When I was growing up, all I ever wanted to be was a mother.
Not a veterinarian.
Not an astronaut.
Not a writer.
I wanted to be a mother.
That never changed. I grew up and met the most wonderful, giving man. We fell in love, got married, and waited to become parents.
It didn't happen.
As we realized we were dealing with infertility, I felt so helpless. I couldn’t understand why two people who were so ready and eager to welcome a child couldn’t become parents. Yet there we were, perfectly happy in our marriage, but experiencing the sadness and disappointment that comes with not being able to bear children.
Being open to God’s plan seems easy until you realize it doesn’t match yours.
From the beginning, we trusted in Him completely. We never considered IVF. After all, I thought, if He could place a child in the womb of a virgin in Nazareth, He could certainly send us a child, no matter what miracle was needed.
Then our miracle came. It wasn’t a flash of light or a vision. It was more of a gentle, nudging whisper. It was one small sign after another. Tiny points of light popped up through the darkness, growing brighter as they lit the road to our becoming parents.
Even before marriage John and I had spoken about adoption casually as a “maybe someday” sort of thing. But in our fourth year of marriage we noticed that adoption just kept coming up. As we started paying more attention, it seemed to be everywhere.
One day I came across the question, “Do you want to be pregnant or do you want to be a mother?”
The answer was obvious.
I kept thinking of that line in Sound of Music
when Julie Andrews says, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window
We climbed through that open window, and a new journey began. We found ourselves exploring questions about birth histories, medical needs, orphanage behavior, grieving and attachment, international travel, and piles and piles of paperwork. A little more than a year later we flew to China to meet our first son.
As I share this during National Infertility Awareness Week
, I know our story is nothing unusual. But as I look back on those days of disappointment today, I see them in a much different light.
our infertility seemed like such a heavy burden.
Today, I see infertility as a blessing. Having children by birth was just another door that God gently closed. He asked us to trust, hope, and pray. As we waited, I never imagined that His plan would be so magnificent—so perfect for John and me. Our Creator knew us far better than we knew ourselves.
Last night after dinner our 3-year-old was sitting at the table, his bare feet draped over the arm of the chair. He grinned as he pointed to each of us and said our names, his big brother first “…and Mama and Baba and me! My family!”
Yes, little one. We are your family. Your father and I have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams. And we are so tremendously grateful for the journey that brought us to your brother and to you.
April 24, 2013 09:39
By Rita Buettner
Three years ago today Jimmy and Lisa Murphy met their son, Daniel, in China. Just months after they adopted him, they took him to the hospital for open-heart surgery. Sadly, his body never recovered from the surgery, and he passed away at only 2 ½ years old.
Lisa shares the family’s story in her book, With an Open Heart, which I read and wrote about last fall.
I asked her whether she would be willing to discuss her family’s story further with me, talking about her Catholic faith, what led the Delray Beach, Fla., couple to adopt three children from China—their daughter, Madi, is 7, and their son, Charlie, is 3—and life after losing Daniel.
Was it difficult for you to decide to adopt?
It’s fear that holds most of us back as humans, isn’t it? When I first spoke with another adoptive mom about international adoption, I was so nervous about the idea of traveling to another country for a child. But I believe that’s what God does—He stretches us beyond our comfort zone, and unless we’re willing to be stretched, we might miss out on His greatest rewards. Each of our three adoption journeys has been so special in a different way, and each a totally unique blessing.
You and your husband, Jimmy, are converts to Catholicism. Can you tell me a little about your journey to the Catholic Church?
Jimmy and I were both baptized as protestant Christians, but neither of us had a particularly religious upbringing, nor did our families attend church services on a regular basis. Our conversion happened after a friend of ours lost her young son to leukemia in 2004—I talk about it in the book’s introduction. Jimmy and I attended her son’s funeral, and I was in sheer awe of her faith. Every word that she said, as she held up the devastated crowd, made me crave that very faith…and I wanted it without delay. Her loss, and witnessing her faith, sent us out on a mission to find a church home. After a thorough search and some signs from the Holy Spirit, we went through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) process and joined St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, which has truly been a Godsend for our family.
Losing a child is almost unimaginable. How did you and your family manage to pull through the initial loss?
Grief is such a personal process. It definitely took time for all of us to heal. Our faith is mostly what pulled us through, because our steadfast belief in God’s plan gave us comfort when losing Daniel didn’t seem to make sense otherwise. We were amazed by Madi’s ability to heal. I think children are so close to God. She loves that we have our own special angel, and she still speaks about him often. I love when I overhear her telling Charlie all about Daniel and explaining who and where he is.
Also, it takes a village, as they say! We were so loved and carried through by family, friends, neighbors, and our faith community. We received countless emails and messages from people we didn’t even know lifting up our family in their prayers, and we could truly feel that love, even across the miles. Writing With an Open Heart was a huge part of the grieving process for me personally.
What can someone say to a parent who has lost a child?
One of the most helpful things for me was talking about our son. I realized that many people are so fearful, as if when they said Daniel’s name, it was going to remind me that I lost him. I used to be one of those fearful people myself, so I totally understand it. And maybe there are people who just can’t deal with loss on an emotional level. But I felt that the more I could talk about Daniel, the better. I felt that if I talked about our son—if I kept him on my mind all the time, it kept a piece of him with me.
In a weird way, even the suffering and the pain—it was almost like I had a will to keep that pain close, because it meant keeping Daniel close in my heart, and it kept Jesus close to me through my suffering. And I was somehow afraid that if I relinquished that pain, I was allowing a piece of him to slip away from me.
When did you begin writing your book?
I started writing With an Open Heart about one month after Daniel’s death. And I knew it was driven by the Holy Spirit by the way it unfolded. I met with our church moms group a few weeks after Daniel’s funeral, and I said to two of them, “I’m going to write a book about Daniel.” I truly felt as if I’d already written half of a book through our family blog. If you’d ask me now, it’s difficult to recall much of the medical terminology and the order of events as they happened in the hospital, so I knew that I truly needed to write our story exactly when I did…when my memories—and my emotions—were fresh. And I knew that I needed to document each and every moment that I could remember about our precious son. It was important for our family, and it was important for Madi and Charlie’s sake.
How emotional was it for you to write about your experience?
It was incredibly emotional for me. I feel so blessed that the Holy Spirit prompted me write the book when I did, because it was such a crucial piece of my grieving process. After Madi went back to school in August, I sat at my computer each day bawling my eyes out and typing. I spent that whole fall season reliving our experience through my keyboard. And day by day, month by month, I built the book. The sadness eventually turned into a determination to keep Daniel alive by sharing his story.
Do people understand why you wrote the book and are trying to spread the word about Daniel’s story?
I hope so! I am sure there are people who are just too uncomfortable to read a story about the death of a child, and I feel sad that there are people who might be afraid to read it. But I don’t see Daniel’s story as a depressing one. After all, he’s in the Kingdom of Heaven right now! I hope that people will see beyond the sadness, because that is where hope and faith are truly defined—during the struggles and the times that God stretches us.
Many of us are quick to be thankful for God’s miracles when things go in our favor, but what about when things go wrong? Doesn’t glory to God need to be there, too? Maybe even more so! How do I explain to people that I feel incredibly blessed by the loss of my son? It seems so wrong and unfathomable. But I do feel blessed by our loss, because we were given the opportunity to have Daniel in our lives and to love him before he went to Heaven. I feel so blessed that God chose me to be his mother. And I truly believe the book has an inspirational message. It’s about listening to the Holy Spirit, and embracing the goodness of God, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
One of the reasons I found so much hope and joy in your book was because of the comfort you found in your faith.
What else do we have if we don’t have our faith, right? I found it troubling that last month, when I was asked to speak at an event, the event planner said, “Can you tone down the God thing?” I was shocked! Uh…no…I can’t tone down the ‘God thing,’ but now I’ll be sure to turn it up, okay?
All kidding aside, I do recognize that there are some people who are, sadly, just turned off. Perhaps those people are afraid—or maybe they’re blind to it and the light just hasn’t turned on for them. But that “God thing” is what made us say “yes” to bring Daniel home and into our family. That “God thing” is the very essence of our story and what made our lives immeasurably richer.
Are you surprised by how people are responding to the book?
I am humbled by some of the responses I’ve received. I love that each person who reads it seems to have a different takeaway, and I’m thankful for that. Daniel’s life seems to touch each reader in a different way. The book has received many beautiful heartfelt reviews. Some have said, “I never got to meet Daniel, and I feel like I know him now.” One friend said, “I want to be closer to God after reading your book,” and she wanted to adopt another child. To receive feedback like that is meaningful beyond words. Some have expressed that they’ve received an education about adoption, and there are others who truly felt like they’d traveled to China with us.
To know that Daniel is still living and giving through With an Open Heart means the world to Jimmy and me. Yes, you will likely cry reading our family’s story, but I promise that you’re also going to smile and laugh at times, too. And it definitely delivers an inspirational ending.
There is a rainbow after the storm.
Please leave a comment below and include your email address or write to email@example.com to enter to win a copy of With an Open Heart.
January 24, 2013 12:00
By Rita Buettner
A few months ago I received a message from a mother who had come across my blog. Lisa Murphy told me she was writing a book about her son Daniel, who had passed away after she and her husband adopted him from China.
I was so grateful that Lisa had reached out to me, and I was in awe of the strength she found to share her story. Losing a child is every parent’s greatest fear. I thought of the Murphys’ hopes and dreams and wait to meet their son—only to see him go to heaven four months later. I didn’t know how they could possibly bear it.
When Lisa’s book landed in my mailbox last week, I saw the smiling faces of mother and son on the cover. And I knew I had to start reading the book, With an Open Heart: A True Story of Faith, Love, and Courage, that night.
I tried to brace myself for an emotional read, but immediately I got pulled into the story of this Catholic family in Florida.
I felt their nervous excitement as they decided to adopt a younger sibling for their daughter, Madi. I recognized their joyful surprise at seeing their child’s picture for the first time.
And I thoroughly enjoyed their trip to China, where I even knew one of the characters, Jordon, a Christian shopkeeper in Guangzhou with a smile for everyone. They traveled to China to adopt Daniel just a few months after our trip to adopt our first son, so I felt a real connection to them.
As I read, I knew the Murphys’ days with Daniel were limited, and I wanted to try not to get too attached to him. But I couldn’t. Lisa manages to capture her son’s vibrant personality and loving charm in such a lively way that I found myself smiling at his antics and marveling at the close relationship he forged with his big sister.
Then tragedy struck. Daniel came through heart surgery with a great prognosis, only to start losing ground. I shed many tears as I read of Lisa and Jimmy’s agonizing last days with Daniel.
As I watched them come to grips with the fact that they had to say goodbye to their son, I also admired them for relying on their Catholic faith to carry them through the ordeal.
When I closed the book, I was deeply sad for Daniel’s parents, but I was also filled with hope. Because—as hard as this may be to believe—the book is overflowing with joy.
It would be so easy to doubt and question and wonder what could have been, but that is not Lisa and Jimmy’s approach. Lisa conveys tremendous gratitude that Daniel was a part of their family, even for such a short time. The evidence of their deep trust in God, which is woven beautifully through the book, is truly inspiring.
And, even though I speak of the Murphys' loss of their son, that’s not an accurate portrayal of this family's story. As Lisa writes, it is clear that Daniel is still very much a part of their lives. They feel his presence in many ways, especially when Lisa and Jimmy sense that God is leading them back to China to adopt their third child, Charlie.
With an Open Heart is a book of sorrow and joy. The journey this family embarks on requires more of them than any family believes it could bear. And yet they share their story in hopes it will help others.
Lisa closes the book with these words:
“We hope that our family’s story has inspired you to hug your children a little tighter each day, take more time to smell the roses, and embrace each moment a whole lot more. It’s important to remember that each of us, while here on Earth, has a life that is truly precious and packed full of unknowns.
“It is also our sincere hope that you will keep your heart open—so that you may hear when the Holy Spirit whispers to you. Whenever you think of our Daniel, we hope you will be inspired to live, listen, and leap with an open heart.”
I have invited Lisa to answer a few questions for a future blog. If you have any questions you would like to ask, please feel free to leave them below as a comment or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 19, 2012 06:44
By Rita Buettner
We did it.
We had promised the boys a trip to the Strasburg Railroad once our jar was full of noodles.
And last week it became clear that—as long as the boys continued to demonstrate moments of helpful, polite, kind, and considerate behavior—we were going to reach the top of the jar. And Leo insisted that we get those noodles up to the very tippy top.
We’ve celebrated a lot of good behavior as we’ve gone through rigatoni, farfalle, rotini, and whatever other noodles we could find in the cupboard.
When Daniel tried to say grace with us, he got a noodle.
When Leo used words to show his anger rather than hitting, he got three noodles.
When the boys worked together to help clean the living room one night, they each collected a handful.
And you can bet that when Daniel sat quietly while getting his blood drawn at the doctor’s office, he got a few, too.
I can hardly believe we’ve managed to fill what seemed like an enormous jar—and without resorting to manicotti or lasagna. But we have. So we decided to use a planned day off of work yesterday to head up to Strasburg with two excited boys.
The weather was perfect.
That part of Pennsylvania is always lovely—but especially as the corn is starting to grow. Of course, our boys were more focused on the beauty of the vehicles.
They had been looking forward to that train ride for weeks.
We watched the steam engine pull in, bell ringing, steam streaming from its funnel, and enormous wheels rolling steadily over the rails.
Then, from inside the train, we spotted cows and horses and train cars and the makings of a corn maze.
We even saw a full-sized, steaming Thomas the Tank Engine, visiting for the Day out with Thomas event, which we managed to miss by coming in ahead of time. That was a bonus. We weren’t sorry to miss the crowds, and we got to see Thomas without actually having to pay a premium price for those tickets. The boys were quite content.
I don’t remember exactly when we started the noodle jar—maybe about six weeks ago—but noodles have quickly become a family currency. It has been fun to hear, “Mama, you should get a noodle for that.” Mostly, though, the noodles have been rewards for the boys. There’s something innately fun about giving someone a noodle or—even better—letting that someone drop it into the jar himself. And I do feel it has helped us focus on the positive achievements and contributions our sons are making.
On the way home from our fantastic adventure, I asked the boys whether earning noodles to make a trip to Strasburg had been worth it.
“Yes,” Leo said. But he had a bigger question. “Mama, can we eat the noodles for dinner tonight?”
That was an easy yes—though we barely made a dent in them. There are quite a few noodles in the jar.
Over dinner we discussed whether we should start earning noodles for another family treat. At first Leo suggested going to Washington, D.C., but then he decided he didn’t want to fill a jar with noodles again. That’s fine with me. Noodles are just something we always have on hand. They’re inexpensive and they’re edible. But I can be open-minded. Maybe there’s a better idea.
“What else could we use?” I asked, thinking how wonderful this was that Leo was so invested that he wanted to help design the next version of the noodle jar.
“Milk!” said Leo. As we started considering how that would—or wouldn’t—work, he changed his mind. His eyes lit up with a better idea.
“We can use pizza!” he said. Then he started laughing.
The pizza jar? I’m not sure how that would work. Guess I’ll have to use my noodle.
June 15, 2012 12:36
By Rita Buettner
What can I tell you about Teresa? She’s 5 years old and was born in China on Christmas Day. She loves princesses, dance class, school, and playing dress-up with her sisters. She has a winning smile and a magical personality.
She also has a complex heart condition. When her parents, Ann and Ed Bartlinski, adopted her in July 2010, they knew she would need a heart transplant. What they didn’t realize was that her lungs had been so damaged due to her heart condition that Teresa wouldn’t be eligible for a heart transplant unless her lungs were stronger.
Teresa’s parents sought second and third and fourth opinions, praying each time that the next doctor would have a different answer. Instead, they were told to take her home and let her enjoy life.
So they turned to prayer—asking for a miracle, and asking Blessed Pope John Paul II for his intercession. Through the Internet, thousands of people from around the world have started praying for Teresa. Ann posts updates to a “Pray for Teresa B” page on Facebook and adds to her family blog. When Teresa started asking to “marry Jesus” through the Eucharist, her parents received permission for her to make her First Communion early. She was absolutely aglow after receiving Jesus for the first time.
Even before the Bartlinskis first saw Teresa’s photo and started the process of adopting her, people were advocating online for her adoption and praying for her to find a family. And she did find a family—a beautiful family with a mother, a father, three brothers, and five sisters—four of whom were also adopted from China. And she slipped right into her family as if she had always been their daughter and sister.
John and I are among many who have been praying for Teresa since before she came home. Our parish—and the Bartlinskis’—is St. Mark’s in Catonsville, where Teresa’s name—first in Chinese and now in English—has been read in the Prayer of the Faithful for more than two years.
During those two years, the Bartlinskis have received some good news. Teresa’s lungs have responded to treatment, and Ann and Ed now have some hope that she might be able to receive a heart transplant. The fact that those conversations are happening at all is a miracle in and of itself—and not one to be taken lightly. This week, however, we are storming Heaven with renewed purpose.
On Friday Teresa will go under anesthesia for an MRI and a heart catheterization—and her parents will find out whether she will be listed for a heart transplant. It’s a critical time for Teresa—and for her family, who love her so dearly. And so, with Ann’s gratitude in advance, I invite you to pray for her sweet girl, so full of joy, so unaware that she is sick, and so in need of a miracle.
Prayer can move mountains.
Prayer can give a family strength and courage for the journey ahead.
And prayer can give a beautiful little girl a chance at living a full life.
May 30, 2012 09:48
By Rita Buettner
A few weeks ago Catholic Charities asked us to make an appearance at an information session for people considering adoption. At one point, one of the men in the audience asked whether adopting was easier the second time around.
I sort of shrugged and said that all we had skipped was having a second health inspection of our house.
Then John spoke up.
“It’s not the adopting that’s hard,” he said. “It’s the parenting.”
Ah, how true that is. And we are certainly trying hard to get it right.
Before we brought Leo home from China, we had so much time on our hands that we enrolled in a parenting class. It was helpful, but it was sort of like sitting in a driver’s ed class when you’ve never ridden inside a car. It all seemed fairly easy in theory.
Then all of a sudden we found that we were parents of two of the most magnificent children in the world. We are so, so, so blessed to be on this journey with them, and we thank God for the honor and joy of being their parents every day. But—here’s the shocker—it is not always easy.
Some days after we put the children to bed, I remember the parenting instructor telling us that in parenting you must praise seven times for every one criticism. Then I think of all the ways I’ve corrected the boys throughout the day.
"Don’t poke your fork in your eye."
"Don’t run ahead of Mama to get to the car."
"Absolutely no Irish dancing on the stairs."
"Don’t dive headfirst off the couch!"
And that’s just a five-minute slice of the day.
So, after hearing an idea from another mother, I decided we would try something positive. We would find a jar and fill it with uncooked noodles. The boys can earn noodles for anything—speaking kindly, sharing nicely, helping clean up their toys, watering the plants, saying grace beautifully, and any number of other kind, thoughtful gestures. Our goal? When the noodles reach the top of the jar, we will take a family trip to Strasburg, Pa., to ride the train.
The boys are totally on board. Even Daniel, who has never been there, talks about Strasburg, points to himself and says, “Me, me, me.”
I’m not sure it’s a great parenting strategy. Maybe we should have charts with specific goals for the boys to accomplish and stickers. But what I like about the noodle jar is that we are Team Buettner. It discourages the “Naah, naah” taunting, which seems to arise at an early age.
What I am enjoying most about the noodle jar is that it makes me more aware of the beautiful moments, the small kindnesses the boys show each other. I don’t know whether those moments are happening more frequently or whether I am just noticing them more because there are noodles on the line—and because Leo points them out to me if I miss them. But I do like that the boys feel they are getting recognition for their efforts.
Now, it’s an enormous jar. It formerly held 645 animal crackers, most of which the boys ate at my parents’ house. Even with all the noodles Leo and Daniel have been earning, Strasburg seems about as likely to happen as our next trip to China. So to keep them from getting discouraged, we promised treats as we reached lines on the jar.
Tonight to celebrate hitting the first line, we went out for frozen yogurt.
It was a hit—especially when a policeman spotted Leo and Daniel through the shop window and came in to chat and shake their hands.
Can Strasburg top that? We’ll just have to wait and see.
We still have a lot of noodles to earn before we get to go.
May 22, 2012 10:01
By Rita Buettner
Before we went to the zoo this weekend, I asked our boys which animals they were excited to see. I thought they might talk about lions and giraffes, elephants and bears, maybe even a crocodile.
“A turtle,” Leo said. Daniel—who likes birds—asked to see a duck and a goose. Somewhere during that conversation, I must also have mentioned that the zoo had a train. When one of the staff asked Leo what he had come to see when we were walking in, he was ready. “The train,” he said.
So, after impatiently stopping to see one of the iron lions near the entrance and riding the tram, we skipped the polar bears and went to find seats on the Jones Falls Zephyr.
I vaguely remember a train from my childhood visits to the zoo, but this is a different train, and none of us had ridden it. This was Leo’s third trip to the zoo, Daniel’s first—and their father’s first trip since childhood.
We happen to have a few train fans in our family, and they thoroughly enjoyed the ride. The adults may have been wondering where the animals were—you don’t see many from the train—but our boys didn’t care. They thought it was terrific to clickety-clack across a bridge, hear the conductor say “All aboard!”, and pull back into the station. Leo—who is making plans to visit a Chicago museum that houses the Burlington Zephyr—loved the train’s name. He would have been content to ride it all day.
That’s the difference between being a child who can see the wonder in the small moments and being a grown-up who wants to milk the cost of zoo admission. I wanted the boys to see the Children’s Zoo and the African exhibits. The boys would have been content to ride the train, eat lunch, ride the train again, and get dessert.
Still, they had said they wanted to see some animals. So we set off through the zoo.
We did, in fact, see a turtle—a statue Leo got to sit on.
And Daniel saw not just a duck, but a duck who even snapped at a snake who swam up to him. “That snake makes me shiver,” said Leo. Me too.
Leo climbed into the pretend nests and turtle shells and stepped across the lily pads. As I expected, Daniel was cautious and didn’t want to pretend to be an animal. He was curious, though, about many of the creatures we encountered.
There was the elephant who was munching on grass while taking a bath.
There was the female giraffe who stood aloofly looking down at us.
There were colorful birds galore for our bird-loving Daniel.
And there were goats just waiting to be petted and brushed in the zoo farmyard. “Oh, they’re so cute,” said Leo. Daniel, who likes his animals from a distance, wasn’t sure about the goats.
But he found the courage to take a plastic brush and touch the goat gently with it. I was astounded.
If you asked the boys what they remembered from our zoo trip, Leo would certainly talk about the train—and he might tell you about a tiny spider he watched crawling up a tree. Daniel—if he knew a little more English—would probably talk about his first taste of cotton candy, or perhaps the robin redbreast he saw, or maybe even the backhoe he watched digging a hole.
As for me, I’d describe the wonder of experiencing the zoo through my sons’ eyes. They make every experience—no matter how ordinary—novel and special. Whether we’re taking a walk, riding in the car, checking the mail, even answering the phone—it’s all wonderful and new. And as we watch them growing up, I feel sure of one thing. We’re in for a wild ride.
May 15, 2012 09:02
By Rita Buettner
Shortly after we started our paperwork to adopt Leo, I began a journal to chronicle the experience. Early on, I found myself signing each entry “Love, Mommy.” I just assumed that I would be “Mommy” and John would be “Daddy.”
About 18 months later we were standing in a stark government waiting room in Hunan Province when Leo walked into the room. The lady with him leaned down and told him in Mandarin who we were—and she used the Chinese terms “Mama” and “Baba.”
Within 24 hours Leo—who was 2—had started calling John “Baba,” and I quickly became “Mama.” With all the other changes happening in Leo’s life, we were happy to let him take the lead on something—especially something so minor. Why would I care? At long, long last, I was a mother. My son could have called me almost anything and I would have been delighted.
As it turns out, “Baba” fits John better than any other term we could have picked for him as a father. And Daniel happily followed his brother’s lead. When we’re spending time with cousins and friends, it works well that almost all the other mothers are “Mommy” or “Mom.”
Because both our children were born in China, I also like that we are able to use the Chinese terms—though our pronunciation of them is far from perfect.
A few months ago one of our friends traveled to China to adopt her daughter. When she asked whether there was anything she could pick up for us, we couldn’t think of much. After all, we were just there in August and—even though our boys would disagree—we only need so many spinning, flashing musical “Pleasant Goat” cars, after all.
But I did have one request.
On our trip to adopt Leo, we picked out a “Baba” baseball cap with the Chinese characters for Baba on it. On our trip to adopt Daniel, we spent time finding necklaces with the Chinese characters for both the boys’ grandmothers—and hooray for China, where the father’s mother goes by a different grandmother name than the mother’s mother. It never occurred to me, however, to pick up a “Mama” necklace for myself.
When our friend returned home with her beautiful little girl—who is tremendously popular with our boys—she also brought me the most beautiful “Mama” necklace.
Now I’m set. And when I write in our sons’ journals—not nearly as often as I should—I sign them “Love, Mama.”
May 07, 2012 03:14
By Rita Buettner
As we struggled with infertility and insensitive questions, one priest friend offered prayerful compassion
As we were waiting to become parents – and before we started our adoption journey – we often found well-intentioned, caring people asking us whether we were planning to have a baby sometime soon. Sometimes I was able to understand that people were just curious. More often I came away from the conversations feeling sad or angry.
One exchange was completely different. That was the one we had with our good friend Father Tom.
I first met Father Thomas Pietrantonio, a Capuchin Franciscan priest, in the summer of 2003. I had had a difficult few weeks. We had had to put our family dog, Flurry, to sleep, and I had ended a relationship. Feeling confused and hurt, I decided to make a retreat, and I found the St. Francis Renewal Center in Wilmington, Del. For a small fee – I think it was $35 for the weekend – I would have my own space, meals, and room to think and to pray.
When I arrived that Friday evening, a short man with a white beard, overalls, and a well-worn white shirt greeted me. He had the gentlest smile. He asked no questions. He gave me a friendly hug, told me he was glad I was there, and showed me around the center – a beautiful large stone house.
Over the course of that weekend, I got to know Father Tom well. He introduced me to his carpenter’s workshop and pointed out the chipmunks and squirrels on the property. We sat on the porch and watched butterflies. And he gave me time to be alone. I never explained to him why I had wanted to make a retreat. I found I didn’t need to. After Mass that Sunday, one of the members of his congregation – who had just sung the most magnificent version of “How Great Thou Art” in the chapel – turned to Father and asked him whether dogs go to Heaven.
“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” Father Tom told him, as we sipped our coffee together. “They’re God’s creatures and our friends.”
It was not a surprising answer from a Franciscan, but it was still comforting – and just what I needed to hear.
After that visit, I returned home, more at peace and wondering where God would lead me. A few weeks later I met the man who would become my husband. When we were looking ahead to our marriage, I told John I wanted him to meet Father Tom. They connected immediately.
Father Tom was 78 when we got married, but he made the drive to Baltimore to concelebrate our wedding. He gave the most beautiful blessing over the food at the reception – one of the few moments of that blurred day that stands out with clarity.
It was on one of our later visits to Father Tom that the topic of children came up. He brought it up, but it was nothing like the conversations I had had with others.
There was no pressure, no prying. There was no offer of medical advice or even encouragement to pray to St. Gerard. There wasn’t even curiosity – just genuine caring.
He merely smiled and asked whether he could pray that God would send us a child.
Of course, we said yes.
During that visit, Father Tom also asked if he could introduce me to a group of women making a retreat there. They were connected to Project Rachel and each – I believe – had experienced loss through abortion. When he introduced me, he asked them – in a very simple, matter-of-fact way – to join us in prayer for a child for John and me.
I was so moved – and uplifted. Suddenly it seemed that we had the strength of others’ prayers behind us – and without having to ask or give personal details.
Last week was National Infertility Awareness Week . As meaningless as awareness weeks can be, I can’t help but think that there might be a way to encourage people to tread carefully. Don’t assume couples are childless by choice. Don’t assume they want to share every detail of what they’re experiencing. And don’t ever put your hand on a woman’s stomach and cheerfully say, “Maybe you’ll be next!”
Somehow Father Tom knew just what to say to offer real comfort and support. These past few weeks he has been on my mind, as he is every Easter. It was around Easter of 2008 when we realized he was nearing the end of his time on earth, and it was that May 28 when he passed away.
We never spoke with him about adoption, but we began our journey that summer – and I don’t believe that was a coincidence. As we were completing paperwork and wondering who our child would be, I often thought of Father Tom. John and I have said many times how much Father would have loved meeting Leo – and now Daniel. I can’t help but think that he had a hand in helping us bring these children into our home, into our family, into our lives.
He was always certain that God would bless us with a child. And God has – twice over – with boys who fill our hearts with a joy I never imagined when I visited a Franciscan retreat center nine years ago.
And that’s a topic we are always happy to discuss.
April 30, 2012 02:14
By Rita Buettner
When John and I started our adoption journey, we talked about being open to adopting children who had some special needs. Especially if you find yourself talking about adopting children from China, you will be considering special needs – whether very minor or more significant.
Early on, our agency asked us to identify which needs we would be open to, so they could match us with a child. Initially, John and I didn’t like the idea. After all, had we given birth to a child with any need, we would have happily thanked God for blessing us with a child, and we would have raised that child with joy, finding the strength to be his or her parents.
When faced with a list, however, and with input from our doctor friend who offered invaluable guidance, we realized there were needs we didn’t feel we could handle – especially with both parents working outside the home.
Ultimately, we came up with a list of special needs we felt we could handle as a family. It was a list with a number of yeses, but sadly also some nos. And, I have to admit, there was nothing more humbling than realizing that we had limitations and didn’t feel capable of parenting a child with greater needs.
As I look back, that list of medical conditions we said “yes” to seems to have nothing to do with our sons. We are blessed with two healthy, energetic boys whose main need was to be part of our family. And, to be truthful, we probably needed them more than they ever needed us. Only God knew how much I needed to feel little arms reaching around my neck in a sudden hug or to hear a spontaneous “I love you, Mama!”
This was on my mind today when I saw a story that warmed my heart. This child, whose parents adopted her and some of her siblings from China, may have a special need, but she also has special talents and a dream to become an author. I hope this piece makes you smile.
April 23, 2012 02:41
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By Rita Buettner