Her wisps of angel-fine hair haloed her face. Content with her lot, my baby foster sister sighed and sucked on her most prized possession. I reached into the Pack ‘n Play and twisted the pacifier upside down in her mouth. With an impish grin, Shelbea immediately flipped it back with only her tongue (still, to this day, one of her more unique talents) and closed her eyes into sleep.
That was the moment when I first felt something fiercely maternal, though I still wasn’t a teenager. She wasn’t legally a Riddle, but in my heart, Shelbea was mine. I knew that I would do anything for this wild child, that I would move heaven and earth if she needed me to, that I would protect her from all harm at all costs.
Fast forward to November 16, 2007. I had just experienced the worst night of my life, and now, looking at my firstborn, I wondered why I didn’t feel the same way about Jack in that moment as I had about Shelbea. It would take years before I would come to peace with what happened to me, until I would drink in the joy that is Jack without feeling guilty.
Still, when he was about 22 months old, I remember watching Jack play at the park in the fall leaves. He was so thrilled when he would toss a bunch up and the wind would whip them around, his cammo coat and ripped jeans all boy.
I saw him and thought, “There’s my son.” And my heart almost burst.
After we moved to Oregon and I healed, both physically and mentally, Jude and Avinly showed up and I fell hard and fast. I discovered I actually liked being a mother. When the midwives placed each of them in my arms, I looked at them and thought, “That’s my son” and “That’s my daughter.” And my heart almost burst.
I wondered whether my childhood dream of following in my parents’ adoptive footsteps would ever happen. I wondered if there was a child out there who belonged to me, but neither of us knew it yet.
Nick talked about capping our family size, but it didn’t feel right. I had been volunteering/working with people with special needs for years, especially concerning adoption, and I mentioned this to him. Though Nick has long had a heart for orphans and kids, demonstrating that commitment through his own volunteering and financial giving, he was less than enthused.
So I kept volunteering, learning, encouraging others in their own adoption journeys, and praying. I also promised God about a year ago that I wouldn’t even mention adoption to Nick again. “If this isn’t what you want for us, Lord,” I breathed, “I don’t want any part of it. But if adoption is something we should pursue, YOU bring it up to Nick!”
In the meantime, I watched several friends go through their own adoptions. I advocated and fundraised for a 13-year-old orphan code-named Marv. I twice went to a Ukrainian orphanage for boys with disabilities. And I waited.
Last fall, I saw her. I loved her look, because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a beautiful girl with dark hair, dark eyes and an ear-to-ear grin? I made note of her medical issues — none of which I’m super-familiar with. I put an asterisk next to her name in my brain, because, yes, I still edit stuff that’s not on paper.
And I didn’t say a word to Nick.
At New Year’s, I set some goals for myself. In the social justice department, I decided to concentrate the majority of my efforts, prayers and advocacy on Marv. But then I decided to minor in Abigail, too, which I casually mentioned to my husband.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
I started dreaming about Abigail. I reached out for her. I thought about her first thing in the morning and prayed that someone else would go get her, so my poor brain and heart could rest.
In March, I wrote to my friend Kim, who has adopted and is adopting again: “I stupidly got Abigail’s file, and I don’t know why considering Nick still isn’t on board. I wish God would take away the desire to adopt from me, it feels torturous at times.”
Wise sage writes back: “Well, you know it’s for a purpose. Who knows what God will do????”
Three days later, He did something.
It was a Sunday night and the kids were in bed. I was watching a video of Abigail that her agency had sent me when Nick came in. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“The girl I’m focusing on this year after Marv,” I said.
“Oh. So what does she have?”
The same condition as this awesome little girl.
“What’s that? Can it be fixed?”
So I explained. It could mean a wheelchair for life, or it could mean, after years of therapy and surgeries, that the kid can walk with crutches or braces or maybe even without.
“Huh,” he said. Then nothing for several seconds. Then, “So, what would you think about us adopting her?”
And in a split second, I felt it again — that same rush of emotion that Jack gave me at the park, the same thrill of recognition Jude and Avinly gifted when our eyes and souls first connected on their birthdays.
That’s my child. And my heart has been bursting ever since.
We took a few days to pray and think about it (oh fine, I took a few days, because per Nick’s spiritual theory of “Blast ahead until God slams the door on your fingers,” he felt we already had our answer).
The night before our first sweet daughter turned two, we made the commitment to add another into our family.
She isn’t legally a Kupper (yet!), but in my heart, Abigail is ours. I know that I will do anything for this wild child, that I would move heaven and earth if she needed me to, that I will protect her from all harm at all costs, and that Nick feels the same.
Because, as my mom has long said, love is only multiplied, never divided.
Stay tuned for updates on our adoption journey, including an Adoption FAQ! Have a question to add? Send it my way!