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Screwing With Birth Order

I have a lot to say about adoption, birth order, and the beautiful and difficult things going down in our family right now.  I’ll start writing some of it here for other people to see the reality, good real, hard real…real.  Things are going really well, and there are challenges, of course, because families are challenging, always.

After four years of infertility, with my in vitro baby nestled gingerly in my battered womb, I came to a very large Fork in the Road.

I read and prepared and learned and scoured the internet.  I tried to avoid driving because for the first time I noticed how dangerous D.C.’s tangle of roads really was and I’d read about the car fumes being toxic for the unborn.  I made the sandwich maker at Subway heat up my lunchmeat before making my ham sub, to kill the bacteria that could hurt my miracle baby.

I read and I obsessed and read and obsessed, about everything.  I had to make life perfect for my little peanut, because I’d gone to great lengths to bring him into this world and I was hyper aware of the fragility of human life.

At twelve weeks pregnant, I became so overwhelmed with my inability to make perfect decisions for my child and give him the best in utero experience the world has ever seen that I started crying.  I was terrified that I’d damaged him, and once I started crying, I couldn’t stop.  I sobbed and sobbed, and the weight of the last four years of trying everything and the last twelve weeks of vigilance poured out of my mouth and eyes.

I couldn’t stop crying, until I started experiencing contractions.  I realized that the stress of trying to give my baby a perfect ride in my womb was precisely what was hurting him.  I forced myself to start breathing, to calm down, and in that moment, I made a decision.

I would parent this baby with an open hand.

Since that moment on my bathroom floor in Northern Virginia, I practice a simple exercise when I start to worry about my kids.  When I feel my fist clenched, I open my hand, palm up, and say to God, “He’s Yours.”

A few short weeks later when my pregnancy took a difficult turn, I needed that open hand.

I need it now more than ever.

Disrupting Birth Order.  Lots of experts will tell you this is a no-no.  In plenty of situations, they’re probably right.  Most families add on kids in order, from oldest to youngest.  There are enough inherent challenges with the traditional way of building families without screwing with birth order.

But there is nothing traditional about our family, and so yet again, we’ve waded into new territory. 

I like how Andy Stanley describes people deciding to believe in the whole Jesus thing.  He says that we all have questions, but something happens and our faith becomes personal.  We don’t get all of our questions answered, but we carry them with us into faith.  When it becomes personal, our questions shrink.  They’re still there, but our personal experience and understanding of who Jesus is to us outweighs the questions that were holding us back.  He said it better than that, but you get the idea.

It’s the same for adopting out of birth order.  We had questions.  We knew it would be difficult.  We knew what a lot of experts say.  But we love A–, and it’s personal.  Our questions, the difficulties, the experts, they’re all still there.  We didn’t resolve every single concern.  But the concerns shrunk compared to the relationship with A–.  That’s not me saying “Love conquers all.”  Love and a lot of hard work and probably counseling and experts and training and lots of prayer and help conquers some, hopefully most.

Right now, things are hard for our displaced oldest child.  He’s been in our family longer than the other two, but he’s finding himself stuck in the middle.  This summer, when she was visiting, they acted like BFF, and he was excited to have her as a big sister.  But now, the shininess is wearing off, and she’s treating him like a big sister does.  I’m a big sister, and I know what we do.  We’re bossy.  We want things our way.  We’re the oldest, and we naturally assume an authoritative role.

Elliott is struggling.  He’s jealous.  He’s angry.  He’s emotional.  He is also the sweetest, most tender-hearted person I know, and I firmly believe that he’s the right man for this job.  If anyone can navigate this wonky path, it’s my son.

I’ve tried to carve out one-on-one time with him, even if I have to lock his sisters out of his room just to get a little space around him.  Here are some of the conversations we’re having these days.

Elliott is jealous and mad that she’s invited to a church sleepover for third graders.  He’s used to being the oldest and having the big kid experiences first, and this is hard for him.  The other night during prayer at bedtime, he prayed that she wouldn’t be able to go.  Nice prayer block, buddy.

I told him that he’s the only one in the family who has two jobs.  Evie is a little sister, and A– is an older sister, but he has two jobs now, big brother AND little brother.  I told him that it’s hard taking on a new job, but I believe in him and know he will get the hang of it.

He confided in me tearfully that he wants her to go away.  He wants to be the oldest again.  He said she was nice to him this summer, but now she’s mean.  Hard words to hear, but we had a great conversation.  I shared with him that this is hard for me, too.  It’s hard figuring out how to parent a nine-year-old who is new to our boundaries, expectations, and the way we do things as a family.  I told him that his daddy and I believe that God wants us to do hard things, not to stick to easy stuff, but to do hard things and trust Him for the strength.  And every day I ask God to help me.  I invited Elliott to do the same thing.  We got out his new NIrV Adventure Bible, the perfect translation for his six-year-old reading level, and he read several verses to me, and I prayed over him.  Since then, I see him every day, grabbing his Bible and sounding out the words.

As he’s been tempted to follow big sis into disobedience at home, I’ve reminded him that he is really good at knowing right from wrong.  He is filled with integrity and he makes good choices.  He’s been in this family the longest, and I trust him.  He needs to model good choices to her, because she’s still learning.

He told me that he’s trying not to be angry but it spills out and he can’t help it.  I affirmed his feelings, that I get why he’s mad and frustrated.  I told him he’s extraordinary.  I love how he cares about other people.  He prays for his friends and sisters.  He loves Jesus and has a hunger to learn more about the Bible.  Draw near to Him.  Draw near, sweet boy.

I know we made the right decision to adopt an older child, to disrupt birth order, and I’m seeing beauty rise up out of the ashes.  All three of my kids are being refined.  Yucky stuff is sloughing off.  Even during this painful spiritual exfoliation, I see moments to treasure.  Dance parties in the kitchen, giggling tickle fights, the way they cuddle together on the couch.

When Elliott was growing in my belly, God taught me to parent open-handed.  These days, I need that lesson more than ever.  God, he’s Yours.  All my kids are Yours.  They’re Yours.  Each one came to me through difficult, unique circumstances, and He is fashioning a family out of our brokenness.  Beauty from ashes.  This is really hard.  This is only one tiny aspect of our hard.  But, despite the hard, or maybe because of it, I feel beautiful.


image from PearlPearDesigns at

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