Lifebook Schmifebook

Oh blurg.  I kinda forgot I had a blog for a while there.

The strange this is, I LOVE writing. I love blogging.  But no matter how much I tell myself that my posts don’t have to be long or witty, I get stuck in the trap that if I don’t have a solid 30 minutes to write something thoughtful, then it’s not blog-worthy.  Turns out I NEVER have 30 minutes to write something thoughtful.  So I just gotta write.  Whenever. Whatever.  Starting now.

This week I approached Asher’s lifebook with a new determination.  For the third time.  Or seventh.  I’ve lost count.  I always get stuck.  In fact, choosing to write this blog post is a form of procrastination.

Background: “lifebook” is a special adoption word.  Common best practice research tells us that adopted children benefit from a simple, honest explanation of their story–the story of how they became part of your family.  The most ideal way to “tell” a child that they’ve been adopted is to start before they’re cognitively able to even understand what that word means.  These days it’s very rare (and unadvised) not to discuss a child’s adoption openly in the family.  The lifebook is a way to write out the information in a way that is accessible, matter-of-fact and age-appropriate.  By reading this book often, you send a message to your child that their story is important and is not a taboo topic.

From my own interactions and readings, this much is widely agreed upon.

However, the exact contents of the lifebook, the wording, the pictures, the detail, the emotion, the point of view, the format, the material of the actual book binding itself….all of that is up for debate and varies from family to family.  I normally pride myself in being a very decisive person, never at a loss for words–as my close friends and family will gladly testify with rolled eyes.

But there’s this lore around the lifebook.   Oh, the pressure!  I’ve heard of children sleeping with it under their pillow for years.   I’ve read of children who mistook subtext in their lifebook and therefore misunderstood basic aspects of their adoption story, but never bothered to ask clarifying questions until they were much older.   I’ve heard that you should not say it was God’s plan.  I’ve heard you should say it was God’s plan.  Something about choosing words to tell my son that his biological mother did not choose to raise him, then putting those words in permanent ink in a hardback book does not come easily to me.

I don’t think it should.

And there it is.  That’s what’s so hard.  The lifebook is just one of a hundred tangible reminders that adoption is born of loss.  It’s complicated to articulate, because it’s…complicated.  I love making little shutterfly photo books at the end of each year, and I let myself be reminded of the fun and happy times we’ve had.  But although this storybook will end in smiles (mine and his), it begins with unimaginable heartbreak (hers and his).  We’re so very blessed to have a photo of Asher’s birthmother, and I’m going to include it in his lifebook. I’ve read my instructions to just add captions with basic facts that are known, and not project emotions.  But as an adult, as a mother, I CAN’T HELP IT.  I can’t look at the face of this 16 year old girl and not want to hold her in my arms and sob with her.  I can’t help but assume her solemn expression masks deep, profound sorrow.  I can’t help but wonder–if family situations and financial situations and cultural expectations were different…would she still feel like she had no other choice?  And I have to assume Asher will ask the same question and many more.

It’s important to me, because I think it’s going to be important to my son, so I will, therefore, press on.  The dichotomy of adoption will never fade.  It’s ugly and beautiful.  It’s bitter and sweet.  It’s loss and redemption.  It’s pain and healing.  And it’s all those things at once.  I’m suddenly very glad that I’m only having to write this book for a toddler level of understanding.  This grown up has a hard enough time wrapping my brain around it all.

Asher Saran has been home for 11 months.  Eleven!  Prepare yourself for many nostalgic and emotional posts next month.  Maybe by that time I’ll have made it to page 2 of the lifebook.


  1. We haven’t even brought our little girl home yet and I have been struggling with this. I think it’s because of Mother’s Day but I just keep thinking if I am having this hard of a time processing all that loss how is she going to feel when she’s old enough to ask questions. Adoption is hard and beautiful. Grateful to God for redemption and praying he gives me the words when the time comes.

  2. You are right it is complicated! I have chosen not to interpret anything for our son. I have collected all the documentation we have (photos, forms that were issued by his countries government & children’s home, our paperwork, birth certificate, you name it) and I have put them all -in some rough chronological order – into a box file with clear pocket sleeves that can be pulled out & shifted around-and have given him access to it. I pro-actively pull stuff out from time to time and talk to him about some aspect, he often leafs thru all the photo albums & videos (which sit amongst all our family albums & dvds, so they are ‘physically’ integrated as well as being an emotionally valued part of our family history) and so conversation happens mostly directed by him but augmented by us. He came to us at 3 yrs old, is now 8 1/2 and we talk about it all as a normal part of family life. This way of ‘formatting/cataloging’ all the info we have means conversations occur always at his level of comprehension, that we have never kept anything from him and that it is his to use/access as he wishes. We do not “interpret” anything, that is for him to do with our support and compassion. This works for us, others will do things differently. I think it is a lot about how comfortable we as a-parents are with everything as to how comfortable our kids will be with their history. So do what feels most appropriate to you, and don’t forget things will change so try to build in some flexibility with the format you choose. Oh, & good luck!

  3. Sorry, I meant all of that to say, I haven’t done a “book” and haven’t projected any of my words onto his story. I had intended to do one but didn’t feel comfortable in writing anything I didn’t actually know as fact, then discovered that all the facts we had about his life before joining us were already in front of me. ‘nough said!

  4. Oh my. Yes. I can only imagine that being a very difficult thing for you to write. Trust that God will guide you in providing the right details and words.

    Thank you for (once again) educating those who are not as familiar with adoption on some familiar adoption practices/terms/etc.

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