On Being and Not Being an Adoptive Mom

I’ve been trying to decide if I still consider myself an adoptive mom. I WAS an adoptive mom, but am I still?

In a strange way I was looking forward to helping Samuel navigate adoption issues as he grew up. I wasn’t happy that he had a life of loss, but I knew God could redeem his pain. I wanted to see that beauty unfold in my little boy. Samuel knew that he had a different birth mother than his siblings. One day that would have meant something to him. He would have mourned his past and hopefully learned that his story was not only one of loss, but a story of love and belonging and cherishing and worth.

I thought I would be the one to encourage him as he explored who he was, his gifts and weaknesses, without any blood family to give him clues. I hoped to take him back to China to discover his birth culture. In China he would have had opportunity to realize and grieve what he lost. I’m sure he would have wondered (with sadness or relief or that complicated mix of both) at how different his life could have been. I wanted to support him in a world that is often unkind in the face of issues like racial and culture identity. I wanted to pray for him and love him as he fought to overcome the emptiness I saw in his heart, the attachment challenges he faced. I expected all of these things to be ahead of both of us.

God healed the emptiness in Samuel’s heart in a way I never anticipated, somewhere behind the veil of heaven. Samuel is free of his life of loss. I am not.

While on vacation earlier this summer I noticed a little girl about Samuel’s age. She was energetic and spontaneous, working her way around the pool, engaging everyone she encountered. She climbed on people’s shoulders and flitted in and out of their games. She appeared to have a repaired cleft lip. And, as she was Asian and was with Caucasian parents, I wondered if she was adopted.

There are plenty of times when it’s not a good idea to introduce yourself to another family just because you think they have an adopted child like you. But sometimes it happens and is a good thing. Samuel was young enough that being adopted was still 100% positive to him. He liked meeting other kids that were adopted, or even better, from China. We talked with other adoptive families when we could.

As I watched this girl dance through the water, I realized with sadness that connection was shut to me. Maybe forever. Can you imagine the conversation? Yes, we adopted too! Gansu Province. Well, he’s not here. Well, it’s a sad story… Sorry, I didn’t mean to start crying…

Oh how we love the adoption community. It’s filled with the most amazing people. These are families who choose courageous things over fear, who love when their hearts are breaking, and who fight through so many obstacles for their children. We believe strongly in adoption advocacy and orphan ministry. Adoption has been on our hearts for years. We even talked about it on our third date. Who does that?

We will continue to love our adoption friends. The families we met in China and the ones who supported us as we brought Samuel home will always have a dear place in our hearts. But our connection is gone, and the relationships change. I had to remove myself from my adoption-related social media groups soon after Samuel’s death. I couldn’t engage with the community as they faced normal adoption road bumps, worried about surgeries, and rejoiced in the beauty of what they saw God doing in the hearts of their children. It was an in-your-face reminder of who I have lost.

I will always be Samuel’s mom. Always.

Some things fade into the past. I am no longer a mother of preschoolers, or a kindergarten mom. I think being an adoptive mom falls into the same category. I think I am no longer an adoptive mom.

Such sadness. Death destroys many things. I was hoping to keep that title, that privilege, all my life, not all of his.


Today was the first time I’ve gone back into the church where we held Samuel’s funeral.

Memories everywhere.  My kids go to VBS here every year.  Lots of good times.

I dropped Jana off in her VBS group, and she found a friend in the same row where our family sat last year at Samuel’s funeral.  I had trouble focusing as the teacher asked me questions.  Right over her shoulder was the spot where the casket stood.  That small, awful, awful casket.  Covered in white flowers.  Samuel’s face tucked away inside, next to his favorite blue bunny.

I don’t have words to describe what that feels like.  Anguish is the closest I find, but it’s more complex than that.

I stumbled through the rest of the day.  Literally and emotionally.

It’s hard to stay present.

It’s hard to stop the tears.

They keep coming.

I miss him so much.


I came to a realization yesterday. It’s both good and bad news.

It started when I was almost in another accident. The car behind me slammed on their brakes, screeched towards me, and stopped with only inches to spare. She would have hit me if I hadn’t left lots of space between myself and the car in front of me, allowing me to move forward and out of her way. The danger here wasn’t my life, just whiplash and my back bumper. But I had a meltdown. I couldn’t breathe, and I sobbed. Sobbed. Not from grief, from terror. I kept driving, sobbing, and missed my turn. I drove half an hour before I noticed I was still driving and wondered where I was, wondered how had I driven so far. That’s not good.

So, the bad news. That reaction clarified that I’ve slid into PTSD territory. I might not be diagnosable (I don’t have the objectivity to diagnose myself, teasing out what is trauma and what is grief), but I’m hanging out around there. If nothing else, I have PTSDishness. It’s been there in some form since the accident, but it’s gotten much worse in the last 2 months. I recognized that I was overreacting, but couldn’t name it.

The good news is I’m not going crazy. Now I understand why I dread leaving the house, and why I have library books that are weeks overdue and I still can’t bring myself to get in the car and drive to the library. It explains why I feel I’m among strangers even when I’m with friends. If I have PTSDishness, my angry outbursts while driving, my fears and anxieties all make a little more sense.

They feel excessive. They feel out-of-character and out-of-control.

They are.

But they are normal for PTSD.

At least now I know that when I get triggered while driving (lately that’s almost every time I get in the car), I should pull over and give myself time to calm down.

The Duet

There is a faint line of hope in my heart today.

I’m afraid of it.  Hope means expectations.  Expectations mean disappointment.  Disappointment means anger and hurt.

But there it is.  It’s been there since last night, which is a long time for me.  Lately my glimmers of hope last for 10 minutes to an hour or two, but no more.  Then the discouragement settles back in, feeling heavier than it did before.

I’ve had a low tolerance for music since the accident.  But music is how I discover, how I pray and worship, and how I love.  Losing music starves my soul like not being able to swallow would starve my stomach.  I found some music I can listen to this week.  They are songs about pain.  Although the hope woven into them is very, very small, it is more hope than I feel.  But today I can imagine hope like that in my life.  That’s no small thing.  Listening to these songs is replacing some of the despair in my head with stillness.

So today my grief has tried a duet with hope.  Maybe God’s silence isn’t abandonment, but a pause.  A holy tear as God sits, listening, before he speaks to me.  Waiting for me to be quiet, so he can continue the song that he’s always sung over me.  Maybe God is still there and I’ll find him again.  That would be good.  I need something good.