Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One Mother's Reflections

Last week was a crazy, on the go, never-ending week. Nine soccer games, six doctor's appointments, one minor dental surgery, all on top of the normal running around, laundry, cleaning, meal preparation and such that comes with a large family. Thankfully we made it through it all relatively unscathed, although poor Joseph may disagree with me now that he has five new crowns on his teeth.

Managing all the hustle and bustle of appointments and games is hectic, it means making sure some kids have matching socks and appropriate shoes on the right feet. Did they brush their teeth? Comb their hair? Is there someone here to watch the other ones not going? Have they all been fed since we are so out of our routine? Not to mention soccer gear and the constant search for enough pony tail elastics, despite the 10 million that must be hiding in the walls of this home.

 Once we are settled, whether in a waiting room or the sidelines of a soccer field, I breathe a sigh of relief. We've made it. Then the small talk begins. Last week alone I answered so many questions about our large family. So many looks of disbelief, so many stares that make me feel as though my face has turned purple with green spots. Hands down, though, what I kept hearing was, "I don't know how you do it. I can barely handle the 2 (or maybe 3) that I have." Sometimes this was followed up with, "You must be more (patient, kind, organized, etc) than me."

I started thinking about that comment. How should I respond? The truth is I could barely handle the 2 or 3 I had and the thought of each new child met me with more fear and apprehension about how I would have enough energy and mental (and physical) fortitude to love and raise another child. Yet, with each new addition, grace was given us and we learned to function as a family with one more. Each child brought a new dimension to our family that made it more complete. God doesn't waste his graces and I found each new child brought new graces to our family and to me as a mother.

Thirteen years ago, I was childless. I had recently suffered a miscarriage. Despite months of trying, I just wasn't getting pregnant. This was perhaps the most difficult cross I have ever had to bear. I wondered if I would ever hold my own child. The deep sadness was at times overwhelming.When I think now of how difficult raising eight children is, how tired I am, how there never seems to be enough of me to go around, how I fall into bed exhausted each night, it still doesn't compare to that sadness. I am frazzled, tired, often overwhelmed. I pray for patience, for fortitude, for grace; still I am happy. I pray often for those who bear the heavy cross of infertility and miscarriage I know how heavily it weighed on my heart.

Then my Banana was born and my world changed forever. With the joy of this beautiful child came overwhelming responsibility and I immediately felt so incredibly inadequate. I had lovely visions of what motherhood would be. None of those included the intense lack of sleep, the physical demands of nursing, or the inability to create my own schedule. Suddenly my life seemed at the whim of this little creature who demanded more than I thought I could give. How could it be so difficult to get one little baby to sleep? The books all said they should sleep more than they were awake... Oh how the books, and I attempted to read them all,  failed me.

Even after Banana's birth, our infertility haunted me. I was thrilled when I learned little Bear was on the way. Her arrival though came at a crazy time for our family. I was very sick before and after her birth and we moved into a new home when she was barely two weeks old. Even after recovering, I found myself wondering how I would meet the needs of two little ones when I had struggled so much with one. Still God's grace was given. I managed, and I marveled at the joy these girls brought me.

Then I had two more miscarriages to grieve. Difficult, gut-wrenching losses. It was during this time we first seriously considered adoption. It was not the first time we had discussed it, but our experiences with miscarriage made it more of a reality. We began the paperwork for our first adoption, only to find a few weeks later we were expecting little Bophie.

Bophie's pregnancy came quickly after two consecutive miscarriages and being told to wait at least six months before trying again. It turns out the doctor's orders came too late and were given when little Bophie was hidden within me. I'm not sure I have ever cried more tears of joy as I did seeing her heartbeat on that ultrasound monitor. I was so certain I was going to lose another child. Despite this joy the reality was there were now three little girls who I wanted to give more than I felt I was capable of giving. The doctor commented in the delivery room that now we had moved from man-to-man defense to zone defense and that was precisely how I felt, on the defense.

Three children was when the comments began. It seemed uncanny that at the time I felt most vulnerable as a mother, wondering if I could indeed do a good job raising these children, that people started making me feel as though it were a truly impossible task. Bophie was by far my most difficult baby. She had colic, reflux, baby acne, and it seemed every other newborn ailment the first two had not prepared me to handle. I felt as though I needed more hands and more hours in the day. I was most unsure of my mothering skills and the comments of others made me question them even more. Still, those newborn days passed and she became the sweet, quiet, easy-going Bophie I love so dearly.

God's providence provided for a much longer than anticipated adoption process and little Juju joined our family two years later than expected. Again, though, there was so much apprehension. I had begun homeschooling and felt more stretched than ever. On top of that, I had so many concerns about adoption. Would I know how to bond with this child already 10 months old? Would I be able to meet her needs adequately? I had read so much about labor and delivery and caring for newborns, but with three little ones I had not researched thoroughly adoption bonding. I was nervous and so worried I wasn't going to be able to do it all. Again, we did. We just managed with God's grace.

After Juju, I was ready for a break. I knew I wanted to adopt again, I just wasn't ready. I still hadn't mastered the four girls and I felt I needed to get that under control before considering adding another. We waited so long for Juju that dh convinced me we should just get in line for another adoption. We thought that by the time we were ready, we'd still be waiting for a match. God's showed his sense of humor when we were matched with little Joseph less than 24 hours after filling out just a pre-application. Once we saw his picture though, there was no turning back.

The next surprise came when less than a month after our match with Joseph, we found we were expecting our Gabe. As timing would have it, two boys were to join our brood of girls less than a week apart.

It is hard to describe the months that followed the arrival of our boys. I have never been so overwhelmed, inpatient, utterly exhausted, and busy. To add to all of the normal new baby and new adoption adjustments (if one could call this situation normal), I was battling post partum depression. I was not myself. Not at all. It was a very dark time for me. I holed up. I was unable to tell those who wanted so much to help even what I needed. I didn't know what I needed. I was tempted to give into the overwhelming feeling I had failed.

Those feelings were so strong that I was thankful we could no longer adopt from China and in some ways thankful for my infertility. When we learned that we could indeed adopt again, I still thought there was no way I could handle it. We put off all discussions of that possibility for a few months. Still God tugged on my heart strings. He showed me time and again that the stresses in my life needed perspective and each child brought me a brand new perspective. It was a remarkable leap of faith, but we decided it was just one more child and with God's grace we could do it.

Again, God laughed at us. I bought a pregnancy test right before we accepted Peter's referral. Not because I thought I was pregnant, but because I wanted to be sure I was not! I did not think I could handle two at once again. My hands were too full already. That test was negative and we went full throttle for Peter's adoption. Two months later at Thanksgiving I dug into the bottom of my bathroom cabinet to find the extra test that came free in the previously purchased package and there were the two lines. Our certainty in the increasing spacing between our biological children left us amazed and in many ways frightened and overwhelmed at the result of that test.

Could we really do this again? I still ask myself that question. Some days I think I'll never make it through the week. Some days I think I'm failing them all miserably. Some days I'm even too tired to care if I am failing them. No, I probably can't raise eight children successfully in the eyes of those in our current society, but I believe God gave me eight children because he believes I can raise them successfully in his eyes. So I pray, I beg for fortitude, I beg for patience, I plead for his mercy knowing that I am called to plod ahead in this vocation as wife and mother. I try to be a successful mother in the eyes of my creator knowing that he is the one to whom I owe an account of my mothering skills. I'm no more patient, I'm no more equipped with supermom skills, I'm just each moment trying to be the best mom to these precious children who, for some reason I can't fathom, have been entrusted to my care. I hope they are bringing about my salvation.