We’re currently three months into our adoption journey, and I’m still searching for the right words to describe how I feel. You know those montage sequences in films where the underdog is broken down, over and over again, only to be built back up stronger, tougher, and grittier than before? Some of this process feels like that. Like getting repeatedly knocked down by reality, bureaucracy, and the heart-wrenching fact that we know the name, face, and location of our future son, but he doesn’t know we’re alive.

Hour by hour, I go back and forth between riding waves of elation and feeling like I’m drowning in uncertainty. I ask myself hundreds of times a day if we should allow ourselves to feel happy at the milestones we’ve reached, even though nothing is final.

Above all, I spend a lot of time figuring out the right words to use when I want to talk about him. He’s not our son yet. He’s our future son, I hope. But at this moment in time, he’s just a little boy separated by time and oceans.  

Sometimes, I try desperately to understand who I am in this process. I also spend a lot of time asking if I’m selfish for asking myself that question. Adoption isn’t about me, yet it’s such a huge part of our story. In pregnancy, there are terms like an expectant mother that you hear. What are the words for the prospective mother of a future son? Prospective Adoptive Parent is about the most distant descriptor I can think of.

My heart aches when people ask us about him. About when he’s coming home, or when we’ll finally get to meet him. It hurts because I spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not he’s getting the right education, the right food, plenty of hugs, or if he’s getting tucked in every night. I spend a lot of time thinking about the things you’re not supposed to think about until your adoption is final. It’s all so fragile until it’s final. Even more, it hurts because I know that his homecoming means he’ll experience a tremendous loss in his life.

The loss of his life in China

The loss of his life with his foster family

The loss of his friends from school

The loss of familiarity, routine

And those are just the losses we can immediately identify. Those are the losses that have words we can attach to them.

I spend a lot of my day thinking about how I can best prepare myself for the awesome responsibility of his being his mother, helping him piece together his stories when I might never have answers to some of his questions. Every time I hear about China in the news, or conflicts with immigration in the U.S., I think of his face. My mind immediately turns to thoughts that at any point in time, anyone in power can decide to close their doors to us. I don’t have the privilege or luxury not to care about what’s going on in the world, because it stands between us and the sweet, smiley little boy whose name means love and vitality.

The thing they don’t tell you when you start the international adoption process is that you will never truly nest until you’re in the last 3-4 months of your journey. Sometimes, I’ll walk into his empty room and daydream about decorating it for him, thinking that the small act of service will somehow make his presence in our life more real. But the truth is that it only makes it more heartbreaking if something falls through. If for some reason any number of the agencies and pieces of red tape that stand between our path to becoming a family of three decide to break, having built his room will only serve as a reminder of what we’ve lost.

For all the days since we’ve known his name, we’ve felt frozen. Like when a butterfly lands on your hand, and you don’t want to move for fear it’ll fly away. Like the privilege of being assigned to him is too beautiful to be true. Like at any moment everything we’ve done, and all of the steps we’ve taken to bring him home, can just abruptly stop.

As I move through this season of uncertainty — a season at the mercy of how quickly different agencies move, and things beyond our control — I’m reminded of this quote from the book Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed:

Just close your eyes and remember everything you already know. Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits.