Editor’s note. November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Joleigh is a member of the Wisconsin Right to Life staff serving as the Field Representative for Regions 5 & 6. Pictured here are her two daughters. This first ran in 2019.
My adoption journey began thirty-three years ago with a tiny card that showed the word “abortion” with the B and R fallen, broken and being swept into a dust pan while a D and P replaced them. I was fifteen, fairly new to the pro-life movement, and convinced that there was no such thing as a child who was truly “unwanted” as so many on the other side of our issue claimed. The very idea rankled me in a way I can’t explain. (It still does.) I recall right where I was standing as the realization hit me. If I was going to be as outspoken on this issue as I planned to be, a part of my personal pro-life advocacy, at some point, would involve adoption.
It took me another twenty-four years to actually take the first steps. My grandma had just died and I remember sitting at my desk, staring out at the bare late October trees, and thinking “one day I will name my first daughter after her.” Almost instantly, a quiet little voice inside of me asked “what are you waiting for?” The realization that I was pushing 40, still single, and not getting any younger was followed immediately by the question “can I, as a single person with a demanding job, provide a stable and loving home for a child?”
I decided to research single parent adoption and found a blog that addressed just that topic very effectively. Confident now that any child was better off in a safe, warm home with a mom to love her rather than aging out of a stark orphanage somewhere in the world, I started looking at waiting child listings.
I remember lying on my bed one night after looking at literally hundreds of profiles and wondering “how in the world can I choose just one?” For nearly three decades, I had spent myself advocating for millions who had no voice. I wasn’t sure I could stop seeing the thousands in need and focus on just one.
But after some tears and a lot of prayer I gave myself a pep talk during which I assured myself that either God had just the right child already chosen for me, or that He would give me the grace to parent whichever little human being I chose. (This goes without saying for anyone who knows me and has met my Clara, but it was the former. God had her all picked out and a more perfect match had never been made in all of history. Probably I’m a little biased, though.) I started inquiring about waiting children and through a series of doors that closed and others that opened, I ended up on the path to becoming Clara’s mom.
The road to adoption is not an easy one, and mine was no exception. I waded through paperwork, submitted fingerprints, took classes, knitted hundreds of items to sell, and wrote a lot of checks to my agencies. It seemed like what could go wrong did – there were road blocks, unexpected expenses (adopting parents know that household and vehicle maintenance issues seem to crop up while you’re in the middle of an adoption), frustrations and difficulties. (And crying jags and junk food binges, if I’m being totally honest.)
Fifteen months after I filed my first piece of adoption paperwork, I finally met my daughter. I went from single with dogs to being a mom in the span of a heartbeat. It still surprises me that a country in Eastern Europe handed me a human being and said “good luck with that!”
To say that I was a bit out of my depth would be an understatement. The tiny, dark-haired, giant-eyed toddler they put in my arms had, apparently, been the boss at her orphanage and was quite pleased to have been put in charge of a full time staff of one. We had our bumps (mine) and bruises (also mine – no one warns you about the toddler head butt to the face in ANY of the books) but it didn’t take us long to become a family.
Several years after bringing Clara home, still quite single, but having regained a shred of my prior sanity (momming is HARD work) I decided that I still had some extra love to give, so I began the adoption process again, this time with a lot more experience. (Which is good because my second daughter happened to be in China, which is further away and a lot… bigger… than Bulgaria!)
Once again I jumped through hoops, did insane amounts of paperwork, got fingerprinted, navigated the necessary obstacles and eventually met my second daughter, Annelise, in a very cold province in northern China. The attachment process was a lot harder this time around, but once again perseverance and patience cemented the bonds of family. I wondered before we traveled if it was madness to think I could fly across the world, pick up a stranger, deposit her in our home and say “this is your sister – love her like no one else.” But adoption is, in so many ways, miraculous, and that is exactly what happened.
My girls are so different – one is a wild hurricane whipping madly through this adventure we call “life” and the other is a soft breeze sweeping through and tidying up in the aftermath. They were clearly made for each other and their bond is as strong as any I have seen.
As the years passed we added a dad to our crazy little posse, and along with him came some older siblings who have added to our lives in so many ways. I have heard it said that “adoption builds families” and that is certainly true for us.
I have learned so many things on this path to motherhood, chief among them that adoption isn’t a magical and instant cure-all, but that it is the best remedy for the child without a family. I have also learned that biology is interesting, but not crucial to loving a child. That single men and women CAN adopt and parent successfully – my single mom years were hard, but they were beautiful and rewarding.
I learned that lack of finances should not keep you from adopting – if you can afford to raise a child after he or she is home, fund raising is an option to help with adoption fees, and so many people are willing to help a child find a loving home. (And, over the course of two adoptions SO many people in my world – many of them staff and volunteers for WRTL, National Right to Life, and other state affiliates – proved this to be true.) Most importantly, I learned that while adoption is difficult, expensive, time consuming and sometimes absolutely exhausting, it is also one of the few ways in which we mere mortals are allowed to participate in a miracle.
It was so easy for fifteen-year-old me to say “adoption, not abortion” without having the faintest clue as to the magnitude of emotion, pain, longing, loss, adjustment, trauma and beauty that one little word encompasses. Adoption is the best answer to unintended pregnancy in cases where a birth family cannot parent. It is potentially the path to wholeness for the child who is orphaned. Adoption makes a way in a life where there seems to be no other way.
But adoption is hard. It is a broken hallelujah and sometimes all the love in the world cannot completely erase the wounds inflicted on a child who has been left behind for so many years. But as imperfect as it is in a world full of sadness, loss and selfishness, adoption showcases what is good and right about the human family. It might be madness to assume that you can swoop in and make a stranger your own, but I have seen it happen more times than I can count. Adoption is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it also the best.
That is why, thirty-plus years later, middle-aged mom me can echo her former, well-intentioned but naïve teenage self and, with the confidence that comes from experience, say “adoption, NOT abortion.”