If I have learned anything in the last year and a half, it is that Love Makes a Family.
I knew this before, but now I know it more than ever. I know it to the core of my whole self that blood and DNA, genetic ties and biology, are not what make a family. Sure, those are ties that create families, but so does love. Love runs thick.
We’ve been asked by quite a few people about the route we chose to grow our family through adoption. There are a few ways to adopt babies and children, but this was the route we chose. It’s not better or worse than the other ways, it is simply an avenue and it is the direction we chose to go.
“I do not want an open adoption, that seems weird and unhealthy.”
We said those words in agreement two years before our first son was born and adopted. It was after we first met with a local adoption/pregnancy counselor, wondering what a local adoption would look like, and all she did was rave and enthuse over how “healthy,” “beautiful,” and “good” open adoption was.
We left that meeting at our local downtown Starbucks shaking our heads, saying how crazy that counselor was. We could not see ourselves opening our family and life to “some lady.”
It is one of my favorite months, if not my absolute favorite. The leaves have been falling, coating the sidewalks crispy colors of orange and brown and red and yellow. The mornings are brisk and fog filled, skies blue by noon, evenings cool and clear to the stars. Walks with warm coffee in hand? Yes please. Walks pushing a stroller of two babes? All the yeses. The privilege is not lost on me.
October is also Baby Loss Awareness month. Whether it be through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death…we are invited to take a moment and remember the little ones gone too soon.
Last October I should have been 8 months round, nearing my due date in November. But we said goodbye to that little one, so wanted and so loved, so precious and so cherished. It felt so undeserved, losing that little baby we tried so hard for.
Last week wore me thin in all the places that were hanging onto thickness.
If you’re unsure of what that means, so am I. If you think that means I’ve lost weight, that’s not what I was implying and also we don’t have a scale so I wouldn’t know.
I’m averaging 4 pints of ice cream a week, so there’s that. We’re all in different places. This is my place.
What I am trying to say is this: I am tired.
I experienced more frustration last week altogether than I have in my short 9 months of being a mama to babies out of the womb. So many cries, constantly being poured from sweet little mouths, making my heart crumble.
I don’t know if the lack of sleep is weighing on me, if the imbalance of my hormones is wrecking me, or if I have a lot going on with keeping up with writing/photography/wife-ing/mothering.. or all of the above ..but I cried a whole lot and said a whole lot of times: I can’t do this.
A year ago I woke up ready to run 22 miles as we prepared for our first marathon, the Portland Marathon. It was just weeks away, less than a month, and we had been training for the bulk of the year.
Earlier that year I had watched a second line turn pink, parallel to the first litmus line of the pregnancy test. It was the culmination of months-turned-to-years of trying to conceive a biological baby in my womb, the culmination of doctor’s appointments and fertility medications and cycle-tracking and finally making the decision to begin the adoption journey earlier rather than later. I watched that second line show up, not on just one test but a second and then a third and then a fourth and a fifth. Pregnant for sure, we were thrilled and put our not-yet-official adoption journey on pause to “spread the babies out.”
To My Son’s Birth Dad:
We have not met yet. I add the word “yet” with caution for my heart as well as my son’s: what if we never have the privilege of meeting you? The sadness that wells in my soul when I recognize the possibility that we may never meet you, in flesh or virtually, grieves me in a way I never saw coming.
I cannot imagine my son one day having to process that reality.
You see, you are a missing puzzle piece to my son’s identity.
I have a lot of people emailing and messaging me questions about adoption which is SO COOL. I have had an array of questions like: which route do you recommend?, how did you go about finding Sage?, why do you like open adoption?, do you have anything you would recommend me to read?
It is always such an honor to receive these questions and inquiries. Of course I am always learning and reading and there is SO much more to know and so many resources to discover and I feel I barely know anything.
Today I am sharing an amazing resource! If you are hoping to adopt, if you have adopted, if you think about adoption or have friends/family who have adopted, this website is worth taking a few minutes to poke around.
My bath tub has never been so repulsive.
There is actual mildew and mold growing in the window sill (who puts an old crappy window with split wood inside a shower?) and the ceramic lining of the tub where there should be caulking. I posted what I thought to be a super cute picture of tub-time with my boys and was later mortified that you could see so much of my nasty bath tub.
With what seems to be a perpetual battle of “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” filling my social media feeds, my small family of four has stepped up its game ten fold to celebrate my son’s race.
My husband, Loren, had his grad school orientation this evening. Last fall when we left our Youth Pastor position in Corvallis, Loren made the scary decision that he wanted to pursue his Masters of Arts in Teaching. This was scary for a lot of reasons: the first big reason was that we were confident we would always be employed by a church, pursuing careers in vocational ministry. Identity shift. It quickly became scary again because he has a full time job, two new babies, is now a transracial-family dad, is married to a big-feeling exhausted wife who needs help doing laundry and eating.. and well, if that isn’t already a lot of things, he has officially began his 20 month grad school program.
After he got home tonight we talked again about how hard this is going to be. Life is already hard. Raising two babies is hard. Juggling his work with my writing deadlines with photography sessions and editing those images with community that we adore while figuring out how to be parents — adoptive, biologically and transracially — is a lot of things.
“When you were deciding to place me for adoption, did you wonder if I would resent you?” Samantha asks her biological mother while visiting her across the country.
“Yes. I still do.” Debbie responded with honesty.
Samantha, now 27 with four kids and an amazing husband, shares pieces of her story as an adoptee. Her adoption was closed with zero contact until the age of 14 when she and her biological mother set a date to meet. Sam was excited, to say the least. It is an honor and privilege to have her share pieces of her story.
Natalie: When and how did your closed adoption transform into an open adoption?
I shaved my legs, as well as my pits, in the shower today while our littlest of the littles screamed his lungs dry. I have been telling myself all week that I would shower today and even shave because it is our anniversary. So I did. I set him down while he screamed and let me know that he wanted to traumatize me so I would never shower again. But I did it. I showered. [And I might shower again one day, but only time will tell].
“Are they twins?” is a question we are frequently asked. “No,” we kindly respond while attempting to move on before the gauntlet of questions begins. Inevitably, the prying questions are hurled at us in conjunction with puzzled facial expressions: “Are they both yours?” (Yes). “How far apart are they?” (About five months). “How is that possible?” (Adoption. One was adopted).
Once the first onslaught of prying questions have been thrown at us and we think the conversation has come to a close, a slue of hurt is hurled in the form of more ignorant questions: “Was his real mom young and on drugs?” “Did you get pregnant after you adopted?” “Did you adopt because you couldn’t get pregnant?” “How much did he cost?” And so-on the hurtful, misinformed, and poorly worded questions are asked.
Dare to allow love to be stronger in you than the fear of the pain that comes with truly caring. You will unravel a radiant freedom within yourself.
My body miscarried and rejected our first baby.
We wanted that baby. We hoped for that baby. We prayed for that baby. We celebrated that baby. We cried tears of joy and danced celebration for that baby. That baby, Blake, left my womb too soon and we had to say goodbye before we really said hello. That baby, so precious, so loved, so wanted…I believe will one day introduce his family to Jesus.
The amount of times my wounds were washed over with the words, “It wasn’t meant to be,” “At least you know you can get pregnant,” “Maybe something was wrong with that baby,” “You were barely pregnant,” “Jesus is all you need,” etcetera etcetera befuddles me.
We were scouring the children’s book section as we usually do at Powell’s Book Store, searching for adoptive family and different-race books when a thought occurred to me. My phone holds an ongoing list of wanted-books to add to our little children’s library, and if we are lucky, we find one each time we visit Powell’s. Today we found FOUR. Our quest to build our children’s library is an adventurous one, as our eyes have been opened to how white our home has always been. Our home, our community, our books, our art.
It has been a top priority to bring art and books and toys/dolls into our home that display people of color, people wearing brown skin that matches our son’s, so that he doesn’t grow up completely immersed in whiteness, wondering what is “wrong” with him or wishing his skin was void of the beauty of color. We want brown and black to be just as normal as white, which is a much easier task said than done. We want to celebrate his blackness and read books with brown kids as the main character, as the hero.We want him to know that there is no mold for family. We want him to know that to us, his skin color can be celebrated and beautiful, just as his white brother’s.
“How do you do it?” The question is posed often with curiosity but sometimes with pity and other times with humor, as though our life is some sort of silly joke. But let’s be real: there is a lot of laughter happening in our life, so we don’t mind greeting this question with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders.
Life with two babies who are not twins and are at two different developmental stages is certainly a little crazier than life with one baby.
The tragedies of this week have burned themselves deep into my heart for a lot of reasons. I won’t forget this week.
I am beyond heart broken over the lost lives in Dallas. As my husband and I read through and watched videos, the tears didn’t stop coming, the anger didn’t stop fuming. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The deaths in Dallas were evil, violent, unjustifiable, and not okay. The deaths of Alton and Philando were evil, violent, unjustifiable, and not okay. Hear that, will you? I cried and I wept over the deaths of those officers late into my already sleepless night. I have been praying for officers I know and their families. I do not hate officers, nor do I wish harm upon any of them. I am pro-human.
But to wake up yesterday and scroll through posts and posts of friends who are justifiably angry and outraged over the Dallas shooting who were extremely silent the day before when two black men were unjustifiably murdered? That has hit me on a layer of my heart that I did not see coming.
Our son is part of this community and we will celebrate his blackness. My friend Eva posted this and it was exactly what I am processing: “Over the past 24 hours, a few of you have reached out to personally send some love and for that I am grateful. A few of you, through comments, expressed sentiments that I don’t agree with, and I am grateful for you as well. I feel like it is better to at least engage, have conversation, than to keep silent. A lot of you, many of whom I consider close friends, have been eerily silent. It is interesting and telling. I am not claiming to know what is in your heart, but sometimes silence is not the answer, and can appear as neutrality.”
It’s hard not to take it personal: Mama Bear is fierce. I know it’s only been 6 months of really learning, but it’s 6 months of my eyes being opened wider than ever.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Stacy Curtis, white mama of black children, said: “The issue is so big, so complicated, intricate and deep. The topic so sensitive, where does one even begin? This is what has held me back for the last year and a half. This issue is so incredibly divisive you can’t speak on the topic without ruffling someone’s feathers. And yet, there comes a time when standing up for the truth and speaking out becomes more important than not rocking the boat or upsetting people you care about.” (Read her post here)
I don’t know what to do most of the time. I post too much, I post too little, I post the wrong things, I offend people here, I’m hurt by others…social media is a mess and it has never brought out such an ugly, angry side of me as it did Thursday. But the more people of color I ask about how to respond to these things, the more I hear, “Keep talking, keep asking, keep educating, keep learning, keep diversifying your friendships & community…” to do those things is to love deeper. To recognize that white privilege is indeed very real is heart breaking and humbling, but means we are opening my eyes and heart to others reality. It doesn’t mean white people are bad – it simply means there are a lot of things we don’t have to think or worry about, while people of color do. Small simple example? The color of most bandaids is classified as nude. Nude does not equal white/beige. Nude is an array of colors. One more very subtle to us white folk and simple example: there were zero people of color on the cakes at Costco when I went to find a cake for our sons adoption finalization party. Just a bunch of white boys and girls. Sage is brown with curly hair, not white with light straight hair.
White privilege is being able to live in oblivion to race, to be invisible to even yourself, to have the space to not even think about your skin color.
My other close friend posted this; it is spot on where my heart is at: “I’ll explain real quick…if you or I had a family member fall victim to Cancer and you or I wrote #CancerSucks…nobody would counter that and say#AllDiseasesSuck. If I said #HappyMothersDay on Mothers Day, it’d be a little strange to say #AllParentsMatter as a response. If I say Cancer Sucks…it isn’t saying other diseases don’t suck. It is bringing awareness to a specific disease that is affecting me that I need help and/or attention with. If I say Happy Mother’s Day…it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Fathers…it is me showing appreciation specifically for my mom or mother’s in general.#BlackLivesMatter isn’t saying your life or any other life doesn’t matter. It is saying this Cancer Sucks!! And I/We need help and/or attention!! It is bringing attention to what is hurting. If you have multiple kids, and a child felt forgotten or neglected, it is OK and EXPECTED to single them out and let them know they matter, that you LOVE them. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about the others. We are all God’s children, so when your brothers and sisters are telling you #WeMatter….it’d be better to say yes you do and I LOVE YOU instead of countering it.”
Friends, can we put down our defenses and vulnerably try to place ourselves in the shoes of others? It’s heart-risky imagining being a cop in the US: how freaking scary right now. It’s also heart-risky imagining being [specifically] a black male in the US: how freaking scary. Its uncomfortable to admit there is racism, injustice, cruel meaningless violence. I do not know what it is like to send my husband off fearing for his life day after day, when his job and duty and heart is to protect others. I also can’t begin to imagine or understand how emotionally exhausting it must be to wear color on my skin.
But I will keep learning, keep asking ignorant questions, and keep talking. I will pursue more friendships with people of color. I will mess up, a lot. I will and have said stupid things. I so want to learn to love well, especially in the face of tragedy: if I do not love well, what purpose and meaning does my life have?
Just received a beautiful phone call with beautiful news: Sage’s adoption is finalized. He is an official Brenner.
Last night our almost-6 month little man woke up ready to party at 11 pm. Husband had just gotten home from a 10+ hour day of work. I was feeding our 3 week little man so it was up to Daddy, like it has been for 3 weeks, to care for and comfort our first born.
Essential oils, gripe water, 6 ounces of milk, yoga ball bounces, and two+ hours later our first born was out cold in Daddy’s arms and the two of them crawled into bed sometime after 1 am.
Last night our almost-6 month little man woke up ready to party at 11 pm. Husband had just gotten home from a 10+ hour day of work. I was feeding our 3 week little man so it was up to Daddy, like it constantly has been, to care for and comfort our first born.
Essential oils, gripe water, 6 ounces of milk, yoga ball bounces, and two+ hours later our first born was out cold in Daddy’s arms and the two of them crawled into bed sometime after 1 am.
I pray so hard during these moments. I beg Jesus to give Loren strength, ounce by ounce, as his exhausted body and mind perpetually bounces to soothe our precious little one. I ask Jesus over and over again to help our little man fall asleep. I ask Him to give us ideas as to what he needs and why is he awake and what do we do and how do we serve him?
It’s not a rare thing for my eyes to well with tears. As the ice cream server at Cloudy City confirmed with our pal Seth last night as I teared up over gluten free waffle cones: I have a lot of emotions. And that is no exaggeration.
Recently a lot of people have been encouraging me that it’s okay that being a mom is hard and it’s okay to not like it.. I often don’t know how I feel about these comments. Because being a mama has been the very best thing for my soul. It is hard, like a lot of things are hard. But I am not sitting around grieving the fact I am a mama. I have wanted this, we fought for this, and it is a gift and I am grateful, even when it isn’t glamorous. But I will share that there are certain aspects to my particular and current mama journey that are of utmost difficulty.
Due to the nature of having two babies at two different developmental stages, we need a lot of help. And we have had help. The help has been mind blowing. My sister and mom, our friends, my friends’ moms, my friend’s aunt, people I’ve met on Facebook who became friends through the beauty of donated breastmilk for our first born… I mean community has built itself around us in ways I am honored to witness and be a part of.
But my word is it hard on my heart. My heart is constantly breaking into fragments while being blessed while experiencing joy and cracking wide open with love. Other women are wearing/carrying/comforting/feeding/snuggling/putting down for naps/caring for my sweet first born (almost 6 months) while I am doing the never ending cycle of feeding and changing my newborn 3 week infant. I have never struggled with jealousy so much. Don’t get me wrong: I love the cycle of caring for infants. It seems spoiled, living this life as a mama. But the reality that I am not enough has never set in so deeply.
It’s this dance of being enough in the sense that I believe fully we were made to do this thing of raising these sweet boys so close in age, while acknowledging that we are not actually enough at all..and only Jesus makes us enough. Only with His constant presence of I Am With You can I bring any confidence to the table of being these boys’ mamas. Because I am not enough. I can’t serve them both with one hundred percent of myself, and even if I could give all of myself, I am still not enough. The prayer that my first born’s attachment to me isn’t all screwed up is perpetual in my heart; the prayer that our second born doesn’t feel less than because he never had Just Us is a thing I’m sure all mama’s pray when a second is added.
I created a Facebook group for mamas of Almost/Artificial/Virtual Twins / Twiblings. I needed some mamas who have gone before me to tell me that I’m not a horrible mama for accepting help and allowing other women to essentially join me in being my sons’ mama. Because that is what this feels like: it feels like I have had to rip out parts of my heart and allow other women to share this precious, so wanted, so longed for position of being their mama. It hurts. It’s hard. One of those mamas said to me, “Things will always slip through the cracks. Hopefully they are small things. But know that God is in the cracks too.” She encouraged me that God wouldn’t haven’t given us these kids if He wouldn’t provide a way for us to do it well. She blessed me with the permission to grieve what I need to grieve surrounding many things, one of them being the impossibility to care perfectly for infants that are at two different developmental stages.
Don’t get me wrong: These days are filled with a lot more joy than grief or sadness or pain. These days are overflowing with laughter and giggles and a deeper sense of gratitude than I have had in a long time. These days are wholly undeserved and I am soaking them in, because though it is difficult and painful to choose between two crying babies, soon I will look back and miss these late night rocking chair snuggles. I already miss them. I already cry over these boys becoming toddlers. It’s silliness I am sure. “I don’t want to be 100 years old,” (have you seen that video…? If not this is awkward). And I am sure that when they become toddlers and then kids and then teens and then young adults, I will have many more reasons to give thanks. They may not want to be snuggled all night long, but there will hopefully be other heart-filling adventures.
Dear Sweet little Mancub:
Our journey together with you as our firstborn and only child will never escape my heart; my love for you will only grow deeper, which only baffles me. You were born 20 weeks ago on a Wednesday morning in another state. I still go through my photos to find the first two images of you that were sent to me; they send me reeling into this state of bliss.
The moment you were placed in my arms, I could not believe what I was being told: I was your mommy. I may not be your First Mommy or your Birth Mommy, but I love you just as if I were.
I need a basin to catch all my tears. But I guess my protruding belly will do.
I’ve stated on my space before that the emotions surrounding the upcoming delivery of our second born son are many, various, complex, BIG. Today marks 39 weeks of pregnancy, life in the womb for that little brother man and I can’t believe it. How is Sage-man over 4 months? How are we halfway through May? How am I nearing my delivery and meeting that precious bundle of raw flesh? Most women with the blood clotting disorders are induced at 39 weeks. Today. Today I would have been induced. Today I would have met our second born son. My goodness isn’t that weird?
I won’t forget sitting in Cathy’s make shift office for the first time as she started the first of many Home Study meetings. She is our social worker and we love her dearly – she understands brokenness in families more than most, having worked with foster care and adoption for years. She shares with us love for Jesus and His redemption.
When she asked us if we were still pursuing fertility treatments and we said “No, but if we were to become pregnant again, we will not be stopping our adoption process,” her response was one that has repeated itself in my mind a few times since it left her mouth. Mainly because in that moment, I had a feeling that what she said not to do, we would do…I had a feeling and secretly hoped it would become our crazy journey:
“I highly recommend you rethink that. Most adoption agencies won’t let you continue in your adoption anyways, if pregnant. But read up on Artificial/Virtual Twinning. It is not recommended. Kids need their own spot in the birth order.”
I just finished bouncing up and down on our yoga ball to put Sage to sleep while staring out the window to watch Husband put together our double-stroller-jogger. My mind is always running a million and one miles an hour but also somehow 1 mile per hour at the exact same time. It is set to high-speed processing emotions and thoughts and life all the while, too often, extremely slow to responding to people and tasks right in front of me. Example: the large pile of laundry covering up what was our couch.
There are so many emotions all of the time. I often feel like a walking-breathing-emotion.
The last six months have been nothing short of BIG. Big life-altering things have occurred. Things like complete career/identity shifts along with loss and deep wounds; moving to a new and much bigger city; the “stork drop” adoption of our first-born son, Sage; becoming a transracial adoptive family; Loren just applied to grad school; and the preparation of adding a second-born son to our family very soon.
My heart has never been so full. My satisfaction in this current state of living is high. I feel spoiled to be wife to Loren, mama to Sage, while we expect a second born boy to join us in the next…5 to 7 weeks. [Which still seems to be a nice 4 months away in my minuscule mind].
A year ago we were exploring Germany [and bits of 4 other countries] for what seemed to be perfect timing, as we grieved and sought healing and calm and wholeness despite the very broken bits we felt to exist as. Finally we had five positive pregnancy tests, FIVE: thank you grueling fertility treatments! But we lost that little soul from earth as he entered straight to heaven and like many [not all] couples who lose babies to miscarriage, we grieved hard.
“Oh you’re going to be busy…”
Indeed. Thank you for letting me know.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been told this in the last 14 weeks since we brought Sage home. It’s true, you’ve spoken the obvious: we are going to be busy with 2 babies under 6 months. The comment “You’re going to be busy” tends to crawl under my skin – I always want to shove a million questions back down their throat, “So are you suggesting I quit now? I get rid of one of my babies? Aren’t all moms busy? Since when is there a wrong way to build your family? What are your thoughts and intentions behind those words? Are you suggesting we are idiots? Are you suggesting we should not have adopted Sage into our family? Because if you are, I might punch you. Are you suggesting we have not thought of that or don’t know what we are doing?”
Well who ever actually knows what they’re doing?
There are up to 10 weeks left before I meet my second born son face to face, flesh on flesh. Could be sooner, but Im planning on being past my due date so that if it passes by like your average day, I am not drowning in depression (which may still happen). Today marks 32 weeks with this undeserved miracle boy. Our official date we are due to deliver is May 25, but I usually follow that with, “But we’re planning for June 10th.” The term “due date” used to bring me emotions of fear and grief. Grief because I felt the only due dates I may ever experience would pass and be a reminder of who we lost [you know, our real life, human babies]. Fear because for the first half of this pregnancy, I always answered the when-are-you-due question with “Well…May 25…but we don’t know if we will make it there, so let’s just talk about today. Today I am pregnant.”
My dear sweet son:
There are no words that can adequately articulate the Mama-heart you have brought out in me. And what a blessing that is, you are, to me. To your dad. To this family. You have knit us closer as a family, bringing our souls more intimacy as a unit; God put it in our hearts to be a family for children, but it seems as though He has used you much more in our lives than us in yours. We are often in awe of the unending, unconditional, ceaseless love that has been poured into us to cover you – this is something your dad and I talk about regularly. We enjoy watching you grow and develop; we are so proud of you each day for many reasons, and even when there is reason to be annoyed or irritated (example: when you are screaming and we cannot figure out why, when we suddenly need to spend 5 days in the hospital, when it takes us 3 hours to do what should take 15 minutes, or for whatever reason people get mad at newborns) we are overtaken by such wonder that you are ours, any irritation is diminished. You mean the world to us.