Thursday, November 17, 2016

Working for love

There's something whispered quietly about among few mothers, spoken with hushed voices in private conversations. Heads hanging in shame, feeling broken by the impossibility of it. I struggled with it for two years feeling guilt and failure any time I said the words outloud. 

But now as I look back, I see the wonder of it woven into the grand plan that has led us to where we are. My struggle served a purpose, a vital one that had I avoided, would have never brought us to one of the greatest blessings of our life, and for that I will always be grateful.

I didn't bond with my own biological child for what seemed like a very long time.

Even seeing the words written, it's uncomfortable- like they should never be given a voice. But I've learned something recently; that saying things outloud loosens their grip and weakens their power. It allows for beauty to blossom from what was once our deepest shame.

My little Mila. Things were difficult from the beginning with her- different than the others. A difficult pregnancy with physical limitations affecting me to the point of incapacity long after she was born. At one point, I remember crawling across the kitchen on hands and knees to retrieve something from the sink, the pain in my back so intense. Born into one of the most stressful time in our lives with a discontent personality, her arrival was rough. For a long time after she was born there were lots of tears, both hers and mine.

She didn't seem to love me the way my other children did. She rarely wanted me, and when she finally allowed me to hold her in my arms, she screamed and clawed at me to get away. Rejection coming from anyone is difficult, but from a child I had birthed? It was devastating. It felt like the bitterest of failures. It was all the hard work of motherhood but with what felt like none of the rewards.

For months I prayed that a bond would grow between us- that some day she would learn to love me and I her. But the line between me and heaven seemed silent as the struggle went on, month after month. What was I supposed to be learning from this? I had no idea.

I had heard mothers whisper about struggling to bond with their child but never understood it. How was it possible for a mother and child not to bond? It had disturbed me in the past to hear about it, but now even more so as I lived through it. How did they survive? Now I knew. One day at a time.

I would watch other mothers with their infants and toddlers, and feel pangs of jealousy and grief. My daughter didn't love me that way. She was our last biological child and in a selfish way I felt cheated. I was missing out on the most rewarding part of the sleepless nights and diaper changes. What was wrong with my child? What was wrong with me?

When she was about 7 months old, we began sensing the first whisperings of adoption. It felt crazy. I was still struggling to bond with my own child, and now we were thinking of trying to bond with an adopted older child whom we had never met? But when we prayed about it, I felt peace. In a way that only the heart can understand, I realized over time that Mila's mission had been to prepare my heart. She was training me to love, to serve someone with no strings attached, to understand that sometimes love has to be sought after and planted on what feels like desolate ground.

When we brought Hengxin home, my heart was steeled for the possibility that things might not go as planned, having already been through months of tough love with my biological child. What at times might have felt like catastrophic rejection from our newly adopted daughter, was softened by my experiences with my biological daughter.

And then one of the many miracles that we've witnessed began to unfold with Mila. It began with her resting her head against my shoulder for the first time. She was almost two years old and I was shocked at the unexpected affection. Eventually came the unsolicited hugs, and then came the sweetest moment of all- one that I had missed and yearned for for so long- a kiss. After the age of two, she finally did what my other children had done at 6 months old. And in true Mila spirit, it wasn't gentle or sweet, but fierce and hurried as she grabbed me by my hair and yanked me towards her in a firm and tight-lipped smooch. But it was the first and I relished it. A tide was turning with her, and it was one I had wondered if it would ever come. Those first kisses and snuggles, although rough and hurried, were sweeter with her than they were with the others. I had missed them deeply.

We spend much of our day together now, just the two of us since the rest of the kids are in school, and how I soak up our days. She's still Mila- fierce, obstinate, and wildly independent- but I drink up our time together, like we are making up for lost time. And her favorite thing? Planting me with kisses at the most unexpected moments. There are still tantrums (lots of them), power struggles, and meltdowns, but how I adore her wittiness, her sass, and her charm. I cherish her with all my heart. Yes, love can blossom in desolate ground. I've seen it happen with two of my children now.

I can never thank God enough for the wild little nymph He sent our family with the ear-splitting lungs. Without her, I would have never taken the leap to commit to loving a child across the ocean that I had never met. It was because of her that I learned to love differently. I learned that sometimes love takes time to grow, and that's okay. Love isn't broken if it has to be worked for and prayed for. Sometimes what once feels like an empty void, blossoms into the sweetest of bonds- sweeter than if it had come without effort. The Architect has a master plan for us, preparing us long before we see what's coming in the horizon. Uncomfortable and painful at times, but so worth it.