A Severe Kind of Mercy

As I contemplated writing tonight’s post, I read that Moammar Gaddafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren were killed in a NATO missile strike. The general survived, the report continued. On the other hand … how does anyone survive a loss of that magnitude?  

Ordinarily the news might not have made such an impression on me. However, I recently took my children to see their birthparents, who had not seen any of their four kids in seven years.  It was supposed to be another seven years before Chris was supposed to see them, but Christopher’s birthdad had been having heart trouble. Craig and I talked about it off and on for months, until he finally — reluctantly — agreed to a single visit.  We didn’t want Christopher to miss seeing him altogether.

As we walked into the home, Christopher became very animated, shouting, “I remember! I remember!” He ran upstairs to his old room, which seemed not to have been touched since he left it. All his toys and toddler-sized clothes were still there, as though he would be home to stay any minute. As though the little boy he once was had been frozen in time.

It was the same with Sarah’s room. The crib, the rocking chair, the baby swing … Everything was still there. Quickly their birthmom began digging through toys, handing them to the kids until their arms were full as the birthdad left the room so the kids didn’t see his tears. On the way home, I contemplated what I had seen and wondered if I’d done the right thing. 

Then, as if in response to my unspoken thoughts, Christopher piped up, “I can’t wait until I turn 18, so I can move back with my real family.”

I swallowed hard, trying not to show how his words had hurt. “You already live with your real family, Christopher.  You will always be part of our family, no matter how old you are. That’s adoption.”

He thought about that for a minute. “Well… maybe I can live in the middle.”

This “living in the middle” feeling was understandable, and I didn’t take it personally. I have read of adoptive families that  successfully integrate birthfamily members into their extended family. Even so, my son’s comment made me wonder: How can a child who has contact with two sets of parents grow up feeling anything but “in the middle”?

A few weeks have passed, and I’m still not sure it was the right choice.  Time will tell.  What I do know is that once again Sarah is sleeping with us every night, and Christopher has been having nightmares in which I disappear and he can’t find me. I agreed to the visit out of love . . . and yet I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a severe kind of mercy.

God’s mercy can also seem severe sometimes. This is the side of grace we don’t often consider. When Craig and I were presented to John Paul II in 1999, while in Rome on our honeymoon, I distinctly remember looking into the man’s clear blue eyes and thinking that I’d seen heaven there.  He could barely walk, and was a shell of the vital man he once was. Six more years would pass before he was finally laid to rest. Six more years of walking through that valley of the shadow, one painful step at a time.

However, the man Karol Wojtyla had embraced the job God had given him to do: to take up a particular cross that would uniquely reflect the self-donating love of God to all his children. As Pope John Paul II, he reminded us how utterly we need that hard-won, amazing grace every day of our lives. Even, and perhaps especially, when that way grows difficult, when it would be easier just to give in to despair and bitterness.  It is an uncommon kind of mercy, which drives the nails into the cross we have been called to carry.

As we celebrate the beatification of John Paul the Great tomorrow, let us remember the Divine Mercy that guides each of us all the way to heaven.  Together, as a family, in good times and bad, let us recall the act of grace emblazoned on Faustina’s image:

Jesus, we trust in you!

A Father’s Right: National Putative Father Registry Bill

I know the timing on this is a bit strange — it being Mother’s Day weekend and all — but an article that appeared on Today’s Catholic Woman really caught my attention. “My Son the Matchmaker” is about a woman who got pregnant — then kept the baby’s father in the dark about his paternity.

The story has a happy ending — the couple winds up married and raising the child together. More often than not, such stories are not tied up so neatly. But it does raise an important issue: the right of a child to know both his mother and father.

Now, I understand why a woman in a crisis pregnancy might be tempted — after having sex with someone who seems to be an unsuitable father — to keep the truth from the man. However, this short-term decision can have lifelong consequences for the child, who needs a mother AND father to thrive.

NCFA recently published a notice about a piece of legislation that was recently introduced in the Senate: “Senator Landrieu (D, LA) Introduces Protecting Adoption and Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Act.”  This involves S939, a national putative (potential birth) father registry, which would facilitate securing the consent of birth fathers before the finalization of an adoption plan — something that is in the best interest of the child (who needs a permanent, stable family as quickly as possible) as well as potential adoptive parents (who are vulnerable if the adoption process is not conducted thoroughly and systematically).

Thank you, Senator Landrieu!

What Should I Do with My Child’s (First) Name?

because1If you’ve been following EMN for any length of time, you know I’m a fan of birthmother counselor Patricia Dischler. Today her KIDSAKE newsletter (Feb 09) has the following article, which I’m reprinting here with permission. (If you’d like to subscribe, see below).

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


Naming your child is a big event in the process of becoming a parent. It ranks higher than deciding how to decorate their room, buying the outfit for their first trip home and being sure you have enough diapers on hand. There seems to be so much pressure on making this decision. Do you pass on a family name? What will the initials be? Can it be rhymed with something bad that other kids will use to tease them? Your mind is constantly trying new ones on for size and then analyzing it from every direction in order to decide if it will make your “list.”


While this pressure to find the perfect name is a standard for any parent, for adoptive parents there is a door that opens up to a whole new set of questions that can become completely overwhelming. The birthmother. Will she choose a name first? If she does should we keep it or change it? If we have the opportunity, should we discuss it with her and decide together? What if we have a name we’ve always wanted? What if she doesn’t like the name we do? The questions can flow over and over into an adoptive parents mind like waves crashing on the shore, erasing each idea that was written in the sand and washing it out to sea.


As an adoptive parent how do you face these questions? As a counselor, what kind of advice can you offer them, or the birthmother? Is there a “right” way to do this? We are unique individuals. This is why each adoption is so unique, and also why making a decision for a name will be unique as well. But understanding what some of the options are, and taking the time to discuss them openly will be your keys to finding the answers that are right for you. Most importantly, understand that your opinion DOES count. Talk about how you feel, be open and honest. On the other hand, also be respectful of what you hear from others and how they feel. When everyone approaches this with respect and honest emotion, the answers will come. When I placed my son for adoption in 1985 I was told that if I wanted to name him, I could, but that it was likely the adoptive parents would change it. I was okay with the idea of them changing it, they would be his parents and I understood how important naming your child can be and didn’t want to take that from them. But I also didn’t want my son to be called “the baby” for two weeks. So, after much thought, I named him Joseph Paul. My little gift to him, it would go on his original birth certificate and always be a reminder of his beginnings. And that was enough for me. Then, later that year when the first letters from his parents arrived, they extended a gift to me. His mother wrote that they decided to keep the name I had chosen because they felt that I must have had special reasons for choosing it and it was their gift to me. He wouldn’t be leaving his “beginnings” behind, but rather would keep his time with me forever – represented through his name. They said it also represented names within their family so it was the perfect blend between my family and theirs. I could not have been more honored and happy. At that moment my heart totally broke open with love and trust for this couple. Their sign of respect for me came full circle as I then became full of respect for them. This became the foundation for an amazing relationship.


Today, there is typically more communication between birthmothers and adoptive parents in the beginning. Adoptive parents who let the birthmother know they respect her opinion and would like to hear it will do much for building a respectful relationship. If the birthmother’s suggestion is something that works with your family (such as in my case) then it would be a wonderful symbol to agree to keep the name. If not, you may wish to use it as a middle name instead, or suggest something close to it.


When choosing names it is important to “remember the why.” Adoptive parents who understand why a birthmother chooses a particular name will have a better foundation for making their decision. For example, if a birthmother picks a name simply because she likes the sound of it, it may be there are other names she will like as well. But, if she picks a name because of the significance to her or her family (as I did) then the adoptive parents may wish to give it more careful consideration before choosing to change it. Anytime you can show respect for BOTH families in the choosing of a name, the better.


Even when there is no contact with a birthmother, as in many intra-country adoptions, your child may have been given a name already. Consider incorporating this into the name you choose as a sign to your child of respect for their heritage.

The focus should always be the child. Sometimes, a name is just a name. And that’s okay! Sometimes it holds great importance, and that’s okay too. Take the time to discuss it, share expectations and respect what you hear from each other. With the thousands of possibilities of names in this world it seems incredible that both parties wouldn’t be able to find one that everyone can agree to – especially if their focus is on the child and not themselves.


Names reflect who we are, what our parents were thinking about at the time of our birth, our heritage, and so much more. Taking time to respect these issues when choosing a name for an adopted child will give them a story of love – and a name – they can carry with pride!

Reprinted from KIDBIZ Newsletter, an ezine by child care author and speaker, Patricia Dischler. Subscribe at www.patriciadischler.com. If you like this newsletter, please pass it on to your fellow colleagues.

If a colleague passed this on to you and you would like to subscribe, visit: www.patriciadischler.com and click the link “Subscribe to Ezines.”