While words and writings are the way we communicate on a day to day basis there is still so much that often lacks. And in tough or “sensitive” subjects there is the added weight of not being able to communicate in a way that makes sense or unknowingly or sometimes purposely offends. Some of it comes from lack of understanding, some from being naïve, and some from truly meaning the best but unable to put that into words.
Those subjects that are often the most touchy are those that involve the relationships that are closest to us. Marriage, parental relationships, miscarriage, infant deaths, infertility, divorce, adoption, birth disorders, physical or mental disorders and the like are those that we want to let the other person know we care and support them but usually manage to flounder in our attempts to communicate that the clearest.
I have never had a miscarriage, but I have friends that have had one or two, and I have a friend who has had eight. On a weekly if not every shift in the ER I often have to inform someone that they are having a miscarriage. I don’t know though what it is like to walk in their shoes out of the department and through the next days, weeks, months and years with the “what ifs”.
I’ve also had a few friends who have had to say goodbye just a few short hours after giving birth. The loss and hurt is more than I can imagine. The ability to get up again the next day and put one foot in front of another and go day to day with that is something I stand in awe of.
I’ve been in sermons and discussions about marriage and people’s views on it. I’ve sat through talks where as someone who is in a healthy marriage I feel awkward and uncomfortable for those where that is not their story. The world is not black and white and there are a lot of grays and I am not in someone’s shoes but I can imagine how what is said may offend or hurt if I was.
I watch with amazement the mothers and fathers that bring their children in to the ER who have physical and mental disabilities. I have friends with kids who have severe allergies and wonder each day if their kid might be exposed to something and might go into anaphylactic shock. And then I have friends with children with Cerebral Palsy, or Down Syndrome, or a childhood cancer where each moment is a small victory. I remember being pregnant with “Squirt” (as we called Caedmon) and being told that he had a major heart defect and would need surgery the day of his birth, which we learned after another visit that his heart was in fact ok. And I remember sitting in the NICU with Leighton while he had a breathing tube in, a chest tube and lines running through his umbilical cord. But in both cases while it was a rough couple of weeks, I left the hospital both times with healthy baby boys and never looked back. But I know that that is not the day to day reality for so many.
And so many other situations and life circumstances that I cannot begin to understand or fully be a part of or know what to say. I am sure that I have messed up or thought that the words I said were helpful and they actually weren’t. And I think we can all learn from each other. I don’t know what it is like to walk down certain paths, so please teach me what is ok to ask and what would be encouraging to you.
I think an area that I can at least offer some of that same support back would be in the area of adoption. Partly because I was adopted growing up in and I’m currently in the process of adopting our son.
I’ve heard the gamut, things that were helpful, things that were not, and things that were down right mean and hurtful. I was honestly told once “well, adopted kids are never real kids, they are just like charity cases”. This was while I was an adult by someone who knew that I was adopted myself and was planning on adopting. I’ve been asked “so do they just pay women to have babies so the government can give them up for adoption”. Both times I didn’t know how to pick my jaw up off the ground.
A couple of things that are probably never ok to ask, would include things like “how much did it cost?” (or did you have to pay for him/her?). Adoption is not a commercial business. Asking about what the family knows about the “birth family (or mom/dad)” or the “real family” (or mom/dad). As soon as the courts give their approval I am Edric’s “real” mom, I will be the one picking him up when he falls, teaching him right from wrong and loving him day in and day out till my time on this earth is done. My parents are my real parents, and have been the only parents I have known. Being related by blood doesn’t make someone “real” or not. Along those same lines the question of “what about your “own” children?” or if someone can or cannot have children “of their own”. And really, the info about a child’s birth family belongs to that child, and so he or she can share it with who they chose when they are old enough to and understand it for themselves, it is a part of who they are, it is not for me to share.
I think one that often comes from someone trying to support and encourage but is based more in naivety then they may realize is the statement “he/she is so lucky to be adopted by you”. I think when we stop and look at that statement, we realize that in saying that we imply that the child was less of a person before they were adopted and we also discredit the profound loss that accompanies adoption. Being adopted means that something had to be lost first, and for that child it is the loss of their first family. For international adoptions that also includes the loss of a country, language, and culture. Those losses will need to be incorporated into who that person is as they grow. And it is going to look different for each.
And so what do we do with all of this? We could all just tip toe around and not say anything to anyone in fear of offending them, or we could be willing to acknowledge that we are going to make mistakes and likely mess up but learn and grow from that, and be willing to let others know when what they have said has offended or come off differently then what was the intent, and open up the dialogs and start actually communicating with each other and learning from other’s paths. And so I’m willing to try and actually connect and understand you with the understanding that you will do the same and we will all season it in grace and forgiveness for the mistakes we make along the way.