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Writing Through the Wait

On the long journey to adoption, a journal can record the milestones and detours, as well as your first rush of love for your child. By Lee Tobin McClain

During the two-year wait for my daughter, friends and relatives bought me pretty, blank books to use as a journal. I couldnít put pen to any of them. Instead, my waiting journal evolved as a hodgepodge of computer entries, loose-leaf pages, and scraps of hotel stationery. And itís as precious to me as an illuminated manuscript. Keeping a waiting journalóof a type that works for youóis well worth the effort. It can help you survive the wait; it can reassure your child that sheís wanted; and it can teach an important lesson about faith.

Why Write About the Wait?

Waiting to adopt a child is a growth experience. Mentally, we are getting ready to parent, beginning to see ourselves as more than ourselves. This precious time is worth recording.
Putting your concerns on paper tends to diffuse them; it can also help you identify and change negative beliefs. Your journal can help you frame the wait in positive terms. There is a child in your future, but sometimes it takes writing out your worries to affirm your faith in that fact.

Five Tips for Keeping a Waiting Journal

1. Set aside a little time each day for writing. If you put it in your planneróeven fifteen minutes a dayóthe regular discipline will stimulate ideas.

2. Start by recording adoption-related activities, especially if youíre a matter-of-fact type who shies away from soft, emotional stuff. Your child will be fascinated by your stories of getting fingerprinted or having a social worker measure his room.

3. Find the tools that work for you. Some confident sorts share none of my qualms about pretty blank books. Others prefer clicking the keys of a laptop. Still others use a loose-leaf notebook, so that some entries may be shared and some kept private. 

4. Experiment with writing locations. I do my best writing in bed. Some writers prefer silence; others like the sounds of a busy family around them. 

5. Donít worry about the dreaded red pen. Forget about grammar, syntax, or style. A journal is a place to be free of rules and regulations.

If there are questions and concerns to examine, now is the time to do so. Youíll have less time for self-reflection once your child arrives. Perhaps most important, a journal provides hard evidence of how eagerly you anticipated your childís arrival. Whenever my daughter needs reassuring, my book shows her how wanted she was and is.

Who Is Your Audience?

The thing that paralyzed me at first was the unknown audience for whom I wrote. Would my child read these entries one day? If so, I thought, Iíd better hide my sadness about infertility. Would my journal become public property, accessible to anyone interested in our adoption? In that case, Iíd better hide my anger about the wait, my occasional ambivalence and fear about parenthood, and my annoyance with those well-meant yet insensitive remarks that were an unexpected part of the adoption experience. But hiding feelings and putting up a front defeats the purpose of a journal, which is most effective when itís honest. In the end, I decided to write for myself, and that decision liberated me.

Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, my notion of audience shifted in the days just before I met my daughter. Suddenly, with the end in sight, I found myself writing the rest of my journal to her. As I wrote of my hopes and dreams and excitement, I was stretching my world to include my daughter. Those are the first pages Iíll share with her, although I believe Iíll share parts of my earlier writing, as well.

Lasting Benefits

Worrying about the wait was useless. But writing about my worry proved fruitful. It gave my mental health a much-needed boost at the time, and itís taught me a lesson of faith. Reading over my entries now, I can contrast the anxiety of those days with the joy I feel each time I look at my daughterís beautiful face.

Excerpts from Lee McClainís Waiting Journal

September 16, 2000
Iím sick of paperwork, and the homestudy process makes me squirm. Iím a private person, and I hate to wait. So why did we choose the most invasive, paperwork-intensive, slowest possible way to start our family?

December 20, 2001
Iím starting to get so excited about Grace! I keep picturing her at different ages, playing in our yard, sitting in her high chair. I wondered if I would ever again let myself get excited about the adoption, butóI have. Itís come back.

February 21, 2002
Last night, we got the call! We have a baby! Iíve got to
get her nursery ready, pack, study, get shots, set up an appointment with her pediatrician. I thought weíd be in limbo forever. I didnít expect this to really happen. Little Grace... I canít wait to hold you in my arms.

May 3, 2002
Weíre on the plane and so excited. Iíve been worrying about the trip home, how we could keep you happy for 14 hours. Now, I just wish I had you in my arms, crying or happy, sleeping or awake. You canít know how wanted you are, how much we already love the idea of you.

Lee Tobin McClain is the adoptive mother of Grace Fei and Director of the Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

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