It wasn’t always like this. It used to be joyful, hopeful. But then it got hard, and lately it seems it will always be. Waiting far too long to be a mama, waiting as my husband and I uncover problems that prolong our waiting. Waiting too, always, for that other shoe to drop: that we’ll lose our children, before we have them for real.
When people ask, “Do you have children?” I struggle to find the right answer.
Frankly, the question stings, hard. If I’m objective, it’s an innocent-enough question to ask a 40-year-old woman. I don’t blame people for asking. The answer is both yes and no, wrapped up in complications I never saw coming when we set out to become parents.
First it was a two-year struggle with infertility, followed by another two years (and counting) in an ever-expanding journey to adopt. I’m now an adoptive mom of two young children still in an orphanage a half a world away, unable to bring them home a year longer than was outlined to us in “the process.”
We’ve already legally adopted our kids, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yet our son and daughter remain in their orphanage in Kinshasa. I’ve gone to see them, play with them, hold them. But I can’t get back to them. I’m a mama who yearns for her children, already born.
What I should answer is:
“Yes, I have two children, a 3-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. They’re wonderful.”
Still, the question throws me, leaving me wanting. It’s been a full year since we met the kids in pictures, and eight months since I met them in person. I still feel left out of “the mom club.” The club is, whether mom’s will admit it or not, an exclusive one, with a very particular entry-point. No matter how empathetic my mama friends are—adoptive and birth alike—about my situation, I know I’m not in until I’m wiping real noses and scheduling real play dates.
Yet so much is real: kid-clothes hang in my closets, books and stuffed animals fill their rooms-to-be. I’ve got the kid-friendly museum membership. We’ve picked out their preschool. I’ve held them. They know now, that they have us. I know now, that they know.
If I could bring myself to joyfully answer the “Do you have children?” question, I might just gush, like other mom’s do. My children are beautiful, and strong, and smart little people. I only had 88 minutes, give or take, with them after flying more than 10,000 miles to be where they are, but I know they are all of these things, and more.
And so I always worry if—and how—they are missing me, if they are angry, even. I worry too about why our adoption case has stalled, for half a year, and why the hell won’t someone tell us anything.
In the case of DRC, there’s added uncertainty: since September 2013, all international adoptees have been halted from leaving the country for a full year (or more) as the Congolese government exercises its need and its right to investigate abuses to its adoption system. The ban affects hundreds of adoptive parents in 14 countries. The US government is urging DRC to lift the exit visa suspension, sending over diplomats, even inviting Congolese adoption officials to fly to the United States to see adoptees from Congo thriving in American families. So far, the Congolese have not come, their trust in adoptive parents damaged in recent months by a handful of desperate adoptive parents who’ve attempted (some successfully, others unsuccessfully) to illegally spirit their children out of the DRC without exit visas.
As we all wait, wondering if we will ever bring our kids home, I’m so proud of our little ones, who, after being abandoned on the streets of Kinshasa, at a time when they were too young or too scared to produce their own names, can still crack the tiniest of smiles. Kids who, now with names given to them by the orphanage director, can bravely live two years of their lives—and counting—waiting for parents.
Deep down, I know this separation will end. I just don’t know how much longer I can stand it. The wait is always too long for mamas like us, waiting to have children for real.