Invisible Stretch Marks
"Mom, come play with me!" I heard a little voice plead from the backyard.
"Sorry, honey, I can't. I'm busy," I responded. Again.
Some days, that's all I feel like I say. Busy with adoption paperwork. Busy with grant applications. Busy with business work. Busy with working to make extra money. Oh, and then there's cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, and the list of endless chores a mother juggles every day.
The adoption process is hard and it takes tolls on your body, just like pregnancy. But the difference is the tolls are invisible. You can't look at a woman and say, "Wow, you really look like you're adopting!" Or "Adoption looks good on you!" (But I'm actually glad no one comments on my appearance these days, because if they were honest, they would probably say, "Wow, you really look tired!" Or "Adoption makes you look exhausted!")
A friend who is almost through her first trimester of pregnancy commented recently about how she couldn't wait to look pregnant. Right now, all she feels is sickness, with no visible "proof" of what's happening. The belly bump is a comfort to some women, helping them see the visible out-workings of what's going on inside their bodies.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not longing for the ever-present nausea, constant backaches, and swollen feet. I was one of those "lucky" women whose "morning" sickness was really "all-day-and-every-day-for-eight-straight-months" sickness. I gloriously lost my crackers for the last time when I was 38-and-a-half weeks pregnant in the middle of Hong Kong's busiest subway station.
However, when all you have to show for your hours of labor at the computer, three visits to the police station, multiple trips to the bank to notarize papers, and even more innumerable phone calls and emails is a small stack of papers (eight to be exact!), it's discouraging. Deflating. Even depressing. Five months of toil and the only visible sign of my hard work is a few papers. They might be the most perfectly written and notarized pieces of paper, but they're still just paper. No cute belly bump. No adorable pregnancy clothes. No guessing if he or she will look like Mommy or Daddy. No feeling tiny butterfly kicks.
Some people call this stage in adoption "paper pregnant" and it definitely feels as though it is taking everything in my body to grow these precious pieces of paper that will somehow connect me to my child some day. But personally, I like thinking about the pre-adoption stage (which is chocked-full of paperwork!) as "invisible stretch marks." Because everyone knows how stretch marks come out of pain and growth. No mom actually wants those scars, but we are thankful that they signify something is going on inside our bodies, that as our bellies are getting bigger, so are our babies. Not fun, but part of the process to bring another tiny human in the world.
Although adoptive mothers (and fathers!) don't always have physical signs of growth (except of course bags under your eyes and "baby" weight gain from stress-eating ice cream!), if you could see their hearts, you'd see scars of longing.
And hopefully growing.
There is something absolutely agonizing about having to trust someone else, be it your social worker, your government, or people a million miles away, for your baby. You are at the mercy of some office worker somewhere to stamp your papers, approve your hard work, and say you can go get your child. When you send and receive those endless precious pieces of paper, you can't see yourself actually getting closer to your child and you can easily feel like the journey won't ever end. You agonize and check your e-mail a million times a day, hoping you'll receive that one all-important email saying you're matched, you have an update, or you can buy your plane tickets.
Personally, one of the hardest parts of the adoption journey is the battle of fear during the times of waiting. When you're pregnant, you're pregnant. I remember thinking after we saw those two special lines saying our daughter was in my belly, "What?! Are we ready for this?!" But you're pregnant and there's no turning back. But with adoption, that's not the case. We could withdraw our application today and lose a small fortune, but otherwise our family could move along as before. It's oh so easy to look at our lives right now and say, "Things are good. Why in the world would we want to wreck this?!" Or most days for us it's "Things in our financial future aren't looking great. Why in the world would we add another child, especially one with considerable special needs?"
Obviously in life, when things are tough, it's easy to question. Question yourself, what and why you're doing something. And even question God. Although it's not an exact Scripture verse, I've recently been thinking of the quote, "Don't doubt in the dark what God spoke to you in the light." (Leanne Mattesius) If we truly believe God has called us to this adoption and we have peace in our hearts that we are being obedient to Him, then amidst the doubts, we can rest assured that He is working. Whether it feels like it or not. The Bible puts it this way, "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." (Ps. 27:14)
So no, there might not be any light at the end of the nine-months-of-pregnancy-tunnel or countdown calendar to your due date, but waiting adoptive Mama, just know, God is at work. Maybe He's not moving your paperwork along (or not along as fast as you'd like!). Maybe He's not matching you with that precious child you long for. Maybe it feels like the months and years are fruitless and in vain. I hear you and I feel you. Waiting is by far my least favorite thing to do on planet earth. Write and re-write my personal information a million times. I can do that. Fill out endless government paperwork. Done. Get your finger prints five times in five months. On it now. But the sitting and doing nothing and seeing nothing happen, that's the roughest.
So, what is He doing then in these months, years, and what feels like a lifetime of waiting? Well, He'll work on you. If you let Him, that is. This is of course not fun, especially if you're someone like myself who loves to be the strong get-it-done type of woman. The one who is in control. The one who can do it on her own. Romans 5:3-4 promises what He will do during our times of suffering: "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." I don't know about you, but perseverance, character, and hope sound like great, desirable qualities for anyone to have, especially a mama who wants to be a Godly example to her children. Unfortunately for my idol of comfort, this character-building will only happen through suffering. And when you're waiting to kiss and love on your precious child a million miles away, waiting can feel like the most excruciating suffering.
Comparing pregnancy and adoption is like comparing apples and oranges. Or more like comparing running a marathon to hiking a mountain. Both are very real and painful ways to bring a child into your forever family. One has more outward signs of pain, exhaustion, and growth. The other has more inner struggle and weariness. Both are beautiful, but both are hard.
Just know, Mama, no matter how you bring a child in this world, either through your body or through your heart, God knows. He sees. He hears. And He is with you through the waiting. The agonizing. The suffering. I am preaching to the choir when I say this: Remember, He can work through you during this time of waiting to grow a harvest of hope. A hope for your future. A hope for your child's future. And a hope for heaven, where there will be no more trauma, suffering, or waiting.
(For a great article about waiting on the Lord, check out