There is a lovely, sentimental poem about adoption, written most likely by a loving mother to explain to her adopted child the only way s/he was different from her other children to whom she gave birth. It is called, “Not Flesh of My Flesh,” and was written by Fleur Conkling Heyliger
“Not flesh of my flesh,
nor bone of my bone,
but still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
you grew not under my heart but in it.”
Hubs and I are the proud parents of three sons. Enormously proud. First came Joshua. What a thrill to hold in my arms the little boy who had been growing under my heart for ten (yes, TEN) months. You can imagine, I am sure, what a relief it was to hold him outside of me for the first time. I thought at the time, being fairly well read and educated, that I knew what parenting was all about. Hubs and I were going to give direction, shape, and form to this small piece of heaven that had been given over to our care. It makes me laugh to remember that, because that so-called “understanding” of parenting could not have been a whole lot further from the truth.
Although we had some inkling that we may have been a bit off the mark, little did we know how very much off the mark we were until we held in our arms our second son, Matthew. From the instant of his birth, we realized that we had brought into the world a completely different and fully formed personality, unique in every way, except both were completely lovable. We thought that parents “made” the child. We found out that the reality is the exact opposite: the child makes, shapes, and forms the parents.
That’s not to say there is no “two-way streeting” going on (a lot of it), but the sooner the parents disavow themselves of the thought that they are in any way creating or forming the children’s personalties, then the real and most important job you will ever have – directing, giving choices, and setting rules for their lives – has begun. It is a heavy and heavenly task, unlike any other. I remember a quotation from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that pretty much sums it all up: “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think anything else you do matters very much.” A hard truth to ponder, especially on those days you feel you’ve really bungled it! It is such a gracious blessing that children are resilient, and willing to forgive.
Josh and Matt are our two sons with whom we shared our co-mingled DNA. I had it in my mind that when we started a family, we would have four children. Ashley thought that two was a good number, so I conspired (copying my mother, I thought), thinking that if we first had two boys (or two girls), then Ashley might be willing to go for at least one more child on the chance we would have a daughter (or son). Then we would be compromising on the size of our family. Besides, both of our parents had three children – Ashley was the third of three boys, and I was also the third child, but the only girl.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Actually, it always works the way it should. You see, after Matt was about three years old, I relapsed into a very unusual state of illness with an auto-immune disease. It became clear that I would give birth to no more children, and, even as blessed as I had already been, it was a very difficult fact to accept. We had our two wonderful boys, and that would be our enough!
God wasn’t finished with us yet. We thought that was true because we went through the whole process and were approved as adoptive parents in the State of New York; but no sooner had we received that news than we were moved to Vermont, which came along at the same time as a serious phase of my illness reared its ugly head. We really were done, so I made peace with that and we were the happy parents of our two sons.
Wrong again! We have three sons. Our third, Adam, came to us in a completely unorthodox manner. Adam had been born into a dysfunctional (on many levels) family. At a very young age, he became the adult personality in his family. His mother was diagnosed with M.S., and Adam was the family member who stepped in and did the caretaking for his family. His parents divorced, his mother remarried to a man with substance abuse problems, and she became pregnant, giving birth to another little boy. Adam has a genius-level intelligence, and knew that if he could not extract himself from his house at the time of his high school graduation, and get away to college, then he might never escape from the downward spiral he and his family were in, and it appeared he was the only one who wanted out of it.
He accepted a scholarship to Tennessee Wesleyan College, in Athens, TN, the very place to where we had just been moved. It was no coincidence. It was God-incidence. Both Josh and Matt became students at TWC, and they befriended Adam. They had wanted the campus living experience, and though we lived a short drive from campus, they elected to live in the dorm. Adam was brought home with them frequently, and he soon became a fixture in our house and home. He had always wanted a “real” family, and for some crazy reason or other, he thought we were that family of his dreams. (We try not to laugh when we recall that!) Josh and Matt stayed on campus. Adam moved in with us. We had our three sons at last.
The adoption is not a legal one, as state laws go, because he was 18 when he adopted us, and we laid claim on him. Although Adam’s birth mother died tragically while he was still in college, he has made attempts to stay in touch with the rest of his first family. But Ashley is Dad, and I am Mom to this extraordinary man. And he is the beloved brother of Josh and Matt, and Uncle Adam to Matt’s Zoe.
Yesterday, July 21, Adam turned 36 years old. He has been our son for exactly half of his life. Since I don’t remember the exact date and time he was “born” to us, I will send out my “Happy Birthday” wishes now.
You are cherished and loved, and you will always be ours, just as we will always be yours. We are proud to call you our son.
It is true that Adam did not grow “under my heart,” just as it is true he grew in my heart, in all of our hearts. Love and life can make amazing twists and turns, and at the most surprising times. It has become very clear that we all needed each other, and as God has never let me want for anything I need, God entrusted Adam to us, in much the same way, spiritually, as he did with Josh and Matt.
One of the mysteries that I ponder on occasion is, if God has always seen to the needs of His children, what else could be in store for us? I think maybe that nothing could surprise me anymore. But, just in case, I’ll set another place or two at the table. There’s always room for more. There will always be enough. . .