‘Adoption is a beautiful thing. But it is also a terrifying thing. It is a maddening thing. It is a mystifying thing.” Emily Stimpson Chapman was writing in the final days of the pregnancy of the woman who would make her dream of being a mother come true.
“It’s like praying for an organ transplant,” Chapman, a freelance writer, continued, writing with great sensitivity to the sacrifice of one mother for another. “One person has to die, so another person can live, except, in this case, one woman has to give up her child, so I can have a child. One woman has to renounce her motherhood, so I can become a mother. It’s not a physical death she has to go through, but it’s a death just the same.” About the birth mother, she added: “She is in so much pain — so much gut-wrenching, heart-searing, soul-piercing pain — not just about the adoption, but about all the uncertainty that lies ahead for her.”
This is one of the graces of our cyber connections, which can often seem like an overwhelming onslaught of hyperstimulation, a perpetually pending doom against which we are powerless. For Chapman, a first-time expecting parent, Facebook and a blog site were opportunities to share the adoption journey, with all its pain and fear, hope and joy. This is a gift not just to the adoptive and birth parents — who in this case all benefit from a community of prayer — but to every potential reader whose encounter may be a source of education or inspiration or even an instrument of healing of wounds from decisions past that stay with us.
Adoption and foster care are subjects that, like abortion, tend to be obscured from public view. If it happens to you, you know — and may feel quite alone in it. If not, it may be something foreign, the stuff of bad headlines or miserable politics. And adoption and fostering, being much rarer than abortion, also suffer from our lack of attention: Whether you’re a birth, adoptive, or foster parent, you may have to go it alone in your community. Even our language is woefully inadequate: “Giving a child up for adoption” sounds to a lot of people, most especially and unjustly birth mothers, like abandonment — when in truth it’s the most selfless act there is. When we throw around the word love in the most casual of ways, we should stop to reflect that this is exactly what it is: radical self-sacrifice. In this case, wanting the best for another, and knowing you may not be the best for them.
The birth mom has struggled with addiction and the law, finances, homelessness, and relationships, to name a few. But Chapman reflects: “I also know there is no other way for her. She has to place the baby for adoption. Not because I need it, but because the baby needs it. She is not physically, mentally, or emotionally capable of raising a child, nor is there is anyone else in her life or the father’s life who can care for him. Adoption is the only and best option for this little boy.”
Toby was born on July 25, and the adoption became official a few days later, after a little last-minute drama. The Chapmans were able to stay overnight in the hospital and do all the things parents so naturally do with their new arrivals. Seeing the pictures of the new parents, Emily and Christopher, feeding Toby — this gift of another’s heart — is the kind of image we should have in front of us more often. Some days we seem addicted to our screens and the most recent outrage, rather than seeking out ways to give ourselves over to the love that gives and transforms life. Having heard about only some of the scares along the way, I know it’s a miracle that his birth mom had the strength of commitment to see the way through to delivery. He’s been loved into the world and received into a home so eager to nourish him with the same. So many today suffer from a lack of love, and it has repercussions we see in our harsh and frequently despairing culture, often desperate for distractions from the pain. Even with some early medical challenges, with such an outpouring of love so early on, Toby is an icon of hope and his parents — all of them — are a call to deeper love.
What more can we do to love someone into flourishing? There is a pregnant woman who does not know there is room in your heart and home for the unexpected child within her she knows she cannot raise herself. There are orphans who have given up expecting anyone to come to welcome them into their home for a time or forever. Perhaps it is a miracle in itself that a little sharing on social media can raise such challenges, but can we rise to them?
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.