Tragedy and Joy Unreconciled by Annette
“It would be a good idea to write a letter to the mother introducing yourselves and expressing why you want to adopt her daughters.” I remember hearing those words from our adoption consultant Katie, and thinking “sure, we can do that.” I had no idea what a heart-wrenching challenge this would turn out to be for my husband and I.
Moments before, we had said yes to presenting on a situation we knew very little about. Twin girls, 18 months old, and the birth mother with a terminal cancer diagnosis. We knew she was just discontinuing treatment and had lost her job and had no place to live.
It had been eight years since we had received the calling to adopt. God placed adoption on our heart in our first year of marriage. We decided we were going to adopt through the foster care system. That’s where the need was, that is the affordable route to go. We were just waiting on the right timing. October 2018, we felt the time was right. However, for some unknown reason we both, separately, felt God nudging us away from foster care and towards domestic adoption. We started switching gears and looking more into domestic adoption. For eight years we had been planning on adopting through the state and I was so confused as to why it suddenly did not feel right. I knew at that time that we were being asked to step out in faith.
We met Katie through a friend’s recommendation. She talked us through every step of the process and encouraged us to seek God. We prayed and felt a deep peace about pursuing domestic adoption. Throughout this whole process Katie was right by our side. Helping, calming fears, giving us sound advice and helping us wade through the sometimes-murky waters, her help was invaluable. Her constant reminders to pray about it and seek God, constantly broke through the chaos in our hearts and minds.
I smile when I look back and see God’s hand very clearly guiding us right to our daughters. Through our home study and other preparations, we excitedly began preparing for the child or sibling set we would soon welcome into our home. As we were preparing for a sibling set our social worker peered up at us with a puzzled expression saying “You realize you are doing a private adoption and will most likely get a single infant” We just smiled and said “yes.” Yet somehow, I knew deep down that this would not be the case.
Here I sat, with this daunting task before me. My lap top open and my fingers ready to type words that simply were not there. How do you tell a dying mother how much you would love to take her daughters? How do you express the joy at the thought of adopting her sweet girls in the light of this most horrific disease?
The depth of this tragedy was in sharp contrast with the expectant joy of adoption and words failed me.
I cried out to God. My heart was so full of pain for this sweet mother and simultaneously overjoyed at the prospect of the most wonderful gift. Putting those thoughts and emotions to pen felt impossible. I put the computer down and went about tucking my three children into bed. Bedtime prayers, stories and songs were clouded as I tried to make sense of the swirl of thoughts and emotions coursing through me.
With the deadline looming in the morning, my husband and I sat down once more to compose this letter. I turned to him and said “I think God wants us to offer to take her in as well as the twins” It had felt crazy in my head and even more so speaking it out loud. I was surprised when he said “Yeah, I think you are right.” It was unusual, but felt just. This woman, dying of cancer should have the option of seeing and being with her daughters in her remaining days.
A short time later it was finished. Our letter said that we were overwhelmed by the tragedy of her terminal diagnosis. We wrote that we were ready and wanting to welcome her sweet girls into our family and cherish and love both of them as our own. We invited her to come and live with us in an Airbnb across the street free of charge. We found several hospice centers available nearby for when the need arose. We explained that my husband was a doctor and I am a nurse and we were committed to giving her the best of care.
She picked us. Our hearts were pounding when we met her. Lunch at the Olive Garden felt oddly normal, routine, as we got to know one another. She shared favorite childhood memories and we talked about how she would be remembered in our home. Several hours later we picked up the two most beautiful brown haired, blue-eyed little girls, identical twins. We fell in love instantly and it all felt like a dream.
She chose not to come with us and I felt foolish for even offering. Did we mishear God? Were we so totally off base? Then she held my hand and told us how meaningful our letter was to her. With tears in her eyes, she told us that when she read of our offer, she saw our hearts and knew that she wanted her girls to be raised by us. She expressed the deep peace she felt knowing that her girls were going to a wonderful, loving family. She chose us because of our letter.
We spent several days together shopping and taking the most beautiful pictures of her and the girls, and all of us together. And then we loaded up the twins in our car and drove away. It felt wrong to leave her at the hotel. She was out of money and did not know where she was going for the night. We felt helpless.
I compiled our photos together in a small photo book and mailed it to her. We messaged back and forth regularly until her death two and a half short months later. We were surprised at her death. We were planning on doing so much more for her. How had she become such an intimate part of our family so quickly? The woman who had been forced by death to give us this most precious and perfect gift was suddenly gone.
The dichotomy of emotions still overwhelms me. We grieved the death of this sweet mother while rejoicing for the incredible gift of parenting these girls. The two emotions rubbed against one another and I struggled to make sense of it all.
Honestly, I still struggle. I should have done more. I should have figured out a way to love her better in her dying days. The deep tragedy of her untimely death is still felt profoundly, and yet if she hadn’t died, I would not have my daughters.
It feels strange and uncomfortable to grieve the circumstances that led to the adoption of your children. Shouldn’t you just be thankful? Shouldn’t you say “God works all things for the good?” No. I am heartbroken at her death. A mother was forced to make a decision she should never have to make. My girls lost their mother at a very young age and that is tragic. Simultaneously, I am overjoyed to be their mother. This is a gift that brings me indescribable joy and I thank God for it daily.
Does the joy of being their mother make the tragedy of her death any less? No.
Does the tragedy of her death take away from the joy of being their mother? No.
The two cannot be reconciled. The joy and the tragedy exist together.
Adoption is a beautiful picture of redemption. Through this experience I can see a little more clearly the heartbreak caused by sin and separation. I can see the Father’s love as he fought for us, even unto death on a cross. I can see his joy as we turn back to him and he claims us as his newly adopted children.
This is what adoption is: joy and tragedy existing together, bringing about new life.