by Kat Belford
This spring I had the opportunity to sit on an adoptee panel at the Replanted Orphan Saturday Conference. It was the first time I had ever talked to a large audience about my adoption. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about my story until the questions started to come from all the parents in the room. There were so many questions that we probably could have kept the panel going into the evening. When Sarah asked me to write a post for the Replanted blog, I decided that it might be helpful to share some of my adoption story. My adoption story and how I feel about being adopted is by no means a manual – every situation is different. But I am hoping that by sharing my experience, I will help to give parents a small window into an adopted child’s heart.
I was adopted as an infant along with my twin sister. We grew up in Wheaton five blocks from where I am raising my own family now. We were adopted through the same agency that years later Craig and I would become Safe Family hosts through, Evangelical Child and Family Agency. Thirty-nine years ago adoption was a lot different than it is now. My adoptive parents couldn’t take us home from the hospital. They had to wait for surrenders to be signed. My twin sister and I were separated into two different foster homes for six weeks while we waited to be joined with our new parents. (I have a lot to say about how that may have affected our twin bond over the years, but that’s a whole other post.) At six weeks, we were finally united with my parents, and a new family of four formed. Eight months later, my mom found out that she was pregnant with my brother. This was truly a miracle. My parents pursued adoption because they were told they would never be able to have children – and now they were about to have three babies! My parents are amazing; after now having babies of my own, I can’t imagine how hard having two babies at once is, let alone three.
I grew up always knowing that I had been adopted. It was never a secret, and my parents didn’t delay telling me until they thought I was “old enough” or “ready.” When I was little, knowing that I had been adopted made me feel special. My parents would even throw an adoption day party for us every year. Then around fifth grade, I started to have questions: who did I look like, whom did I get my nose from, my dimples? What does my birth mom look like? What about my birth father? By high school I had questions about my ethnicity. When my sister and I were babies, we had a blue marking on our lower backs. Our pediatrician at the time told my mom that the marking was common in Hispanic babies. I have several different theories based on encounters I have had in the world. When I was on my honeymoon in Mexico, the staff only spoke to me in Spanish and were puzzled when I would respond, “No hablo espanol.” One of the workers explained that he assumed I was Spanish and there on holiday. When we were in Vegas someone asked me what part of Spain I was from because he thought I was from a certain village there. He said my face had the same features. Last spring at the Replanted panel a man said he thought I was Puerto Rican. My twin, who met some of our birth family, was told we had some Native American blood. I have at times liked the mystery of not knowing for sure and making up stories in my head, but getting older and having children of my own I am finding I want to know more specific facts. I have always had to have that extra test done at the doctor’s office because I don’t know my family medical history and that has scary at times. Especially when I was pregnant with my own babies and not able to fill out every detail on the health forms.
Growing up, I never felt like I was grieving anything. I never wished that my adoptive parents hadn’t adopted me. I never wished for what could have been. I wasn’t angry. I loved my family so much, and that was it. My twin had a rougher time of it in high school, but that is her story to tell. It seems that, even in the same household, each adopted child can react differently to their adoption and all of the feelings and issues that can bring. As time went on, I reacted by learning how to turn off every emotion and feeling in seconds if I felt hurt or betrayed by someone. I would just flip a switch and you were dead to me. My heart was protected, I was safe. I didn’t realize that reaction was the result of my adoption wound until years later. I assumed that since we were adopted as infants we didn’t have any trauma or experience loss. But then, in my early thirties, I learned that in fact I had been grieving since birth. I was working with a counselor at the time who explained to me that all adopted children – even those adopted at birth – experience a death of sorts. That separation from their mother, even just after birth, is a loss that infants and children will carry with them into adulthood. And with that loss can come a lifelong fear of abandonment. I call it the silent curse. “Silent” because so many of us who are adopted can live with this wound for years without ever knowing that it exists. A “curse,” because it is something that lingers in us, a battle we face every single day. Even with the most loving and committed parents, adopted children will almost always have to face this wound at some point in their lives. There is no avoiding it. And while God does redeem and heal, that does not mean we as adopted children won’t have our own work to do to make that happen.
This curse affected some of my relationships growing up, but never the ones with my family. It also made my relationship with God hard as well. When he was quiet in the hours of my darkest pain or need, I would feel that abandonment so intensely, and I would have to fight every instinct inside me that wanted to shut Him out. Now that I am aware of this curse I can take a step back when I feel hurt or betrayed and decide if I need to make a healthy break or if I need to engage.
God has brought me a long way in that journey of healing and through it has asked me time and time again to lay my heart on the altar and trust Him with it. Every time He asks I think He is crazy and I like to remind him how scary and impossible that feels for an adoptee, then I obey. I handed my heart over to God again as an adult when my own adoption story started a desire in me to give back somehow. I didn’t know if that was just answering phones at the adoption agency or if it meant that my husband and I were being called to adopt but we began to pray. After starting with Safe Families and hosting multiple children over the course of a year we ended up journeying with one child through foster care and into adoption. We later adopted her baby sister as well. I see now God’s plan of using my adoption story to prepare me for being a mom to my own adopted children. I can connect with some of their pain in a way not every mother can, because I know I have lived it. I can share my own experiences and feelings with them, and that is a gift. I feel very blessed and lucky that my birth mom was brave enough to choose adoption, and to choose life for us.
When I was adopted thirty nine years ago, people mainly adopted to grow their families, because they couldn’t have biological children. Today, it has exploded into a huge ministry. There is more awareness today of the growing need for families to open their homes and lives to children in need, and I fully support that and pray daily that more families are called into adoption. There are so many kids in need of a family, and really that is all they need: a family.
They need a mom and a dad – not a hero or a rescuer. They need parents who will love them fully as their own, and who will love and support them as they grow up. This is the kind of family I grew up in, and it is the kind of family I want my children to grow up in. These kids don’t want to be someone’s good deed, or ministry, they want to be someone’s son or daughter. I know that for myself being adopted isn’t who I am – it is just a small piece of my story. Adoption has shaped my life, but it doesn’t define it. When my parents bravely said yes to twins I was blessed with a mom, a dad, my twin and a baby brother. I was given an amazing life filled with love, full of endless opportunities (and amazing road trips!), all because they said “Yes.”
So from an adoptee who now has five children, three of whom were adopted, you would think I could bestow on you some amazing words of wisdom on how to be a great adoptive parent. The truth is I am still trying to figure that out myself. For me I just love my kids and I pray every day for the wisdom to parent them well, and the money to pay for all their therapy when they realize I have been winging it for most of their life.
Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, And anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.
To hear more of the Belfords’ story, go to https://belfordseven.wordpress.com.