When the journey into parenthood is a long one

Parenthood did not come easily to Scott and me.  Before Matthew was born, we suffered through two pregnancy losses — an ectopic pregnancy and then a miscarriage.    Both losses were totally unexpected, and visceral, and devastating.   Along with the grief at losing our babies, one of the worst aspects was not knowing whether we’d ever have a viable pregnancy.  If we’d been able to rest in the assurance that yes, someday, a pregnancy of ours would take and thrive, we might have been able to weather those difficult periods a bit more easily.   But we didn’t have that assurance (do we ever, in life?).  So we got through with the help of prayer and lots of supportive people around us and a gritty, resolute faith that someday, somehow, we would become parents.

In the end, we were lucky:  roughly two years after the first pregnancy loss, we were holding Matthew in our arms.  Many parents have to wait much, much longer, and go through many more brutal disappointments as they wait.   And from several of my adoptive-parent friends, I know that when you are waiting to adopt, it’s a different ballgame entirely.   In addition to the waiting and the wondering, there’s the paperwork, the phone calls and emails,  the home visits, the evaluations, the finding enough funds to cover the expenses — and, often, the unanswered question of why a God who delights in new life and who puts the desire for parenthood in our hearts can make it so darn difficult to achieve.

Years ago, when I sold my first article to U.S. Catholic magazine, the editor I worked with was Heidi Schlumpf.   In our various editorial correspondances over the years, I learned that she was in the process of adopting, and that she was working on a book to support parents as they navigated the challenges of the process.   That’s why it was a thrill to come across While We Wait: Spiritual and Practical Advice for Those Trying to Adopt in our church resource library  a few weeks ago.  I snapped it up and took it home — and absolutely loved it.

In a series of straight-talking reflections, Schlumpf addresses many of the practical, spiritual, and emotional aspects of the adoption process.   She covers holidays, which can bring mixed feelings (and powerful symbolism) to prospective parents; she talks about the pain of seeing tabloid covers showing yet another celebrity adoption; she addresses ways to handle the well-meaning but often insensitive comments from family members, friends, or even strangers.  Throughout it all, she is real. I can’t recommend this book enough to couples who are trying to adopt — and it’s also powerful reading for anyone who is supporting friends or family members through the process.  The book really helps you understand the sheer helplessness that adoptive parents feel at  having large, sometimes foreign bureaucracies involved in your quest to become a parent.  I didn’t have to deal with that challenge on the road to parenthood, and it makes you want to give those waiting adoptive parents a big hug of support.  (I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Schlumpf’s  journey does have a happy ending.)

Whether you’re biological or adoptive parents, the road into parenthood is often a rocky one.  Sometimes it’s also a lot longer than it looked at the outset.   I think we all win when we share the experiences we have as we plug along, dealing with the periods of grief and delay, keeping our eyes on the beautiful little prize waiting at the end of the road.

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