Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: An Adoption Story
By Cindy Lewis Dake
I’ll always cherish six words from someone I had only met a few minutes before: “Would you like to hold him?”
The words were spoken by a gentle-voiced, bright-eyed, 17-year-old girl, and she was holding the tiniest baby I’d ever seen in real life. While my mind and heart swirled with a million thoughts and emotions, nothing was louder than the quiet question she asked: Would you like to hold him?
“Oh, yes,” I said tentatively. “Can I?”
Certainly my answer won’t go down in the annals of history as a very poetic response, but they were genuine. Nothing in the world mattered except what was happening between me, that baby, and his mom. If that ten seconds in my life were to be translated into a movie segment, we’d open with a soft-focus image of a young woman, switch to a not-so-young woman (that would be me), then zoom in for an extra close-up of a tiny human wrapped in soft, Winnie the Pooh blankets.
It was a moment that was unscripted, unrehearsed, and raw with emotion. But in the scope of time and eternity, it was all very planned by the Father.
The Grey Zone of Waiting
A few months before, my husband and I had marked our ninth wedding anniversary, as well as our ninth Christmas where there were no little “stockings hung by the chimney with care.”
For five years, we had been stuck in the gray zone of infertility. We pursued some fertility measures for a few years before moving on to adoption. We had always been interested in adoption, although we thought it would be a matter of “birth a few children and then adopt one or two.” Young and in control of our destiny (or so we thought), we imagined our parenting timeline would happen exactly how and when we wanted it to occur. Suffice it to say, it didn’t. Now, five years later, adoption was our only option.
For about a year, we investigated international adoption. We thought that was the best plan because there would be no contact with birth parents. The parents’ rights would have been terminated and the children would be wards of the state. At that point in our journey, it seemed like one less thing to worry about. A baby with no strings attached.
We would have stayed on track for an international adoption except God nudged us toward domestic adoption. Nudged? More like “lovingly shoved.” The first nudge came when the country we were interested in adopting from began to put adoptions on hold. A complex process that usually took a few years could now take twice that long. I was already in my mid-30s and didn’t want to be 40 before I became a first-time mom!
Another nudge was my husband’s new job moved us back to our home state of Texas where we were closer to family and old friends. One of those old friends had started an adoption agency to minister to young women who found themselves with an unplanned pregnancy. As we attended a seminar for prospective adoptive parents, we learned a few things about the importance of birth parents in an adopted child’s life.
A counselor explained that when a child grows up with no idea of his or her birth family, sometimes it can cause the child to struggle with their own identity. The child might fantasize that their birth family was famous or rich or even royalty. But sometimes, the child will wonder if they were not wanted, questioning why their birth family gave them away.
The counselor explained that even though building a relationship with a child’s birth family might not be what we had originally envisioned, it could be the very best thing for a child’s stability, growth, and emotional development. Secure in the love of his adoptive parents, he would know some basics of his birth story so it would never be “the great unknown” to him.
As my husband and I compared notes, we realized we knew of no one who was adopted and had known their birth parents. When we were growing up, it just wasn’t done that way. Birth records of adopted children were sealed, and it took legal action to open them up. Part of our uneasiness was simply because we had no examples of what a birth family and adoptive family relationship could look like. But that was about to change.
In early March 1998, a phone call brought the nudge we had been praying for: “A birth mom has chosen you.”
Finding Common Ground
A few days later, I was face to face with a stranger who was considering giving her most precious possession, her baby, to our forever care. This teenage mom probably didn’t realize I was twice her age. (I sincerely hoped she didn’t.) It wasn’t lost on me that when I was a senior in high school, she was an infant in her mother’s arms. When I was graduating from college, she was probably playing in a sandbox somewhere. How could two women in such separate stages of life ever find common ground?
That common ground became apparent: the welfare of her child. She loved him immensely but recognized that she could not provide him with the medical care and stability he needed. Her motivation was never to cast off her firstborn because of a lack of maternal commitment, but quite the opposite, she wanted to find the arms to place him in where she knew he would be loved, cared for, safe, and secure. Her maternal love called her to sacrifice her bond for his good.
To be on the receiving end of that sacrifice is a gift that defies explanation. When she placed him in my arms, I felt an immediate connection with her baby boy. Though he wasn’t born from me physically, he was, in that moment, born in my heart.
“He’s so beautiful,” I managed to say. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He had been born three months premature, and at our first meeting, he was four months old, weighing just over five pounds, less than what a full-term baby usually weighs at birth. Oh, he came with strings attached—two monitors and an oxygen tank with yards of tubing attached to a nasal canula. But he was perfect. And we were so willing to be his adoptive parents.
You’ve Got Mail
If time seemed slow in those first minutes when our son was placed in my arms, then the days, months, and years that followed have been marked by how quickly they have passed. Like all parents, I’ve wished time would slow down every now and then. We’ve built our lives as a family of three (plus two dogs), and we’ve cherished the innumerable blessings of loving this boy we named Ryan.
From his earliest days, we told Ryan about his birth mom. Like you would do with any child, you tell them what is age-appropriate for them to know. He has grown up with the awareness that he is adopted and that he is doubly loved by two families.
As Ryan grew, so did our connection with his birth mom. At first, we kept in touch with handwritten letters, cramming envelopes full of pictures to show how he was growing. In return, she mailed us letters and pictures.
Letters transitioned to emails when “you’ve got mail” was a welcome announcement from your computer. We eventually figured out how to attach photos to our emails. Then, smartphones came along and we started texting each other more frequently than we ever wrote.
Even though we are separated by three states and 850 miles, the sense of sharing daily life is more real than ever before. In a cyber second, we can send updates, prayer requests, and photos.
His birth mom married and has a family of her own—a husband, two sons, and now a grandson, too. As “boy moms,” we text and share the ups and downs of raising boys. “He’s playing video games too much!” “He’s growing so fast I can’t keep him in blue jeans!” “Pray for him today; he’s got a test in math.” We now have more in common than ever before.
Two Families Meet
After Ryan graduated from highschool, we planned a vacation, and we made sure to coordinate a time to see his birth mom and her family. We were all excited—and just a bit nervous—about our first in-person meeting in 18 years.
Just like that day back in March 1998, my view looked a little soft-focus around the edges as I watched our son walk up to his birth mom and embrace her, wrapping his arms around her, and watching her return the embrace with a depth of feeling only a birth mom can know.
Our families ate lunch together, walked around a park on a beautiful, sunny day, took lots of pictures, and ended the day at an ice cream parlor. Even though his birth mom was the only one we had ever met before, there was a comfortableness in our visit that seemed like we’d all known each other for longer. I like to think it’s because God has woven these two families together for the past 23 years, and even though we’ve been geographically distant, we have a shared history, a cherished history.
No Missing Pieces
Back in the routines of our daily lives, his birth mom and I keep in touch, and often our texts turn to expressions of deep gratitude—mutual gratitude—for the role that each of us has played in the other person’s life. There’s still a wonder in it for me – that we could be the recipients of such sacrifice and blessing. I can never thank her enough for entrusting him to our care, so I intentionally thank her frequently. I always want her to know that we don’t take for granted what she gave us.
In return, she has blessed me: “Thank you again for loving Ryan. I can’t imagine him anywhere else. He was the missing piece to your life.”
She is right, of course. He was the missing piece that made our family complete. He made us parents, and we are ever thankful. But God knew that she and her family were the other pieces that we needed to make our lives complete. And so our loving Father wove our stories together, knit them together as only He can, into an adoption story that is fearfully and wonderfully made.
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb... I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made... All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13–14a, 16b).