This business of planting trees has been a long time in the making.
For those of you who have been following the blog of our journey to make Gabriel our son, I feel it is time to take a few narrative steps back and tell you a larger story. In this story, the journey to get Gabriel is a subplot—and a very significant one at that—but it is one strand of a larger story.
Michael and I have always wanted to be parents. Even before we were husband and wife, we longed to be a father and a mother. As single people we each had significant children in our lives; children of our friends; children that felt like our own. During our engagement, we talked often about having children, both adoptively and biologically. So, it wasn’t a big surprise that in August of 2011, a year and a month into our marriage, we announced we were pregnant.
The day after the positive pregnancy test, we were on the doorstep of one set of parents, on the phone with the other. We made our news loud, on Facebook, at church, in our conversations and prayers. Within the week, we were researching the type of birth we wanted to have, whether or not to hire a doula; watching baby movies. So, when we turned up at the hospital for the eight week ultrasound, the thought that there wouldn’t be good news wasn’t even on our radar screen.
But sitting there hearing the words “I’m not getting a heartbeat,” a month’s worth of hopes and dreams crumbled at our feet. The doctor was kind. Sadly, this kind of thing was all too common. It was a heartbreak, but many women go on to have healthy pregnancies. You can try again in a couple of months.
So we did. In March of 2012, again, a positive pregnancy test. Rejoicing more cautiously, we decided to keep the news a little more private until we knew more. Five days later, I woke up to and knew something was wrong. While the progression of the pregnancy had halted much sooner than the first, the pain of this second loss was more psychological than physical. What’s wrong with me? Two miscarriages? This can’t be normal.
This time, I began doing research. Maybe there was something wrong with me. A hormonal imbalance, perhaps? Maybe it was something I was eating . . . or not eating. I found myself a natural doctor, and the tests began.
Yes, there were some hormonal irregularities. I began taking progesterone. Yes, I could probably improve my diet. So, I did. Yes, there were supplements I could take. I did that too.
Perhaps we had found a solution.
In July of 2012, another positive pregnancy test. I went to get bloodwork done. After the first test, my levels were showing strong. I was encouraged. Two days later, I got a call from the doctor’s office. I’m sorry, you’re levels are dropping. The pregnancy wasn’t sustainable.
I felt like we had crossed the line from unfortunate to downright reproductively hopeless.
That’s when our prayers shifted. Maybe biological parenting wasn’t on the table for us, at least not now. But we so desperately wanted to be parents, and adoption had been something we knew we wanted to do at some point. Was this God’s way of saying now instead of later?
That’s where Gabriel comes into the story.
We prayed and researched and prayed some more. We picked the Democratic Republic of Congo. We filled out paperwork. We went under social worker scrutiny. We paid several thousand dollars. And in March of 2013, we saw Gabriel Bilo’s little face for the first time. Eighteen months of beautiful boy, staring back at us from the computer screen. He was ours in spirit. And he would be ours in practice in just a few short months.
But of course that was before everything happened. That was before the U.S. Embassy decided to tack on another 6 months to the process. That was before the Congolese immigration office decided to stop issuing exit letters. That was before the Congolese government decided to rewrite the laws and make adoptive families go through the process all over again. That was 16 months ago.
Sixteen months of sending bags of shoes and trucks. Sixteen months of pictures with no words. Sixteen months of silence. Sixteen months of prayers. Fifteen months of hope deferred. Wasn’t adoption supposed to be the easier route to parenthood?
In December of last year, we felt our hope growing thin. We had tried to become parents the good old fashioned way. And then we had tried to have children the Africa way. Neither seemed to be working out. We knew we had to hold on to hope for our son, but it didn’t seem like he was going to be coming home any time soon. How were we to wait in this longing? What were we to do with these desires that just seemed to keep being put off? God, what are You saying to us?
And then a question from a husband on a chilly drive to pick up a Christmas tree? What if we tried to get pregnant again?
We had learned the previous year that I may have some moderate fertility issues that were going to require a surgical procedure in order to clear the way for pregnancy to occur. Not insurmountable, but not cheap either. Let’s wait until the New Year, we had told ourselves. Insurance will cover the surgery then. To be honest, I didn’t really want to get the surgery, but I knew I wanted to try again at some point to have children biologically. We were just going to wait until the time was right.
But on December 1, the time just seemed right again. I felt fear, deep fear. I didn’t want to lose another baby, and that had been my only paradigm for pregnancy. But I knew fear wasn’t a good enough reason to say no. God was leading my husband to trust Him in this, and I knew He was saying the same thing to me.
On January 5, the deep snow began to fall on Indiana and I woke up knowing that I was pregnant. Again.
I was terrified.
I told my husband and not another soul. In the following mornings, I would cry out to God for mercy, and then try not to think about it the rest of the day. I didn’t even take a pregnancy test for about two weeks. I keep expecting to wake up to bad news, but strangely none came.
When I worked up the courage to call the doctor to set up an appointment, I knew I would have to go in early for the cursory tests. I held my breath until the phone rang. “Your levels are so high, we might be looking at multiples,” the doctor joked. I breathed a sigh of relief. But it was still 10 days until my eight week ultrasound, so I didn’t breathe too deeply.
A day before the ultrasound, I had convinced myself that we would see the worst again. I braced myself for an encounter with an apologetic technician and put on a brave face. But at 8:15 on January 29th, the sound of those 162 beats per minute was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. A baby! The smallest little baby was alive and beating inside of me! Not silent. Alive!
I knew we weren’t out of the woods yet; the doctor even said so. But the signs were pointing in a positive direction.
The past year was one of the most terrifying of my life. I had been so afraid of something going wrong that I’ve probably earned the equivalent of a doctorate in Pregnancy Do’s and Don’t’s. But through it all, God has been nudging me to trust Him, to believe that He delights to give His children good gifts, to choose faith instead of fear.
Last year, as we were waiting as we always are for our Gabriel, I took a Lingala class. Lingala is the primary language spoken in the Congo. I learned a phrase I will never forget: Kobanga te. Fear not. That is a phrase I have clung to, albeit sometimes failingly, during this pregnancy. It is a phrase I have clung to as we continue to receive bad news about the situation in the Congo and the likelihood of receiving our son into our home.
It is a reminder to me that the bigger story I am really trying to tell isn’t ultimately about Michael’s and my desire to become parents, although that desire has not waivered. It is really a story about the God who calls us to walk with Him through the shadows and the disappointments, still clinging to hope. It’s a story about a God who doesn’t forsake the brokenhearted and who is intent about setting the fatherless in families. And it’s a story about a God who delights to give His children grace in the midst of hardship.
Three days ago, on September 13th at 2:54 in the morning, we met our daughter Caroline. Caroline means “song of happiness.” And happiness—or gladness—as it turns out is closely tied to planting trees.
Isaiah 61:3 says,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
Our story isn’t over yet. We still have miles to go before we can bring our Gabriel home. But in the meantime, there is hope. There is life. There are fresh shoots coming out of the ground. There are others that still lie dormant, waiting for the appointed time to spring forth.
And there is a little girl named Caroline who is sleeping in my arms–a dream once-deferred that I am now looking on, holding, nursing in the land of the living.