Our family runs marathons almost every racing season. And my husband, faced with my reaction to obstacles to bringing our daughter home, uses those races as metaphors. “This too is a marathon—not a sprint.”
I’ve nodded and listened without hearing. But the truth of it all hit home recently. I was burning out. Our international adoption is already a marathon. We have been running it for well over a year. And here’s what I’ve learned about survival.
1. Let others help you find the right pace. No one can run 26.2 miles at a full-out sprint. If you try, you are going to crash and burn. Likewise, if you make your adoption your singular obsession for months and years on end, you risk burning out.
So in every marathon, you will see some seasoned runners carrying signs that signal to other runners what their finish time ETA is. Runners who have set goals for their finish times then hang around those runners to keep themselves on track.
In adoption, too often we get tunnel vision and lose our appreciation for our family and friends who are in this with us. You have to remember that the little things—the little moments of joy in family life—aren’t that little. Let them distract you and slow you down.
Adoptive families can help keep you going: those who brought their children home (Nepal), those who didn’t (Russia), and those who don’t know what will happen (DRC). They can be a tremendous source of strength. I am too driven to help anyone find a pace. But I am the energy boost that other families tap when they need to keep going. We all have our role.
2. Listen to your body.
In a race, sometimes you can’t maintain the pace you thought you could. Sometimes you are hurting and you need to slow down so you don’t make the problem worse.
In adoptions, we can become numb to the stress and that is dangerous because you will miss internal warning signals that you need to slow down or re-focus your efforts.
There are plenty of water stations along the way, whether on the race course or in the form of a much-needed Cinco de Mayo celebration with girlfriends.
4. Acknowledge you don’t have total control.
Every runner dreads walking away from a race with the dreaded “DNF,” which stands for Did Not Finish. But runners know that despite our best efforts, injuries happen. And all the willpower in the world is not going to get you to the finish line with a serious injury.
In adoptions, there’s a lot you can and should do to advocate for your child. But there are many factors beyond your control. If you forget that, you won’t be able to forgive yourself if your adoption fails. I have recently switched from “when” to “if” when talking about bringing home our adopted daughter. This doesn’t mean I’m any less committed to getting her home, but it does allow me to forgive myself if we are not able to.
Besides, with our support from afar our daughter is receiving care that gives her a chance at survival. And that makes the world a better place than if we had never crossed the start line.
5. Repeat this mantra over and over: It will be worth the pain.
The exhilaration of finishing the race eclipses the pain you feel while running.
I can vouch for post-marathon endorphins. I can also vouch for the joy of holding your child after labor. I am not yet able to vouch for the joy of being united with the child I adopted, but I know it will be spectacular if I can make it there.