#AdoptionIsLove & All the Other Things

“Did my birthmom give me up because my head is shaped like an oval?”

My son Harper was only six years old when he asked me that. I was shocked for so many reasons. First of all, because his head is perfect. Second, and more importantly, he was using language we hadn’t ever used. We never once said that she “gave him up.” We always said that she “placed him in our family” or that she was “not able to parent him.” Our careful word choice was not enough to change how he felt and how he felt was rejected, declined, discarded…

given up.

Four years ago on this day, we finalized Jay’s adoption. It took 19 long months of tedious paperwork, home visits from our case worker and jumping through legal hoops before this day became a reality. When I look back at the photos from that day in court, there is so much beauty and joy captured there.


I remember the peace the kids felt when they knew that Jay’s place in our family was sealed and solidified. That his sonship was sure. There was a palpable sense of reassurance knowing that this little boy was ours forever. As our friends and family gathered with us in that courtroom, our hearts took a collective sigh of relief. We have an open adoption, and a great relationship with Jay’s first mama, so it was not as if there was some crazy custody battle. Quite to the contrary, The Lovely Miss N. - as we affectionately call her in the blog - was walking through this part of our journey with us. She too rejoiced when the adoption was finalized, because she also wanted Jay’s place in our home and family to be permanent and sure.

The fact that nobody was contesting either of our boys’ adoptions technically made things “easier” for us. Yet, as I continue to listen to and learn from the powerful voices of adult adoptees in my life and community, I can’t help but anticipate the dismay that my sons will likely experience as a result of knowing that nobody contested their adoptions. Nobody tried to stop it. Nobody fought us for them. The set of circumstances that created relatively obstacle-free finalizations are the same dismal circumstances that will cause our boys to process feelings of rejection and abandonment for the rest of their lives. Whether they were “lovingly placed” or “given up” almost doesn’t matter if their little souls question their worth and their place in the world.

I happen to know for sure, with 100% certainty that my sons were (are) both fiercely loved by their first moms. Because we have the luxury of an open-adoption with Jay’s birthparents, we have it on pretty good authority to say that they are absolutely wild about him. Due to situations that are not mine to disclose, my boys’ first moms made an impossible decision. Their choices were made out of anything but rejection or indifference. Still, we cannot possibly know how a child will interpret the actions or inactions of the adults in their lives.

And while we are entirely committed to facilitating healthy relationships between our boys and their birthfamilies, we know that there will be times of strain and hurt no matter how hard we try to prevent it. We know that there will come a time when they will confront the harsh awareness that they were “free to be adopted.” And knowing that their heartbreak is inevitable, I find these photos and memories equal parts joyful and disconcerting. The more I learn about the adoptee’s experience, the harder it is to celebrate these moments without also acknowledging the layered grief and loss involved in a day like this coming to fruition.

#AdoptionIsLove is a popular hashtag in the adoption community. And it is so true. From every side there is this imperfect, but unending love for a child. Adoption IS love. But a less popular truth is that adoption is also loss. It isn’t as trendy a hashtag and it isn’t as pleasant a view of adoption - but it is just as real, just as true.

Adoption is love. Adoption is loss. Adoption is wondering if there is something inherently wrong with you. It’s looking in the mirror, wondering who you look like, and thinking maybe your head is just too oval to be loved. Adoption is feeling given up, even when you were lovingly placed. As I tucked my boys in to bed tonight, I asked Harper if I could share this story from when he was a little boy with all of you. I said that I think it’s important to tell the truth about the good things and the sad things about adoption so that people can understand all of it a little better.

He gave me his permission. And then he added this,

“You can tell them that I said that when I was a little boy, but it’s okay to tell the things I worry about now. Like... I don’t think it’s because of my head anymore, but I still think it’s because of something. I just don’t know what it is yet. Maybe knowing that I still wonder will help people to understand the sad parts.”

I am thankful, beyond thankful, that I have the joy and responsibility of raising these two little crazies. I am thankful for the days that the states of New York and New Jersey said that they could be ours forever. I am thankful that I know - even when they don’t - that their first mothers would die for them in an instant. I am thankful and overjoyed, to be sure, I just don’t know if all the other feelings we have about adoption will ever quite fit into a hashtag.


Life in the Tension

Sometimes I like to imagine what my kids will remember me teaching them throughout their childhood. What will stick? Will they remember all the "I love you's?" Will the "you're so brave's" and "tell me about your day's" be the words that become fastened to their memory? Or will something else overshadow the sweet and encouraging sentiments? One thing I frequently tell them that they find less favorable (but I am certain they will remember me saying) is "that is not a real problem." Let's run this down so we are all clear on what a real problem is in our house.

Scenario 1: You are four years old and you have no food to eat. At all. Ever.

Correct, that's a real problem. 

Scenario 2: You are four years old and you do not like "beet taste." 

Not even close to a real problem. (Also, beets are delicious.)  

Scenario 3: You must spend a half a day walking to a source of (questionably) drinkable water. 

Yes, this. This is a real problem. 

Scenario 4: Your food touches.  

No. Having your hot, nutritious food touch other bits of hot, nutritious food? That is - comically - not a real problem. 

You can see how they might remember me saying this. Because it is said frequently. And trust me, we are a big 'feelings' house. We talk about our feelings, we validate each others feelings, we use lots of expressive feeling words. There is no shutting down how they might feel about beets. This is a safe space to feel strong dislike for "beet taste." While I strive to always hear and even affirm their feelings, I don't pretend for a second that this is a real problem. 

I was discussing this with my friend Megan the other day. (Some of you might remember her from previous #AdamsActs posts about the heartbreaking loss of one of their sweet little twin girls, Zoey.) Megan and I were discussing our very low threshold for problems-that-aren't-really-problems. I think that low threshold is directly correlated with experiencing great and tragic loss. It changes you. It changes your perspective on what suffering is. It changes your capacity to tolerate complaints about that which is not a real problem. 

When facing challenges of various kinds, the leaders at our church will often use this phrase, "This is a tension to manage, not a problem to solve." Ugh... I love this, and oh how I wish that this concept would go ahead and just embed itself in my memory already! There are some challenges in my life that I have viewed as problems I desperately need to solve. Or avoid. Or feel sorry for myself about. These "problems" are not really problems to solve, they are simple tensions to manage. 

Instead of graciously managing the tensions, I have tried to control the tensions. I have tried solving the tensions. I have attempted to escape or avoid or blame the tensions. Shoot, I'd punch the tensions in the face if I could. Yet, nothing changes... the tension remains.

I recently shifted my definition of a problem to something more like this: a problem is only a problem if there is an actionable step one can take to work toward a solution. If no actionable step can be taken, there can be a lot of tension. That tension needs to be managed in a healthy way.

Parenting a child with a pretty severe behavioral disorder can feel a heck of a lot like a life-consuming problem. Except for one thing... there is no actionable step that I can possibly take to work toward a solution.

I must live in the tension. 

I can pray in the tension. I can cry in the tension. I can seek wise counsel in the tension. I can adjust my attitude about the tension. But I cannot solve it. I must accept it. 

The focus then is not on how to "solve" my son's disorder, but on how I can remain emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy enough to manage the tension that surfaces in light of my son's disorder.   

You may be wondering, "Who cares? What's the difference?" But the difference is everything. It's the difference between overwhelming shame that I cannot heal my child, and accepting him where he's at in his process. It's the difference between feeling exhausted and infuriated by the sheer volume of time spent supervising every little move, and recognizing our family's need for respite in order to prevent that fury and exhaustion. 

The difference is the understanding that I cannot play the Holy Spirit in my child's life. In the tension, I can only manage my own reactions, my own health, my relationships. But in the tension, I can know that I did not cause my child to have Reactive Attachment Disorder any more than I can cause my child's aversion to the glorious taste of a perfectly roasted sugarbeet. 

I did not cause either of these phenomena, and I cannot "cure" them either. I can only manage myself in the tension. 

It's hard to suffer well. And the greatest suffering occurs when there is no actionable step to take, because we cannot solve our way out of our pain. We cannot bring back the child that died. Or the parent who left. We cannot heal the primal wound that is left within the child who is separated from his first mother. 

We must simply learn to live, and accept, and love, in the tension.

So, when my five little ones are all grown and they reflect back upon their childhood, I hope that what they remember most is all the expressions of love, encouragement and adoration. Yet, I don't mind if they also remember me clarifying the difference between a real problem - real suffering - and something that is simply a tension to manage. Not only do I hope they remember hearing me speak these truths into their life, but I hope they remember me living, and loving, in the tensions... and teaching them to someday do the same. 


Jay, age four, confronting his greatest fear, a beet.  

The Happy & Crappy of Adoption

Today was, again, a total emotional roller coaster. I always refer to both sides of adoption - the beauty and the tragic separation of mom and baby.

We had our second visit with the the birthmother today, who I am going to call N. for the remainder of the blog. I am tired of figuring out a politically correct term for "lady who had a baby and is planning for you to adopt said baby, but everyone knows that she has a window of time where she can change her mind, in which case she'd just be a mom, you don't need to say birth." Until there is a good word for that, miss N. it is.

Visit #2 happies and crappies:

Happy: This visit was exponentially better than the first one. For starters the social worker actually joined us and was able to facilitate just enough to get conversations going, but not enough to make us feel mediated. Our conversation and rapport is very natural and comfortable. This girl has blown my mind with how kind and respectful and others-focused she is.

Crappy: We did not get to see the baby during this visit. He had been taken to the NICU for IV antibiotics. The infection is either at risk of moving toward the brain, or is possibly already on the brain... But after two unsuccessful spinal taps, they have yet to find answers. When London was sick, I knew how to be there and advocate for her because she was my daughter. It was exhausting and challenging, but my role was clear. It is very difficult to have your child sick in the hospital, when nobody but the child's other mama is acknowledging us as his parents! We have no right to speak with his doctor or ask questions or even be in the room while things are discussed. Even though N. wants us to be involved, we have zero understanding of how to navigate this situation as maybe-parents.

Happy: We got to meet another one of N's family members... and it was still very emotional, but with her there was obvious love and support along with genuine grief. She was not pressuring N. to change her mind, there was no guilt or manipulation. She was accepting of the decision and we spent a good amount of time alone with her, and letting her know us more. She said that this made her feel much better about the adoption.

Crappy: We have found that a lot of people involved (miss N. EXcluded) are confusing adoption with foster care. Some have not understood that adoption would be long term, and others have concerns about whether or not the baby would be properly cared for. Yesterday, the family member said she was just scared because she had heard horrible stories of kids being beaten and even burned. What on earth do you say to that?? We were shocked and horrified that THAT was what we had to address to make her feel at ease.

Happy: We are not criminals, so we could actually reassure her that we will love and care for this baby well. We described all of the fun things we take our kids to do, in Rochester and on our cross country road trips. We described a typical day in our home, which involves neither neglect nor abuse. We also mentioned that we would never burn a child. It made me sick to even have to say that out loud. In the end, she felt very positive and reassured and wants to remain involved.

Crappy: During this discussion, the family member mentioned that she has a box at home that she has been keeping for N. when she had the baby. It is full of diapers and clothes and little things she would need as a young, single mom. She said she still wants to send it for the baby, which is so sweet and should be a happy, but when I pictured her saving away little baby items to make sort of starter kit, I couldn't help but feel like it was just a straight. up. crappy.

Happy: In the exact moment that Tom and I were deciding how often we could realistically afford to travel to New York City to see N., we got a message from a long ago acquaintance who offered us the use of buddy passes available to her as an airline employee, as well as a stay in her Queens apartment if/when we would need. This was such an overwhelmingly generous offer, which would allow us to travel back and forth so cheaply that we can actually agree to all of N's visitation requests!! It felt like more than a happy, it felt like God's perfect providence... and timing!

Crappy: There is still a major piece of the puzzle missing in order for things to move forward. We need the signature of the birthfather. Whether or not he would be willing to sign is still a little wishy washy. Whether he has any real interest in parenting or not, remains uncertain. The not knowing is craptastic.

So, we keep waiting. We head back to the hospital shortly and if I don't get my hands on that baby today, miss N. and I are storming the NICU. I think that the best way to connect as two mom's is to have a good caper on the books.

N. may be discharged today, so I am dreading what this goodbye will look like. I don't know how to do this. I have decided that I love too much for my OWN good, but I think it might be good for her. And as we face a possible goodbye today, I would be lying if I said that I didn't want to adopt her too.

Capuano Adoption Update: Open to Love

Many have asked us how our phone meeting went with the expectant mom on Wednesday. I have had a really hard time figuring out a good way to answer that question. It seems that adoption is full of so many conflicting and paradoxical emotions that it is hard to describe.

Really, the conversation went a million times better than I could ever could have dreamed. From our end, we seemed to have a very natural connection. She asked us a lot of great questions, and had great answers for the questions we asked her. Considering the fact that we were getting to know (over the phone) a young woman with whom we may end up having a lifelong relationship, and doing so under such awkward and high pressure circumstances... It all went remarkably well!

The conflict is this: how in the world do we love this girl, support her, root for her, and then walk away with her baby?? Don't get me wrong, it's not at all that I don't want to parent this child if she continues with her adoption plan... I just don't know how to not be heartbroken about it all.

Adoption is like that though... It's beautiful, yes, but also messy. From something being taken from one, it is given to another. The moment a baby transfers from one mama to the next it is both tragic and joyful, an end and a beginning, a loss and also a gift.

I don't even know how to process these feelings I have that vacillate from excitement to fear to guilt to sadness. I have been accused of being an empath. (You know who you are Abby Hanson) and I am realizing more and more how very, very true that is about me. I absolutely cannot separate the paradoxes. I can't just feel excited about the possibility that we will welcome a baby boy into our family in the next couple of weeks, without also acknowledging what that means for his first mommy. The grief and sorrow she would most assuredly endure, while we are celebrating him joining our family.

This is why I am so thankful that Bethany Christian Services does such an awesome job counseling and advocating for expectant parents. I am thankful for the awesome ladies that we are working with to navigate all of these conflicting emotions and all the ups and downs. I am thankful for the heart these women have for protecting these little lives and all the people who are willing to love them.

More than anything though, I am thankful that none of this is up to me! I am thankful for a very sovereign God who loves this baby more than either of his potential moms! I am thankful that He loves me and that He is absolutely wild about this young woman... And that He will not abandon her for one single second. I am thankful that this decision is hers to make, and that while she seems sure now... God is still good and He's still enough if she changes her mind.

The desire of my heart is to have an open adoption. I want to spend this life taking the risk of loving others well and pouring myself out instead of always trying to figure out how to fill myself up. I would risk pain if it meant I would grow through suffering rather than stay small in the safety of my own self-protection. I know that navigating an open adoption is tricky and can be downright miserable at times... But I can't imagine the opportunities it would create, to love, serve and minister to this girl. And after just one conversation with her, I realized that I want to see her succeed just as much as my heart longs to parent another child.

If she continues to move forward with this adoption plan, I will brave all the paradoxes of fear, blessing, loss, grief and rejoicing... And I will choose to love not only this baby, but his mother, his first mother, the one who gave him life.

Capuano Adoption Journey: Meet a Maybe Mama

Tomorrow we have a phone meeting with a young woman who is interested in the possibility of us adopting her baby, who is due in just a couple of weeks.

We have never met with an expectant mom (potential birthmom) like this before, and it is both promising and very nerve-wracking. Or is it racking? I never really did learn the proper spelling, or what it actually means to wrack/rack ones nerves.

Either way, it is currently happening to my nerves. Tom and I are not feeling super prepared for the call because I have been in Portland for the past week visiting friends and welcoming their baby, Ava, into the world.

So, I am cramming for the oddest adoption experience to date. I wrote out some questions I anticipate she may ask, and some questions we will ask her. The idea for us will be to ask the same type of questions I would ask any woman who is expecting a child, some light ones that are easy to answer so she doesn't feel overwhelmed... along with some deeper questions to help us get to know her better, in case she does choose to entrust this child into our care.

I am listing the questions below, and answering some of the heavier ones she may ask us. This is mostly for me to process and prepare, but also a great opportunity to share our heart for adoption and answer some questions people often have, but don't always feel comfortable asking us.

Q's for expectant mom:
-How has your pregnancy been? (Any cravings, difficulty sleeping, complications, etc.)
-What are your hobbies? What do you like to do for fun/to relax?
-What kind of support do you have, friends/family/church/community?
-How can we support/be praying for you during this time?
-Why are you considering making an adoption plan?
-What personality trait, talent, or characteristic would you like your child to inherit from you?
-What are your hopes for your child's life?
-Is there anything you would like to know about us?
-If you chose to make an adoption plan, how much openness would you like? What would you prefer as far as visits/calls/pictures/letters?

Q's she may ask us:
-How did we meet?
-What is our parenting style?
-Why do we want to adopt?
A: We knew from the beginning that we wanted to adopt more than one child. We feel that it is really important for Harper (and our next child) to have a common experience with someone in his family. While he has plenty of sisters to go through life with, we think it will be very beneficial for them to have a common adoptive experience, as well as similar racial experience, etc. Life for a child who was adopted transracially is unique and challenging at times, the extra support and understanding of a sibling will be a really special and helpful experience.
-How will we answer adoption questions?
A: We are open, honest and straightforward when answering adoption questions from outsiders or from the children. We try to share how special and wonderful adoption is, but also that it can be devastatingly painful at times. We stress two basic things: that his first mom gave him life and and she gave him a family, two remarkable and sacrificial gifts. We talk about adoption frequently and casually so that the kids feel like they can talk about it whenever it pops in their mind, and that there are no "taboo" topics that will hurt our feelings to discuss.
-What is our primary hope for our children?
A: Our primary goal would be that all the kids become the men and women God created them to be. We want to give them a solid foundation in which they can grow to trust and follow Christ and strive to glorify Him always. We feel that (in addition to a solid biblical foundation) this is best achieved by giving the kids a variety of life experiences (traveling, camping, serving others, sports, art, school, dance, play, music, etc) all of which help develop the kids into their unique, individual selves. Often in large families, kids personalities start to blend together a bit... We try to be really mindful that people serve the Lord most effectively when they are free to be the unique person God designed them to be, using their individual gifts, passions and skill set. If they all started to look too much alike, I would be worried!
-What kind of support/community do we have?
-What are our hobbies/interests?
-What are our thoughts about openness?
A: We are very open to being open! We desire to have a relationship with our child's biological family, but will respect and honor the desire for space and privacy if that is preferred. We view our role to be that of facilitators of whatever relationship is best for our child. It is our belief that a relationship with positive and loving family members (both biological and adoptive) are very important and we will work very hard to facilitate these relationships if that is desired.

Okay... That's about all I can think of. Been through this? Then tell me: what am I missing? Haven't been through this? Then just imagine, what would YOU want to know if you were in her position?