It's spring, which means it's that time of year when I get an email from our adoption agency initiating the paperwork for our home study update. That means it's time to prepare our financial information, make doctor's appointments, take urine drug screens, complete background checks, update our web profile letter and pictures, order hundreds of dollars of profile books, scrub my house in preparation for a home visit, and write out another significant check all to be available as a waiting family for an expectant mother considering adoption. But this year, in addition to these things, do you want to know how I'm preparing? I'm calling it what it is: waiting is traumatic. 

I know, it seems a bit dramatic. Really?! Trauma...and waiting? My first instinct is to negate the strength of what I've been feeling over these past two years. It's easy to try and negotiate with your emotions. You send in a phone line to tell your frenzied self that you just need patience...and a hobby. "Calm down and back off the ledge Ma'am, you're fine." And that's why I've been so reluctant to even put the words together for myself, for fear of overreaching, or fear of backlash, fear of comparison to cancer, abuse, sickness...you know. REAL trauma, right? Accusations of appropriating "trauma" rung in my ears, but I couldn't shake the grief that has clouded years and years of walking through waiting. 

So I sucked it up and soldiered on, until I came across an article by Eric Barker, where he emphasizes the healing properties of labeling our negative emotions. He quotes The Upward Spiral where a study found that, "consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact." Baker also reports "...people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused. Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn't work, and in some cases even backfires." (1) In other words, the mantra from my friends in recovery rings true "That which you resist persists."

So I did the work to label what I was feeling. Not to judge it, not to argue with it, but to dig deep and give it an accurate label so my brain could calm down and move on. Know what I found? It was trauma.

I found that trauma is defined as something that overwhelms your ability to cope (2). That waiting creates a loss of control, it creates anxiety, depression, panic, and uncertainty. It is a grueling experience of unsure stillness (3). I found studies where the feelings elicited during a home study were similar to infertility testing. I discovered that on an emotional level the adoption process matched fertility procedures (4). And do you know how stressful infertility is? There was a study where the patients going though infertility tested at a greater or equal level of psychological symptoms as patients going though chronic pain, heart failure, cancer treatment, or HIV. The recommendation that came out of the study is that those going through infertility should be given the same psychological interventions as those undergoing treatment for any of the other diseases (5). 
So I don't want this to become a comparison game of 'who has it worse,' or to negate others' pain to elevate the severity of our own.  It's not about comparison, it's about perspective. And the science is in. "The non-event of involuntary childlessness" taxes a woman's inner resources and is one of the most serious life stressors women can endure (6).

Do you know what happened in my heart as I read these words? I felt a key click. I sunk down deep into the grace of allowing myself to truly experience what I was fluttering around the edges of. I called it what it was. It was a walking grief that overwhelmed my ability to cope some days.  And once I stopped fighting the label, the burden shifted, and eased. By allowing myself the fragility of an emotional experience, I saw ways to care for myself open up all around me. If I'm experiencing trauma, then I need to work on processing that trauma.

So I made a list. First on the list was to manage my expectations. To scale back the things I was giving myself to grieve as I saw timelines and milestones pass. An open palm flows through the current much more gracefully than a clenched fist. I worked on mindfulness, stopping for pauses of gratitude for the life I have, while still acknowledging the pain of the things I don't. I started caring for myself, like actually taking time to care. I prayerfully started saying "no" and not really worrying about other people's perceptions of those nos. I got good and selfish with my time.  I take long steamy baths. I keep a tidy home (not because I care what others think but because I'm a calmer, better person when my life and surroundings don't make me crazy.) I stared to replace jealousy and judgment with prayers and generosity because, as Jen Wilkins says, it's hard to slander someone you are interceding for. 

I also made a conscious effort to find a group of people experiencing the same thing. I'm not sure I can ever undersell the healing properties of baring your heart and hearing in response, "me too."

The truth is, we may never be chosen to be parents again. It may happen tomorrow. And walking in the tension is right where God has called us to be. We are here and it is good. His Word promises that those who call on the Lord will lack no good thing (Ps. 34:10). He also promises be near to the broken hearted (Ps. 34:18) and bind up the wounded (Ps. 147:3), and collect my tears in a bottle (Ps. 56:8). Once I stopped fighting my pain, I found that God was closer than ever. Suffering is not absent of his presence, but a portal to a closer togetherness with Him (7).

Sure I want to be the one with a story of goodness and provision and blessing as evidence of His grace toward me. I want my sweet story to go viral. But no one "likes" or "shares" tales of not getting what you want when you want it. That's a hard place, and it takes a deeper look, more than just a passing glance, to see that hard is often still very, very good. Instead, I get to bear witness to a deeper kind of gracious provision. To know love, and contentment, and healing, and strength through pain is the kind of peace that simply does not make sense without the Goodness of an all-loving, all-powerful Father. Walking through the painful grief of being a mother without the child on my heart cultivates a wisdom of knowing and experiencing His good presence that simply accumulating knowledge of His love could never afford me. If it takes the trauma of waiting to take me by the hand and lead me into close communion with Jesus, then let it be. 

1."Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy." The Week - All You Need to Know about Everything That Matters. N.p., 28 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

2."Secondary Trauma in Adoptive Parents." Amy Sugeno, LCSW. N.p., 21 May 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

3. Mulcahy, C. M., D. C. Parry, and T. D. Glover. "The "Patient Patient": The Trauma of Waiting and the Power of Resistance for People Living With Cancer." Qualitative Health Research 20.8 (2010): 1062-075. Web.

4.Valentine, Deborah. *Infertility and Adoption a Guide for Social Work Practice. New York: Haworth, 1988. Print.

5. Domar AD, Zuttermeister PC, Friedman R. The psychological impact of infertility: a comparison with patients with other medical conditions. JPsychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 1993;14 Suppl:45-52. PubMed PMID: 8142988.

6.Schwerdtfeger, Kami L., and Karina M. Shreffler. "Trauma of Pregnancy Loss and Infertility Among Mothers and Involuntarily Childless Women in the United States." Journal of Loss and Trauma 14.3 (2009): 211-27. Web.

7.New International Version. Biblica, 2011.  BibleGateway.com, www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/#booklist.