Motherhood is very much on our minds in the month of May — both the divine motherhood of Mary and the more prosaic version the rest of us experience. It is gladdening to honor the love of mothers — sacrificial, faithful and enduring — qualities that all our other loves should share.
But for mothers, by both biology and adoption, like me, the celebration of the tender bond between mother and child can be a little more complicated. Our children have come to us by both humdrum biology and by the miraculous grace of adoption, and the world around us often fails to properly appreciate, or value, the surpassing loveliness of the latter.
It is a sad fact that adoption is considered very much a “last resort” for the infertile, even after in vitro technology and now third-party reproduction. Too often I have heard people casually say, even in the hearing of a child they know was adopted: “If that couple is having trouble conceiving, they could always adopt.”
Someone else may answer: “No, they really want their own children.” When I have heard these comments being made near my adopted daughter I wonder painfully if she overheard. Her presence in our family is not a sad alternative or a third choice. Never would I want her to think of herself that way. Her father and I certainly don’t.
Instead, those of us who have had the privilege of adopting feel it as a divine benediction. Sometimes we are praised for our generosity, but we know that the gift is all for the parents. Although adoption requires a trusting leap into the unknown and a conscious acceptance of any number of difficulties, the return in joy is dizzying. Often, though my daughter has been with me for nine years, I look at her and I am freshly struck with the utter unlikelihood of her person being mine to guard.
How can it be that I, alone among the women of the world, should have that honor? The improbability of this is shrouded in the awe with which we experience the tender care of God in our lives, showing us that, despite our great faults, he gives us perfect gifts.
But beyond (and above) the delight brought by the child herself is something else: recapitulating and, therefore, better understanding the mysterious way God makes us his own sons and daughters. Our relationship to our father God — the relationship that he chose to share with us — is that of adoption, not natural descent.
If I may quote St. Paul and his letter to the Ephesians: “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace.” Grace is the gift that God makes to us of his own life, healing our sin and sanctifying us, and the vehicle of this gift is adoption.
Adoption is the chosen way we come to partake of his divine nature. From simple followers of Jesus, we are brought mysteriously in, all the way in, to that most perfect and intimate relationship of trusting child to tender, attentive Father.
When my first four children were born of my body, they felt, and were, extensions of my very self. Floating on a sea of hormones, and impelled by the fierce kick of mammalian instinct, I claimed them. But when I met my little girl in China, she was someone I had committed to care for.
Over the next few weeks and months, she became, in a process that I can frankly characterize as the most beautiful experience of my life, my own daughter. The space that separated her good from my good, and my happiness from her happiness, disappeared. I learned to love the “other” better than I loved myself, and this joyful motion to intimacy was a journey enabled by grace.
God, being perfect love himself, in taking us as his children adopts not only the “other” but those immeasurably below him. The grace that converts us into his sons and daughters is the same grace that makes our adopted children “ours,” erasing that space between us.
It is clear to me that when we participate in God’s plan of creation by welcoming new life through natural descent, we are fulfilling God’s lovely will. But it is equally clear that mothering (and fathering) through adoption is no second-best. If God chose this way to make us his very own, then there must be special joys and blessings attached to adoption.
I, for one, have found it so.