I am not a psychologist. I have neither a degree in therapy nor in grief counseling. I can only relate to you the story that has been given by God to my wife, Dawn, and me. It is a story that revealed to us the love of Christ in a community of friends and family. And it has taught us how to better mourn with those who mourn.
Dawn and I struggled for four years with issues of infertility. Those years included two painful miscarriages.
After taking medical intervention as far as we wanted to, in early 2003 we started the adoption process.
Frankly, it wasn’t much fun. A lot of classes and genograms and background checks.
However, within four months we were notified that a birth mom had tentatively chosen us as adoptive parents of her newborn girl. Our hopes grew.
Within a day or so, however, the birth mom decided she wanted her little girl placed in another city.
Three months later we were notified, just prior to departing for a vacation, that we had been chosen by another birth mom. She was due to give birth shortly after our return. We spent a good portion of our time away anticipating radically different identities as parents.
A couple of days after arriving home, we found out the birth mom had had her little girl and decided to keep her.
Our pain increased.
About two more months passed. Then, on a Friday afternoon in late September, we received another phone call. Dawn and I had been chosen again.
The birth mom had made her decision about us weeks earlier, but the adoption agency—with our history of disappointment in mind—chose not to tell us until they were confident she would go through with the adoption. The baby was due in a couple of weeks.
Much to our surprise, on Sunday evening we received another phone call. The birth mom had had her baby that morning. A boy!
We arrived at the hospital at noon on Monday. When we walked into the room, the birth mom was holding the baby. It was awkward. She seemed somewhat resigned and subdued. Dawn especially hurt for her. We found it a bittersweet time.
The birth mom allowed us the honor of naming the baby. We asked her to also add a middle name. We called him Silas Everett, and she added Maleek.
The next day we took Silas Everett Maleek Mulder home. We were very happy and so proud of our new son. We still vividly recall those days of great rejoicing.
Early the next week, the birth mom came for a visit to see Sy. Again she was very quiet as she tenderly held him. I remember her undressing him to see his little body and to caress him. Dawn again deeply hurt for her, yet feared the possibility of another disrupted adoption. But I was confident that would not happen—I couldn’t fathom it.
Friday afternoon I received a voicemail message from Dawn. She was in tears. The birth mom had changed her mind.
I quickly left work and rode my bike home. As I entered our house, I saw Dawn holding Sy. The emotion of what was happening hit me, and I cried. I was angry too. Not at the birth mom. What she had chosen to do made sense: Sy was so precious and beautiful.
My hostility was reserved for a God who toyed with people’s hopes. At the time we used the word cruel. We’d already had so many hopes turned into disappointments. And now this: we bring our little boy home for three weeks and love him deeply, only to have him taken away.
We were asked to return Sy within 48 hours to the adoption agency. We did so with deep bereavement.
We entered a strange time—not only for ourselves, but for our friends and families. How do you comfort a couple who has experienced a disrupted adoption?
But when I look back at that time, I’m amazed. I’m amazed because I think we were a drag. We felt hopeless and bitter. We withdrew our names from the pool of adoptive families. I said a lot of stupid things that were both self-pitying and wrong.
But, in retrospect, we were blessed with a community that loved us still. One couple in particular, whom we had known for only a year, came and dwelled with us in our misery.
I don’t remember any wisdom they offered to make sense of things for us. (And I think that’s because they truly believed that it didn’t make sense.) Instead, they brought supper. They brought coffee and scones. Always they ate with us.
I think it would’ve been easier to leave the food and walk away. They let us know that we were still loved.
Similarly, our pastor and his wife spent time with us. Mostly quiet time. He admitted honestly that he had no Scripture he could give us for our situation. That was OK—I wasn’t interested anyhow. Their presence, though, spoke to us about God’s caring.
Another friend drove from five hours away to spend the evening with me. We went for a run, had dinner, and went out for a beer. He left first thing the next morning. We spent about 12 hours together. I remember very little of our conversation. I will never forget the effort he made to inhabit our space of hurt.
In all these instances, we were blessed simply by the presence of members of our community. They got it right. They hurt with us.
I think that often we want to make things right with our words. I also think that if we really unpack what we’re doing, we’ll realize that frequently our attempts to speak words of comfort to others are efforts to make ourselves feel better.
The reality, though, is that things are broken. The world doesn’t function in the way God intended. With that in mind, we should hurt. We should long for a world where things flourish as God planned.
Words cannot make pain go away. But the presence of those who love testifies to the kingdom that is both here and not yet, the kingdom in which things are right.
Eleven days after we brought Sy back to the adoption agency, we received a phone call. We happened to be traveling back to Wisconsin. The call came from a foster mother, also in Wisconsin, who asked whether we’d be interested in meeting with a birth mom who had delivered that morning.
The call left us deeply confused.
We were still mourning for Sy—how could we start this process again so soon? We spent the evening consulting our community of family and friends and praying. In the end, we felt that obedience required that we at least meet the birth mother.
She chose us on the spot.
We were scared, but we trusted that God would somehow bless this. We named our son Seth, which means “set” or “appointed”—an appropriate description of how God had set him in our lives.
The story has one more twist. Two months later, much to our absolute surprise, we were pregnant. Case was born later that year, and we now had two sons we considered miracles.
We were indeed blessed, but our two sons did not “replace” the son we had lost. We still hurt and long for Sy, and I think we should. The pain we feel is not the way things are supposed to be.
I’m not sure what this episode taught us. I only know that we were given examples of how to quietly mourn with those who mourn. I only know that we saw the face of Christ in the very human faces that surrounded us.
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Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Tell A Better Story
- ‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church
- Book review: A Church Called Tov, by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight