When Love Is Not Enough


When I began this blog, I promised myself I would be authentic, real. Not telling everything but telling it like it is and tough luck if you can’t handle the truth. I have had to sit on this post for quite a while (like four months) because it’s very personal and it involves my kids. However, part of the reason I find myself writing this particular post is because no one really shares the truth about some less fuzzy aspects of adoption.  I think the reasons are many.  Some believe if you share some of the more unseemly parts of adopting, it will scare people away from adoption.  Some, like me, are just plain embarrassed.  We feel like we failed or are in some way defective.  I mean, look at all the adoptive family blogs on the internet, with smiling gorgeous kids who do all the fabulous things, and love, love, love them all, “we have 10 perfect kids with special needs so let’s add two more!”  I am not knocking them, I am just skeptical. There was a time when I arrogantly believed I was an international adoption expert.  Then child #4 entered our lives.

I wouldn’t call myself an optimist nor am I exactly a pessimist. I am a bit of a dreamer, with a healthy side of pragmatic. I have always believed in the “happily ever after” even though the ever after hasn’t been as happy as I planned. I especially believed  love conquers all. My husband and I were not heroes, we weren’t setting out to save the world, we weren’t even idealists, we were just two people very much in love who wanted a family, couldn’t have them the traditional way, and so decided to pursue international adoption. We wanted a family and we grew our family in the way that was available to us.  Not.Heroes.Not.Saints.

All four of my kids are adopted from overseas and were all listed as “Waiting Children” because of both their ages and their medical special needs. My late husband and I never set out on our adoption journey to adopt special needs children but after we stumbled into the first special needs adoption, we decided we would continue to grow our family with children who were waiting. We also did not set out to adopt a “large” family. I laugh when people tell me I have a big family because my dad was one of seven. That is a big family. Four seems like nothing in comparison. I know other adoptive families with eight or more children. I guess compared with the typical 2 child family, 4 seems like a lot to some. For myself, when I realized we were going to grow our family through adoption and not biologically, I thought we would have maybe one or two children and that limitation due primarily to our ages and the cost of an international adoption. We ended up completing four adoptions in five and a half years which just seems insane on the surface but we didn’t think it was crazy at the time.

Many organizations connected with the adoption industry bring awareness to the blessing of opening your home to an orphan, or to a foster child. It is a blessing! There are thousands of children in our country’s foster care system (100,000 is a number I have heard), millions internationally, and they desperately need stable and loving homes to live in while their parents work their reunification plan or the states determine if terminating parental rights are in the child’s best interest. It is common to have church leaders, Christian musicians, and any venue where large groups of Christians gather, showing videos of adorable if sad and malnourished children just waiting for families. It tugs at your heartstrings big time, and many a woman (sometimes a man) leave the venue thinking “We can do that. We have room in our lives, homes, hearts, for another child.” We certainly felt that way when struggling with the decision on whether to pursue a fourth adoption. I felt our family was not only complete at three but that we had reached our limit in how well we could care for and love another child. Paul felt we had more love to give. He felt there was nothing better we could do with our lives than to open our home and hearts one more time. When we saw some red flags in his paperwork, words and descriptions of behaviors that indicated attachment issues, we ignored them thinking love would over come all problems. This may be the biggest misconception in adoption – thinking all a child needs is a family and love.  When it all goes wrong, you can find yourself drowning in despair and all the Christian artists, pastors, and churches are no where to be found.  Sometimes love is not enough.

I just returned a couple of weeks ago from visiting my youngest son.  He has Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). “Wait,” you say, “why are you ‘visiting’ him?” I went to visit him in a facility out-of-state where he has been living for the past 11 months.  It is not our first go-round with a treatment facility.  This one specializes in helping kids who have RAD or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).  They understand RAD and FASD are brain-based trauma, and so must be treated not with a behavioral approach but with an approach that helps to heal the broken connections in the brain. All the residents there have been adopted internationally.  We had an amazing time together.  We talked a lot, went riding on horses down to a lake near his school, we hiked atop the Continental Divide at Glacier National Park, we played games, almost accidentally ended up at the Canadian border crossing, and we discovered the yumminess that is all things Huckleberry. It was a nice time but it also showed me that after 11 months away from me, he is still only a fraction of an inch from where he started along the road of recovery.  It was discouraging.  I don’t know why, I shouldn’t have held the expectation, but I really hoped he would say “Mommy, I really miss you and I want to come home, please bring me home.” It was unfair of me to wish for this because he can’t say those words. He doesn’t feel them and though he calls me “Mommy,” he really has no concept of what it really means to have a mother.  He may want to come home but only because at home he got away with a lot more behaviors, he was able to manipulate us, to keep us tip-toeing around his moods so he wouldn’t become enraged, and he had a lot more freedom.  I questioned myself over and over the entire trip whether I was doing the right thing by him or if I was being fair, because he was truly delightful to be with most of the time. Dr. Purvis often talked about seeing “the real child,” the child that is hidden behind all the anger, hurt, behaviors, and trauma.  I do catch glimpses of the “real” in my youngest son and it is glorious. He is wicked intelligent, funny, and artistically talented.  With all my being, all I want is for that “real” part of him to break through permanently so he can see what I see in him. It was discouraging because I know my son is not ready to come home and I don’t know when or if he will ever be able to live in my care again.  My love is not enough.