November is national adoption month, and for our family, it is a reminder of the different kind of labor and delivery that brought our fourth child, Joshua, from Shanghai, China, into our forever family.
People have asked us why we chose to adopt after having three biological children.
The answer is simple. We wanted more shoes and socks to trip over in the entryway.
In high school, I remember sitting around a campfire with friends. We were talking college plans, career dreams, future families, and someone tossed a question into the darkness: would you ever consider adopting?
There was a boy I liked who answered the same way I did. Yes, I would. Yes, he would.
Fast forward one decade, and I was married to that boy, living in Boston. We wrapped up grad school and landed first jobs, moved to a small suburb and bought a starter home with bedrooms to spare. We were ready to begin our family.
Our family grew, but not as we expected.
We waited long and had multiple miscarriages. We never forgot the question whispered around the campfire, but when we began taking steps toward adoption, we found ourselves pregnant. With Andrew. With Anna. With Jacob.
Three kept us busy. We talked about adoption, but who had time? These were the whirlwind years when blowout diapers and sleepless nights blurred into first words and first steps.
We bought a minivan to cart kids in car seats around town and on road trips. One glance in the rear-view mirror would reveal one, two, three kids. And an empty space.
We stored the high chair and bought a bigger kitchen table where the kids sat on side benches. One, two, three. And an empty space.
We saw the truth in our van, in our home, and in each other’s eyes.
We had room for more crazy.
We wanted to adopt but had no idea how to begin. We were open to domestic, international, infants, children, siblings, special needs. How could we know where to take the next step?
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9
We planned. We prayed. We interviewed adoptive families and agencies. In the end, we applied to Bethany Christian Services.
It’s impossible in a single blog post to capture the emotions and effort that take a family across the ocean to adopt a child.
We called the endless notarized documents the Great Wall of Paper, which doesn’t account for our home study, classes we attended, or time spent with adoptive families and social workers. It took eighteen months from first application to holding Joshua in our arms, less than it takes many families.
After our home study, we received an email with a photo and description of a young deaf boy who loves turning the pages of children’s picture books.
I had studied sign language in graduate school. And I had just accepted a contract to publish my first children’s book.
We kept climbing our Great Wall of Paper, we sent gifts and photos to Joshua, we practiced sign language, and we prayed.
We decided our entire family would make the trip. We wanted Joshua to have the truest sense of the crazy he was being brought into, and we wanted our other children to glimpse the life Joshua was leaving behind and the huge change we were asking of him.
Joshua’s journey began earlier, too, when his birth mother and father delivered him into the world. Though we may never know their story, it will always be part of our story.
For the three years Joshua lived in his orphanage, he wasn’t taught any language and had little access to hearing technology. No Mandarin, because he couldn’t hear, and no sign language, because there was no one to teach him.
We met Joshua two months after his third birthday. We offered him open arms and a backpack of simple gifts and snacks that he explored tentatively, searching our faces for affirmation. We answered with eager smiles and thumbs up, and he responded back with his little thumbs up.
At home, thumbs up became the first of thousands of signs.
Every night, James or I would pray with the kids before bed. Prayers with Joshua were simple. Thank you, God, for family. Thank you for food. Thank you for our home.
But one night, James left Joshua’s room with tears in eyes, his hands forming a sign. “What does this mean?”
“Words,” I answered. “Why?”
James shook his head. “Tonight, Joshua wanted to pray on his own. Do you know what he signed?”
Thank you, God, for words.
That title is precious to us. We are his best second parents. In four simple words, Joshua tells his adoption story in his own voice. He captures the pain and complexity of loss, while expressing the beautiful and best sense of belonging, a sense that every child on earth deserves.
Resources for parents looking for more information about adopting:
Author of Jammy Dance and the Every Cowgirl series, Rebecca divides her time between teaching at Grand View University, visiting schools and libraries, volunteering at church, and writing for children—all of which take a back seat to motherhood. She loves the joyful chaos of life with her family—her much-loved husband James, their four children, Andrew (16), Anna (15), Jacob (11), Joshua (9), and Mickey Dog. Through it all, she believes God has a plan, and it is good. Learn more about Rebecca at RebeccaJanni.com.