November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we are publishing personal adoption testimonies this month.
Adoption is very near and dear to our hearts. After six years of marriage, and many prayers for a child, earlier this year we welcomed our daughter Zelie-Louise Layla Rose into our family through adoption. This experience has been a profound journey of faith for us—a pilgrimage—and God has taught us so much through it, and through the people we’ve encountered along the way.
Our adoption story, in a nutshell: we were married in 2011, experienced the heartache of infertility, and in 2015 discerned a call to adopt. Adoption is a calling; not every couple without children is called to pursue it, but all couples should discern it. We then completed our home study (the state’s approval process for pre-adoptive parents) for domestic, infant adoption and after a year and a half of actively waiting, we were chosen by our daughter’s birthparents in February 2017. Zelie was born on April 6, 2017, and we were blessed to be with her from her very first moments after birth. She is a beautiful, energetic, delightfully happy baby who brings immeasurable joy into our family!
Being so personally close to adoption, and being such a new adoptive family, there is both so much to say and at the same time no way to adequately capture all that adoption means to us. Nonetheless, here are a few things we have learned about adoption so far.
…an act of heroism. And by that we are not talking first about adoptive parents like ourselves, but of birthparents. Selfless love means putting another’s needs ahead of your own desires, and that is exactly what birthparents do. It’s crucial to say that birthparents don’t “give up” a child for adoption, but rather “place” a child or “make an adoption plan.” The latter speak to the proactive love and generosity shown by birthparents in choosing a family for their child, despite the pain and heartache that it can mean for them. We will always teach Zelie that her birthparents are her heroes for their loving decision to place her in our family.
…a response to a loss. This truth is necessary to acknowledge, that adoption happens because there is some crisis or difficulty so grave that a child cannot be raised by his or her birthparents; this is undeniably a tragedy. In a perfect world, we’d have no need for adoption (nor would infertility exist), but in this actual world, adoption is a loving response to a difficult situation, and a powerful example of bringing hope and beauty out of very hard circumstances. It’s important for all involved in adoption to be mindful of the losses involved, especially as an adopted child grows and processes his or her feelings about it. Here, open adoption (some level of ongoing contact between the adoptive and birth families) can help answer a child’s questions, provide connection with his or her heritage, and offer an opportunity for the child to stay connected to the birthparents.
…a powerful act of hospitality. Borrowing from this beautiful piece by adoptive father Timothy O’Malley, adoption expresses great hospitality and welcome. There is a reason why Scripture speaks so often of us as God’s adopted children! “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son . . . so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4: 4-5). Zelie will always have her precious heritage from her birth family, including genetic connections, her looks, and so forth, and we will help her cherish that part of her identity. But when we adopted her, she became fully and truly a member of our family as well. She is forever our daughter. (Side note: this is why adoptive parents bristle when asked, “Do you have any of ‘your own’ children?”) As Timothy O’Malley explains, the hospitality of adoption is a message that speaks to the heart of all parenting: “Adoption reminds us that every act of parenting is a moment of hospitality, a moment that allows love to flourish anew in the world… a love that always comes as gift.”
…a challenging process. Adoption is not for the faint of heart! For potential adoptive parents, the process involves lots of paperwork and an examination of all areas of your life, at times feeling excessive or downright invasive; likely lots of waiting as you hope day after day for “the call”; and a deep vulnerability as you entrust your family’s growth to the Lord, mediated through the very earthly realities of agencies, lawyers, and prospective birthparents. Seen in the right way, trying to adopt is an incredible opportunity to grow as a couple in patience, humility, and trust. The delicacy of the adoption process, and the strong emotions involved, means that it’s also crucial to work with ethical adoption professionals who safeguard the rights and dignity of all those involved: adoptive parents, birthparents, and the child. For couples hoping to adopt, prayer is so important every step of the way.
…a miracle of love. The sacrifices given do not compare to the great gift received—a blessed, unique child—who is a miracle of God’s love never before seen on this earth! When we received Zelie into our arms, you could say we went from “zero” to a fullness of love who smiles and dances around with the wonderful name of Zelie. We marvel at how such a tiny infant can not only draw love and laughter out of us, but also so wonderfully love us in return. Zelie is an unrepeatable miracle of love entrusted to us by her birthparents and by God. For this unfathomable responsibility, we will be forever grateful and we will love Zelie every day of her life.
Daniel Meola is a catechetical specialist at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.; Bethany Meola is a stay-at-home mom who loves being with Zelie full-time. The couple lives in Bowie, Md. and blogs about their adoption at http://www.adoptionpilgrimage.blogspot.com