Please welcome Maralee to our blog! She has a great blog, A Musing Maralee, where she blogs about parenting, foster care, adoption and much more! She has a heart for God and caring for children. She has been gracious enough to share her amazing story with us today!
"But don't you want to have kids of your own?"
"But don't you want to have kids of your own?"
This was the most common question we heard when my husband and I started sharing the news that we were pursing adoption. The sweet people who wanted answers to this question generally didn't know about the infertility diagnosis and heartache we had already been through before we started filling out the paperwork and shipping money off to an agency. They just saw two young, healthy, happy people who they wanted to experience the thrill of having children "of their own". If people did know about our fertility issues, they wanted to know if we'd tried everything we could before resorting to the adoption option. In this miraculous age of test tube babies and fertility drugs and surrogacy options, why would we be so quick to decide we didn't want kids of our "own"?
We tried to respond to this question with a false bravado- this child WOULD be our own! We wanted to adopt! Why spend money on fertility treatments that might not work, when there was a child that needed us? But deep in our hearts we had some of the same fears as our friends and family who wondered if we could really love a child that we didn't create.
Thankfully for us, we had spent the last couple years doing that exact thing as houseparents at a children's home. We had come to love many of our kids as though they had been born to us. We were passionate about their wellbeing and invested in seeing them feel healed from their past hurts and confident they could make their futures better. We knew we could love those boys, but we had never been entrusted with the sole parental role in their life. Would that be different?
Our questions were answered and our lives changed on a hot September afternoon two years after we began the adoption journey. We had arrived in Liberia the day before and today we were to be shown around the country a little. Tomorrow would be the day we would meet our baby for the first time. So on our way to the orphanage office building (a separate location from the orphanage itself) the director of our agency was on the phone. We couldn't hear what she was saying, but she leaned back to us and said, "Is it George? You're here for Georgie, right?" and then leaned back up into her seat. I was pretty overwhelmed just taking in the sites around us and constantly thinking about meeting our baby the next day, so I didn't pay much attention to what she was doing. We stopped at the orphanage office where we were shown the area where birthmothers would sit and have the adoption process explained to them. We were introduced to the team who had worked on our child's paperwork. Then we were brought back to the director's office and we talked about the plans for future humanitarian work the agency was working towards in Liberia. And then the orphanage director excused herself from the room for a minute. She returned holding a baby boy I had only known in photographs. But somehow had known in my heart as long as I have been alive.
The director asked me if I recognized this baby. How could I not know the face I had been praying for for six months. Through paperwork hold-ups and immigration appointments gone wrong and frightening phone calls about hospitalization for malaria, this face had haunted my dreams. His pictures were on the fridge, tucked in my Bible, and framed on my dresser. And so the first words I said to my son were, "I know you!" because I did. I held him at arms length- all ten pounds of his skinny frame on a ten month-old body. I studied him. I wanted to take it all in. And as he started to get a little anxious about this lady who was dangling him away from all that was familiar, the orphanage director said, "He's saying, 'hold me, Ma!'." I clutched him to my chest and felt him relax. I cried. I cried so much to be holding this dream in my arms. I couldn't believe we could take him home and I think some days as I see his lean brown six year-old body beating me in a race up the street, I'm dumbstruck all over again that I get to be his mom. When he wraps me up for a hug or begs for one more story or tells me I'm the best mom ever because I'm making meatloaf, I'm reminded again of how blessed I am that THIS child is my own.
I know biological children bond husbands and wives together. But I remember a day when I realized if I hadn't married my husband, if we hadn't been infertile, if we didn't pursue adoption, if Liberia wasn't the country we choose, maybe I wouldn't be Josh's mom. It's hard for me to imagine a life that doesn't include Josh. I imagine that maybe I would have had a lingering sadness I couldn't explain if he hadn't come into my life. While he was created in another woman's body (a woman we love and value greatly), I believe God made me to be his mother.
Through the adoptions of two more children (both through the foster care system) and then the surprise birth of our biological child in 2011, there is one thing I've learned: All these children are "my own". My love for the son that grew in my body isn't any greater than the love I have for my children through adoption. Pregnancy didn't make me more of a woman or more of a mother. Birth did not increase my ability to love or my understanding of sacrifice. Adoption is not a better or worse way to become a mother, it is just different. In the same way my children are beautifully different from me. My Josh's athleticism and his easy expression of his emotions (he did NOT get that from this German Mennonite!). My son Daniel's Native American skin (so light in the winter and SO dark in the summer, but never a burn) and love of all things animal. My daughter Bethany's dancing heart that keeps her body always moving and her soul so visible through her expressions. I did not make these children, but I'm blessed to call them "my own" and to share their joys (as much as I can) with the families they came from.
photo by Rebecca Tredway Photography
Adoption isn't an easy road, but the beauty is easy to see. I thank God for the infertility that lead us down the road to a different kind of family, but one that is uniquely "our own".
Maralee Bradley is a mother of four kids ages 6 and under. Three were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, two through foster care) and our fourth baby was a biological surprise. Prior to becoming parents Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. She's passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her husband a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing everything she does for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard across Nebraska on "A Mother's Heart for God" which airs on My Bridge Radio and whatever won't fit in 90 seconds ends up on her blog amusingmaralee.com