2.14.2017

Adoption as a Metaphor for Our Fear and Embrace of the Other


If there is anything that is dominating our national discourse nowadays, it is our reaction to "the other."  Many in our country think of "the other" in negative terms, concerned about implications for already unfavorable labor markets, already strained public sector budgets, or personal and national security.  In contrast, others in our country consider such opinions to be fear-based and despicably inflamed by fear-mongering politicians, and so are loudly and publicly proclaiming their embrace of and appreciation of "the other."  It is hard to think of anyone who straddles these entrenched perspectives; you are either one or the other.  Such is the state of our increasingly divided states of America.

You can probably guess which side of this I'm on.  And yet it is my nature to want to see both sides of the story, and if the majority of what I am hearing is on one side to work extra hard to make room for the other side.  And so, no matter how strongly I feel personally, I realize that others feel strongly too in different ways, and even if I disagree and think them wrong, I seek to listen and understand and respect.

It occurs to me that as an adoptive parent I have a lens on "the other" that others may not have.  Birthing a child is, of course, a special and beautiful thing, and one that brings you into a lifetime of selflessness, as you bear great sacrifice to protect, nurture, and influence that child.  And children are utter wild cards: you hold your breath until they're born because you don't know if they will have health issues or medical complications, and you shake your head at times because you don't recognize the child at different stages in their life when they act in unpredictable ways.

And yet, there is much that is predictable and controllable about the parenting experience, when you birth a child.  That child, genetically, is a combination of you and someone who you love, usually someone you have made a forever commitment to.  So long as resources provide it, you are able to give that child a huge head start in life through careful pre-natal care, and in doting on that child from its earliest minutes of life you are creating a strong and special bond that is essential to their healthy development.  Again, there are so many wild cards throughout the developmental process.  And yet there are also so many knowns, too.

Adopting a child is truly embracing "the other."  We have had three different adoption experiences with our three children, which is normal because there is no normative adoption experience.  For each of our beautiful children, there were more and different unknowns that we had to accept.  Who were their birthparents and what were they like?  What is their health background, which suggests what challenges they are more susceptible to as they grow older?  What kind of care did they receive when they were growing in their birthmother's womb?  Did they get held at all when they were just days and weeks and months old?  In almost every case, we either don't know the answer to the question or the answer is not the one we would have wanted if we were in control.

Adopting a child means a lot more is not in your control.  And it means a lot of accepting of "the other."  And I would be lying unless I acknowledged that some of how I feel about all of this is fearful.  Even if we accept and embrace that life is better through diversity, our desire to be with those like us is strong, and birthing a child is making a human being that is just like you and your partner, whereas adopting a child is bringing into your family someone who is not like you at all.  Even if we accept and embrace that children are unknowns, birthing a child means knowing many more important things about that life, whereas adopting a child often means knowing almost nothing about really important things.

And yet, in spite of and really because of that, adoption is beautiful.  Whether you are adopting because you want to or because you cannot have children any other way, it is precious to embrace "the other" and make a new sense of belonging with it, not just accepting them into your family identity but having that family identity stretch to accommodate who they are.  As a Christian, I can also tell you that the Biblical metaphor of God adopting us into His family is made more powerful by my own experiences of adoption and of the fear and embrace I have felt throughout.

Furthermore, if you believe in the power and beauty of diversity, then you know that what really matters is real human connection: not just a sense that we have a nice distribution of people in our Facebook photos and social circles, but that we are substantively engaging with all walks of life.  Well, what is more intimate a human connection than bringing a human life from outside your family into the life and identity of your clan?  And if you truly value diversity, isn't that just about the best and most beautiful thing possible?  

The process of adopting three kids and then raising three adoptive kids has been a roller-coaster.  To say that there have been tears and fears is probably not a controversial statement, and yet it is important to acknowledge that.  Embracing "the other" is not easy.  But it is beautifully worth it.
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