You Don’t Have to Say It!

As a mama to kids who tend to blurt out every single thought that comes into their heads, I have learned to say “Honey, just because you think it, doesn’t mean you should say it.” They’re both on the single digit side of ten and they are learning.  So they most often get a pass and a gentle correction. I am not a parenting expert, but that seems to be the most effective way to teach them to guard their tongues.

I have slightly less patience for anyone over the age of majority who still hasn’t learned that “just because you think it, doesn’t mean you should say it.”

I don’t want to be accused of being vague, so I will give examples from the last two weeks of the portion of my life that intersects social media.

In October of 2018, a teenage girl was taken from her home in the middle of the night a little over an hour from where we live.  Her parents were murdered in cold blood, each by shotgun blasts.  This little girl disappeared into the night without a trace, leaving a stunned and terrified community.  In the wake of jarring tragedies like this, questions arise in people’s minds.  Those questions, however, do not need to be aired all over social media.  “A lot of times when parents are killed, the kid is involved” was suggested both before and after this little girl was found alive.  In fact, her brave escape from her captor and path to safety a little over a week ago was met with more, not less speculation.  People I genuinely like and admire commented that “I hope she wasn’t involved,” and even more directly “I hate to say it, but she could have been in on it.”  (Hint: If you preface it with “I hate to say it,” please pause and realize that perhaps you shouldn’t.) I cringed inwardly every time I read one of those comments, praying that this little girl doesn’t come across them on social media now, or if she Googles her own name in ten or twenty years.  I hope anyone who said anything to that effect goes back through their social media history and deletes it with extreme haste.

Time and law enforcement due diligence has proven that this little girl had no connection to her captor.  In fact, he pulled up behind her school bus one morning on his way to a temp job in her community, he saw her, and he decided that he wanted her.  And so he set about getting her.  The details are too gruesome and, frankly, too upsetting, so I won’t share them here.  Chances are you’ve already read them, anyway, as the case made national news.

But all that speculation, all those off-handed comments implying that she, a girl these people had never met, might have had a role in her parents’ murder fell FIRMLY into the category of “just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say it.”

Fast forward a week or so to a video clip, under a minute long, of a teenage boy supposedly part of a mob “targeting” a Native elder singing a peaceful song.  I will freely admit that my thoughts on the topic were not kind.  I saw his hat.  I saw his face.  I assumed things not in evidence and I was quite ready to comment on the quality of his parents’ parenting.  But something held me back.  Something that sounded a lot like my own voice saying “just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say it.”

But that didn’t stop me from reading other people’s comments on my friends’ walls.  I can’t repeat a lot of it, but suffice it to say that (probably) otherwise rational adults were wild with anger and all over the map.  I read threats of throat punching and worse from friends of friends. And every single one of them was instantly an expert on this young man they had never met — what his parents were teaching him, and how dangerous he was to society.  All based on his facial expression and his hat.

Less than 24 hours later, more lengthy videos surfaced that showed a very different story than what people had been led to believe from the shorter clip.  I won’t waste space here with my opinion because it would be just that — the opinion of someone who wasn’t there and who doesn’t know the players.  (Sort of like everyone else commenting about it on social media.)

Today I engaged.  I posted a link that showed the longer videos in hopes that it would clear things up for some people, as it had for me.  In hopes that it might slow the roll, at least, of the people wishing violence against this young man.  I engaged because my rubric insisted that I do so.  It involved the March for Life, an event near and dear to my heart.  It involved a pro-life teen from a Catholic school — a demographic that is also near and dear to my heart, and one that I have interacted with a lot over the last 30 years.  And it involved something that I hate with every fiber of my being — injustice and unfairness, courtesy of half truths perpetuated by a media that is far from fair and honest in this day and age.

Now, at the end of this long, unpleasant, frustrating day that has me liking dogs more and overall “humanity” less, I am struck by the fact that most of this drama could have been avoided if quite a few people had just followed the rule of “you don’t have to say it.”

So please.  Think before you speak.  Think before you type.  Re-read what you have just written in the comment box on someone else’s wall before you hit the “enter” key and make it something that everyone and his first cousin’s dog sitter can read.  Because words have power.  Even words spoken in the heat of the moment that might not have been thought through as well as they should have been.  Maybe especially those words.

Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it.  And if you haven’t done due diligence in terms of context and fact finding, maybe just… don’t say it.  Sometimes the words you don’t say make the world a better place.

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My husband captured this photo of our littlest which pretty much sums up my feelings on today.  “Just let it be done now, okay?”  Also, who doesn’t want to see a picture of a baby panda sound asleep under a chapter  book?

 

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On Tinsel and Trauma

 

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Right now as I sit in my dark office, my girls are within earshot, playing with their dolls.  As is often the case, the topic of their play comes from their life experiences. “Let’s pretend that we’re going to an orphanage to adopt some kids, but that they won’t let us,” says the Taller One.  “They won’t let us?” asks the Little One, upset.  “Then we will just keep trying until we find the way.”  And then they move on to lighter topics like “Mom, is it okay to do a kid’s hair in the orphanage?  I know.  We’ll pretend that we’re in a nice orphanage where they do the kids’ hair every day.”  I chime in that “In your orphanage they did your hair, Clara.  Remember all the piggy tails?”  To which my youngest replies darkly “All they did in MY orphanage was cut my hair.”  (It’s literally the only memory she has shared of her time there.)  I assure her that the hair cut she hated was really their attempt to make all the kids look beautiful before the camp her orphanage did with our agency three years ago. The one where we met her.  She brightens at that.

As much as I enjoy listening to my girls play (and therefore assume that everyone will) I share this for a reason.  What the rest of the world refers to as “the holiday season,” can, for many families, become a bit of a trauma season — especially for those whose ranks include kids who come from hard places, the effects of which are a constant undercurrent.  During this time of year, sensory input is at an annual high (lights, brightly wrapped packages, Christmas music, seasonal smells, even more activities than usual) and kids who have experienced trauma, can have a tough time processing it all.

My 6.5 years as a “trauma mama” have taught me much.  I feel enlightened in many ways, and completely wrecked in so many others.  Because, as prepared as I was (as prepared as one can be by reading books and articles and listening to podcasts by the experts) prior to adopting, much of my training has been “on the job.”  And while I was wholly prepared for my girls to have experienced trauma, what I was not prepared for was the revelation that many of the people around us — adults, children, people whose outward lives would give few hints — are also products of trauma in some way.

People will tell you that “children are resilient” and I believe that they are.  My girls had experienced more hard things by ages 3 and 4 than I had by my early 40s, and yet there they are.  Adjusting.  Coping. Even thriving.  But I think we need to be super careful when we use the word “resilient.”  Careful that we are not brushing off the effects of trauma — telling ourselves that everything will be okay because “kids bounce back from hard things.”  Many of them do — at least outwardly — but I think we do them and ourselves a serious disservice when we leave it at that.

Because there is a giant chasm between surviving and thriving.  Between being hurt and being healed.  Between negative experiences and finding a level of resolution that allows us to truly move on without being bound, in some way, by the hard things that have happened to us.

On the surface, I have two beautiful, well-adjusted, nice little girls who are dearly loved.  But every year we have our “traumaversaries.”  And, as I was just telling a friend the other day, it doesn’t matter how many years I do this Trauma Mama gig, I somehow cannot manage to remember when they are, or even that they are, until I am in the thick of them and reacting (sometimes badly) to my dis-regulated children.  It’s not until I pause (usually after everyone human has vacated the building and gone back to work/school) and really think, that I remember.  One experienced a traumatic surgery, alone in a hospital in a country whose medical infrastructure is… limited.  The other was abandoned amid terrible trauma.  Both in November.  And while neither one has indicated a conscious memory of these events, their little bodies know.  And this month is hard.

The past few months have also been difficult for one of my girls due to some outside factors, which have triggered the part of her brain that processes trauma.  As I have watched her sparkle dull and her anxiety flare, I have been caught somewhere between visceral Mama Bear anger and the realization that people who are hurting, hurt others.  And because I have seen, because I know, I can’t help but see the trauma behind the actions.

Because… trauma is everywhere, or so it seems to my wide-open eyes.  Kids are neglected.  Kids are abused.  Kids see other people being abused.  Kids lose parents.  Parents have trauma issues of their own that lead to substance abuse, which further traumatizes families.  Kids get lost in the foster care system.  The list could go on and on and this realization leaves me somewhere between unsettled and broken.  Because no matter how much you care, you cannot undo all the trauma, everywhere. Or even all the trauma in your own little corner of the world.

But… (and that’s the point of this post) we can all do something.  Before we do anything else, we can be kind.   And while we’re being kind, we can become trauma-informed.  It’s a mandatory part of adoption training, but I will be 100% transparent in telling you that I have used my trauma training just as often in understanding the adults around me, and other people’s home-grown children, as I have in trying to piece together the beautiful little puzzles that are my girls from far-off lands.

We are beyond blessed to live in a wonderful small town where our girls go to a school that is on the cutting edge of becoming trauma informed.  My conversations with other mamas via adoption tell me that this truly is the gift I suspected it to be.  And, sadly, it’s not the norm.  It’s also just the start.  Becoming trauma informed allows us to see the world through a lens other than the one formed by our own experience.  It allows us to empathize more and judge less.  It enables us to separate people from their behaviors that frustrate or upset us.  It doesn’t, by any measure, mean that we allow people who have been traumatized to continue to traumatize others, but it does give us the tools we need to address their trauma while enacting necessary consequences.

And while becoming trauma informed is making US better, it can’t help but make society better.  I have to believe that.  I have seen so much kindness showered on my kids from hard places.  The love they receive on a daily basis starts here at home, but it continues within the walls of their school, and everywhere in our small town.  Our best friends recently brought their daughter home from the other side of the world, and I have seen that same love and investment wash over them and her in the four months she has been here.  And I am humbled to have been close enough to watch her blossom because of it.  Lived experience tells me that love wins.  It doesn’t always fix all the broken places, but it does make healing possible.

So please, amid the tinsel, the lights, the music and the shopping, look around you. Listen.  Observe.  Hear with your heart instead of just your ears.  And find ways that you can help people to begin to heal.  There are hurting people all around us.  Kids who won’t have much of a Christmas.  Adults whose Christmas memories from childhood are anything but fond.  People struggling with illness, loss, abuse and fear.  What every single one of them has in common is that they need love.  They need understanding.  They need to be given the opportunity to heal.

As we enter this season, we celebrate Love in its purest form, that came to us in the birth of a baby more than 2,000 years ago.  His entrance on the human stage was humble, but His impact was earth shattering.  He spoke kindly, He loved, He forgave, and He looked past people’s outward issues to their inner value.  He set for us an example.  One that, and I speak for myself, we often fail to follow, but one that we cannot afford to forget. He was, in essence, the ultimate example of being trauma-informed.  He knew.  He knows.  He heals.  And if we listen — if we let Him, He will help US to carry out the job He left for us.  To bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to release prisoners from darkness.  It’s something we can do here, now, where we live.  And something we can continue to do every day, not just during this season of giving, but every single day of the coming year.

Some superb resources for becoming trauma informed:

Ransom for Israel

The Body Keeps the Score

Article on Trauma from NPR

 

 

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It is Our Job to Tell Their Stories

We live in the wooded beauty of the Midwest.  One of the first lessons I taught my girls (after the one about not walking in front of a moving car) was that if you see a mama bear out with her cubs, you do NOT get between the mama and her babies.  Because, around here, bears are a thing, and nothing is more dangerous than a mama bear who thinks you are going to hurt her cubs.  If you had asked either of my girls at age three or four “what do you do if you see a mama bear and her babies” they would have told you “walk away and don’t twy to touch da babies!”  So ingrained was this lesson, that it was actually my oldest who first taught it to my youngest, in those exact words.

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Mama bears and mama (and papa) humans have a lot in common. When something threatens our children, we take action.  We put ourselves between whatever it is and the babies we love.

For those of us whose children were born to other women, and who became ours  after spending time in an institutional setting, something else is in play.  All children who live in orphanages and without the love of a family, in essence, become “ours.”  Very few of us adopt and then go about our lives unchanged.  Most of us continue to advocate for children who, just like ours, desperately need a forever family.  Because we know.

I could go on for paragraphs about why children need families.  I could cite statistics and link to articles and generally engage you for about a week making the case.  But I won’t.  Because you know.

What I will do is tell you that right now something is threatening our children — the children we all share.  The children we met while visiting our own children’s orphanages.  The children agencies post in private Facebook groups in the hopes of finding families to love them.  The children who are forgotten — unless someone tells their stories.  They are the children whose best hope of finding a family is advocacy.  This is sometimes because they are a little  (or even a lot) older than the child the average adoptive family is seeking.  And this is often because they have special needs that might make them less sought after by parents looking to build a traditional family.  These are the children who need to be seen in order to be adopted.  The children who likely won’t be adopted unless someone first sees their face and is moved to request more information about them.  Quite often the families who adopt these children have just started to think about adoption, but haven’t formally started the process.

They are children, like my oldest daughter.

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I started my home study after reading her file and moved heaven and earth to get to her.  BUT… I would not have invested the considerable time and money to begin that home study without the knowledge that she was there, waiting.  As a single woman, I didn’t have thousands of dollars to invest in a “maybe” or even a “someday.”  As soon as I read her file, it was clear that she was to be mine, and I put everything I had toward getting to her.

The threat to children like Clara, children who wait, comes in the form of recent actions by the Department of State to further complicate the already rigorously regulated practice of inter-country adoptions.  Common practices, like allowing families to view files of waiting children and, in accordance with the rules of the child’s country of birth, place a hold on that child prior to the substantial cost of completing a home study, are practices that BRING CHILDREN HOME.  Threatening to sanction agencies if they engage in these practices will drastically reduce the number of children who find families.

If you are the mama or dad of a child who became yours through international adoption, especially if you saw your child’s face and read his or her file prior to completing your home study, we need your help.  We need you to help us put a face on the orphan crisis so that our lawmakers will realize what, exactly, is at stake here.

We are asking you to do a couple of simple things.

  1. Post your children’s stories to Facebook along with a photo — if you are comfortable doing so, please share a photo of your child before and after s/he came home.
  2. Share your FB post to Twitter.
  3. Use the hashtag #telltheiradoptionstories (yes, we know it’s long, but it is also fresh and unused.)
  4. Tag your elected representatives in Washington when you post to Twitter.

Please understand.  We are not trying to circumvent safeguards put in place to prevent the trafficking of children.  We are not trying to break rules.  We are not saying that corruption of any kind should be allowed.  What we are saying is that it is possible to over regulate something to the point that it becomes virtually impossible to accomplish in the real world.

Adoption should not be one of those things.

As the parents of internationally adopted children, we are here and we are taking action for a very simple reason.  Children — all children — belong in and will do their best in families who love them.  Whether that family is related to them biologically or culturally has very little to do with a child’s safety and future.  What does matter is that every child is loved and has a place to call “home.”

Finding families to love these children who wait is our ultimate goal, as well as the current best solution to the orphan crisis.  As a long-held beacon of freedom to the rest of the world, America should be leading  in advocating for children to find families.  Ethically and transparently, of course.  With the best interests and safety of the children at the center of our focus, absolutely.  But as we strive toward those things, we need to be certain that we are not letting the ideal of a perfect process put the brakes on a process that is exceptional and that gives hope to the many children who still wait to find what my girls — what your children take for granted.

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How to Make that Call…

This is a brief (no it isn’t, it will get long… nothing I write is ever brief) tutorial on how to contact your Member of Congress about the need for oversight on the Dept. of State’s current move to make inter-country adoption more difficult and more expensive.

I will do this in two parts because there are two kinds of people out there.

The Extrovert’s Guide to Contacting Members of Congress…

Read this so you have the facts:  http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/files/large/866b3338c7a856c

  1.  Find out who your two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative are.  You can do that here: https://contactingcongress.org/ 
  2. Pick up the phone and dial the number listed for that elected official.
  3. Ask to speak to the staff person in charge of adoption or international adoption.  (Mine didn’t have one, by the way, so I was routed to the staffer whose job description most closely matched that.  He was delightful and responsive.)
  4. Explain that you are concerned about the recent move by the U.S. Department of State to increase the accreditation fees for international adoption agencies and that you are gravely concerned that this increase in fees will cause a cascade of negative effects on inter-country adoptions.  Do this in your own words.  Refer the staffer to the National Council for Adoption to find further information.
  5. Be polite and respectful throughout the conversation.
  6. If you don’t know the answer to something you are asked, don’t guess.  Say “I don’t know the answer to that, but I will get it and get back to you.”  Then follow through.
  7. Offer to send a follow-up email with resources your congressional staffer can use to brief his/her boss/your Member of Congress on the topic.  Be sure to include a photo of your internationally adopted children if you have them.  This issue needs a face.  It needs a lot of faces.  Because lives are surely at stake.

The Introvert’s Guide to Contacting Your Member of Congress:

  1.  Avoid doing it?  Because surely everyone else is already doing it, right?  WRONG.  I, an introvert, was the first person to contact my congressman’s office on this.  I waited until the second day of the targeted campaign. They had literally not heard of it until I called.  This is a HUGE PROBLEM!
  2. Realize you have to do it.  Spend a few minutes pondering how much you hate cold calling on anything.  Worry that you will stutter.  (I did once or twice, we all survived.)
  3. Feel a little sick, but know this is important and you really need to do it even if you’d rather chew ground glass than talk to a stranger on the phone.
  4. Put on an essential oil blend for courage.  Make a pot of coffee.  Do a few deep breathing exercises.  Picture where your internationally adopted children would be right now if they weren’t safely home with you.
  5. Follow steps 1-7 on the Extrovert list.

I would love to tell you that the Introvert List is made up.  Except that I literally did all those things.  And you know what?  It was easy-peasy once I determined that it was important enough for me to step out of my comfort zone.  And after reading about and discussing the issue at length, I was actually able to share a lot of good information with a congressional staffer who was both kind and responsive.  (We have already emailed back and forth several times today with follow-ups.  I feel like he’s my new best friend.)

This is a problem that won’t go away unless we make our voices heard.  Period.  I know that if you are an adoptive parent, you have your own inspiration.  But here was mine…

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Whatever Happened to the Golden Door?

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These are the faces of inter-country adoption. They are faces that I love with every fiber of my being.  That is simply because they are my daughters and also, in a more complex way, because of what it cost me to make them that.

There was not a single step of the adoption process that was easy.  The paperwork was mountainous,  the expense was seemingly insurmountable for a single woman existing on a salary from a non-profit organization that (rightfully) puts its resources into saving lives, and for all of the obstacles inherent in getting to my children, there were dozens more in bringing them home and actually parenting them.

We daily walk a tight rope of behavioral and learning challenges that are a direct result of decisions I didn’t make, the consequences of which I will do everything in my power to correct and heal.  It is both my calling and my supreme privilege to do so. Because I am my girls’ mom.

It was inter-country adoption that made me a mother.  But as grateful as I will always be for that, this is not about me, nor is it about you.  It is, instead, about millions of children who have no voice but ours on the international stage.  They are the children who wait, often in deplorable circumstances, for a family of their own. There are too many of them to count, but each one is precious and of infinite value.  These children are exactly who I picture when I hear the words of Emma Lazarus, emblazoned on one of our nation’s historical treasures.

 “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

There is currently a movement within our own Department of State that is doing the exact opposite of lifting a lamp beside the golden door.  This has been quietly happening for the last few years, and for evidence one need only to look at the international adoption statistics of the last few years.  While inter-country adoptions peaked at 22,884 in 2004, they have steadily declined since that time, by a shocking 76%.

Adoption, already difficult, expensive and emotionally taxing is becoming more of all those things — and it is absolutely unnecessary for it to be that way.  There is a better way.

Those of us who are blessed to have safe and happy homes inhabited by loving families with time, resources and life to give need to be adopting more, not less.

As a nation, we need to be the beacon of hope that we have always been to groups of innocents who are suffering in their current circumstances. Our regulatory bodies need to be making adoption easier, not harder for families who have love to give.

As people of integrity and compassion we need to be promoting, encouraging and facilitating ethical inter-country adoption, not making it more cumbersome.

I have friends who are in the process of adopting a seven-year old girl with special needs from the same country that trusted me to be Annelise’s mama.  These are hard-working, middle-class, church-going people. My dad would call them “salt of the earth” types.  They are not rolling in money.  They are absolutely swimming in love, safety, and warmth.  They are the first place I would choose to place child who needs a family.  I have walked the difficult road of adoption with them — helping to organize fundraisers, listening to paperwork woes and praying for them and their daughter.  I have seen the way our community has rallied around them. I am, if this is possible, aching as desperately to see little Anna home with her family as I was to have both of my girls here in mine.  It absolutely appalls me that after all the work they have done to make a stranger their own, a regulatory agency that is supposed to facilitate inter-country adoption is actively putting in place policies that will make their journey even more expensive and more difficult.

Some things just aren’t okay.  This is one of those things.  I know I have been speaking in generalizations, but if you would like more information, including how you can help correct this egregious wrong, this link will help you do just that.

http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/intercountry-advocacy

I urge you to take a few minutes to act on this.  Children need families to thrive just like plants need sunshine and water to survive.  Growing up as one of hundreds in an institution is not ever a viable alternative to having a family who loves you.  If you question this at all, I know a very verbal eight-year-old who would be happy to talk with you about what adoption has meant in her life, and about what it means to children who still wait to find what she has.

My girls have been home six and two years, respectively.  In that time they have been transformed from orphans to beloved daughters, sisters, cousins, granddaughters, classmates, students and friends.  They live full and active lives, and their futures are limited only by their own willingness to pursue them.  Had they stayed in their original circumstances, not a single word of that that last sentence would be true.

Inter-country adoption (and all adoption) saves lives.  Right now we need to act to save inter-country adoption.

 

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But for the Grace of God…

I am back from a week in Mexico with an amazing team of people.  To say that it changed me would be selling it far short, and I don’t want to do that.  We have been home for three days and I have not yet even begun to process what I saw and heard.  (Some of that may have to do with the small voices vying for my attention, and the fact that I cannot stop hugging the girls to whom they belong.)

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The faces of the people we met, the sights, the sounds, and even the smells that swirled around us all week are never far from my mind.  They become the most vivid when it’s quiet, which has probably slowed down my usual processing time because… it’s almost never quiet here.  But tonight I find myself alone in the house with my favorite dog, my babies ensconced safely at The Farm a few miles away, and suddenly it is all tumbling through my head.

I’m typically pretty good at putting things into perspective.  I try to always leave a situation better than I found it.  I have a driving need to fix things and make a difference. And as I get older, I’m learning to see where I really CAN make a difference, and go there, as opposed to jumping on my donkey (he’s imaginary) and tilting at windmills.

But this week.  This trip.  This mission.  You guys, I just can’t.

I came away with more questions than answers.  Big questions.  Faith challenging questions.  With possible life altering answers.  Mostly, though, I just keep pondering.  And allowing myself to re-visit things in small doses, because that is all I can handle right now.  And praying for direction.  And feeling so, so small in the face of the overwhelming needs I witnessed.

Because I thought my life as a single mama was hard.  And then I met a mama with six kids (four running up and down a steep hill covered with glass and trash, including the toddler; and two still in utero) whose husband had gone on a trip and decided not to come back.  She lived in a shack with no door.  Her beautiful little girl, not much older than Clara, sat and played nearby as we built them a home.  A 12 x 18 shed, really, but with a solid roof and a door with a knob that locked.  And all I could do is imagine how much safer little Ruby will be behind a door that locks at night.

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We spent a day at a dump.  An actual garbage dump where people live.  Ponder that for a moment.  They spend their lives surrounded by a stench my most carefully chosen words cannot describe, digging through what other people have thrown away, in order to feed their children.  Or to get high so they can forget that they spend their days in a garbage dump.  After we handed out sandwiches, chips and drinks to them, we visited the tent city where many of the people live.  We heard about their lives.  We visited their homes, if you can even call them that.  Everywhere we went, we were followed by sad, starving dogs with mange and fleas, some with visible wounds.  And I really was holding it together, mostly, until we met the mom with seven children who lived in the middle of this… place.  Two of her kids were outside the tent when we stopped to talk.  One of them was a little girl somewhere between my girls’ ages.  Her face was dirty.  Her clothes were tattered.  Her eyes were huge.  And she didn’t have a smile.

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It is one thing to see adults living in poverty — trapped in a cycle that won’t let them go.  It is heart wrenching to watch people wandering around literally high, or on their way to getting there, surrounded by refuse.  It is entirely another to see children in the midst of that squalor.  To know that drug use is widespread, that prostitution and so, so much worse is happening within the confines of the dump.  And to see kids there.  Because after we walked away, that little girl’s face faded and in her place I saw another face.  This face.

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Because she was born early and with limbs missing, Clara ended up in a Bulgarian orphanage, and then eventually here in the heart of small town America.  Had her birth mother decided to raise her, she would have grown up in a Roma encampment that looked disturbingly like that tent city.  It would have been Clara wandering around dirty and covered with lice.  Hungry much of the time.  Seeing and experiencing God knows what as she and her family barely eked out an existence from day to day.

I viewed the rest of that tent city through the tears I was blinking away.  Because that beautiful girl who calls me “Mommy” could have been living in almost exactly that kind of place.  And as much as I can’t imagine that, I could imagine exactly that.  Clara going to sleep in a tent at night with predators prowling outside.  Clara itching and aching and hungry.  Clara afraid.  Clara without her smile.

My girls are my heart.  I go to great lengths to keep them safe and protected.  To feed them not just food that will fill their tummies, but that will nourish their bodies and build them for a lifetime.  And I’m ever mindful and grateful that I have the means to do that. But my girls aren’t more important or special to God than that little girl in the garbage dump.  Or than Ruby.  Or than any of the dozens of kids we saw in the orphanages we visited on Tuesday and Friday.

And I cannot understand it.  I cannot wrap my head around why Clara and Annelise were plucked from their orphanages and put into a safe place with a family who loves them, while other children are left behind.

On Friday, our last day in Mexico, we spent the morning at a poor orphanage that was doing all it could to house and feed the children in its care.  The property was old and crumbling.  The children ate their meals in a building without doors, at rickety tables.  But they had meals.  They had a high wall keeping them in and less savory elements out.  They had clean clothes.  And beautiful hair styles.  And people taking care of them.

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And it struck me how much safer and better off they were there than those children I had seen in the garbage dump.  How much better off they were in that poor orphanage than they would have been on the streets with parents who were too poor or too addicted to take care of them.

But I still couldn’t get past their sad eyes.  I was a random woman who showed up for a few hours one day, but at several points I found myself with little girls inching ever closer to me, in hopes of some affection.  As I sat there with my arms around them, I thought of my girls.  I thought of how, even though I’m not the most fun or patient mom in the world, I am a mom with arms that hug.  And I felt my heart crack a little, not for the first time in the week.

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I didn’t cry in that orphanage, even though the weight of all I had seen was pressing in, hard.  I smiled.  I laughed.  I hugged.  And I saw.  I saw with the eyes of a mom whose children used to be orphans.  I saw with my heart.  And I made myself a promise.  I promised to come home to my now obviously extravagant life and to not forget what I saw.

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And after that, I got back into our team van and settled into my seat, tears burning behind my eyes, down into my throat, and very thankful that I happened to be sitting next to someone who knows me and has an uncanny ability to sense when I need a hug.

So now I’m home.  My messy little house suddenly looks and feels like a palace.  My job feels like the gift that it is.  My full cupboards and refrigerator seem like an extravagance I don’t deserve.  And there are fissures in my heart that weren’t there two weeks ago.  Before I saw.

I am changed.  I pray that I am changed for the better.  I am grateful for what I have, but even more than that, I am mindful that while I enjoy it, others lack.  It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but I pray that feeling doesn’t go away.  I hope that those faces, and voices, and especially those eyes are never far from my mind.  I want to — I will — find ways to continue to make a difference.

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Because, but for the grace of God, I could be that mama on a hill in a shack.  And certainly, but for the grace of God, Clara could be that little girl living in the midst of filth and desperation.  And but for the grace of God, both of my girls could still have those sad eyes that are a result of not having a family.  I know those eyes so well.  They are the eyes Annelise had before she had a mama and a sister.

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I don’t know where to go from here, honestly.  I don’t have answers to my questions.  I am fully and painfully aware that God doesn’t love me more than He loves that mama on the hill, or that mama in the garbage dump.  I know for a fact that He doesn’t place more value on Clara and AE than He does on little Ruby, or the girl in the garbage dump, or Jimena, or Paloma, or Daniel, or Miguel or Cecilia in their orphanage.

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I do know that God doesn’t open our eyes for no reason.  I am grateful that God doesn’t allow our hearts to be broken without also giving us a chance to redeem the things that did the breaking.  I don’t know what part God will allow me — or the rest of our missions team — to play in making the lives of those orphans better.  But I do know that He didn’t take me out of my comfortable life for a week just because He thought I needed a little break from my kids.

And so I continue to ponder.  And I ask you to pray.  Pray for those kids.  Most of them will never know the love of a family.  Most of them will never belong the way Clara and Annelise have been allowed to belong.  The way your kids were born to belong.  The way you and I have always belonged, and taken for granted.

Pray that God will give  all of us the opportunity to take what we saw this past week and use it to change thing for the better.  To make a difference.  To shine His light into some very, very dark places.  And please, take a moment to thank God that you have what and who you do.  I know that I am holding my girls and that man I love a lot closer these days.

We have so much.  Let’s use it wisely, and let’s find ways to share it with people who have so little.  (Yep, that was me totally foreshadowing some future projects in which you can participate.  Because otherwise, whats the point?)

And you guys?  Please start seeing people.  Look at them through eyes that aren’t haughty or judgmental.  See them the way God sees them.  Look for ways you can make a difference in their lives.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  And if you’re reading this and you’ve never met an orphan, never walked through a garbage dump, or never been blessed enough to pound a few nails into the wall of a house that will keep a little girl and her family safe at night, consider embarking on your own life-altering adventure.  Check out Spectrum Ministries and partner with them in all the amazing work they do.

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Who We Say We Are

There’s this thing that’s never far from my mind or my heart and there’s a reason.  I have loved adoption since the very early days of my pro-life involvement because it just made so much sense.  If you’re going to say “no” to abortion, you have to say “yes” to adoption, and adoption advocacy.

This isn’t because we need to “save face” as pro-lifers.  It is simply and completely because we are who we say we are.

And who are we?

We are people who love life.  We believe that every child conceived is unique, has intrinsic value and is deserving of a chance at life.  We are horrified that adverse prenatal diagnoses so often lead to abortions because children with special needs are no less valuable than children who are typical. We look at people like Terri Schiavo and see not an injury, or a diagnosis, but a beautiful human being who is every bit as valuable as you or I or anyone else we love.  We see someone whose life matters.

That is what makes us who we are.  It is why we do what we do.  Why we use our voices on behalf of those who have no voice.

We do this because every life matters.  From the moment of conception when a completely unique human being begins his or her earthly existence, until the moment of natural death, everyone matters equally.  This intrinsic value doesn’t change based on race, gender, place of residence or country of origin.

That emaciated, hollow-eyed waif trapped in a sub-standard orphanage in Eastern Europe or Africa is every bit as valuable as the little girl or boy who sits across from you at the dinner table every night.  The only difference between them is that your child is loved and cared for exactly as every child should be.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  As pro-lifers, if we are who we say we are, we need to start caring every bit as much about that tiny 13 year old with Down Syndrome who hovers on the edge of starvation, waiting only for the love of a family to thrive, as we do about the unborn child in the womb here in America whose mom has an abortion appointment scheduled.  If we do not, we run the risk of people (perhaps rightly) viewing us as not being truly pro-life.   Or possibly of being only conveniently pro-life.

We are, and always have been, a movement of people who oppose abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.  As an outgrowth of those three things, we work to protect the medically vulnerable.  This includes the child who is diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome via ultrasound, as well as the child with Down Syndrome who is already born and being denied lifesaving medical treatment.  It also includes the child born with Down Syndrome in a country where children with disabilities are viewed as “cursed” somehow, and relegated to institutions… or worse.

As people of life, we need to look at the vulnerable and see beauty where others may see a mistake.  We need to reach out to those in need where others might walk on by.  If we are going to call ourselves pro-life, we need to actually BE pro-life.  That means standing in the gap for all of the children, be they vulnerable because they are in the womb, or vulnerable because they live on the other side of the globe, have a special need, and have no one to call them “son” or “daughter.”

You guys, this isn’t always easy.  Abortion broke my heart when I was 13 years old and learned it was a thing.  If you took every tear I have cried over the existence of this twisted “solution” to unplanned pregnancy, you would literally be able to fill a lake.  (Okay, I cry a lot.  It’s a thing.)

I learned to look past a twisted frame and slow speech to see the value of every life when close friends of mine had a little boy with CP who stayed with my family when his family needed respite.  I will forever be grateful for the fact that special needs touched my life directly and when I was only 11.  I was changed for the better in so many ways.

Terri Schiavo and her family very effectively and somewhat brutally helped break my heart about euthanasia.  I will forever be thankful to them for doing that.  As I will to all of the people who daily fight to protect the dignity of people who, like Terri, have disabilities that might cause some to look upon them as “less than.”

I think, sometimes, especially as pro-life people, we need to learn to see with the eyes of our hearts more than we see with our actual eyes.  The older I get, the more naturally this seems to happen for me.  Perhaps it is because I am less concerned about appearances and what other people think.  And perhaps it is simply because my entire outlook has been changed by two small girls who call me “mommy.”

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My path to motherhood has taken me to two different foreign countries and through two very different orphanages.  While the purpose of those trips was to bring my daughters home, something other than Clara and Annelise now also drives me.  Because I went into those orphanages with my eyes wide open and my heart pounding very loudly in my chest.  You would have to be very cold to walk into an orphanage and NOT see the children who wait.  To ignore the children whose profile photos don’t scream “I am perfect and cute, please choose me.”  While I was there, in the places that nurtured my girls before I could, the children who spoke to me the loudest were the children with special needs.

I will never forget the little girl in Clara’s orphanage who had what appeared to be cerebral palsy.  She was tiny and dressed in a pale pink sleeper.  She drew my attention away from my precocious new daughter because her caregiver was showing her to my friend and translator, who was openly weeping.  When I asked why, she explained that the caregiver was telling her “this child will never have a family because she is so damaged.”  I cried, too, and assured my friend that I know people who would adopt such a child and to please fight to get her registered.  The type of people of whom I spoke are very probably exactly like you who are reading this post.  People of life.

I will also never forget the parade of children (literally) from Annelise’s orphanage — children with Down Syndrome and other special needs — who were introduced to us by their orphanage staff in the hopes that we (the team of staff and volunteers from our adoption agency that was visiting) would be able to find them families.  I am thrilled to say that most of the children we met are now home in families or will soon be.  (Due largely to the advocacy of one woman whose example is something the entire adoption community should follow.)

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My point, the very reason that compelled me to open my laptop and dump my heart into this blog space, is that if we are who we say we are (and friends, I know that we are) we need to look for ways to publicly and very loudly advocate for all of the children who need our voices.

For me, that started very simply with a focus on protecting the child in the womb.  Very early on in my pro-life walk, it became evident that if I was going to do that, I also needed to advocate for children who need families.  I have done that, most effectively, by making two of them my own.  But beyond my own adoptions, I have found that my pro-life work has given me a platform from which to shout the reality that special needs adoption needs to be a part of what we do.  This is simply because, at its very core, it is a part of who we are.

I could give you literally hundreds of examples of this, and that makes my heart swell.  (I am so blessed to know so many incredible people.)  But.  You guys.  We all, including myself, need to do a better job of proclaiming to the world that children with special needs matter.  In and out of the womb.

I have lost track of that little girl in the pale pink sleeper.  That fact will sadden me for the rest of my days.  But God knows where she is, and I pray that He leads her to the family that will love her.  I may not be able to help her directly, but I can absolutely help others like her.

I love adoption because I am pro-life.  I see beauty in children with special needs because I am pro-life.  I need you to join me in advocating for special needs adoption because you are pro-life, too!  Please.  Now, more than ever, the world needs to see that we are exactly who we say we are.

 

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Goodbye, Friend.

 

I have been meaning to write this blog post for the last 40 days, but I just haven’t had the heart.  I’m actually not sure I do now.  If I publish this, you’ll know I somehow found the words.

You see, I had this dog.  He was more than a dog really.  He was a friend, a companion, a narcissist, a comedian, and he understood English better than the average first grader.  (Non dog people have mocked me for saying this, but to a person, all who have spent more than an hour with him have repented and apologized for judging me.  Yes, Scott and Amber, I’m talking about you.)  My mother, who is not typically taken with indulging my whims, will back me up.  That boy straight up understood everything we were saying.  And it made life with him a regular laugh riot.

Sammy came to us on January 29, 2009 and literally knew upon first meeting me that I was his and he was mine and that we were meant to be.  I knew it, too.  I actually knew it the first time I saw him on Petfinder, although the needy look he somehow mustered for his photo was all an act, as I would quickly learn.  His rescuer, Marti, also knew that he and I were meant to be, as she did something she never does.  She held onto him for me while I was saying a long and hard good-bye to his predecessor, the addled but adorable Ribsfeld Walker Little, known to his friends and family simply as Ribsy.  I am so grateful to Marti for making that exception, and what started as a phone call about a dog has blossomed into a friendship that spans more than eight years.  (And has added three more dogs to our family.)

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The first time ever I saw that face…

And so it was that several weeks after Ribsy died, I found myself in possession of a black and silver schnoodle with an attitude that outweighed him by at least ten pounds.  We had been in the back seat of my car for a grand total of ten seconds on the ride home before he flopped over onto his back in my lap and put his dainty paw in my hand.  I was in love.  He was training his newest staff member.  Within 24 hours my “no dogs on the bed” rule had been scrapped and my white medallion quilt was covered in a fine sheen of schnoodle hair.  (He never did get the memo that he was a non-shedding breed.) He took up residence in my recliner and then reluctantly decided there was room for me in there, as well.

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He was an odd little guy.  For the longest time after he was home, he had a nightly habit we called “the airing of grievances” wherein he would come into the doorway of my office, plop himself down and then begin a monologue which was always entertaining, but never understandable.  People who have loved schnauzers would recognize this as the song of his people.  I used to try to look sympathetic and understanding, but usually ended up laughing.  He didn’t appreciate being laughed at.  He did appreciate a good dog biscuit, though, and acquired a rather impressive collection which he kept in various locations around the house.  Our first clue that he wasn’t “typical” was when we caught him maneuvering heart-shaped Valentine biscuits into all the corners of my parent’s living room, and lining the bone-shaped ones up along the trim in my house.

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Sammy loved life and everyone and everything in it.  He was a very verbal dog, and had a special bark for close friends and family.  I could actually tell when my mom or Mindy was at the door because he told me with a shrieking joy that, if amplified, would surely have shattered my extensive Mason jar collection.  And all the light bulbs in the house.  (This is the primary reason I never bought him that Barbie microphone he kept asking for at Christmas.)

He was also fiercely protective of his mama.  On one particular night when I was having guests over for dinner, a male friend jokingly moved toward me like he was going to choke me.  My docile and overly friendly (to the point that I wondered if he had some reactive attachment issues) dog suddenly turned into a snarling, vicious beast who launched himself at said friend with a ferocity he never displayed again.  Had this friend not been lightning quick, he might have lost the ability to father children.  True story.  I have witnesses.

When Sammy had been home for about six weeks, I got him a dog.  He seemed lonely, and spent most of his days on the couch sighing dramatically while I tried to work.  After a rough adjustment period, he decided that he liked having a brother, and spent the next eight years driving Baxter crazy.  (I should note that Baxter seems to be the only family member not grieving in the wake of Sammy’s death.  And even we who mourn cannot blame him.  He put up with a lot.  He may write a book some day when he’s done with his extensive therapy.)

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I think all dogs can read moods and are pretty good at making their people feel better when they are sad.  Sammy was a pro.  I told myself that he was gifted with empathy, but I knew him well enough to know that it was probably 20% empathy and 80% that he straight up loved to lick the salt off my face when I cried.  Either way, it worked for both of us.  I felt loved, he got a snack.  Everyone felt better.

There is a natural tendency, in death, to sugar coat a person’s life and gloss over their faults.  I try to be real in all of my blog posts, so I will, in the interest of full disclosure, admit that Sammy was as naughty as he was funny.  He had a habit of getting into things he knew he shouldn’t.  And that could kill him.  Often.  My mom was convinced that he had a death wish and I was thwarting it.  I couldn’t not… I loved him the way normal people love their actual children.

One summer, while I was on a DQ run between my summer camps, he got into a tub of caramel dip and emptied it.  When I returned home he met me at the door and very clearly indicated that Baxter, who was joyfully licking the last remnants from the tub, had been the perpetrator.  I might have believed him if he hadn’t had a glob of caramel the size of a golf ball stuck in the fur above his right eye.  That was my first call to the ASPCA poison control hotline, but certainly not my last.  It was also the night I learned that peroxide induces vomiting in dogs.  To this day I have an industrial supply in my closet.  It was not the last time Sammy would need it.  He had compulsions.  And little to no impulse control.

Once while my parents were dog sitting, he purloined a peanut butter and jelly sandwich off their dining room table.  Which was way over his head.  He had to pull out a chair to do it.  He partially pushed it back in when he was done.  Sammy was not a normal dog by any stretch.  And he never abandoned his love of table surfing.

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Even amid the post-China mess it was obvious something wasn’t where it belonged…

In fact, I spent a decent chunk of change bringing him back from the brink of death.  There was the chowing down of the contents of a poisoned mouse nest in 2012 that almost ended his earthly existence.  One gigantic emergency vet bill, a two day hospital stay and a lot of IV drug intervention later, he was as good as new.   I don’t regret a penny I spent.  He earned every one as my Head of Household Security, personal therapist, and friend.

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We spent nearly eight years together, The Sammy and I, along with Baxter.  As the years wore on I would add two human children to the family, and Sammy welcomed each one and became instrumental in keeping them in line and out of trouble.  He loved those girls and they loved him.

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Then in May of last year, out of the blue, he suffered a violent seizure in the middle of the night.  I handled it with my usual aplomb.  (And by that I mean I called my mom in a panic and insisted that she race to my house because Sammy was clearly dying and therefore I probably would, too.  She came, as she always does, because she is just that awesome.)  It turned out Sammy was dying, but not that night, and we didn’t realize it for a number of months, which is probably a very good thing.

The last eight months of his life were a blur of seizures, changing medications, horrible side effects on one in particular, and yet more medication changes.  Between seizures he was his normal, perky self, and I counted every day with him as a blessing and a bonus.  I kept what was, quite possibly, the most detailed seizure diary a dog has ever had.  (No one can accuse me of not being thorough.) I learned that full moons, thunder storms, loud noises and strong smells triggered the seizures.  Marti, always there with advice and comfort, taught me to hold him behind his head while applying an ice pack to his back to shorten their duration.  It worked. And it made me feel better.

At some point after summer was over, I realized that the thing I had worked very hard to convince myself wasn’t a thing was, in fact, A Thing.  Sammy had a brain tumor, and he wasn’t going to live out the long and full life I had planned for him.  Thankfully I had learned from losing Ribsy that it’s best to take things one day at a time and to find the joy and humor in each day instead of, I don’t know, randomly bursting into tears five to seven times a day.  (Poor Ribsy.)  And so I coped.  We coped.  And in our case, this meant I learned to clean up tinkle like a freaking pro.  If mopping up urine is ever made into an Olympic sport, don’t even bother to enter the trials.  I am going to win.  I will beat you all.  I will stand atop that podium.  (Again, I have witnesses.)  I also learned to appreciate poop art.  I’m still getting grief about a particular Facebook post.  I will not apologize!

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Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas it became all too apparent that Sammy’s time was limited but that his brain tumor wasn’t going to make the decision an easy one for me.  And so I wrestled with the reality that so many others who love dogs have had to.  Sammy kindly managed to make it through Christmas, something I had prayed he would, for my girls’ sake, but shortly thereafter things went downhill fast.  Toward the end he lost more and more of himself, and I knew it was time when I found him in my bathroom, waiting at the shower door.  As Ribsy had neared his end eight years earlier, I found him in there a lot.  (I remain convinced, to this day, that my shower is actually a portal to Narnia, and that only dogs are aware of this fact.)

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I said good-bye to my friend on January 6th.  As it turns out, it didn’t kill me, and I’m grateful.  I grieved hard and then put on my mommy pants and walked my girls through their good-byes.  Clara took it about as well as I did.  (Not well at all.)  Annelise was very matter-of-fact, but she is still processing and often asks me when he’s coming back.

Sammy is buried between my parents house and mine, in a hole my dad quietly dug while the ground was still soft this fall.  He also made a nice wooden grave marker.  I haven’t quite had whatever it takes to visit the grave, yet.  I’ve tried to do “grieving light” and was doing super well until it hit me again about two days ago.  Anyone who has loved a dog will understand.  Anyone who hasn’t won’t.  And that’s okay.

I have a theory that dogs are angels with fur, sent by God to give we humans some things we need that only dogs can give.  I am grateful that He sent Sammy to me when I needed him.  I guess Sammy was done teaching me what he was supposed to.  I’m grateful that, for now anyway, Baxter still has wisdom he needs to impart to his mama and sisters.  And I’m beyond thankful for that nearly eight years with Sammy that took me from single lady with dogs to someone who gets to be called “Mom” by two beautiful girls.

I won’t argue theology with non-dog people, but I am convinced that I will see my Sammy again some day.  I think he’s probably hanging out with my aunt Wendy and our friend Brother Paul, relishing the fact that in heaven dogs can eat All the Things and not worry about being force fed peroxide.  If you believe differently, please feel free to keep such thoughts to yourself.

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Just Keep Swimming… Managing that Tricky Post Adoption Phase

I do this thing where I keep track of our lives via Facebook status updates.  I do it partly because it’s how I make notes for The (Eventual) Book.  I also do it because I am determined to find humor if it can possibly be found, even when a situation doesn’t feel especially funny.

Yesterday I happened upon this in my timeline from last year on Valentine’s Day.

“Just another manic Sunday here. I think the highlight so far was sitting in the bathroom having a very terse “come to Jesus” style discussion of Child A’s unusually unpleasant behavior with her while Child B sat outside the door waving an American flag and singing what I can only assume was a Communist party ode to her native land. Complete with somber face and militaristic gestures. Child A, having been properly chastened (why yes, I did cancel Valentine’s Day until behavior is such that I feel like celebrating our love) is now countering by running around singing her own unique composition about America. Spontaneously, I might add, as I felt it wise not to point out that her sister was engaging in slightly un-American activities. All of this fun and jubilation was capped off by dropping my favorite WRTL swag mug while washing the backlog of dishes that has accumulated during our little version of post-adoption jet lag purgatory. The mug, shattered like my dreams of a pleasant Valentine’s Day, has been dispatched to the garbage while I nurse the gash in my pointy finger. Sweet Jesus, there is not enough chocolate in the world for this day.”

Looking back, I laugh.  It is a snapshot of a time in our lives that was chaotic, difficult, exhausting and, funny? Perhaps now, but I remember at the time (ten days home from China, still a little jet lagged, and trying to incorporate a new and traumatized child while juggling a fiery, passionate and insanely jealous older child) that I was doing everything I could not to sit under my desk and sob.  And so I found the humor.  It’s how I cope.  It’s how I have always coped.

I also remember thinking “maybe this will be funny a year from now.”  And it is!

When you are adopting and you are newly home and it’s all a crazy hot mess, please remember this and take heart.  This is not your new normal.  It’s a bizarre re-entry that could well last weeks, but IT WILL GET BETTER!  Your new normal is what will happen when the lunacy eases a bit, or even entirely, and it will be so. much. better. than. this.

This is what we call a “transition.”  In this case, “transition” means “period during which you will feel like your brain is being removed from your head via a single nostril, and you would give anything — an-y-t-h-i-n-g for a solid night’s sleep.”

You’ve all heard of the “baby blues.”  Postpartum depression.  It’s a thing.  And because it involves childbirth (sometimes traumatic for mom and baby) and the addition of a new human to the family, it makes total sense that it’s a thing.  And also, HORMONES!

But guess what?  Adoption can be just as life-altering as child birth.  Perhaps not on the physical level, but most definitely on the emotional level.  And also… hormones?  (I think it’s a thing, but I’m not a doctor, so don’t quote me on that.  I’ve just done it twice now and it makes PMS look like a day at the spa, so…)

My adoptive parent friends and I — mostly the mamas — have had long, emotional, intense and usually secret conversations about these matters.  Because almost no one talks about the emotional adjustment after adoption. (At least not the one the grown ups experience.)  The conversations go a lot like this:

Friend:  I don’t know.  I’m just so sad.  Nothing is the way I thought it would be, and I just want to sleep.  The new child is turning our lives upside down, the old children are out of sync, and I am wondering if this adoption has ruined our lives.  Is this normal?

Me:  Yep.  (Then, depending on where I am in the adoption cycle, either sheer commiseration or wise counsel follows.)

You guys.  It’s a thing.  And by that I mean post-adoption depression is definitely a reality for some.  I am not certain that what I experienced ever went quite that far, but I will confess to feeling 100% out of sync, as though I had just tossed my comfortable life out the window in favor of a new reality that made me want to cry (or run away) and feel like life would NEVER be okay again.  And I did it twice.  The more I talk to friends who are newly home with their children, the more I realize that what I was experiencing was actually pretty common.

But… it was a phase.  It is a phase.  It is, in fact, something I think all adopting parents should study and even plan for.  (Not kidding.  Stock up on coffee, chocolate, wine, coloring books, whatever thing gets you through.)  And make a list of friends who have been there/done that and are willing to be FB messaged or called at any hour of the day or night because… JET LAG.  And because in the throes of it you will feel anything but normal, and will need someone to assure you that you are, in fact, exactly that.

If you are married parents who are adopting/have adopted, my advice is this: teamwork.  Wives.  You are most likely the one home with the kids all day.  Build in coping mechanisms.  Remember to hydrate and eat well.  Vitamins are your friend. Know that this insanity will not last.  Don’t be afraid to talk to other adoptive mama friends.  (Maybe don’t mention it to people who haven’t adopted… a round of “well, you got yourself into this…” therapy isn’t what you need right now, and honestly, regardless of how well meaning they are, people who haven’t attempted this stunt have no clue how difficult it is.)  And make sure your husband understands that, unless he is a trauma surgeon on the actual, literal front lines of an epic battle between good and evil, or a hostage negotiator, his day at work probably wasn’t as hard as your day at home.

Husbands.  Let her vent.  Hold her if she needs to cry or is shaking with rage, even if you don’t understand.  This is totally normal.  That adorable, winning child who runs into your arms and melts your heart with his/her smile when you walk in the door was quite possibly (okay, probably) screaming in a rage and throwing things at the woman you love half an hour ago. Or less.  Come home with flowers, chocolate, or whatever will help.  Say things like “do you need to hide in a closet for a few minutes while I wrangle these beasts?”  Remember that she, too, is on the front lines.  And that she spent much of her day reasoning with children, at least one of whom most likely doesn’t speak her language.  And Google translate… well, it’s entirely possible that she accidentally told your new child to “Please eat your flesh” when she was simply trying to coax her to finish her chicken.  (Don’t ask me how I know…)

Single mama friends, because it is you who have my heart… know your village and use it.  If you are cocooning according to directions, you are IT, sister.  (Or brother, I realize that I shouldn’t leave out my single dad friends.  I have a few.)  Let them bring you meals.  You will not have the energy to make food.  Even if you love to cook (I do) anything beyond peanut butter and jelly is going to seem like you actually have to go out, kill a literal T-Rex, clean it and cook it over a raging fire you built yourself after cutting down trees to make the fire.  Take advantage of the (rare) moments when no one is actively expressing rage, jealously, trauma or sensory seeking behavior.  (I had a three-year-old literally glued to my body for a 36 hour period I’m still not sure how I survived.  Did I mention that I am an introvert?)  Sleep when they sleep, if you can.  Have a playlist of songs that help you get through.  And then… just get through.  This isn’t the Olympics.  There isn’t a panel of judges scrutinizing your technique.  If lunch is a tortilla and some grapes, everyone WILL survive.

You can see that I’m trying not to sugar coat things here.  I believe in real.  This past year was crazy hard.  The first few months were the worst, but there were other times where I was a) chanting “I hate my life” to myself under my breath, b) sobbing or c) thinking there was literally no way out from under.  I had conversations with friends that consisted basically of “I do not love this child like I love my other child” and “I actually don’t even like her right now.”  Thank GOD for friends who had either been in that exact spot, or who had walked through my first adoption with me and could remind me that I had been there before.  (I literally have no memory of how hard it was the first time around.  I will eventually get there with this time around, which is why I’m writing this now when I do remember!)

Because, know what?  Love doesn’t happen instantly.  At least it doesn’t for me.  I have to fall in love.  I usually do it slowly.  When the party to whom I am attempting to attach is making my life miserable (through no fault of her own, and largely because of ME) it is even more difficult to summon up the warm fuzzies.  There were days and weeks where I had to straight up fake it.  I am surmising that you will, too.  There are times I failed to fake it and then felt like The Worst Person in the World.  There were even (thankfully few) times where my amazing friend Lindsey had to literally say “I don’t care if you’re feeling it.  Go right now and hold that child.  Then come back and tell me that you did it.”  I hated those times.  But, and I still don’t get this, IT WORKED. (Thank you, Lindsey!)

And here I am — here we are — one year after all the hot re-entry mess that I thought might kill us, and I have these two beautiful and surprisingly, amazingly well-adjusted girl children who are 100% sisters on every level.   We still have our moments, but they are 99% the kinds of moments you have when you… parent.

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My girls, exactly one year to the day after the frantic Valentine’s FB post of 2016.

The Little Ladies made it through the fire, and this last time around that fire was HOT.  If you are reading this and you are in that post adoption phase, you will make it, too.  It will not always be this hard.  And while your life from this point forward won’t be what it was before you adopted this child, it will feel like your life again.  Your arms will one day recognize that child the way they do your other children.  Your marriage will survive, if you choose to work together and laugh.  I’m no expert, but I’m guessing it will be even stronger than before because it generally is when you weather hard things together.

Single mamas/dads?  You are not always going to feel like you’re drowning and losing your mind at the same time.  You will establish a routine.  One day you will get the kitchen clean again and catch up on paperwork.  If you are lucky enough to find yourself  a Mr. Bass, you may even catch up on your first-graders “Book It” program and have clean dishes on a consistent basis.  (Wait, I’m projecting.  Never mind.  But I am super thankful to have clean dishes and be caught up on Book It.  Thanks, Mr. Bass.)

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Mr. Bass washing dishes AND occupying a Bulgarican at the same time!

So my absolute best advice, when you are deep in the heart of that first few weeks and months home, is to take heed of the song by Nemo and his friends and “just keep swimming…”  Not going to lie, there are actual times that I was singing this to myself in a half-crazed voice as I moved, like a traumatized sloth, from crisis to crisis. :)  Eventually you will realize that the crises are fewer and further between.   That adoption is still a miracle.  That you are still the grown up.  That you can handle this.  And you will all, eventually, be some form of okay again.  No, really!

 

 

 

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One Year Later… Beauty from Ashes

Yesterday we were in the probate office at our county courthouse to finish the re-finalization of Annelise’s adoption.  The last step in the long, sometimes arduous, process of becoming a family of three is complete.

As we stood there chatting and laughing with the sweet clerk who has now helped me out on two adoptions, AE caught a glimpse of one of the documents we were handing back and forth.  “Who is dat?” she asked, pointing to a picture she couldn’t quite see.  “That’s you,” I replied, turning it so she could see clearly.  “Why do I look sad,” she asked?  “Because you were sad,” I shared, unsure of how much to make of it.  “And scared, because we were new to you.”

My friend who was with us in the office picked things up from there.  “But you’re a happy girl now!” he said.  She grinned in agreement with a soft “yeah” and then redirected her attention to the cool ceiling tiles and asked to be lifted up to touch them as we adults chatted a bit more about what a difference a year can make.

And so it was that Annelise Nina Little became officially official, with a judge’s signature and a little help from our favorite notary.  (Thanks, Tami!) It was slightly less momentous to her than the fact that, half an hour later, she was allowed to run unaccompanied around the cheese cooler in the grocery store.  (The perks of taking a much less uptight adult along for the ride.  “Let mom shop… you can do a couple of laps while I check out the sale shelf…”)

I suspect this will be the final “adoption trauma, a year later” post.  I have found myself caught, in some ways, between two worlds these last two weeks.  What we did a year ago in China changed all of us forever, and it was just hard enough that it took awhile for us all to bounce back. Ironically, I think the child who was ripped from everything she knew adapted the fastest.  (Kids are so resilient, I can’t even begin to understand.)  In looking back at photos from the last year, I was surprised to see that this child, the one who had been somber or sad in every picture taken of her, had found her smile by the end of her first month home — possibly sooner.  (It took this mama a bit longer to find her feet, but that’s another post entirely, and one I’m not quite sure I’m ready to write, yet.)

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Annelise, about two weeks home, with her first “noman.”

When you live in the midst of an ongoing miracle, I think you don’t always see how beautifully it is unfolding.  It takes people who are on the outside looking in to remind you of your progress, and of God’s grace through it all.  We had a rough year here.  International travel (seriously, people, I just started to type “trauma” instead of “travel” there and I’m pretty sure it was Freudian…), adjustment to a new family member, and the sudden onset of seizures in our Sammy dog that led to an 8 month decline, due to a brain tumor. (We said good-bye to our sweet boy on January 6th.  It almost killed this mama.)

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Sammy, patiently accepting AE’s “help” with just the right nap set-up

While this last year has been the hardest I have weathered to date, and while it has brought a lot of change to our little corner of the world, it has been a year of growth.  I will start with me because, in many ways, I am our biggest challenge.  I have had to put on my big girl pants every day and do things that were outside my comfort zone and to push myself to act like a mama when I didn’t always feel like one.  (And I got to do it all while cleaning up a LOT of tinkle from humans and canines, which just added an extra touch of magic to the mix.)  I was discouraged a lot.  I doubted my abilities almost daily.  And I relied, more than I ever have, on this amazing village God gave me.  (Thanks, all of you, for reals.  For the advice, even when it was hard to give.  For the time on the farm that refreshed me just enough to jump back into life at home.  For loving my girls.  For loving me.  For working with me to make their lives as magical as possible.  And for always pointing us back to God as the Author of our crazy little family unit.)

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Our little piece of heaven — the Dahlberg farm

Clara has also had a tough year.  She’s blossomed from tiny precocious girl to tall, beautiful, more confident and still magical seven-year old.  She is understanding more and with that comes a little bit of sadness, I think.  Losing Sammy has hit her as hard as it has hit me.  She has had to share the mama she previously had all to herself with a little sister whose need for love was so great, and who couldn’t stand to see her get attention without physically interjecting herself into the mix.  We have struggled a lot with challenges and it has been hard, hard work to help her adapt to our new normal.  There has been great joy, too, though.  I don’t know how many times she has said “Thank you, mama, for finding me a little sister.  I love her to deaf.”  (Never much drama around here, and still no accurate pronunciation of the ending ‘th’ sound, but that’s part of her charm.) This was also the “year of the horse” for Clara (even though it was the Chinese year of the monkey) and her time with our Dahlbergs and their ponies has been her greatest blessing.

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Horse girl = Happy girl

The most dramatic transformation, however, was in Annelise.  One year ago today we entered through the USCIS checkpoint in Dallas with tiny, somber, out of sorts Yuan Yuan Chu and began the journey to our actual girl.  The child who screamed hysterically when we put her in her car seat for the drive home, who wore her orphanage jacket and shoes around the clock for days, and who literally re-packed her suitcase and backpack every night and set them by the door is gone.  There was so much weeping, and screaming and grieving that first few days in our house, I’m sometimes not quite sure how we all survived it.

There is no rhyme or reason to trauma.  It is a beast out of its cage with no knowledgeable handler in sight, and sometimes I think you just have to alternate between re-directing it and trying to soothe it, while bobbing and weaving to make sure it doesn’t devour you and everyone else in its path.  I will never forget night three of our chaotic re-entry when this pacing, screaming, sobbing child finally wandered into my office, crawled up into my lap and let me comfort her.  It was a moment two weeks and a lot of miles in the making.  I had chosen her out of thousands, but she didn’t have a choice. I think that upon realizing that she was stuck with me, she decided to attach, mostly out of sheer desperation.  I’m so glad she did.  I wish I had been a little better at my side of the equation.  But, as many adoptive mamas before me, I got good at faking it until making it.

And we have made it.  By the grace of God and with the help of the people who love us, we have made it.  The little girl we have now is the phoenix who rose up out of the ashes left behind by a sad Chinese orphan who simply no longer exists.

Today Annelise is a happy, dancing, laughing, joyful girl.  She loves her Jie Jie, even though I know she is often frustrated by her.  (Clara would say the same.)  When I hold her, my arms ache in the way only a mama’s arms can ache when she holds her very own child.  The fact that we had to fight so hard to get to this point makes the ache even stronger sometimes.  (Because, even when you know you have worked really hard, I think there is a longing to go back and do some things better.)

I am struck, especially during this anniversary of our homecoming, by just how much she has changed.  Her English is flawless and on par with all of the other four year olds I know.  She is articulate, able to express her needs, learning to communicate without withdrawing when she’s upset, and has become an integral part of our family, her school and the community.  She is beloved by all who know her because she is a sweet, shy little sprite with a beautiful smile and such gentle ways.  She still attaches slowly to new people (which is a gigantic gift with a child who was adopted as a toddler) but once she does, she loves with abandon.

As I look back over this last year, I am amazed – amazed that we survived and amazed by the way this resilient girl has thrived.  And I am so grateful that we are moving on to a new year.  In the world of adoption, the first year is just plain something to be survived.  Of course you find joy and celebrate where you can, but there is also a lot of hard.  Hard is necessary, sometimes, especially when you are reclaiming something that was lost, or working to build something new.  But hard is not fun.  And it wears on you.

But the wearing isn’t always bad.  I can see now, 365 days later, that what has happened to me is a lot of refining.  God has sanded off a lot of my rough edges, He has been present through every day that we’ve struggled, He has given us joy even in the midst of sadness. and He has truly brought a beauty from the ashes that only He can bring.

I am grateful.  I am humbled.  And I am so far beyond thankful that I get to be this little girl’s mama.  Happy one year home, Annelise.  You fought hard for your new life, and you won!

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Sisters for One Full Year!

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