Leaning In

The week before flying to Ethiopia in the spring of 2008, the adoption agency sent me a couple final pictures of my beaming baby girl. I longingly admired my baby-to-be and considered how I could not possibly have made such a radiant child. Her smile, full of cheese and delight, glowed at me through her photos. Later, when I did finally get to know her as my own, I would remark on how celestially happy she seemed. I had never known a child quite so content.

I sat at my computer and stared at the screen, the thought passing through my mind, “I’ve been kissed by God.” I ached to hold her for the first time after years of longing and months of waiting to finally bring her home.

Some time before, however, caught up in the paper trail that is the adoption process, I vacillated between hope and fear, often swept completely up in worry. “What if it falls through? What if the country changes their adoption regulations? What if . . . What if . . .”

There was a distinct point along the way, though, when I made a conscious decision to let myself get excited, to hope and prepare for this child who hardly felt like mine yet, but whose path was already inextricably linked with mine. Until that point, I attempted to protect my heart by making a disclaimer to myself every time I became “too excited.” Reciting various Debbie-Downer mantras we all have heard before when someone either wants to rain on our parade or is concerned we are going to get hurt, I would tell myself, “anything can happen; it could all still fall through; she isn’t really mine til I bring her home . . . . ” Reason was lost on me, though. An unconfirmed factoid I picked up along the way from another adoptive parent was that adoptive mothers gain 20 percent of the pregnancy hormones as expecting mothers. I was in too deep to backtrack. I had already started to hope. I gave up on self-preservation and accepted that no matter what attempts I made to intellectually protect my heart from possible disappointment, it wouldn’t hurt any less because of them. I was already in. My hand had signed the papers, and my heart had begun to grow around the idea of this little girl who would be mine. I began to prepare not just my heart but my home for her arrival.

Sometimes the only way we have to combat our vulnerability and our worry is by taking risks. We have to acknowledge the mind games we play with ourselves in attempt to spare ourselves from possible misery and lay them aside. When we try to think ourselves away from our deepest longings, the hopeful events we look forward to, we’re in a losing battle because hope has already taken root. It won’t hurt any less because we play as though we aren’t that invested in our dreams just yet.

Saying,”it’s not official yet; we haven’t signed the papers yet; we don’t have the keys yet,” doesn’t spare us from the disappointment we will feel if things don’t go as planned because you can’t put a rubber band around a heart to stop it from pumping. Hoping, longing, striving, are the forward momentum of life. They are the things that get us from January 1 until December 31 every year.

I had a choice to make, to be practical and cautious or to let go and and let hope take root. I could wait until I had the plane tickets in hand before I started to pack, or I could start a pile in my daughter’s room of clothes and diapers, bottles and baby toys that would collect for months. I chose the pile. I sat in her nursery and imagined her in it. I added to that pile regularly. One of the most memorable and sweet gifts of the adoption journey was sharing the wait with my friends who took the risk with me to hope for and eventually welcome my daughter.

On the flight home, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I stood outside the bathrooms with my daughter in my arms. She was peaceful and content. I will never forget the moment because Charlie, another adoptive parent from our group, stood there too. Absorbing the unusual calm of my daughter who had just been whisked from the familiarity of faces and hands that had cared for her, he said, “You know you have been kissed by God.”

“Yes,” I thought, “And I’m so glad I leaned in for it.”

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