3:00 a.m. An electronic chime I've come to hate blares out from my iPhone. I force my eyes open and blink in the darkness. I throw the covers back, force my feet to the floor, and pad over to the cradle at the foot of the bed. Scooping up our weeks-old baby, I start the routine: clean diaper, nursing, bottle, swaddle, kiss, bed. Two hours of sleep, and it starts again.
3:30 p.m. The garage door lifts, and I cringe. 90 seconds and counting. Sure enough, when the back door opens, I hear the angry, strident voice of my oldest son. Angry, always angry. Anyone in his path is subject to a verbal tirade. I close my eyes, pray for wisdom, and step into the hallway to meet the after-school craziness.
We're raising our second baby, and we're now five years into our adoption of three children, two of whom experienced significant trauma in early childhood. Year five is harder than years four, three, two, and one. Our kids are bigger, and the problems are growing in severity.
I thought it would be easier by now. But as I nurse that baby eight times a day and give him hundreds of snuggles and thousands of kisses, I understand more clearly why life is not easier.
How I'm loving our baby is not extraordinary; it's expected. To feed him when he's hungry, to swaddle when he's cold, to cuddle when he fusses, to not sleep for more than two straight hours for months.
The angry voice on the stairs reminds me: not all my babies received the ordinary care of a present parent. The 300 page CPS report tells me this, as do the thousands of behaviors each and every day that speak from the depths of trauma brains and trauma hearts to tell me this: Loving you is too scary, so I'll push you away instead.
Sometimes I forget my children's early days. Sometimes I remember, but for the love, I just want the dog to be fed and the trash emptied without World War III. Again. I want my walls and my windows intact, and I'm tired of being told to go to hell. My mama heart can't bear to see my kindergartener caught in the crossfire and end up curled on her bed, sobbing.
My sweet baby is sleeping just a few feet away as I write this, hands at his face, grunting and squeaking softly in the way babies do. The fact that he stops fussing when I pick him up and draw him close gives me the strength to keep trying...again...with my babies I did not know when they would have fit in newborn onesies.
They may not have been snuggled and swaddled and kissed and fed with any regularity. In fact, we know they weren't. But now, they are loved, deeply loved, and we're walking through dark days because I believe with all that I am that it is worth it to give these kids the chance they should have had from the beginning.
Our two biological babies have been unexpected blessings. After two-and-a-half years without a pregnancy, statistics said, "no babies for you." And yet, here they are, three years old and three weeks old. They serve to ground me in the truth that parenting is joyful when joy escapes me in the midst of a trauma tsunami. Their inherent sweetness softens the mile-high walls around the hearts of our trauma kids. The kids who push away everything good can't escape the draw of tiny smiles and baby-soft skin. So while I'm dead tired from nursing day and night and parenting trauma kids in between, I'm overwhelmingly thankful for our bio babes who came later and draw our fractured family together.
Five kids is a lot of kids. Oh, I know. My minivan is full, and my fridge is empty (again). My washer never stops running. I've had diapers on auto-ship from Amazon for three years, with no end in sight.
But those five kids? They point to a God who keeps on giving, even when I thought my hands were full. I thought our family was complete five years ago, when three already-formed kids rocked my orderly world. I was wrong. They were just the beginning, both of the growth of our family and all I had to learn.
And so we'll press on, parenting kids with a thirteen year age span who represent fourteen combined years of lacking what they needed. Their wounds are staggering, but our ultimate hope does not disappoint.
"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth." (Psalm 127:3-4)