A Silent Sorrow
About the Guest
Author Chelsea Sobolik tells the heartwarming story of her adoption from the former communist nation of Romania. Unable to have children, her adoptive parents were led overseas where they prayed God would show them which child to adopt. Eventually, God led them to a teen who couldn't take care of her baby, and the rest, they say, is history. Sobolik, like her mom, always loved children and hoped to have some of her own, but when she turned 19, medical tests revealed that something was amiss, and Sobolik's dream of having biological children was dashed.
Chelsea Patterson SobolikChelsea Patterson Sobolik is the author of Longing for Motherhood and has worked for the U.S. House of Representatives on issues such as child welfare, religious freedom, adoption, and foster care policy. She and her husband, Michael, live in Washington, D.C.
Chelsea Sobolik tells the story of her adoption. Her adoptive parents were led overseas where they prayed God would show them which child to adopt. God led them to a teen who couldn’t take care of her baby.
A Silent Sorrow
Bob: Chelsea Sobolik was a freshman in college when she learned from her doctor that she would never be able to conceive and bear children. For Chelsea, that was news she had to bear alone.
Chelsea: I felt like I was walking around campus with this big secret that I couldn’t tell anyone. It was such a silent struggle and silent sorrow. Because some trials are quite visible—and they’re, still equally, as difficult—but they’re visible. So, for me, no one knew this trial unless I told them. I felt completely alone at school and really did just about knock me to my knees and keep me there.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 29th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. For Chelsea Sobolik, the news that she would never be able to bear children was news that forced her to have to reconsider whether she really believed that there is a good God who loves her.
We’ll talk more with her about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, you and I would both agree that one of the great privileges of our lives has been that we’ve had kids, who have called us Dad. At the same time, there are lots of husbands and wives, who would long for that privilege; and for whatever reason, they’ve been unable to conceive; and that’s been one of the great pains of their lives.
Dennis: I think it’s about one in six couples can’t get pregnant when they want to and one in ten couples find out that they’re permanently infertile. We have a young lady on the broadcast, who is celebrating her first anniversary to her husband, Michael.
Chelsea Sobolik joins us on FamilyLife Today. Chelsea, welcome—all the way from Washington, DC. Thanks for coming down here!
Chelsea: Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor.
Dennis: Chelsea has written a book called Longing for Motherhood. She has a story—both from her own life—as a baby, and also as a young bride, longing for a baby. She writes this book out of her experience and her desire for others to have a great view and a positive view of adoption. Explain to our listeners, Chelsea, where you came from and how your parents ended up adopting you.
Chelsea: So my story begins, actually, on the other side of the world. I was born in Bucharest, Romania, in January of 1991. Romania was a Communist nation until December 1989 when Ceausescu—Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were killed.
Romania under Ceausescu’s reign—and Communism is terrible to begin with—but Ceausescu took it a step further and put policies in place in Romania. He was trying to compete with the Soviet Union’s population. One of his laws was, if a woman did not have a child by age 25, she would be brought in for questioning by the government. Then, given another year, and if she still didn’t procreate, her family would be fined a celibacy tax.
Dennis: —whether married or unmarried.
Chelsea: Correct; yes. He was trying to grow his population. All these babies were born, and no one had money to take care of that many children; so they were just put into state-run institutions. After the dictator was killed, the western world went in to see the state of the country. The biggest shock was the state of children in orphanages.
They were not true orphans—they had living parents that just couldn’t take care of them.
That was kind of the stage that was set for my birth mom. She was 19 years old, an unwed mother—did not have the resources or the finances to take care of a child. I was that child. She decided that adoption would be the best option for me, so that was all occurring. In North Carolina, the Lord was pricking the hearts of Bobby and Christie. I want to rewind in their story, because I think the Lord’s fingerprints are so evident in their life. They were in their very early 20s when they got married and were not Christians when they got married—did not want children when they got married. A few years into marriage, they became Christians but still didn’t really have a desire for children.
They traveled all over the world. My dad’s an architect. They lived in West Africa, helping to build a church for a while—and had a life—just the two of them. In their early to mid-30s, their hearts changed. They desired a family and tried and couldn’t; tried and couldn’t. My mom had a miscarriage; and they started the process to adopt, domestically. That process dragged out over years and just wasn’t going anywhere. They—through the prompting of friends—watched a 20/20 documentary on the Romanian orphans. The Lord placed upon their hearts that that’s where their first two children were going to come from. International adoption was a lot different, almost 30 years ago; but six weeks later, they were on an airplane to Bucharest, Romania.
They adopted myself and a little boy who is 11 days older. We’re not biologically-related, but he’s 11 days older than I am.
Dennis: You actually said they prayed a prayer—
Chelsea: They did.
Dennis: —when they arrived in the country.
Chelsea: They did. Because the need is so great, and there were so many babies in need of loving parents, they said: “Lord, please direct us to the children You want us to raise. Please show us who this little girl and little boy is supposed to be.” They wanted to adopt a little girl and a little boy. They went with another couple from the US from their church. They all prayed the same prayer: “Lord, show us who our children are supposed to be.” They actually saw and visited several children and did not feel like those were their children.
They walked into an apartment, where my birth mom and myself—where we were. My [adoptive] mom told me—she said, “Before they even unwrapped you from all the blankets,”—she said—“I just knew.
“I just knew you were my daughter.” They went on to adopt four more from Russia; but every time they’ve prayed, “Bring us to the children You want us to adopt.” The Lord has so faithfully answered that prayer.
Bob: Clearly, this is something you were not aware of at the time. [Laughter] This is a story you’ve learned as you’ve grown up.
Dennis: Yes; in fact, Bob, before coming into studio, she showed me two pictures of her birth mom and her—
Chelsea: Yes; I did.
Dennis: —when she was a little bitty baby and very proud of those pictures.
Bob: When did your parents bring you into this story and fill in the gaps for you?—and have you had any contact with your birth mom?
Chelsea: I grew up always knowing I was adopted. It was very, very common in our house to talk about where we were all from. The Olympics were always a unique time; because we’d be cheering for Russia, or Romania, or whatnot. [Laughter] But we always just knew.
As a little kid, when someone would ask where I was from, instead of saying, “North Carolina,” I’d say, “Romania.” It was part of our life, and adoption was my normal, growing up.
As far as contact with my birth mom, I haven’t met her; I haven’t had contact with her. Everyone’s story is very different. Some people really do long for that. I personally haven’t really had a desire to meet her. My deep desire is that she knows the Lord. A couple of years ago, I wrestled through: “Should I try to find her and tell her about the Lord?” The thing the Lord laid on my heart, at that time, was, “Trust Me that I will put people in her path.” Again, everyone’s story is so different. Some people really do have a desire. I just—that desire’s not on my heart.
Bob: Right; knowing what was going on, socially and politically, puts a little different spin on the whole reality. Have you ever had to deal with this thing that so many adopted kids deal with of “Why wasn’t I wanted?”
Chelsea: So for me, I was wanted. It just—circumstances didn’t allow for me to stay with my birth mom. On another level, there is that: “Why didn’t you fight harder?” or “Why didn’t this happen?” or “…that happen?” But as I’ve matured and gotten older, it was such a kindness and such a humility of her, and of other birth parents, to say, “I can’t,”—and that’s okay—and to have that grace and humility to say, “I can’t right now.” I mean, she put my interest before her own.
Bob: That’s such a wise perspective. I think—for those who might struggle with the “Why wasn’t I wanted?”—to recognize the courageous decision that every birth mom makes because no birth mom easily surrenders a child—that’s a courageous decision. To recognize: “That was done for my good, out of love,”—
—maybe that can help soften the feeling.
Dennis: We have six children, and one of them is adopted. As I told Chelsea earlier, we don’t know which one—[Laughter]—she’s part of our family. But we talked about this a good bit. She always wanted to know—wanted to meet her birth mom/birth father. I never felt any competition that I wanted to keep her from that. We did everything we could to see if that could happen.
Chelsea: That’s great.
Dennis: Barbara and I talked about—we always wondered if we, perhaps, made a mistake and didn’t adopt another child—because I like hearing where you came from—with five other siblings that were adopted. I’m sure there was a lot of discussion and dialogue, as a group of siblings, around: “Here we are from Russia and Romania, and we’re grafted into this American family.” How did that work its way out in the conversation with you guys?
Chelsea: I think we all processed our adoptions very differently. I was less than a month old when I was adopted, but one of my sisters was six years old when she was adopted—and just saw things that I didn’t and went through things that I didn’t. She processed—and in different ways, would share her feelings and thoughts towards her adoption or about her past.
One of my siblings—she was two when she was adopted—but she doesn’t remember this—but part of her adoption papers: she lived in the sewers, underground, with her other siblings; and they kept her alive—so just some hard stories. I think, as we’ve all matured, just sharing kind of where we’ve come from and how we process differently.
Bob: As a young girl, growing up, do you remember having a desire to, one day, be a mom?
Chelsea: I do. I was—I’m the oldest girl in my family. My brother and I joke about who’s really the oldest; because I was legally adopted into the family first, but he is 11 days older than I am. [Laughter] So we have this running debate.
Bob: A competition there; yes.
Dennis: Sibling rivalry of a different kind; yes. [Laughter]
Chelsea: At its finest. But I was the oldest, so I took it on myself to be the surrogate parent to my other siblings; but then, growing up too, I was also very heavily involved in the children’s ministry at church. I actually worked at our church for a couple of summers in the children’s ministry department and just—because I’d had such a good experience in my large family, I had a really strong desire for a large family myself one day, and to be a mother, and to have the privilege of raising other little ones. I’ve always loved children and just had a big desire for children.
Bob: So with that on your heart, as you got into adolescence, you were experiencing unusual circumstances as a young woman. You did not have a menstrual cycle until you were 18; right?
Chelsea: Correct; I reached 18 without having one, and that is not normal. I went to the doctor’s office that summer to start some testing, just to figure out “Was everything okay?”—what was happening and whatnot. It was not a quick answer. They started a series of testing. At that time, they told me, “We think we might know what could be wrong; but we’re not sure, so we’re going to schedule more testing.” At that time, they told me—they said: “You know, there is a possibility you might not be able to have children, but we don’t know. We’re keeping an open mind. We’re being hopeful.”
It was that summer I went off to my first year at Liberty University, as a student, and didn’t give it much thought past that because it wasn’t a reality.
It didn’t affect me that much—I didn’t really want to deal with it until it could become a reality. I didn’t really think about it a lot. I just kind of put it on the back burner and said, “I’ll deal with it when I need to.”
Bob: Yes; but they eventually came back and confirmed—
Chelsea: Yes; they did.
Bob: —that you would be unable to have kids. A lot of women don’t get that kind of news until after they’ve been married for a couple years and have experienced infertility. To get that news as a 19-year-old in college—“Having kids is off the table for you,”—that had to be hard.
Chelsea: Yes; it just about wrecked me; because, like you said, a lot of women and men walk through that as a married couple—
—but here I was, a freshman at college, trying to walk through this massive, life-changing thing completely alone. I felt like I was walking around campus with this big secret that I couldn’t tell anyone. It was such a silent struggle and silent sorrow. Because some trials are quite visible—and they’re, still equally, as difficult—but they’re visible. So someone can remember to ask: “How’s your dad doing with cancer?” or this or that. I’m not diminishing those trials, because they are very difficult; but for me, no one knew this trial unless I told them. I felt completely alone at school, and it really did just about knock me to my knees and keep me there.
Bob: It almost derailed your faith.
Chelsea: It did; it did.
Bob: You began to question the reality of God, the goodness of God, and thought about walking away from it all.
Chelsea: Yes; I grew up in a Christian home. Being the oldest girl, I was also kind of the goody two shoes—volunteered in youth group, did everything I knew to do to be the good kid. Really, my faith was never tested. We went through some hard things, as a family; but it was, collectively, as a family—we all pulled together and walked through it.
But for the first time in my life, something big went wrong. I was entering into a season of sorrow and grieving a loss—grieving a loss of being a mother to my natural children. For the first time in my life, I didn’t get what I want. I thought: “Okay; I could throw up my hands right now and walk away and kind of just say: ‘This is too much. I’m not doing this. I don’t want to be a Christian anymore.’”
Or—and by God’s grace—this is the option I chose: "I can read the Bible again, through the lens of my sorrow, and see what God says in the midst of this and see what Scriptures have to say to someone suffering.” Again, by God’s grace, I was reading through the Gospels and came to where Jesus is describing what it means to be a Christian. He says, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” We’re following Him—we’ve been crucified with Him, but we’re also raised to life with Him.
Those verses did not make the pain go away, instantly, by any means. The Bible is not a Band-Aid to a wounded heart. But I, for the first time, realized what it meant to be a Christian and what it meant to follow a Savior with pierced hands. You know, He was wounded for my salvation and nothing I ever go through in this life is going to be as equal to His suffering.
The feelings—the sorrowful feelings—did not go away quickly or instantly, but I decided to stay and to see where God would lead me on that journey; and I’m so glad I did.
Dennis: Chelsea, I’m a father of six—six kids—four daughters. Can’t help but feel like a daddy, at this point, looking over at one of my daughters, who had a longing to be a mother and that was taken away permanently. This is now a decade later. How do you look at this now, as a wife of one year with a husband, where you’ve talked about having a family? We’ll talk more, at a later time, about how you two processed that when you were dating, but what’s your perspective of this today?—a decade later.
Chelsea: I would say, while this trial is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life and walked through, I feel like I walk with a limp; because I’ve been broken, and because I wrestled with the Lord. It is not all of me. Our trials are not the sum total of who we are. Praise the Lord! It is a big part—I’ve written about it; I’ve talk about it—it’s a hard part of me, but it’s not all of me. That is what perspective gives, and that’s what time gives.
If you’d asked me, three months in, I would not have been able to say that; because at that moment—and in the years/the three or four years that followed—it was the most important thing in my life. But it’s not any more. I still do want to be a mother; and by God’s grace, we will build a family one day; but it is not Chelsea. Chelsea is so much bigger than my fertility or my lack of—I’m more than that.
So that’s a sweet thing to look—to look over the past ten years and to see God’s hand. One of my favorite quotes is by Charles Spurgeon—he says, “When you cannot see the hand of God, you can always trust His heart.” In those early days of darkness and wrestling, and not knowing what on earth was going on, I got to know His heart. But as time’s gone on, I’ve gotten to see His hand, too, which has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
Dennis: I think that’s the right focus. We’re called to walk by faith. Sometimes, that faith leads us through a valley that is filled with sorrow, sadness, loss. I think, sometimes—those of us in the Christian community / those of us who have been followers of Christ—represent the Christian life as a little unrealistic journey, but Jesus said we would have many sorrows.
There would be suffering; but He has defeated death, which is the ultimate sorrow——rose again to give us new life.
I like how you put it—we follow Christ by picking up the cross; but we also follow Him, as He is raised to new life, defeating death and the grave. That is the hope of Christianity, and that is our identity. I like how you kept saying you are more than just a woman who desired to be a mom.
Chelsea: Yes; yes.
Bob: I’m thinking of a woman, who might pick up and read your book, Longing for Motherhood, who might share that desire. This book is not going to answer every question she has. It’s not going to be an instant cure for the longing, but it will give her perspective on what she’s experiencing and where God is in the middle of it.
And of course, we’ve got copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to order Longing for Motherhood: Holding on to Hope in the Midst of Childlessness by Chelsea Sobolik. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY—that’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, we have some exciting news as we head toward the end of 2018. We’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have come to us, offering to match every donation we receive during the month of December, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2.5 million. I have to tell you—this could not have come at a better time; because as we head into 2019, we have a lot of projects that we’d like to move forward with. We’re developing some podcasts and working on a redesign of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway—
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Tomorrow, we’re going to talk with Chelsea Sobolik about how she processed and tried to make sense of the news that she was permanently infertile. She’ll be back with us tomorrow. I hope you can be as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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