Adoption Loss and Belonging

Our children are not our own.

This was the hard truth we learned over the last four years.

Early in the process of praying, learning, discerning God’s will. Were we called to adopt? We knew we could not have any more babies the old-fashioned way. My pregnancies were too high risk. Just one year earlier, our son Zephaniah was born more than two months after I had been on months of bed rest. That Zephaniah was born as big and healthy as he was? A small miracle.

We decided on the name Zephaniah Isaac just moments before he was born. My labor with Zephaniah was fast. And traffic was horrible the morning he was born. At about 11 am, I was sitting in the hospital room with two sweet friends. My husband was still stuck in traffic. The doctor had just checked me and I was at 3 cm. She said she would come back in a few hours and to relax. At around 11:30, Mark finally arrived. My friend Megan asked, so have you decided on a name? I looked at Mark. I had wanted the name Zephaniah Isaac for months. Do we have a name?

The name Zephaniah Isaac means “God has protected” and “he laughs”. It was not my plan to have a third little boy in four years. That was all God. When I found out I was pregnant I burst into laughter before I burst into tears. My pregnancy with our second son Micah was high risk and we had experienced a few miscarriages. If our third child was to be born healthy, that was all God too.

Moments later I began to feel a little dizzy. And then a little pressure. The nurse checked me and then lept across the room to the phone. We heard the sound of running in the hall. Our doctor arrived, stuck one gloved hand into a gown and reached out to hold Zephaniah’s head through a few contractions. Meanwhile the team from the NICU scrambled to get ready. And then he was born. I heard the tiniest of cries before they put on a mask to help him breathe. One month later, on a cold snowy day, we would take Zeph – who still weighed less than 5 pounds – home from the hospital. God in his sovereign will chose to bless us with the unexpected gift of a third son and protected him through everything. Zephaniah Isaac belongs to  God.

God set adoption in our hearts. But as God was filling our hearts with love for orphans, we were also facing a new fear. We thought through our options. Should we adopt a baby domestically, internationally, or do foster to adopt?

The very real fear of loving a child and then having to let go left us paralyzed. We could not imagine caring for a child for weeks, months, years – and then having to let that child go.

And then on Zephaniah’s first birthday, we got a phone call I will never forget. A young couple from our church was in the hospital. Their daughter had been stillborn. They wanted us to come to take pictures of their daughter before they said goodbye.

We left our children at school and went to the hospital where we sat with our friends as they cried. We prayed over them and took pictures of their beautiful baby girl. There is something deep in our souls that screams this is not how it should be. We know that God did not create us for death, but for life. That death is a symptom of the brokenness around us, in us.

Our children are not our own.

Somehow through watching our friends grieve, through witnessing the peace that surpasses understanding poured out in their lives, we had the courage to move forward with adoption.

We decided on adopting internationally, thinking that this was more certain that foster to adopt, forgetting that our children are not our own. We had no idea that our international adoption journey would involve the loss of three little girls whom we loved.

One of the most intense things that happens when a child is adopted by a family is belonging. When a parent holds a child who was an orphan in their arms and proclaims you are mine, it reflects – if dimly – the God who makes us his own:

But now thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)

But in a real way, our children are on loan. We are not owners. We are simply stewards. Given the high honor of loving the children He puts in our hearts, in our arms, in our homes. Whether for a few days or for the rest of our lives. Our children are not our own. When we get this truth deep in our souls we are free to love without fear.

Over the last five years, our family has fallen in love with a three children whom we believed God was calling us to adopt. Three children we believed God was calling us to adopt. Three children we prayed for. Three children we could not wait to hold in our arms and to tuck into their beds. For three very different reasons, we had to say goodbye to each of these children. Our hearts will never be the same. I don’t know why God sometimes calls us to love deeply – and to then let go. There are days it truly makes no sense.

But he is the Father of the Fatherless. He made each of these children. And they belong to him.

We can rest in a peace that comes from him, knowing we loved when he called us to love. We went when he called us to go. We prayed and we cried. And we said goodbye when he called us to let go. For three very  – from this point forward we’ll call her Grace. For most of the last year, we believed God was calling us to adopt Grace. We could not wait to hold her in our arms, to tell her that she was ours. But as we held Grace in our arms and prayed for her the night before we knew we would have to say goodbye forever, God filled us with a deep peace.

What about you?

Have you experienced the loss of a child? How has this changed you? What lessons have you learned?

Do you struggle to remember that your children are not your own?

Sara Brinton

SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

  • Dawn Ruhl

    December 7, 2012 at 12:14 am Reply

    Sara, I am so sorry that your family has experienced such great loss these last two years. I can definitely say that adoption loss led me to a very similar conclusion: our children are not ours, and we are not guaranteed any amount of time with any of them. While it is so hard to walk through (harder for you, I’m sure, since you actually knew the girls – we never met our lost referrals), it really can teach us what it means to love freely, without fear, if we let it. Thank you for sharing your story here.

  • Hanna Robinson

    January 1, 2013 at 2:30 am Reply

    Wow! What a blessing to find your blog. We lost our “referrals” (an 11 year old girl and 9 year old boy) from Ukraine early December. Although Ukraine does not do referrals, we had communicated with these beautiful children and had fallen in love. We were prepared in every way we could be to bring them home this Dec. We have sense decided to switch countries to Latvia and have begun our paper chase over again. Like you have commented, it is challenging to find others experienced in or pursuing adoption in Latvia. I belonged to a immensely valuable group of Ukraine adoptive parents and would love to gather some people to start a Facebook page for Latvia adoptive parents. Interested? Thank you so much for sharing the story of your beautiful family, The challenges make the rewards so much sweeter!

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