When I was two weeks old, my parents got a call to say they could come pick me up. (Actually, they were told they could come pick me out, but my dad insisted the social worker pick me out himself, and that would be God’s choice for their daughter. “We’re not buying a cow here!” he said indignantly. I recently found out that I came with a receipt. $8!—the cost of the administrative fees for my adoption.)
So I was brought home, and raised in a humble, Cold War era bungalow on Kingsford Avenue, in the Super Mennonite part of Winnipeg. That’s right, we were Super Mennonites, which meant we ate Mennonite meat buns, borscht, and zwieback. My parents spoke German (high and low), listened to German hymns on the radio, and did not disco dance—not even once.
My dad would sometimes tell me and my younger brother, Dan (he “cost” $15), about his upbringing in Europe during World War II.
My dad was born in Ukraine during Stalin’s Great Purge. His grandfather was tortured and killed by Stalin’s troops, and two of his sisters—including his twin, Anna—died of starvation. The family fled when my dad was six, joining the retreating German army and fleeing to their ethnic Germany, away from the land Catherine the Great had given the Mennonites almost 200 years beforehand. There was so much pain, loss, and trauma in that flight from my dad’s homeland.
When he was ten, my dad joined his parents and his older sisters and crossed the Atlantic Ocean for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Canada opened its doors to my family again. (My mom’s Mennonite family had come during the first wave of immigration, in the late 1800s, to be homesteading pioneers on the prairies.)
The family of seven lived for a year in a chicken coop with no insulation. I grew up on the next street over. My dad was supposed to be in Grade Five but was placed in Grade One because he did not know English. At first, kids threw rocks at him and called him a Nazi.
My dad would grow up to become a bookseller, someone with a deep passion for story and truth. The greatest thing in the world for him was to place the right story—whether it was in a novel or a non-fiction book—in the right hands at the right time. The refugee found refuge in stories. The immigrant settled in with a colony of people—his customers—who loved and revered story like he did. My dad found a haven in the bookstore from the terrible things of his wartime childhood. (In the same mall as my dad’s bookstore, I would find out years later, there was also a grocery store where Ted—my biological father—would routinely shop. Did we ever pass each other as strangers, never suspecting we were related by blood as father and daughter?)
Every family has tangles and cracks, mess and sorrow. My biological family did, and so did my adoptive one. And even though I love my family dearly and cherish our lives together, something in me broke the day I was relinquished by my first mother. Yes, infants do grieve. Studies show that when the tiniest of babies experiences traumatic loss, the way they deal with that loss often expresses itself in the form of grief. Some babies scream and scream; others, like myself, hardly cry at all, mourning on the inside.
Author Elisa Morgan says that adoption, no matter how awful a situation someone is being adopted out of, and how loving and wonderful a situation they are being adopted into, always includes “a catastrophic loss.” On some level, the adoptee always pines over the loss of their original family. The need to be adopted comes out of a broken situation; by definition, it is always Plan B (or C, D, or E . . . ).
Good thing our Creator God’s specialty is redemption. When things on this earth break—and they are always breaking—He rolls up his sleeves and gets to the work of redeeming, repairing, and restoring. He surveys the mess, the wreckage, and shards of brokenness and yet assures us, “I am making all things new” (revelation 21:5 esv).