On Monday, my son called me his nanny.

He told me that it was my fault that he didn’t live with his birth mom, because I was the one who wanted him. He told me that he was sad all the time– at school, when he’s falling asleep at night. And it was my fault.

He told me all of these things in the dark, in his loft bed. We were playing “sleep,” and I was cuddling him. It’s a step up from the usual. Bini typically hits me with the heavy stuff when we’re driving. Our therapist told us that’s because it’s less scary than a face-to-face conversation.

I did what I always do when Bini starts lashing out at me: I comforted him. I told him that it was OK to feel sad, that sad is a feeling, like happy or surprised or mad. I told him that it’s important to feel the feeling, rather than hold it inside, no matter how bad it feels. He cried.

I also told him, gently but truthfully, that we didn’t steal him from Ethiopia. His birth mother decided that she couldn’t take care of him, and we adopted him. We didn’t take him. And we weren’t going to give him away. Not ever.

“Yes you will,” he said in a high-pitched baby voice, which he reverts to when he’s emotional.

“No, we won’t,” I said firmly. “Not ever.”

Steve and I are six months into the long, long process of adopting another child. Our home study is done (or it better be), and now, we wait.

On Monday night, while Steve slept beside me, I thought about what my son had said to me that day. I’ve read the books and talked to the therapists and been to the training sessions and I know what he’s saying is normal. Of course he grieves. Of course he’s angry. Children have so little choice as it is, but when he thinks about his birth mother giving him up, I can only imagine how powerless he must feel. It makes my heart ache to think about it.

But still, his words hurt. I get the brunt of Bini’s anger and grief, I guess because his birth mother is still living and his birth father is not. Steve and Bini share that — a father who is no longer living. So they grieve together.

And as I lay there, sleepless, I thought: I don’t know if I can do this again. I don’t know if I can parent another child who blames me for his adoption. I don’t know, I don’t know.

The next morning, I called our adoption agency. I had read something in the latest newsletter that bothered me: Families in our Ethiopia program should be prepared for a 36-plus month wait. I believed, I guess because that’s what I wanted to hear, that the three-year waiting period started when we filled out our application and sent the first check. But no, actually, we enter the three-year waiting period now.

Three years. I’ll be 46. Bini will be 8 1/2. Three years.

I texted Steve right away: This is too hard.

He texted back: It is. 

So we’re not doing it. And it hurts. It hurts more than my son being angry with me.

Steve and I said, when we kicked off the second adoption, that we only wanted to do it if we could go back to Ethiopia. We love Ethiopia. We wanted Bini to have a sibling from his home country. We wanted to take him with us. We don’t want to go anywhere else.

Two nights ago, I was doubting my ability to parent another adopted child, but now, it’s all I want. I want to take the risk. I want another child, damn it. I want my family to have another person in it. I’m so angry and so sad, so fucking sad that it’s so hard for us to be parents again.

Steve says that our reaction, our sadness, shows that we need to keep moving forward with adoption, even if Ethiopia doesn’t make sense anymore. I spoke to an adoption lawyer yesterday, and an adoption facilitator in California today. We want a child that is biracial or African American, and there just aren’t that many legally free African-American children under the age of 4 in Washington state. So we are considering, very seriously, adopting from the foster care system.

It isn’t the path we planned on, but it is a path we’ve considered. We’ve been talked out of it a couple of times, but here we are again. There’s a reason why we’re here. Before we decided on Ethiopia for our first child, we’d been “sure” about China and then South Korea. But something drew us to Ethiopia, and thank God for that. So is something drawing us to foster care now? I’m not sure. I feel like a sailboat after a storm, bumping along the choppy waters and looking for safe harbor.

Parenting isn’t safe, no matter what. Biological or adopted, they break your heart. Bini breaks my heart all the time, but I still want to do it again. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it matters why.


  1. Wow. So well said – you are a good mom, Steve’s a good dad and Bini’s lucky…but you know all that. Trust your gut. My friend has recently embarked on the foster child path – fostered an infant and fostered an older child – and I can put you in touch if you like. You’ll find your way…I feel like this could be really good for Bini too. I too have a boy who can’t stop thinking and talking about a bigger family – he has so much love to give…it’s overwhelming for his sisters! And still you can tell he’d like more but…it’s hard to explain the practical part of children to your own child when he thinks it would be awesome to have a house full of kids…not that easy for most families and everyone has a different reason for why it’s hard.

  2. This is one of the most honest things I have ever read. You are a strong woman and you and Steve together are unbreakable. Adopted children (I’m adopted) will always wonder and question and you are handling Bini’s concerns exactly right. I’m sorry his confusion comes out in ways that hurt you. But you have to know, deep down, that he is processing it in his own way. He loves you. And he doesn’t want to lose you.

    As for expanding your family. Only you can know if you are “done”. If you want another child and a sibling for Bini please don’t give up. It may be a long, difficult road but it will be worth it and if you don’t try then you may regret it years later.

    I too, know someone who adopted through the foster care system and can put you in tough with her. Her daughter was a little older (I think 3 or 4) so she may be able to answer some questions.

    Thank you for sharing this. I wish I had magic words to make it all easier but it doesn’t work that way.Sometimes, the good and the bad are wrapped up so tightly together that we just have to take the whole package. But it’s worth it.

  3. The timing of your post is serendipitous for me because we are adopting a baby girl through the foster care system this week in fact. I understand the emotional roller coaster of this process all too well. Feel free to reach out if you would like a sounding board. I know I talk to everyone I can about it.

  4. That was a very raw, and I appreciate you sharing that with us. I have seen several foster Mom’s over the years as many of the kids sharing therapy time with Keira over the years have been brought by foster parents. They are in high demand – its sad that so many kids need a loving home, and people to believe in them. I know it takes a very special person/people/family to willingly accept this challenge – thank you for being one of those people. Any child that gets placed with you will be lucky, as they will have love, support and a place to call home. What a wonderful gift.

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