Adopting a New Life

By Kersley Fitzgerald

We walked out of the glass doors and into the Bangkok night. It was about eighty-five degrees and crowded. Sukhumvit Road is always busy, but the sidewalks come alive only at night, when the blistering sun recedes, and the locals emerge to make their living off the ex-patriots.

We turned left, trying to make our way through the throng of bodies, two tallish Westerners clumsily weaving in and out of a river of black hair. People occasionally looked up at us and smiled, grateful we were adopting the boy and giving him a better life. The crowd thinned near a shop window. We looked down. A gaunt man, dressed in rags, sprawled on his belly, creeping not even on hands and knees, but pulling forward with a forearm, trying to draw his legs up, the stubbed fingers on his free hand pushing a bowl with a couple of baht coins in front of him.

We kept on.

My arms shook with the weight of the tiny 19-pounder that clung awkwardly to me. I heard once that girls form to your body, while boys take any position they like and expect you to hold onto them. It was sure true with this one. He wouldn't ride a hip. He was too little to cling to my back. And he was terrified of the stroller.

"Let me take him," Dev said. I transferred the boy over and took point, trying to emulate the graceful movements of the people around me. How can they get through such a crowd without actually touching anyone? A woman passed—very short, small, up-turned nose—it looked like the picture we had of JT's birth mother. She strolled by, her head lifted, no worries at all.

If that's herů I thought. Even if it's not, but if she feels that way, we're doing a good thing. She must have such a hard life. We have to make sure she did the right thing by giving him up.

We climbed the stairs to a walkway over Sukhumvit. Below us, cars, busses, and motorcycles clogged the lanes. A woman sat in a corner on the walkway, inches from the feet that hurried past. She looked at the meager pickings in her Styrofoam cup, unwrapped the superfluous bandages around her arm, and disappeared into the crowd. At the base of the stairs, in between a line of tables selling silk children's clothes and a cart lost in a haze of flies and fish sauce, sat a mother holding up a mostly empty bowl. Her daughter played quietly beside her. Had the mom ever considered putting the girl up to be adopted? How did they live?

We continued walking. Our nightly strolls were one of the only times JT didn't cry. Instead, he scanned the crowd. Looking for his foster family.

By the morning we left, he was pretty much attached to me. Twenty hours later, in the Detroit airport, he took off after two Japanese women. Nothing was normal.

The adopted child is orphaned, but they must also walk away. It is international law that any child released for international adoption must be orphaned by the death of or abandonment by their birth parents. Eight months after he was born, JT's birth-mother acknowledged she couldn't care for him, and gave him up to be adopted. Shortly after we got home, but before the US court hearing that would make JT legally ours, we traveled to the Thai Embassy where they officially gave their blessing and released him from all commitments (like military service). He was orphaned and released. But he still had to emotionally walk away from his old life. Fortunately, he was still pretty young—the "walking away" part consisted mostly of forgetting. We expect in a few years he'll go through another phase where he gets curious about his ethnic culture, and he still makes up birthdays for his foster brothers. Of course we don't want him to give up all ties to his birth-country. But he has to decide, for right now, who his family is.

Easy for a kid so young, but very difficult for some older kids. It's a really hard decision to emotionally abandon your old life and accept the new. Even if you know on some level that it's for the best, it can feel like abandoning yourself. And sometimes it's not that the old life was wrong, but in the pain of leaving that old life for something healthier, people get hurt.

Casey had the same problem from a spiritual view. He knew he needed God and the support of a good church. He was grateful for the attention. He appreciated the strong Christian influences in his life. But he couldn't get past his old life. He couldn't see how his old life hurt his new family. Eventually, he abandoned his new family and fled back to what he knew.

Old friends and family may not appreciate the change. JT was his foster family's first foster child. Their oldest three kids were out of the house, and their youngest two were in school. The mom wanted someone to take care of. Fostering infants is very, very hard. Foster families generally attach to infants more easily than to older kids. There are few foster families who can give long-term infant care on a regular basis, and many wind up adopting some of the babies. JT came to his foster mom when he was two months old, and stayed until he was almost eighteen months. She loved him as much as her birth-kids, and she would have kept him if she'd felt she could have offered him enough. A more experienced foster mother would have understood more about the separation and how to prepare the child to move on to the adopting family. JT's foster mother didn't. We don't know what she told him, but, from his reaction, it seemed to have been along the lines of, "People are coming to take you away from me." We don't blame her in any way. But when a friend of ours, an infant foster-mother in the States, heard him whimpering over the phone, her response was, "That's exactly what kids sound like when they're kidnapped."

A woman I knew was saved as an adult, while she worked at a secular radio station. A month later, a coworker turned to her and said, "You're not fun anymore." That's a relatively mild, but telling reaction to the life changes that come about in a new believer's life. On the other end of the spectrum are those who are shunned, or even killed, by their families when they become a Christian. It's hard to watch someone you like or love reject the lifestyle they've lived with you, turn their back on you. And it's hard to be the one walking away. When you realize that these people, who were everything to you, are not compatible with your new life, it can be miserable.

Lose yourself to find yourself. JT lost a lot of his identity when he came to live with us. In both his birth and foster family, he was the youngest child of at least three. He was a farm boy. His family was Buddhist. He was culturally Thai. All of that was unceremoniously stripped away in the course of a two-hour van ride as he adopted a new life. He became (and remains) an only child. A military brat. Part of a Christian family. And if his disdain for soccer and obsession with football is any indication, very American.

Similarly, some things fundamentally change in the life and identity of a new believer. I've seen many times where God gives a kind of home-coming gift to someone who first accepts Christ or who rededicates. Things like, they may have no desire to swear anymore. Or they're suddenly filled with thankfulness. In the blink of an eye, they're a new creation. Not everything is different. New believers will retain some of their personality, and JT will always look Asian. But their core identity—whose child they are—changes in the blink of an eye and forever.

From the time JT met us to the time he was on an airplane for the US, four days had passed. But no amount of time could have prepared him for all he left behind. Leaving your old world is scary and lonely and just odd. Accepting the new may be an even longer road.

Adoption, The Series

Part 1: Adopting a New Way to Look at God
Part 2: Adopted by Father-God
Part 3: Adopting a New Life
Part 4: A Whole New World
Part 5: Adoption is Forever

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Christian-Life  | Family-Life  | Personal-Life

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Published 5-5-11