Why adoption is supposed to be hard: Part 1

By Brandon Clements

This series of posts was originally written in November 2016.

We have been home from China with our adopted son Jeremiah for 6 weeks, and when people ask me how we’re all doing I usually say, “We’re alive, and that’s our only goal right now, so good I think.” We could safely say that this has been the most stretching and overwhelming two months of our lives, and tears have been plentiful in the Clements household. While we are still raw in this journey, I wanted to process some things we’ve been learning in the hopes that it would help us and anyone else who may walk this road in the future.

My wife Kristi and I have always been staggered by how clearly adoption is a picture of the gospel. It’s no accident that Paul uses the imagery of adoption multiple times to describe what God did for us—that we were spiritual orphans, completely hopeless and as good as dead, and God adopted us into His family through the costly blood of His Son. He chose to take on immense suffering on our behalf, so that we could be reconciled to Him.

So when we were dating, engaged and first married, we’d talk about adoption all the time. We knew it was in God’s plan for our family. We’d meet families and just marvel at how beautifully we saw the story of the gospel through their adoption, or their willingness to foster kids–to be a literal ministry of reconciliation between a hurting child and a struggling birthparent. We’d watch the tearjerker videos about adoption. I still remember one a while ago that was called I Like Adoption about this family who adopted 9 or 10 kids from all over the world, many with severe special needs. Watching that video cemented in our hearts that we were not supposed to leave this Earth without bringing as many fatherless kids as we can into our family.

We saw the gospel in adoption, yes. That’s what motivated us to do it. But all of the things we talked about and saw, we didn’t know yet–at least not fully. And all of those videos, as wonderful as they are–they don’t show you the really ugly and hard parts. They show you the parts that make you cry, they don’t show the parent weeping on the bathroom floor because they are so overwhelmed they think they might die (I mean, I haven’t done that of course, but I’m sure other people have…)

Fast forward in our journey to September 16th of this year. We left our two-year-old and six-month-old girls (Sully and Isla) at home to travel to China. The second day we were there we walked into a very hot government affairs building, and with little warning a group of orphanage workers randomly walk in with a bunch of kids. And there, in the arms of one of them, is our son Jeremiah. The one we’d stared at pictures of for months. He has on a green shirt that says “Kitchen Cat,” red Hello Kitty pants, and one pink shoe. He looks like Christmas.

The first couple of days feel kind of like a honeymoon phase. We’re new and fun to him and he’s new and fun to us. He’s outside of his orphanage for the first time, so he’s just having a blast. Then a couple of days in, he starts wondering “Actually, what is going on here? Who are you people and why are you so white? What is this strange language you are speaking?…”

This uncertainty happens right about the time that we get on a plane (which he’s obviously never been on) for 24 hours. And at the end of that plane ride—which was so miserable I’ve completely blacked it out of my memory—we’ve stayed up all night two nights in a row. And then we get to deal with the evil that is a 12 hour time change. We had never done that before, and let me tell you, evil isn’t a strong enough word for it.

But of course, we couldn’t get over that time change until he did. All 17 months of his life he’d been on the same schedule, and now here we were telling him day was actually nighttime. So after what we thought was the most exhausting and emotionally draining two weeks of our lives, we go to bed every night and at midnight Jeremiah’s awake for the day. For about the next two weeks. In this time, we hit depths of exhaustion and instability we didn’t know were a thing.

When he is awake, he consistently freaks out because he has no idea what is happening. He squeals so excruciatingly loud and often that it physically hurts our ears, to the point that I bought earplugs to wear around the house (I don’t know of a better word than squeal—it’s much different than a typical baby cry). This deafening, nonstop siren presses buttons in me that I didn’t even know existed.

He’s afraid of Sully, his two-year-old sister, and he has good reason to be because she just doesn’t like him at all yet. She can’t fathom where this baby came from, why he won’t quit squealing like a terrified banshee, or why he bites her and Isla when they get too close to him. Sully has been markedly more obstinate and emotionally unstable since we’ve been home—privy to throw tantrums we’ve never seen her throw over things she used to not bat an eye at—all her way of revolting against a change she doesn’t love and can’t fully understand. In the moment, those self-destructions are really hard to watch.

She’s very protective of her baby sister, and even though Isla is in some ways oblivious as a baby, even she often has a confused look on her face, like she’s thinking “Aren’t I supposed to be the one crying and getting all the attention here?” Which she does, mostly at night (she’s generally an angel during the day). We joke that she’s plotting to get alone time with us, but the joke wears as sleep continues to be assaulted by at least one baby waking up at all hours of the night. We planned for the babies to share a room, and the day we got home we realized, “Oh—that’s not gonna work. They’ll wake each other up all night.” So for now Jeremiah sleeps in a pack’n’play. In our closet.

Add all of this together, and well—that’s the part where weeping on the bathroom floor may have occurred. Once. Or maybe twice. It’s really hard to say at this point. We’ve had some very dark, despairing moments.

(Tune in tomorrow for Part 2…)

Published November 27, 2017

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Brandon Clements

Brandon is a pastor at Midtown Fellowship, a family of churches in Columbia, South Carolina. He writes at DearBibleBelt.com and is the co-author of The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life.