Adoption is Hard

Adoption is hard.

That’s what we’ve learned so far. I truly believe that a call to adopt is a call to suffer with the orphan. It begins the moment you decide you’re doing it. The fear and insecurities jump all over you as you begin to doubt, second-guess, and pick apart your ability to parent. The paperwork is no walk in the park (although typically delegated to the more capable spouse). And due process often feels like swimming upstream. On top of all these things lies the emotional task of helping your family process something you’re not sure you’ve processed yourself yet.

Although the journey to adoption is remarkably difficult – we’ve certainly heard – and are experiencing first hand that life after the adoption has it’s own set of challenges as well. Strangely its as if adoption unlocks a new set of emotions you’ve never experienced before. Honestly, I never knew they existed.

This is when real life kicks in. When you’re back at your house and you have new little people living with you, and they’re yours. Reality.

So far the most difficult time for me has been Remy’s difficulty “attaching” to me (I’ve written on this in depth in prior posts). According to the psychiatrist at the orphanage, this is normal.  She’s learned in her past that daddy’s are not “safe”. It will take some time for me to break that paradigm.

Although in the first week she decided she wanted nothing to do with me, a few days later we began to have some break-through moments. As I think back now, each at a time where she felt physically insecure. Once at the pool she magically decided (after rejecting me for a week) that she wanted daddy to be the one to hold her while she played in the water for about an hour. It was daddy she wanted to help her ride her bike the next day. And it was daddy whom she wanted to lift her up into the air to do cheerleader moves.

And it was daddy who bought her the pink bike, not the purple: “Ah yes, doddy… ‘dis one please, doddy. Pink. Ah no purple. Please doddy.” She affectionately held my hand skipping to the checkout line singing a made up little song about daddy.

Later that night (after an afternoon of “doddy push bicycle. Doddy again.”) We decided that I would attempt to do the bedtime routine alone. Everything went great until I was about to say goodnight and I decided to push the envelope, “Goodnight Remy Matawi… I love you.”

She looked at me and softly said, “Doddy….” Crinkled her nose, pointed to the door, “Goodbye”. She turned her head, plopped it on the pillow, and pulled the covers over her face. It was so close, yet so far away (At least she went to sleep).

I’m a bit proud of myself. I think in a good way. I’m thoroughly enjoying the special moments. And the not-so-special ones? The ones that don’t go my way? I’m learning not to take them too personally. I can get pretty insecure when I think someone doesn’t like me… so this is a good thing.

I’ve said this before, but I mean it more now than ever, when I look into her eyes I see hope. Hope of a restored life. Hope of healed heart. Hope of a future with a family who loves her. And hopes of Remy becoming a healthy, emotionally sound, mature young woman one day.

The other night when Jen was out of town, Remy was having a pretty rough time going to sleep. It was quite an evening. After trying every trick in the book, and out of desperation I asked if she wanted to lay down with Daddy. She nodded yes and took her place on the bed next to me (Yes!). I was scratching her back lightly trying to get her to settle down when she reached over with her little hand and started scratching mine. It was precious. No words were exchanged… I didn’t want to make a big deal about it… and make her think too much about what she was doing. just. avoid. eye. contact. After about 5 minutes she said, “Doddy… I love you”. Then she plopped her head the other direction, pulled the covers over her face, and fell asleep.

Something happened in that moment that has stuck. And we’re doing even better now. And while I’m selfishly happy for me about this moment, I’m even more happy for her that she is feeling a bit more safe with her “Doddy”. Ah yes, a huge step forward.  The call to adopt is indeed a call to suffer with the orphan… in many ways. But so far – one moment like this – with the hope of many more –  make it well worth it.

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About Brandon Hatmaker

Church Planter, Missional Strategist, Non-Profit Collaborator, and Author of "Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture". View all posts by Brandon Hatmaker

10 responses to “Adoption is Hard

  • ouradoptionjourney2011

    Love your post. Thanks for sharing. My husband and I are just starting the adoption journey and it is terrifying and overwhelming. I’ve never blogged before but I just started. I wanted to document this journey. Of course I know there are others who adopt but it’s always nice to hear from them and get some encouragement.

  • Brea

    Is it likely that Beniam will attach to you easier as a boy to his father?

    • Brandon Hatmaker

      Brea. Well… Beniam and I are already pretty close. He’s very affectionate with me (And Jen). That said… Remy is coming around quickly. When you consider she’s only been home a month… we are making some serious headway.

  • Michelle Morgan

    Wow Brandon….I have been reading Jen’s & your blogs and everytime I just want to shout yes….yes…yes….I understand….some of the very same things we have experienced with our son.. I love the title to this blog…..adoption is hard. Pat & I adopted our son Dakota a year & half ago. He just turned 10yrs old a few wks ago. We became foster parents & he came to live w/ us at 7 1/2 yrs. Who would have guessed after raising 2 children that God would lead us to adoption but He did. No matter how hard the journey may get sometimes…… everytime I look at him I have the greatest hope of what the future holds for him. Hope for the continued healing of his heart…..hope for him to realize what true attachment is to a family that loves him……and the hopes continue. I’ll never forget on our adoption day….Pat looked at me & said no matter what others may think….without a doubt God wants us to adopt Dakota and so the journey began. Very excited for all that God is doing in your family.

    In case you don’t remember who we are….I worked with Gene Dodson in Wichita years ago.

  • Elle B.

    Thank you for sharing this honest post. Our family adopted an eight year old girl from China just 8 months ago. We encountered many of the same struggles you wrote about. Allow me to encourage you that it DOES get better. With each passing month, we gain more and more mometum toward attachment and healing. I can boldly proclaim that I deeply love my daughter and she seems to deeply love all of us. Glory to God!

    For me, the hardest struggle was as you said, “Helping your family process something you’re not sure you yourself have processed yet.” When we first brought our daughter home, everything felt so strange and unsettling. I literally grieved my previous life with my bio kids (18, 16, and 13 years old) and all that was safe, secure, routine, and “normal”.

    Now, that old life is far behind us and our new normal is of a family of six.

    My best advice is to “boss your heart.” An awesome Texan woman in my travel group who had adopted before told me, “Honey, don’t listen to your feelings. You fake it until you make it.” The best advice ever! She didn’t me fake it as in being phoney, but rather act out what love and service and affection look like regardless of how you feel. She was right and three months later, the feelings followed. Praise God!

    I just started watching Jen’s videos and she has that same Texan spunk. I love it. If that’s a testimony to your entire state, then I need to move their because “y’all” are ike-minded people.

    Thanks again for keeping us updated.

  • Carmen

    What a great step forward, Brandon. I’m so glad you had that before you went to pick up Beniam.

  • Katie Gonzalez

    Brandon:
    I was referred to Jen’s blog by a friend and that led to yours (and to the website of your friend’s in Ethiopia…not a coincidence…God has been nudging us toward children in Ethiopia for a bit now). Reading Jen’s blog updates, seeing your video of you guys meeting the kids the first time and going back for Ben, and your descriptions of the reality of life after bringing the children home struck such a chord in me! We have 4 children all adopted for foster care and plan to adopt 2 more in the next few years from most likely Ethiopia. Our oldest is 13 and she’s been with us 12 years but the younger 3 (ages 3, 5, and 7) we brought home 18 months ago. Our kids had been in 7 different homes in a few years so their issues and challenges have given us a run for our faith! The night Remy scratched your back and told you she loved you…ah what a flood of emotions. You aren’t kidding when you say there are emotional places in you that you never knew existed until you adopted! I remember going to a pool for the specific purpose of convincing our then 4 year old to let Daddy hold her. 18 months later, yesterday morning she said, “Mommy I’m sad. I miss daddy. I wish he didn’t have to go to work.” Holy cow! I texted him immediately! What a God victory coming from that wounded little heart. Those children are blessed to have you and Jen and those precious moments are just beginning but will abound before you know it.

  • Rachel

    The call to adopt is also a call to enter into the suffering of an orphan. Wow! This is the best way to paint a picture of what after adoption looks like.

    I cried when I read that she said I love you. What a huge moment!! In a way, it was like seeing her first step – her emotional first step towards bonding with a father. Beautiful.

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