adoption: 18 months.

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Today marks 18 months since Gabriel and Noah became part of our family.

A year and a half.

Can you believe we made it?

I’ve been looking forward to this adoption update more than any of the others, because things have changed so much in the last three months.

I think of a conversation I had with our social worker, Tricia, early on, about some of our struggles. She said, “Behavior modification is relatively simple, if you’re consistent with rules. It’s the heart that takes longest to heal.”

She was exactly right. There were so many times I felt the enormous victories we were living, the burgeoning vocabularies and tasting of new foods and ability to play, but I genuinely despaired of the boys ever loving us with the kind of affection Judah and Amelie have. The kind that makes Amie throw her arms around my neck and say, “You’re the best mommy in the whole wide world!” As a parent you take those sorts of expressions for granted. Unless you don’t have them.

I knew that the boys loved us because they needed us, and to some extent because they trusted us and felt safe. But I felt the void of the spontaneous love, the “just because” love. If I’m very honest, some days I despaired of ever feeling it for them too.

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The attachment process is still a great mystery to me, because people are a mystery. We are each of us complex and deep and broken and so beautifully multi-faceted. Who can tell what weaves one heart with another, and when?

The more you try to grab hold of love, to force it, the less you get of it.

And so you must walk in faith. You open your hands. When you love someone, you give them space. When they push you away, with words and actions, you choose to forgive, to wait, and not to force. Just the way your Father does for you.

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And slowly, with time, things begin to change.

You almost don’t notice it stealing up on you, until it’s there. The twinkle of an eye. An arm laced through yours with no request for juice or for a story. A little body climbing up on your lap and snuggling close, quiet, content. Being covered with kisses at bedtime. A face that lights up when you walk in the door. Just because.

The heart takes longest to heal.

It’s still healing, we all still are. Many days we fumble and self-protect and lash out. We withdraw in shame and beat ourselves up for not being better, doing better. We have to say sorry. We move toward one another all over again. And start fresh.

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That’s the first thing I’m feeling today:

Eighteen months brings a rush of affection from all sides.

There are so, so many more good moments than bad.

We go whole days without thinking “adoption” or “problem-solving,” that in and of itself feels like a miracle.

We are settling into true love and it is a fortress against the whole world.

And the second reality I’m feeling is:

Our relationship with open adoption is normalizing.

I know I haven’t written about it much on the blog, because all this time I’ve been trying to figure it out myself. It involves stories that aren’t mine to tell. If attachment in adoption is a mystery, a careful dance, then open adoption is as well. But it’s a dance I believe in just as much.

I understand that open adoption isn’t possible or healthy in every situation. That makes me even more grateful for the gift that it is in ours. I have no doubt that the boys’ healing has come quicker because of their birth mom’s continued presence in their lives. She chose the hard thing. To watch them living a completely different life with a completely different family. To come back again and again but be absent from the everyday. To love from a distance.

I am so, so grateful for the help of our adoption agency and each of our social workers in this process. I truly can’t imagine navigating it without their collective wisdom. Our relationship to the boys’ birth family is as good as it is, not because it’s been magically easy, but because we’ve followed their advice. They care about us and they care about them.

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The boys’ birth mom isn’t local, but we see her several times a year, specifically around birthdays. She gladly makes the trek to see us. We’ll be trick-or-treating on Monday with her and a couple other members of the family. Their birth mom has had my phone number since before our official adoption day. We text and I send her photos and videos. We Skype from time to time. She loves Judah and Amie like family, keeps up with their hobbies and buys them birthday gifts.

The boys have two families. They have two mommies.

That is always the truth in adoption, and in our family we’re thankful we can live it out in the open, that they don’t have to choose loyalty to one or the other. We both will always, always love them. They know who they look like. They know where to go with their questions. They hear their birth mom say over and over, “I love you so much. You’re smart and strong and beautiful. I’m proud of you.”

I trust and pray that with their story and even their pain, this gift builds them up a little more each day, that they grow up strong and confident in the love of many people.

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Eighteen months brings a settledness in my own heart with this journey. Lots of people tell me, “I could never do open adoption.” And to that I say, “You love your children and you do what’s best for them.” That’s all I’m doing — or trying to do. It has been a humbling, learning process for me. Adoption has involved dying to myself, letting my boys have a separate journey, sharing theirĀ  love with another woman, even encouraging them in their love for her.

Today I can say I feel so free in the relationship we have. I feel grateful.

Finally, I’ll say that 18 months bring Gabe and Noah a growing understanding of their story.

Every family who adopts through Bethany is encouraged to talk openly about adoption with their child from Day One, even with their infant. I’d say our situation is both easier and harder than adopting an infant, because the boys had a whole life before they met us, four years for Gabriel and two for Noah. They have memories and toys and car seats from their other life. All adopted children have questions; ours just started at the very beginning. Our biological children have questions too.

We’re still learning as we go, but we’re filling in age-appropriate pieces for the boys over time. We collect photos from their birth mom of their family and their life with her, and I’m making them each a growing photo album that they can look at whenever they want. We speak of adoption and celebrate and give money to our friends who adopt. During our homeschool morning we pull out the Bethany adoption magazine and pray for the Waiting Children by name, that God will give them a family. We tell Gabe that soon we’ll have a new, adopted friend at church his own age, whom he can help welcome.

We want all of our kids to know that nothing is ever, ever wasted, that God doesn’t make mistakes. There’s no shame in the fact that two of them were born to a different family, even if sometimes it hurts. We’re not trying to simply move on and forget the past. Their story is something that we treat with kindness and respect.

The God who created the whole universe has been loving and pursuing them since before they were born. He is their true, perfect Father.

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I sit here in my backyard this sunny Monday afternoon in October, trying to finish up this post. My four kids are all around me, interrupting me every few minutes to check in and relive memories from the fair. Gabe tells me he’s pretending to be a detective, and Noah is attempting to catch a wasp despite past stings and my repeated pleas to not touch stinging bugs. Judah is stretched out on the trampoline reading Harry Potter, and Amie’s catching lizards.

In this moment in time we are together and we are all at peace.

That, my friends, is the joy of 18 months.

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