Answering “Why’d We Get a Little Sister?” and the Other Why Adoption Question

 

Yesterday, my son mosied out from rest time, still in his zip-up pumpkin onesie pajamas he wore to bed the night before, dismissive of the fact it was the middle of the afternoon. I sat on our navy couch adjacent to him working with a computer on my lap. He crawled into one of the peacock blue chairs in our living room. And as kids his size can, he made a U with his body — head on one armrest facing me, back laying against the bottom of the seat, his legs over the other arm, little feet dangling over the other side towards me.

 

Playing with the lego creation of the afternoon, sun shining into his blue eyes, he asked,  “Why’d we have to get a little sister?”

 

He’s five. Every age and stage has it’s perks, but since I’ve had a few kids now, I’m okay with saying three is the cutest-but-hardest age, and four and five are probably my ultimate-favorite ages: full of honest questions and imaginative possibility and mispronounced words.

 

“We didn’t have to get one,” I said.

 

“Well, why did we?”

 

It was almost funny. I’d been trying to write this blog post, unsuccessfully, for nearly six months, to answer this very question.

 

*

 

This past summer, Chris and I went to his 20-year college reunion. Initially, Chris wasn’t all that interested in going — until his core group of college friends made plans and committed themselves — then it was something he couldn’t miss. These guys, who he either roomed with or shared a suite with for almost four years, were guys who we, after graduation, along with their wives or girlfriends, vacationed with, attended weddings for, road tripped or sent baby gifts to.

 

But time passes.

 

As families grew, careers demanded, and life in general expanded, a few of us lost touch. Until this past June, Chris and his college roommate and hadn’t seen each other, save for a Christmas card, or connected in over a decade.

 

Sitting under a big white tent in an open green space, with a variety of bottles and glasses on the table on the Saturday afternoon of the reunion, we quickly got up to speed on each other’s work, kids, pets, weekend-smothering activities, what we all think about our current president and how we’re dealing with it. (See: bottles on the table.)

 

We easily fell right back into the comfortable depth of relationships based on so much shared life experiences, despite it happening nearly two decades ago.

 

And as good friends do, we laughed and joked, but felt an ease to leave the surface to ask: What does your tattoo mean? Why did you go back to school? What’s it really like living there? How’s your mom doing?

 

Friends like this want to know what’s really going on in your life. They want to know the real you — the now you.

 

“Congratulations on your adoption,” Chris’s old roommate said at one point.

 

We talked a little about China (experience of a lifetime), about Viv (healthy, smart, funny), about life with four kids (crazy, chaotic, good).  

 

And then our friend said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking … but it seems like you didn’t have trouble growing your family in the traditional way … Can I ask, why did you adopt?”

 

*

 

It’s a question we’ve been asked a number of times, a question we assume a lot of people might not ask to our face: What makes a couple who has three healthy kids want to add yet another child (in our case from a different country and culture) into a family, especially if fertility doesn’t seem to be an issue?

 

It’s a question I should have a well practiced answer for.

 

Except every time I’m asked it, by someone I haven’t lived life next to for the last 2-3 years, I bumble through an answer.

 

Adoption has so much to do with our faith, and I often feel it’s hard to put the depth of our conviction about our adoption into words. It’s hard for me to be succinct, to not go into the fact that I not only believe in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit — but that I have a real relationship with this triune God — and I want to tell you about my faith and my life story, which led us to our decision to adopt.

 

For as much as I’m open and honest with people, I haven’t come up with what I’d like: a simple, honest, rehearsed answer that has zero possibility to offend anyone. (If you’re new here, Hi, my name is Sonya and I like everyone to be comfortable and like me.)

 

So, there’s this super short, almost trite answer: God. God put it in (on?) our hearts to adopt.

 

It’s totally true. It’s just not enough of an answer for me.

 

I want to explain that our adoption stemmed from an awareness and openness to the needs in the world and us taking the charge in the Bible to care for orphans seriously and in praying about it, this meant — for our family — adopting.

 

If we have time, I’d love to go into the long, involved, story about what’s happened to Chris and I through most of our lives — which would help explain the depth of this decision that feels like a miraculous work.

 

With a friend we’d only exchanged Christmas cards with for over a decade, I started with the short answer. But you can’t give a one word answer to someone who lived with your husband for three years. He had questions.

 

Aware not everyone shared our faith and our convictions, and not wanting to talk too long, I stumbled over my words, as if they were flat rocks thrown in a pile in the woods — I knew they could (should) be laid out nicely, it would be a such a pleasant path to walk, if I’d only take the time to decide where they go, to put them in place in the ground, one after the other.

 

But I hadn’t. So, I did my best tripping over, overthinking my words. 

 

A few weeks later, at a local community event, I chatted with a woman I met a few years ago but have only spoken to a handful of times. We’re the type who nod hello if we happen to pass each other on the trail or during a walk to pick the kids up from school.

 

Through Hi, How are you’s and How is your summer going, I pointed over to Viv and told her about our adoption. A tilt of the head, laser focused eyes, she asked with frank sincerity, “Why did you adopt?” (Have I ever mentioned how much I appreciate people’s directness?)

 

The only problem was, I still hadn’t taken the time to figure out a nice clear short-ish answer to give. There was no well-worn path. 

 

In many church circles, adoption is a familiar concept. Not only do some churches have a “culture” of adoption (with many adoptive families), but the Bible speaks about caring for orphans and that God Himself is a father to the fatherless. We who are in the church understand adoption from the New Testament principle that gentiles have been adopted, grafted to the tree so to speak, into the cherished and chosen Israelite family of God.

 

If someone I don’t know well, but from church asks, “Why did you adopt” and can I say “God” — and they typically get it. They have either had God-given convictions about something else, or they know someone who has had the same type of answer about adoption. 

 

But for friends who aren’t in a church community, and even when adoption is well known and supported (in the case of creating a family,–often when fertility is an issue, or growing a family, or if a person has had personal experience with a specific culture or adoption in their own life experiece) — answering “God” feels nebulous.

 

And despite growing up in church, because I come from an immigrant family and community, not everyone had a construct for adoption there either. Adoption is a nice idea, sure. But you have to realize, many immigrant families didn’t grow up with an American mentality of “we’re all the same, we’re all Americans” — one’s cultural identity is remarkably strong, even when embracing everything America has to offer.

 

I delt with this when I got married (You know he’s Swiss, right?). Crossing a border in other parts of the world means you’re in both a different country and a different culture. Who you are is wrapped up in who else looks like you and grew up like you and eats your food and knows your traditions. Adoption is nice, but welcoming a child from another culture can be a foreign concept.

 

*

 

I’ve hesitated writing this post for months. This summer, finding time to write was hard — scratch that — I did have time to plunk down words. But amidst my other responsibilities, finding the margin to think about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, then actually write it and write it well, felt impossible.

 

And it still feels daunting.

 

I want adoption to be celebrated — and I’m afraid I won’t do it justice. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, or in the wrong way.

 

But as we approach a year of Viv being a part of our family, and for anyone who hasn’t been reading our story from the beginning, I wanted to answer the question, “Why did we adopt?”

 

I think it’s best summed up by my conversation with my five-year-old.

 

*

 

“Well, why did we [adopt a little sister]?” he insisted.

 

I paused for a second. Then said, “because our family had room in our hearts to love another child, and God put it in our hearts to welcome a child into our family that didn’t have one.”

 

“But you could’ve had another baby that wasn’t born in China? Like, one that grew in you?”

 

“Yeah. We could’ve — but that’s not what God wanted for our family.”

 

Not writing this post, afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to not do it right, do it well, as best as I possibly could (with research and statistics and links) is exactly why I’d left those stones in a pile for so long.

 

But maybe I don’t need to be so afraid of saying or sharing the wrong thing. Maybe I just need to say it, to write it, and put it out there. Just start getting the stones in the ground. With a path, even if it’s not perfect, we can walk and talk — the conversation can start. 

 

Back in the livingroom, Ash asked, “so … could we, maybe, get a little brother? … Like, if we do it again?”

 

Did I mention that I love this age?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Sonya Spillmann

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this! Because I’ve had people ask me the same question (of you) and though I always answered “because God”, this spells it out so well! And 5 yr olds really are the best

  2. Yes. You know, sometimes the rough stone piles are the loveliest….and the simplest. The layers you add on top can all be different, depending on where the conversation is going (and how old the person is!). With us, it’s been explaining our reactions to serious, life-changing illness in our lives. Sometimes the answer is just “God….” And sometimes much more of the big story spills out. Imperfectly.

    You are doing a great job, Sonya. It’s such a blessing to read your posts!

  3. Such a good explanation of the short answer that never feels right. “I stumbled over my words, as if they were flat rocks thrown in a pile in the woods — I knew they could (should) be laid out nicely, it would be a such a pleasant path to walk, if I’d only take the time to decide where they go, to put them in place in the ground, one after the other.” We get questions about having that 6th child, in our late 40s, and the right answer is just too long and involved…

  4. I hear your fears and also your courage, and I love them both.
    Add me to the list of those who love 5 year olds!
    And Ash, maybe you’re onto something? ….. 😉

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