In the reeds: Adoption, parenting and being seen

Ugandan adoption

Early days, Uganda.

The morning after we arrived in Kampala a few weeks ago, I looked into my own face several times over.

Our Ugandan guest house was otherwise filled with adoptive families just like us — white American parents with their brand-new-to-them Ugandan children, and from the looks in their eyes to the stories they were telling, I was right back there. I could feel it all again.

It was in the tears that filled one woman’s eyes so quickly when we told her she was a good mom. It was in the quiet confession, “They never told me about the biting and kicking and scratching. No one ever talks about the constant food issues or how impossible it is for them to fall asleep. I signed up for adoption, but I didn’t sign up for this.” 

The other tearful admission: “We had a perfect family and lovely children and I love our life back home so much. I looked at my husband the other day and said, What have we done?”

All I could do was cry right along with them and say, “I know. I know.”

It’s amazing how we can forget how we need each other. In adoption, in parenting, in life — we need each other, especially at our weakest and most vulnerable.

How else can we survive how isolating it is to get a child who doesn’t feel like your own yet to fall asleep in your arms, to trust you when you don’t trust yourself, to depend on you when all you see is your greatest weaknesses over and over again?

If we don’t connect and share the struggle, how could any of us get through it?

Oh, how we need each other.

It’s in the warm hugs and the deep understanding. It’s the rush of relief when another adoptive parent says the words that have been echoing in your heart, the same ones you’ve been too terrified to speak aloud. It’s the little pockets of rest when someone plays with your new child for a half hour because they see you struggling.

In parenting, it’s the tears of joy when you find a soul-sister who gets it. It’s wading out into the reeds together, just the simple acknowledgement that when you look down, you’re all in it, all together, not one of us standing above or below the others.

It can be the simple and powerful knowledge that you’re seen. You’re known. You’re understood and you’re doing OK. And if you’re not, here we all are, just reach out and grab a hand, because someone has always walked through this swamp before.

And to get there? It takes just one step of powerful vulnerability — when you see understanding or empathy or grace in the gaze of another, step out and tell your truth. Let yourself be seen, even if it doesn’t match with what you see in others. Especially then.

It’s the worst, hardest, best, most life-giving thing you might ever do, and I’m still learning how, too.

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”

-Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

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3 comments on “In the reeds: Adoption, parenting and being seen

  1. Sarah Bessey says:

    It’s an amazing thing ot me how you can be so real, so honest, so vulnerable, and yet so hopeful at the same time. Love this.

  2. Jules says:

    “…in the reeds together” Indeed my friend. There is no better place to be – thanks for wading into this parenting pool with me.

  3. yes. yes. yes. we belong to one another. we need each other. to see our own reflection. to feel the weight of our skin meets bone we need another pressing our hand in theirs. love this. just as i always love your words.