… but it was definitely worth it.
I hear it all the time. Especially when being a parent is concerned. The pregnancy was a never relenting series of suffer. The delivery was pure horror. The baby cried his lungs out all day and all night. You were jealous of zombies looking better than you did. The post partum depression was black as the backside of the moon. The childrens’ tantrums almost caused you to pack your bags and leave for good.
But it was all worth it. Definitely.
I’m not so sure.
Just to set things straight: I love my kids. I adore my kids. They are the most amazing human beings I ever got to know. My kids are better, smarter, funnier and cuter than anyone else’s kids. Obviously.
But when I heard about the doubt of a friend about having a second child, I understood. They would adopt a second child after having adopted a first one. Our little girl is adopted as well, while her big brother is – I hate this term – biologically ours.
The adoption process was hard. The waiting and the uncertainty were torture. It were the longest four years of my life. The last year of it, especially the last seven months between the first time we saw her picture and the day we could actually travel to Ethiopia to pick her up, our lives were put on hold. At my fulltime job I only managed to be productive by increasing my workload. Not so healthy. I only remember a haze and carrying my cellphone everywhere, just in case a call would come in with some news.
I hated the weekends.
A weekend would mean no prospect of good news. A weekend would mean another week went by without any hope. Holidays were even worse.
In the end, she came home. Finally. Our dream. Our daughter. Our beautiful, powerful princess. I was longing to say to everyone: it was worth it. The waiting, the sorrow, the agony, it was going to be all worth it.
But it wasn’t. Not during that first year, it wasn’t. I felt like I had driven my family into a scale nine earthquake. Somehow we survived the screaming, the biting, the grief and the anger of our little one. Somehow I learned I wasn’t supposed to handle it perfectly. Nobody could have. I only needed to survive. I only needed to keep my family from tumbling down the abyss the quake had pulled. I longed to return to the waiting phase I had dreaded so much, being unknowing and naive.
My number one emotion during that first year was guilt. Total impotence, disappointment and a whole lot of distress as well, but mostly guilt.
I felt guilty towards my new daughter, towards her birth parents, towards other couples still longing for their child. But the guilt I want to mention today, is the one towards my son.
He has been in a state of shock, that first year. In the first five years of his life, not even once did he hear me yell or see me cry. After his sister’s arrival, he watched his eternally patient mother transform into one that could burst at any time. In frustration-fed tears or anger. He was afraid and cried when he witnessed his mommy’s breakdowns. I’m not proud of how I handled myself. You don’t have to judge me for it. The guilt that is eating me is more than enough.
Apart from the distress she was causing to me, his mother, it was really hard for him to be her big brother. She was tremendously jealous of him. She seemed to think I have a mommy now, and she is MINE. We were told to avoid holding back when she would seek contact, because our bonding would be so fragile. Of course, we thought. Why on earth would we refuse contact? We understood. Of course we did. We were prepared. We had been piling up love and warmth for her for years.
But then she started hitting and kicking her big brother to chase him away from my lap. If I would hug him without including her, she would cry and scream so loud and distressed as if I were pulling out her nails one by one. If I would include her in the same hug, she would push her brother out of the way. Now enlighten me, how on earth could I not refuse my daughter the contact she demanded, without hurting my son? We tried to divide our attention, of course. We wanted to give her everything she needed to be able to adjust, to grief what she had lost, to attach to us. But at the same time, we couldn’t neglect her big brother. So in the end, we seemed to delicately measure our affection. A spoon for him, a spoon for her.
But still, it didn’t work out. Hugs and kisses are just bittersweet when your sister is rebelling against them. More and more, he started to take some distance. From her, from me. In a way, he understood. But he was hurt all the same. It was heartbreaking to see him grow up that fast in those first months. It was even worse seeing him develop really bad behaviour after that. Drawing negative attention, it was called. Anger outbursts, hitting me, hitting his sister. We took him for counselling, because we couldn’t handle him anymore.
There was a point, at about ten months after our daughter’s arrival, that I couldn’t even decide which one of my children was most unbearable.
Today, that’s all behind us. The hurt is still there. The guilt as well. But we’ve levelled out. Our boy has grown some thick skin, which will probably even be a benefit in the big bad world. They’ve developed a brother-sister-bond I wouldn’t have considered even remotely possible a year ago. When one of them is not around, they miss each other like crazy, although they won’t easily admit to it. I love my daughter infinitymuch for who she is and what she has taught us as a family.
Of course, we still have quite some issues. The children still fight. I still get fed up with all the drama from time to time. But we’re not on the verge of the abyss anymore. We’re a functional, semi-normal family now.
Now, was it all worth it?
She was definitely worth my personal struggle. I can’t and won’t imagine not having her around. She is my darling daughter who is always the first to reach me when school is out, running over the other children. I cherish her when she sneaks into my bed every morning. I even appreciate her fire, which spiced up our daily family life. It is all part of who she is. Our purring panther.
But I can’t state it was all worth it. I need to acknowledge the emotional scars the first years have left on our son. I don’t want to overly dramatize, but he has gone through a rough time, unprepared and unwilling. Adopting our little girl was our decision, not his. It shouldn’t have been his battle.
So, I refuse to answer the cliché question.
‘Was it all worth it?’ sounds a bit too much like ‘Which one do you love most?’
I’m just grateful I don’t need to make that choice.