My husband and I were able to take our daughter to a Diwali celebration this past weekend. As we have a different faith from what is celebrated during this holiday, we skipped out on the rituals and prayer portion; but we were excited to see a crowd of people from India flooding the hallways of one of our college campus’s buildings. Women wearing saris and kurtas, men dressed in their finest as well, had me gawking over the beautiful fabrics and designs we saw. My daughter, Sujata, and I pointed out our favorite saris to each other and giggled together as she explained to me that she had worn a dress like that once. She hadn’t known how to put it on, so she said she just draped it over her shoulder.
I hate to sound so depressing, but while it was a beautiful and needed night for our family, it left me with an ache in my heart for one of the huge aspects that Sujata has lost and will miss out on in so many ways over the years. Because she was internationally adopted. By me.
Mommy guilt is real, I now understand, and part of how I have experienced it in the last 8 months is in the knowledge that I ripped her out of a people and culture she dearly loved. Out of a culture that we, too, have grown to appreciate deeply.
Supplanting her smack dab in the Midwest of the United States, she is now immersed in all things “America”. She knows what our national flag is, and she is learning to love the food we eat. She dresses like us, and being the little imitator that she is, will probably grow up to wear make-up and clothes just like her Mommy. “Can I watch you put on make-up? So I can know how to put on when I grow?” she asked me the other day. I didn’t refuse her request, and wished a little bit that I were Indian for a minute so I would know exactly what type of make-up would be best for her skin type.
We don’t dance too often together, and I couldn’t even begin to sing the lyrics to an Indian song. Both of these things were a regular part of Sujata’s life in India, and now they are but distant memories.
I won’t even go into the language aspect, except to say it has been one of the most frustrating aspect of our lives post-adoption. How hard it is to see your child suffer in various ways because of what she does not know how to say. Because she was internationally adopted. By me.
(Last night, I told her she could be friendly by asking her classmates what they dressed up as for Halloween. “Mommy, can you write that down in my notebook so I remember what to say?” she asked. Ugh. It’s part of the reason she struggles with making friends.)
And I’m sorry, but to say that she can just pick up pieces of her first culture through Google or learn from other Indian friends is to misunderstand how greatly humans are shaped by their surrounding culture and to reduce what she has lost which, for her at some point, the understanding of that loss will bring with it an overwhelming sense of grief and pain. That’s not definite, but it’s probable.
I know only part of that grief, because in some of my low moments in this parenthood journey, I have lamented the fact that we chose to adopt internationally. I have asked myself the hard questions of “Why did I think it would be better for her to have us instead of a different family who lived in India?” She may have been adopted by a couple from her home culture. “Did I misunderstand how much she would lose in being transplanted from India to the United States? Is it really better for her now?”
There are two reasons why I can hold my head high and say definitively that, yes, it is better for my daughter to be in her present situation. Even with all the struggles, and the losses, and the missing out on so much of what we find beautiful about India.
First, I know deep down to the bottom of my heart that while I filled out paperwork and signed checks and flew on that plane to get to India and back again with my girl, this all has been the doing of a God who is not powerless OR unaware. He did it. He brought her to us. He chose her for our family. Our Midwestern, Jesus-believing, goofy and totally American family. It did not escape His attention that we are not Indian, nor living in India. He knew what Sujata would lose in being adopted by us. And yet He accomplished this work, for which we gladly rejoice because she is our daughter. Somehow, she was always meant to be our daughter.
(I also don’t believe it pleased Him for her to lose the people who “should” be her parents, but yet, I do believe it was His will to bring her into our family. This belongs to another post, which I may never write, because I don’t fully know/understand it. I’ll just leave you to your own thoughts on that…)
And while I can’t explain that – I don’t fully know why God chose to do it like that (He doesn’t usually tell me why He does things the way He does, go figure) – I do know this: what my daughter needed more than immersion in her culture was a family.
She needed her own Mom and Dad (Papa) to love, protect, provide, set boundaries for, train, enjoy relationship with, and so much more that parents are for their children.
As Christians, we believe the roles in parenthood go even further. Our greatest aim is to put on display the radical grace and beauty of Jesus Christ, that she may see Him as supremely glorious for herself.
(The other day, she explained to me that she had gone into the school room to pray. “Just like Papa pray-ers, Mama! I prayer-ed, too. I prayer-ed for baby in your belly,” she said in her broken English. And this faith in Christ, it’s certainly not her own; but I see the pursuit of God for her soul in the way my husband lives out the gospel daily. I see moments like this, where I know she’s at least taking note of it. God, help me to be more and more this type of person for my daughter!)
And all of this – the love and care, the witness of the gospel – this is what she needs more than her culture.
So. We will Google what types of make-up are best for women from India, and how to wrap a sari, and how to make paratha. And it won’t be the same as learning from one’s mother. There will be continued loss and, as a result, great pain and moments of doubt.
But I will not be consumed by guilt, or doubt, or even (hopefully) by the struggles resulting from all this loss for her. Because this has all been the work of the LORD. And my daughter has always needed a family more than she needs to remain in her culture.
Thank You, God, for international adoption. Thank You for my daughter.