An International Embryo Adoption

I got all choked up as I watched the little pin-pricks of light on the monitor in the doctor’s office. The way they appeared was a miraculous sight I will never forget. Not for Emily, though. All she could focus on was how much she needed to go to the bathroom! But that is what this journey through embryo adoption has been like every step of the way. Sometimes miraculous, sometimes hilariously human.

Our infertility story begins just like any other, racking up doctor’s office visits like you are filling up a punch card at Starbucks. Each time they wanted to try something progressively more invasive. Our work requires us to live overseas, which complicated the situation further. Expats like us squeeze as much medical care as we can into each trip home, but it was becoming increasingly clear that natural conception just wasn’t in the cards for us. We looked into traditional adoption, but the small African country where we live doesn’t have a domestic program for non-citizens, forcing us to look to international adoption in a neighboring country. This meant a long wait and a slim chance of adopting a baby. In the end, we decided we were open to adopting an older child who needed a forever family, while we mourned the loss of never getting to care for our children as infants.

That is when we heard about embryo adoption from a colleague and it answered all our prayers. It was a child in need of a family, it was the opportunity to know our child as a roly-poly baby, and it was a gift for my wife to experience all the messy beauty of carrying and giving birth. We raised money, we prayed a lot, we bought plane tickets, we got discouraged and crash-landed a few times into pints of cookies-and-cream and old reruns of the West Wing, but eventually we made it.

We adopted five wonderful embryos from the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program and transferred two of them. Later that day, we sat in a little taco joint where I forbade Emily from moving an inch and brought her all manner of salsa options. She teased me, as if her walking to the drink-dispenser would cause irreparable damage. It was obvious this whole experience hadn’t just been about our son, but it brought us together as well. It made us the kind of parents our little Noah needs and he made us the family we had dreamed of being all along.

 

–Embryo Adoptive Family

Needs of Children Adopted Internationally

 

In International adoption, the term “special needs” encapsulates a wide variety of characteristics and diagnoses. Special needs not only includes those in wheelchairs, with missing limbs, etc.; it also includes those with learning difficulties or emotional and behavioral difficulties. Most children who join their family through adoption have some sort of special need, or at least may initially demonstrate a special need due to institutionalized living. When a prospective adoptive parent begins the adoption process, they will be asked to review a list of characteristics of the child they wish to adopt. This list is extensive and can be quite overwhelming. Unless a prospective adoptive parent has a background in the medical field, they may be unfamiliar with many of the listed diagnosis. The list includes familiar health issues like asthma and diabetes but also includes less known health issues like strabismus, raised angioma and nevuses. Nightlight recommends that prospective adoptive parents consult an international adoption doctor to decide what special needs their family is able to handle. When adopting internationally, it is important to establish a relationship with an international adoption clinic or physician. Once a family receives a referral of a specific child, the child’s medical reports should also be reviewed by an international doctor. Nightlight also recommends that once the child arrives home they visit an international adoption clinic.

 

A child in need of a family is likely not perfectly healthy. The child may have some behavior issues, be malnourished, have food insecurities, struggle with attachment, and possibly have infectious diseases or parasites. Living in congruent care does not leave a child unscarred, healthy, and without needs. My daughter was characterized as “healthy” in her referral and when you look at her she has all of her limbs and looks perfectly healthy but she has many invisible special needs that affect her daily living. Some examples of invisible special needs that may not be identified in an orphanage but are commonly diagnosed in children from hard places include: ADHD, sensory processing disorder (SPD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), anxiety, food hoarding, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

 

Special needs are also identified differently among international adoption country programs. For example, in Burkina Faso and Peru adopting a child over the age of 6 is considered “special needs,” while in Ukraine a child will not be entered on the international adoption registry until the age of 5. Some countries like Bulgaria have a list of waiting children who are in need of families. Many times, these children on a waiting list have more significant needs, are older or are part of a large sibling group. Depending on your family you may be able to meet the needs of these children. If so, please contact the program director of the country you’re interested in adopting from to get more information.

 

The characteristics of children living abroad who are in need of families are different now than they’ve been in the past. Infant adoptions are rare and typically the process takes much longer if an adoptive parent is not open to many special needs. However, making the decision to adopt a child with special needs must be something the whole family is comfortable with. Each family will need to determine what level of additional needs they are capable and comfortable accepting and are willing to provide services for their child. We recommend that you research and talk to an international adoption doctor to make the best choice for your family.

 

 

This post was republished with permission from Angela Simpson at MLJ Adoptions International.

Lessons Learned as an Adoptive Mom

 

When my husband and I prayerfully decided we would like to adopt, I was one of those people who read all the blogs, and did my best to “master” this journey in advance. We ultimately narrowed things down to foster adoption as the best fit for our family.

Fast forward through a home study, lots of education, certification, and waiting in matching for about 6 months for the right placement to come along, I suddenly became a mom to 4-year-old twins.

I say suddenly, because the wait feels agonizing, things just HAPPEN, all at once.

So “suddenly” I was meeting the twins first foster family in an Ikea parking lot, loading up all of their belongings, and driving them through a couple hours of traffic to our home, where my husband was nervously waiting. This was a little over a year ago, and we have finalized our adoption with the twins since that time. I am still on this journey of learning as an adoptive mom, but I have picked up some lessons along the way.

You will love them, in your own time, in the way that you love: Moment of honesty here, I don’t bond quickly with anyone. I signed up for adoption knowing that I would not be that person who saw a picture of a child and immediately feel “this is my child”. I hoped for it, none the less. All of the adoption stories I read or listened to had that moment. That time where an adopter walked into a room, or saw a picture, and felt to their core that everything they had done up to that point lead them to their child. I have so much appreciation for people who are able to have that moment. Also my heart hurts for the individuals that don’t, and think there is something… wrong.

Our twins came into our home, and it mainly felt like babysitting, which was not helped by the fact that I needed to record the exact minute of which I gave them a gummy vitamin, each day. Going through all of these mothering steps felt so off, because there was a mother out there grieving the loss of her children, and they were grieving the loss of her. I was grieving for both of their losses. I was in an incredibly tricky state of mind.

I didn’t feel like a parent when they came home, or even many months afterwards. This was not a failure on behalf of anyone; myself, my agency, the kids. There wasn’t something wrong with me. People just bond differently, and some more obviously and quickly than others.

This could be true for yourself, your spouse, or the child(ren) you bring into your home, and it is not a disaster when it happens. When it comes down to it, I made a choice to love these strangers as my children. I acted out what I knew love to look like, and I told myself (sometimes daily) my feelings will come. Not the feelings someone else experienced in their adoption story, but the ones that are true to me. This ended up serving me well, when things got hard, it did not change the fact that I was still simply acting out what I know love to look like. It kept my feet planted.

To keep it simple, don’t compare. Pray daily to love the children in your home just a little bit more than you loved them the day before, regardless of where you started. The feelings come, they continue to grow, sometimes they ebb and flow. Just like the ending of a story book, “happily ever after” in marriage is much more complicated than we once believed as kids. The same is true for adoption.

Love for kids is spelled “TIME” I feel like most parents probably know this. However, I was really surprised at the results that come from playing with my children individually for just 5 minutes a day. Play that involved letting them lead, and either complimenting, celebrating, or repeating back what they were doing during those 5 minutes. This is not naturally my personality, but I learned, and it worked. Not simply time next to them, but concentrated time loving on who they are at exactly that moment. Not who you want them to be some day, just letting them be them, in all their messy imperfect glory.

Also, that TIME can mean taking time to work on yourself. Parenting really puts you under the microscope and brings out some things that you may have never realized were there. Things like a child that reminds you of someone that caused emotional damage towards you in the past. Maybe it’s opposing personalities that you don’t know how to navigate, or a button that they really learned how to push. Let me be brutally honest with you when I say that taking time to work on your own stuff is one of the most effective ways to love your child.

Do not be afraid to get counseling, it’s worth the financial cost. Your house doesn’t need to be figuratively “on fire” for you to drag yourself to an office for therapy. I tell my kids that a therapist is simply a doctor for their emotions. If it’s normal to do a checkup with your physician, why not an emotional check up too?

Be intentional about relationships, they are key to success I’m not talking about with the kids, but your personal relationships, as they are the ones that will help hold your head up when things get HARD.

Adoption, especially fostering or international adoption, will be isolating. Not everyone will understand trauma, even when you try to educate them. They won’t understand cocooning, or therapeutic parenting strategies. If you are like me, and adoption is the way you first became a parent, people will assume you have no earthly clue what you are doing. To be honest, I didn’t! More specifically, I hadn’t mastered a lot of really basic things that parents normally learn through years of trial and error. We got judged harshly on our little mistakes, and that opened the door for strangers to make a lot of assumptions about our parenting in general. I’m not into oversharing my kids personal story for the benefit of a stranger, so taking criticism or ‘tips’ silently is often what makes adopters feel so isolated.

This may make you want to back away from relationships altogether, but in fact it is the reason they are so important. I found that the people who DID understand, listen, and learn with us, were my rocks in the hardest moments. They let me vent when some well-meaning ‘advice’ made me feel extra insecure. I also realized very quickly how vital it is to get to know other adopting families, and pursue relationships with them intentionally. We had none of those relationships to start, and had to start pursuing them when our lives were busy, crazy, and imperfect. The beauty was, those adoptive families were not fazed by imperfection. Life-giving relationships were so key to our journey, that I would recommend pursuing them with the same passion in which you may currently be pursuing an adopted child.

While this is not everything you could possibly need for your adoptive journey, I have found that being aware of each of these has provided the fuel we needed to get through our harder moments, and ultimately lead our family to overcome some tough times. They also made life a lot more fun in the good times.

–Deb Uber | Snowflakes Adopter Inquiry Specialist

Helpful Tips for Language Adaption

 

You may have heard the terms “ESL” and “ELL”.  ESL stands for English as a Second Language.  ELL means English Language Learners.  Most children adopted internationally enter into a family whose spoken and written language is English.  This means your adopted child is an English Language Learner.  If the child is learning English; however, still has access to his native language at home, then he or she will be an ESL learner – learning a new language while maintaining his original language.  It is important to know the difference when you are speaking to your child’s new school to ensure your child receives the best instruction.

Many people who consider adoption wonder how they will communicate with a child who speaks a different language.  This can cause anxiety before and after the child joins their family.  The ability a child has to learn a new language is phenomenal and it should be noted that a lot of information, instruction and emotion can be conveyed between you and your child through gestures, faces, pointing and touching as your child transitions.

Here are some ideas shared by language teachers, adoption professionals and adoptive parents that may be helpful to you!

  • Do not demand that your child speak but rather encourage them to use speech.
  • If you use sign language, be sure to use words to go along with the signs.
  • Name objects as you walk around your home.
  • Repeat heavily used words in many different ways. “Do you want to eat?” “Let’s go eat!” “Are you ready to eat?”  “I’m hungry, let’s eat.”
  • Other children are the best teachers so allow your newly adopted child to be around other children to help learn new words through play.
  • Allowing your child to watch you and him speak into a mirror will show him the motions his mouth should make to create certain sounds. This can be a fun game!
  • There are lots excellent educational videos showing a close up look of how the mouth forms to make different sounds.
  • Should your child have trouble with certain sounds, focus on those.
  • If your child says a word incorrectly, play a game and have them try again. It is important that you not repeat this game to the point of boredom or frustration.
  • Do not change grammatical structure to make learning easier for your child. For example: “Get ball.”
  • It is okay to keep using or learn to use your child’s favorite words in his first language. Using them interchangeably with the English word will not confuse or hamper their language development.
  • Learn and use some of your child’s native language. Most parents feel that mixing their language with a few words from the child’s language helps with bonding.
  • Expose your child to people who speak his or her language. Specifically, native speakers from his/her country.  It is okay to continue phone calls to people he/she knows in the country as long as it is a positive relationship.  Most times, these opportunities should be limited.
  • If your child insists on only watching videos in their first language, you may consider allowing this as a “treat” after practicing English or watching a program in English.
  • For older children who can read, allow them to watch a movie or TV show in English with their first language in subtitles. By doing this, he can see on the screen what the words mean that he is hearing.  It also forces him to read!
  • Do not be sad at your child’s loss of their first language, likewise do not celebrate mastery of their new language.
  • It is a normal stage of development for a child to reject their former language with a desire to be “American.”

Learning some basics of your child’s first language is important!  Many have noticed that children under age six expect their parents to speak their language. They do not understand the concept of a parent coming from another country where they may not speak their language. The child assumes that if that is their parent, they should speak their language and when that does not happen, issues can follow. Many of the issues new families experience are due to miscommunication. Being able to speak, even the basics, can make a huge difference to a newly adopted child! Younger children do not feel so isolated and an older child feels respected that his new family was willing to learn his language to help increase the child’s comfort level on joining into their family.  Be prepared, an older child may laugh when you mispronounce a word!

Here are some resources for learning your child’s language:

https://www.adoptlanguage.com/

http://crunchtimelanguage.com/

Here are some articles about language development in the internationally adopted child:

http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/language-and-older-adopted-child-understanding-second-language-learning

https://leader.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=2289686

 

–Dana Poynter

Down Time & Special Activities for the Summer

 

Your child also needs some “down time” to become more regulated and calm.  Just as with movement activities, these quieter times include structure, engagement nurture, and challenge. So what are some downtime activities that promote connectivity with your child?

  • Eating and drinking together can be a bonding experience. You can look at each other while you eat, make pleasant conversation, and, as already noted, even have fun feeding each other.
  • If you are outdoors and your child is just eating a snack and is ready to get back on the playground, then spend about five minutes in some hand-clapping games while you are sitting.
  • Reading together provides an opportunity to ask your child about the characters in the book and what each character may be thinking. If there are parent figures, you can ask your child, “What is the Daddy doing here?” What are some other things daddies do with their children?” What do you like to do with your Daddy?
  • Putting together puzzles can challenge your child while you talk and create something together.
  • Playing board or card games—remember those?—allows for challenge and engagement with your child. Of course, you have other things to do, so encourage your children and their friends to play simple board and card games together. This can promote sharing, winning and losing, as well as cooperation.
  • When your child is resting, you may want to engage in body touching activities such as backrubs or just putting lotion on each other’s hands. When you do such activities, take notice of your child’s hands and count the freckles or other features, such as the nails. You can say, Phili, what cute little freckles you have; I can count three of them on your hand today. Tomorrow we will see if we can find more.” Encourage your child to also put lotion on your hands.

Screen Time is NOT Downtime:

A couple of times per day, you want to make sure your child has about 15-60 minutes of downtime—depending upon your child’s age and ability to have such low-activity. Playing on an Ipad , however, is NOT downtime. Yes, screen-time is definitely a break for you. And, let’s face it, every child is going to spend some time on their screens. So there is probably no need to feel guilty if your child spends less than one hour a day on electronic devices. However, the average child spends more than seven hours a day with these electronics. This amount of time is downright damaging. In addition, the games they play, no matter how innocent, can have an addictive nature and tap into the child’s brain’s pleasure center, increasing your child’s dopamine. Your child’s brain feels like it is getting a reward each time your child plays on the Ipad. So instead of getting pleasure from human interaction, your child gets pleasure from the online games. If that is not bad enough, research shows that the area of the brain where processing takes place, can shrink. A child from less than ideal circumstances already has more difficulty using their frontal lobe of the brain for such higher level functions such as planning and organizing. If this area of the brain is further compromised by the extensive use of video games, then your child can be further dysregulated—leading to angry outbursts, temper tantrums, and impulsive activities. In addition to the gray matter in the brain being compromised, the white matter in the brain is also compromised leading to problems in the connections in the brain. Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) can already have diminished brain function between the left and right brain hemispheres. Video games can further deteriorate this connectivity.

Initially, it is easy to have your child happily playing away on the Ipad while you get chores and other work done. However, there is a longer-term price to pay. For more information about the dramatic positive effects coming off of electronics can have for your child read https://drdunckley.com/2015/11/11/screentime-making-kids-moody-crazy-lazy/

 

And while we are discussing screen time, please put the phone away.  Even if you are not looking at it while your children are around, just the fact that your phone is out and within sight causes anxiety in children.  They know you could be interrupted any minute.  Somehow our parents and grandparents were able to go to the pool and beach without them.  Put yours away in a plastic Ziploc bag.

 

Special Activities for Special Kids:

 

Many of our adopted children who come from difficult places, have sensory and other issues that make it difficult for the child to engage. Attachment enhancing activities can still be done with your child’s special issues being considered. While I do not like to diagnose children, knowing what types of behaviors your child has (e.g., “My child is hyperactive at times and sometimes has difficulty paying attention.” instead of, “My child has ADHD,”) can help you gear activities with your child’s needs in mind.

For a child with attention and hyperactivity issues, try games such as “Mother May I.” Your child needs to focus on what is being said, (“Jump forward three times”) as well as actually following the instructions. For children who are newly adopted, this game can also reinforce listening to mom and obeying her as well as recognizing her as the “real” mom. The instructions can be playful and funny. Make your child laugh. You will too!

If your child has trouble sitting down, allow the child to have sensory gadgets to squeeze and hold while engaging in an activity. So while your child is being read to, let him hold one of these objects.  Some kids also need chewing toys as well.

For a child who tends to be anxious, any exercise that encourages breathing can be calming. You may want to listen to some muscle relaxation on YouTube such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  Calming music is also helpful if you can talk to your child about relaxing her body and helping her breathe slowly and deeply. If your child (and you) can actually do this five to ten minutes a day, twice a day, this can make a great impact on your child’s anxiety level.

To make these relaxation exercises more kid friendly, you can give your child a lemon and encourage her to squeeze the lemon enough to “make” lemonade. As your child squeezes the lemon, your child can also tighten different areas of the body, starting with the neck, chest, and working down to his toes.

If in the pool, you can blow bubbles for a certain period of time. Your child’s taking big breathes, holding her breath, and then exhaling is very calming and helps your child relax. Your child can blow while you count and then you can blow bubbles while your child counts.

To help your child feel more in control and to further reduce anxiety, let your child be a special hero who is able to conquer all sorts of “monsters.” Give your child a towel gently knotted like a cape and let your child play superhero around the pool. Make up the names of various monsters that your child can whack with a pool noodle. “I am going to whack the pretend boogie man who lives under my bed.” (Of course, if your child has never mentioned such fears, do not introduce the thought into your child’s head.)

For children prone to angry explosions, help them to recognize what their body feels like when they “blow up.”  Do not try to discuss the situation in the middle of  your child’s outburst. However, during a time when your child is calm, encourage your child to “explode” like a volcano in the water. He can jump out of the water and then growl. You can do this also. Laugh about your explosions. You can do this with waves in the ocean as they come over the child’s feet. Discuss how angry feelings can take over—just like ocean waves. Or you can make a volcano out of sand and fill it with water. Ask, “What does an ‘angry’ volcano do?” Let your child either have water spill over or perhaps destroy the volcano. If in the pool, have your child splash their arms in the water and make big splashes that represent anger. Then talk about what anger feels like. Then talk about the things that cause your child to feel angry. Share some of what presses your buttons as well. From there you can discuss things that the child can do when he is angry so that he does not feel like the hot lava coming down a volcano. You can ask your child if going to another room, talking with an adult, or holding a stuffed animal helps with angry feelings.

For children with disruptive behaviors, such as those who refuse to follow rules and who refuse to accept “no” for an answer, you can use a bottle of soda water as an illustration of what it is like to hold onto anger too long.  Talk with your child about the things that make a bottle of soda water bubble up and then explode when you open the bottle (e.g., shaking it, turning in upside down). Then talk about ways to open the bottle so that the soda does explode. Then have your child talk about ways that make his bubbles get very excited and ways that he can settle down those bubbles so he does not explode (e.g., punching a pillow, talking with mom, or reading a good book).

For children with annoying behaviors, such as repetitive motions, getting into others’ space, or making inappropriate sounds, you can play games of things that annoy people and ask your child what annoys him. For example, you can both hum loudly and talk about how humming can be very annoying. Make fun of yourself. You can eat noisily and slurp your coffee extra loudly. Then discuss how these noises can be funny but they can also be ver….y annoying. Then get your kiddos to do the same. You may also want to write down some of these behaviors on a beach ball (see below),  in which you put down other social skills  on the ball (e.g., “chew with mouth closed”) and have your child talk about ways do the right behavior instead of the annoying one.

If your child has obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors, you can place beans, seeds, or marbles in a bucket, and these can represent the OCD thought or behavior. If at the beach, you can put wet sand in a pail. You can say, “These beans/marbles/ beads/sand are what sometimes takes over your thoughts.” (Do not say to the child she has OCD.) Then have the child put her hands in the bucket and feel the OCD problem taking over her hands. Describe how easy it is to get buried in the thoughts and feelings. Now, you, the parent, are going to protect the child from these beads. Put your hands over your child’s hands so that the beads or other materials cannot touch your child. Another way to do this exercise is to put little toys in the beads or sand and tell your child the objects are the OCD. Then you will put your hands into the sand and help your child’s hands not to get “attacked” by the objects that represent OCD. You, as the parent, can remove the OCD objects.

While keeping the exercise “light,” and even have moments of silliness, let your child know you take her thoughts and feelings seriously. The idea is for you, the parent, not to be the enabler but truly be the protector of your child and to help your child control her thoughts so she does not engage in ritualized OCD behaviors.

Almost all children from difficult circumstances have experienced trauma. Some of this trauma is not remembered or was more subtle. Serious outward trauma may be played out or discussed over and over again by your child. Your child may feel at times that he is re-experiencing it. Other children avoid talking about the incident, no matter how safe they feel with you. Often these children will be clingy and won’t want you out of their sight.

You can make a special box for your child and put things in there that represents part of your child’s history. Your child can take these items out and talk about them. The story your child tells may not be about the specific trauma but about other events that took place. As your child becomes more comfortable, she may begin to share with you. Mellenthin,* recommends watching  “Boundin” –a short film on YouTube that shows a lamb who faces adversity (getting shaved each year). After watching the video, you can have your child get a puppet or stuffed animal to replay what happened and how the  little lamb (and your child) can bounce back.

You can have fun using  beach balls to address many other issues including expressing feelings.   Blow up a beach ball and on the ball , using a Sharpie pen, write as many feelings (e.g., sad, mad, glad, excited, disappointed) on it that your children can name. Then toss the ball. Whoever catches it selects the feeling closest to the right thumb. Have the child share what makes the child have that feeling. Of course, the adults who play also share their feelings. The rule should be that a new feeling is selected each time and each child has a turn. The game can be varied by hitting the ball with your heads, your thumbs, passing it like a volleyball punch, or hitting it with the feet or knees and then picking up with the hands.

A new ball can be blown up and on it you and your children can put on it social skills such as saying, “Thank you,” giving compliments, asking a question nicely, and staying in your own space. As noted above, you can also put down the opposite of annoying behaviors (e.g., quietly chew food).

The third ball can have coping skills on it, which may include deep breathing, doing jumping jacks, pushing the wall down, blowing bubbles, talking to someone, hitting a pillow. It is better if your children can be involved in coming up with their own coping strategies. Playing with the ball can be used to address other issues as well.**

Remember, you only have to get it right with your kids about 30% of the time to be a good and effective parent.  Also, the more playful you are, the more you will enjoy your kids, and, in turn, you will be creating fun summer memories.

 

* Play Therapy: Engaging and & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders, by Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S, 2018.

** This was developed by Robert Jason Grant and is called Feelings Beach Ball: from Play Based Interventions of Autism Spectrum disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities.

Summer Activities That Promote Attachment

 

 

Summertime can mean more time for your child to say, “I’m bored,” and for you to feel frustrated with the lack of structure. Or summer can be a time for you to have greater opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. If one parent is home during the summer, there may be ample time to partake in lots of activities that promote attachment. If both parents work, there is usually more free time afterhours without the demands of homework, sports and other practices.

 

Why Increase Attachment with Your Children:

As your attachment grows with your children, you truly will begin to enjoy them more. The more you “like” your children, it is much more likely your children, in turn, will be more cooperative. Attachment forms the basis of all healthy relationships starting with the parent-child bond, which then prepares the child for the next real attachment in adult life: the child’s future spouse. In turn, children who have secure attachments are more happily married and then form  secure attachments with their children. Of course, we need healthy relationships with siblings, other relatives, and friends. However, there are only two true attachments: caretaker with child and romantic partners with each other.

Well-attached children can control their emotions and engage in give and take activities. Parenting such children is obviously more pleasant. Regardless if your child was born to you under optimal conditions or if your child came from a neglectful or abusive background, attachment-enhancing parenting takes time and effort. It can be downright exhausting at times.  If you are going to have a summer filled with attachment-enriching activities, this will also require some intentional planning as well “being in the moment” with each child.

 

What to Include in the Activities: In every activity that you do with your child, there should be four components as suggested in Theraplay ®:

 

  • Structure: This means the activity is organized and you, as the parent, are setting limits. You are also directing the activity in a cooperative way with your child. It is not a free-for-all for your child, yet your child can make suggestions and have choices as to what they can do. Let’s say you are in the water with your child, you can play such games as dunking your head underwater and coming up and touching noses. Although you are in control, your child can then suggest that you put your hands under water and bring them and clap them with each other. During snack or lunchtime at the pool, you can feed each other a few pretzels. So even in settings, such as being at the park, your child can have plenty of time to freely run-around, but also you will take time to personally engage with each child or your children in a group activity.
  • Engagement: You are participating with your child in the activity. If you are at the pool with your child, there can be plenty of time for playing with friends and jumping off the diving board, while you are cheering your child on. For a few minutes, while at the pool each day, make time to engage intentionally with your child.
  • Nurture: Caring for your child in a sensitive and attuned manner helps your child calm down. During snack or lunchtime at the pool, you can feed each other a few pretzels. As you feed your child and vice versa, you are also providing structure in that you select the food you will feed each other and your child knows what to expect. Of course, as you feed your child, you are also engaged with the child and looking into the child’s eyes. If, for example, you find a crumb on your child’s face, gently stroke your child’s face, as you notice his eyes, and brush the crumb off.
  • Challenge: As you engage in activities with your child, you want to realistically give your child more opportunity for him to do better than the last time. You would not expect your four-year-old child to keep his head underwater for 30 seconds the first time at the pool, but you could challenge your child to keep your heads under water for three seconds and then touching noses when your heads bob up.

High Energy Activities:

If your kids are typical, once they are outside, they will want to go full-steam ahead and get lots of running around time. This can be a great release of energy. Plus, your kids really need to use their large muscles. The swinging, bouncing, and climbing provides your child a full sensory experience as well. Yet such strong movement for extended periods of time, tends to wind up children, causing them to become dysregulated (meaning mood swings, being agitated, and feeling out of control). Yet, even when your child engages in movement activities, provide structure that allows your child to have varied activities as well as some down time. Calming your child down can usually be accomplished with set times for snacks and rest. Usually kids will stop to get a drink and eat something substantive.

Stay tuned for another blog with ideas for Down Time and Special Activities

* Play Therapy: Engaging and & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders, by Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S, 2018.

Top Three Reasons to Become a Dad Using Embryo Adoption

 

There’s a false notion in some circles of American culture that fatherhood is, well, unmanly. Changing diapers? Beneath us. Strapping on an infant in a Baby Bjorn? Emasculating (not to mention a little silly looking).

Sadly, adopting a baby is another activity that too often makes the list of unacceptable activities for men. I know. I was one of those dads—until embryo adoption upended my world.

This Father’s Day, you might be looking in the mirror and wondering what it means to be a man. You and your wife might be facing the daunting challenge of infertility. Or your spouse might be trying to convince you to explore embryo adoption to build your family, even though you’ve told her a hundred times it isn’t for you.

Let me offer some small assurance. Embryo adoption will forever change your definition of manhood, that’s true. But it will change you for the better. Whether you hope to become a first-time dad or to add another bouncing baby to your quiver, here are three reasons you should strongly consider becoming a father through embryo adoption.

Reason No. 1: The most fragile among us deserve the best of your strength.

Odds are good you probably aren’t a body builder, bouncer, or professional wrestler. That’s fine. Strength shows itself in many forms, most of all in families, where good dads really shine. It’s especially necessary when it comes to giving frozen embryos the best chance at life.

Consider this: Hundreds of couples who have used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to build their families are praying and working with an adoption agency to find a family to give their remaining embryos life. An embryo might only be a few days old, but for those of us who believe life begins at conception, it is also a baby with hopes, dreams and a future. What if that tiny life were part of your family? What could you accomplish together? What higher purpose could you achieve?

Reason No. 2: Now more than ever, the world needs fathers to contribute their unique gifts to children.

Boys who grow up to be men—and dads—are one of society’s most undervalued resources, according to Warren Farrell and John Gray, authors of the 2018 book, “The Boy Crisis”. In that book, they write: “Worldwide, the amount of time a father spends with a child is one of the strongest predictors of the child’s ability to empathize as he gets older.”

As a dad, you will help your children learn how to treat other people—with respect, love, and kindness. The traits you admire most in other people are traits you can have a direct role in fostering in our next generation of leaders. Embryo adoption enables you to make a difference not only in the lives of an embryo baby and the placing family from whom you are adopting, but in your community and the world. Children grow up to become what we model for them.

Reason No. 3: Because fatherhood will immediately begin reshaping your life’s priorities—for the better.

You might occasionally feel a tinge of guilt as a man. Perhaps you’re spending too much time at the office. Maybe you’d like to prioritize time with your wife, your spiritual walk or even a favorite hobby, but you simply can’t find the time.

It’s at times like these that watershed moments arrive to transform how you think about what matters most in your world. Embryo adoption might well be such a moment for you. The entry of a baby into your life forces you to rearrange your priorities. Caring for a little person means giving of your time, energy, and humility (as a dad to four, I eat humble pie for breakfast with a soup ladle). Yet it also means some of the most rewarding and inspiring moments of your life.

Embryo adoption isn’t for everyone. But if something inside of you yearns to be a dad, take the first step with your spouse. Learn a little. Ask questions. And consider the embryo babies and placing families who are looking to someone just like you to make a difference.

Nate Birt and his wife, Julie, are adoptive parents of Phoebe, a Nightlight® Christian Adoptions Snowflakes® baby. Nate blogs quarterly for Snowflakes® and is the author of “Frozen, But Not Forgotten: An Adoptive Dad’s Step-by-Step Guide to Embryo Adoption” from Carpenter’s Son Publishing. To subscribe to his email newsletter, visit www.frozenbutnotforgotten.com.  

How to Manage and Complete Adoption Paperwork

 

When my wife and I meet new people, I love explaining what I do for work and the joy I get from helping guide families throughout their adoption process. I love sharing the adoption stories and testimonies of the families we work with, and how each have a personal and unique journey through adoption. For those looking to build their family through adoption, the process is indeed a journey; one that will be simultaneously life-giving and challenging. As with any journey, often times the hardest part is getting started.

 

I find this to be especially true with the families I work with as they begin to navigate the adoption paperwork stage of the process.  Adoption paperwork is a necessary and vital part of the adoption journey, but it can definitely feel overwhelming for families.  Even the most organized of couples tend to have a hard time keeping it all together! At Nightlight Christian Adoptions, we acknowledge the difficulty of this process, so we have compiled a few tips to help families manage, and ultimately complete, their adoption paperwork.

 

     1. Break Paperwork Down to Manageable Pieces

 

One of the biggest mistakes I see families make in the adoption paperwork phase is when they try to take on every form at once. This usually starts out with good intentions as the family is driven by their excitement to keep the ball rolling, but it is almost always met with them becoming overwhelmed. Instead, we recommend that families break their paperwork down into manageable pieces.

 

Breaking the paperwork down is a beneficial way to both organize forms and find peace of mind by putting your work into perspective. A helpful way to do this is to separate the paperwork into corresponding sections in a folder or binder. An example breakdown of this is as followed:

 

  • Agency Forms
  • Home Study Forms
  • Financial Forms
  • Dossier Forms
  • Education Forms, etc.

 

Another way to break down the paperwork requirements is to separate responsibilities between you and your spouse. You can designate who fills out each section of forms and come together on the forms that require both adoptive parents to complete. Regardless of one’s method, breaking down the paperwork into pieces helps families manage their work and prevents them from becoming overwhelmed with the process.

 

 

  1. Utilize Your Checklists

 

A helpful tool that every Nightlight office provides for families is a checklist for the supporting documents of each case stage.  Viewing the adoption paperwork broken down as a checklist allows a family to physically track their progress towards completing their required forms. We advise families to always keep these checklists handy, and to utilize their own created checklists if it helps them understand the process more tangibly. For families with children in the home, this is also a way to get them involved in the adoption process. One idea for families with little ones is to have a checklist of adoption paperwork on a whiteboard or poster board where they can help you place a sticker or draw a checkmark when and item is completed. This could be a fun way to have the whole family feel a part of the adoption process while giving you a visual of your progress.

 

  1. Make Copies of Everything You Complete

 

Often times I find that families become so focused on filling out and uploading/mailing their forms that they forget to make copies for their own records. This causes an issue later in the process when a document needs to be resent or referred to, only for the family to realize that they mailed or discarded their only copy. Several of the documents completed during the adoption paperwork phase will need to be referred to again in the process, and ensuring that your family has access to what you have already completed will save a lot of time and energy in the future.

 

Your family might choose to store everything online or through hard copies, but regardless of the method it is important to keep records of your paperwork throughout the entire adoption journey. For example, a family that is adopting internationally might think that they are finished with their paperwork once they have arrived back in the U.S. with their child. However, in reality they will need several of their documents in order to obtain the child’s social security number, U.S. Passport, and start the re-adoption process if applicable. So a good rule of thumb is to always back-up and keep record of every document you complete!

 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

 

This tip might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how frequently I hear from families who are hesitant to ask for help from their agency caseworker or adoption advisor. At Nightlight we are always willing to help walk our families through the process: from start to finish! This includes the paperwork phase, as we recognize the amount of work that is required and the confusion that comes with the process. From application, to home study, to dossier, to post adoption; whatever questions you might have regarding paperwork during your adoption journey, your Nightlight adoption advisor or caseworker is willing to help you find a solution.

So although paperwork is not the most exciting part of your adoption journey, it is something that is vital to the process. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the amount of forms and documents, utilize the tools at your disposal to organize and manage what needs to be completed. As always, Nightlight Christian Adoptions is here to see that your journey end with you welcoming your child into a loving home.

 

written by John Hewitt, M.Div.| Home Study Coordinator

Can Military Families Adopt?

 

 

On any given day in America, there are over 443,000 children in the Foster care system.   In 2017, 123,000 of these children were waiting to be adopted, 69,000 parents relinquished their rights and 59,400 children were adopted.1  I believe one of the most untapped resources available to make a difference in these statistics exist within our Armed Forces.  Members of the military have had to be flexible and open to change and are very committed, mission-oriented people.  As a retired Navy Chief and a former member of this unique community, service members collectively bring diversity in race, culture, ethnicity, and personality, and can be good candidates for foster and adoptive programs.

Military installations have built-in support networks for military families, including substantial health-care and housing benefits and “ready-made” communities. More benefits for adoptive families include adoption reimbursements, Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) for children (as well as adult family members) with particular medical and/or educational needs, and New Parent Support Programs on many installations.2

We have successfully placed many children with military families over the years.  The process is similar to their civilian counterparts with some exceptions if living abroad:

Home studies Abroad: Social worker travels to servicemember location incurring additional costs to service member to cover lodging, meals and travel expenses.

  1. Pre-adoption Education: 10 hours of Hague required training, including supportive materials
  2. Home study visits and education provided within your home, conducted over a 3-day period.
  3. Follow up support provided via SKYPE and email

 

  • Some of the challenges that service members may experience that differ from the civilian population are frequent moves (PCS) and Deployments. Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves normally last three years or longer and the entire family moves to a new location.  Deployments, on the other hand, are meant to be of a more temporary nature, generally lasting from months to years, and only the service member leaves.  This may cause delays in completing the home study, but working collaboratively with the service member, it can certainly be accomplished.
  • A deploying military family member will need to grant power of attorney to his or her spouse (or another family member, in the case of a single parent adoption), and more information about power of attorney is available on the Military OneSource website at Military One Source. The spouse or family member should also have a mailing address for the military member during deployment, as well as a method for reaching him or her in an emergency. It is a good idea for the military parent to keep his or her command informed about the adoption process to facilitate timely completion and delivery of essential documents.
  • Dual-military families and single soldiers that are adopting may also be eligible for a four-monthdeferment of deployment or change of assignment in order to complete an adoption or welcome an adoptive child into. As with the 21 days of leave, only one member of the dual military family can take advantage of this resource. And just like the leave and reimbursement benefits, an adoption deferment must be requested within the first twelve months of placement.3

If you are stationed in the United States, you are governed by the laws of that state.  For more information on the laws governing various states visit: State Laws.

If you are stationed overseas and adopting a child in the US, your adoption may be governed by the laws of your state of legal residence as well as the state where the child resides.  If you are adopting a child from another country, you will need to comply with the laws of your country of residence AND the child’s home country (if different), in addition to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policies.  Your adoption advisor will assist you with navigating through this process.

Some of the more frequently asked questions asked by military families are answered at the Child Welfare Information Gateway site.  The following is an excerpt from their bulletin entitled “Military Families Considering Adoption”3

  1. Am I eligible for leave when I adopt a child?

Public Law 109-163, the Fiscal Year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, allows the Unit Commander to approve up to 21 days non-chargeable leave in a calendar year in connection with a qualifying adoption, in addition to other leave. If both parents are in the military, only one member shall be allowed leave under this new legislation. A qualifying adoption is one that is arranged by a licensed or approved private or State agency and/or court and/or other source authorized to place children for adoption under State or local law. Contact your Unit Commander’s office to determine current leave options and procedures.

The non-military parent, if relevant, may be eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), through his/her civilian employer.

  1. What benefits are available to help defray the cost of adopting?

Most types of adoptions may qualify for reimbursement when the adoption was arranged by a licensed, private adoption agency, State agency, and/or court, and/or other source authorized to place children for adoption under State or local law. Military adoption cost reimbursement includes up to $2,000 per child (or up to $5,000 for adoption of more than one child in a year) for qualifying expenses and is available to military families whose adoptions were arranged by a qualified, licensed adoption agency.

Adoption reimbursement is paid after the adoption is complete for certain qualifying
expenses incurred by the adopting family including adoption and home study fees. The National Military Family Association (www.nmfa.org) has a fact sheet, DoD Adoption Reimbursement Program, with more information on qualifying agencies and allowable expenses.

  1. Can my adopted child get medical coverage through the military?

An adopted child, including a child placed in the home of a service member by a placement agency for purposes of adoption, is eligible for benefits after the child is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Contact the I.D. Card Facility for more information or patient affairs personnel at a specific medical treatment facility.

Specific information on access and eligibility is available on the TRICARE Web site (www.tricare. osd.mil/deers/newborn.ctm) or by calling the DoD Worldwide TRICARE Information Center at (888) 363-2273.

Military benefits are available for all adopted children, not exclusively children with special needs.

  1. What other services are available for my child and family after adoption?

Child Development Programs are available at approximately 300 DoD locations, including 800 childcare centers and approximately 9,000 family childcare homes. The services may include full day, part-day, and hourly (drop-in) childcare; part-day preschool programs; before- and after- school programs for school-aged children; and extended hours care including nights and week- ends. Not all services are available at all installations.

The Exceptional Family Member Program, within the military, provides support for dependents with physical or mental disabilities or long term medical or health care needs. They will assist families who need to be stationed in areas that provide for specific medical, educational or other services that might not be available in remote locations.

Family Service Centers located on every major military installation can provide military families with information regarding adoption reimbursement and other familial benefits. Social workers may be available for family and/or child counseling. Different designations for Family Service Centers are as follows:

  • Army – Army Community Service
  • Air Force – Family Support Center
  • Navy – Fleet and Family Support Center
  • Marine Corp – Marine Corp Community Services
  • Coast Guard – Work/Life Office

Additional Resources for Military Families:

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway (www.childwelfare.gov)On this website, readers can find useful fact sheets such as Adoption – Where Do I Start?, Military Families and Adoption – A Fact Sheet, and Adoption Assistance for Children Adopted From Foster Care: A Factsheet for Families. Under the ‘Resources’ section, click on ‘Publications Search’ to find these and other topical resources easily and quickly.
  • National Military Family Association (NMFA) (www.nmfa.org)On this website, readers can find informative fact sheets such as Adoption Reimbursement Program Fact Sheet.
  • National and Regional Exchanges (www.AdoptUSKids.org; www.adoptex.org).
  • Military Spouse
  • Military One Source
  • U.S. Department of State, Intercountry Adoption

We honor our service members and look forward to partnering with you in your adoption journey!

written by CTMC Robbin Plows USNR, Ret and Nightlight Inquiry Specialist

 

1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau.  Adoption Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS), FY 2008-2017, Submissions as of 08/10/2018

2Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Working with military families as they pursue adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

2Ibid

3Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Military families considering adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau

 

Birth Mothers & Mother’s Day

 

 

Mother’s Day has recently passed and it has had me thinking of all the unique paths that lead to motherhood. Working in the adoption world has taught me so much about all the ways a woman can become a mother—whether that be through embryo adoption, domestic adoption, international adoption, or placing a child for adoption. While each path to motherhood is unique and has its own story, I want to focus on the story of the birth mother.

 

In my first couple years working at Nightlight, I worked strictly with expectant mothers who were deciding to place their baby for adoption.  After placing their baby, they became “birth mothers” and just as any mother, will keep that title for the rest of their lives. Adoption is all about the unconventional ways to parenthood and this includes birth parents as well. In the process of working with expectant mothers, a large conversation piece that we often had was their value and affirmation as this child’s mother at this moment. They would not be parenting this child, but they were making parenting decisions for this child based on the family they were choosing to parent them. They were choosing the life they wanted for their child and choosing it in love, and that was not taking away their motherhood, but instead, validating it. As much as I reinforced this idea to them throughout pregnancy, I’ve seen more birth mothers believe this truth most when the adoptive mother reaffirmed her of this when they hold the baby for the first time or when the final goodbye is being said. Those have been the most tear-filled moments of my job not because of immense pain or joy from either party, but because of the raw, beautiful experience that two mothers, both valid in their titles, share over the same child. It is then when humbleness and gratitude meet that all preconceived societal hierarchies of motherhood are broken down to share an immense love for a child.

 

While it is easy to recognize the parenting mother on Mother’s Day (and please do, they deserve it!) let us not forget the birthing mothers as well – the ones who carried children and made hard choices in the name of love for their babies because after all, that is what motherhood is all about.

 

So, if you are a birth mother reading this and no one has told you yet, Happy Mother’s Day to you too.