some spiritual irony, does dwell inside of me. I am learning more about how to recognize His voice. I am learning more when something looks like Him, is of Him. I am learning to more fully taste and see that He is good — that He is always working for good.
Somewhere in all of this, as the (quite righteous) anger toward Planned Parenthood turns to the actual person having had the abortion, I can’t help but be reminded that our God is a God of redemption. Just as He has redeemed the stories of our children from hard places. Don’t get me wrong: Abortion is inconceivably devastating. Every single time. But if that is you: Your past, your story, your decision is not too far to be redeemed. This coming from a person who couldn’t possibly be more grateful for the gift of life — who can’t imagine if my daughter weren’t here today. To those who wear a scarlet letter, with an A of a different name, I say: There is hope. Because Jesus loves and came to save so that all may have life. I just thought I would remind you (remind all of us) of that.
Today, on our daughter’s 9-month birthday, I think about what those first 9 months meant for her. There was a loss experienced, even as a newborn, that I must respect. Be aware of. And enter into. There are parts of her story that I wasn’t a part of — and things that have happened since that are waiting to be revealed to her. God be with us both as we seek to fill those gaps with more of Him. How true it is what they say, that adoption makes more apparent the reality of all parenting:
“They are His,” Sara Hagerty writes. “And He shares them with us.”
Somehow, today, I get the privilege of being entrusted with my amazing daughter’s life hereafter. We continue, to the very best of our ability, to honor her birthmother in our home and in her life. We explore the what-comes-next together. And I hope we always extol that life itself is a precious gift, that the life we have together is a gift, birthed of a great Love we can spend the rest of our lives getting to know more.
* Every year in America, about half of all pregnancies are unplanned or “unintended” (Guttmacher Institute, July 2015). That is 3.4 million out of a total 6.6 million pregnancies. Of those 3.4 million unintended pregnancies, 4 in 10 end in abortion. Almost half. But for the babies born into a plan for adoption, by approximately 25,000 courageous women every year through domestic infant adoption, there is life — a new hope and future.
** A few ways we were very intentional about attachment in the beginning were: not letting others hold her, and skin-to-skin contact such as baby-wearing and infant massage. And, as you would do anyway, just being a secure, consistent, trustworthy environment for our little one.