Family Adoption Story: A Father’s Perspective

 

As Father’s Day approaches, we want to honor all dads, especially those who have opened their hearts and homes to adoption. When it comes to stories of parenting, fathers do not often take center stage. That is why we asked two adoptive fathers to share their experiences during and after adoption. Each faced unique struggles on their journey, but their success and words of encouragement are an important reminder of the power of a strong father.

Ryan, who was initially in our Mexico program but adopted from a dissolution, shares how experiencing hardship through his adopted daughter helped him to be more compassionate toward everyone around him.

“To me, adoption means opening your home, family, and yourself to offer love and support for a child that needs it. It’s is about putting your family and a child before yourself. I was always nervous about adoption. I feel like I barely knew what I was doing with the 2 kids I already had and I wasn’t sure if I was a good enough parent or person to handle a child that has been through the trauma that adoption brings. I still get the same feelings now at times, even 5 years into being an adoptive parent.

          “A big consideration is the cost of adoption. Adoption costs are expensive and they were very much a concern when we started looking more into adoption. We did some fundraising to help offset some of the costs. After adopting, we also took advantage of any and all adoption tax breaks that we qualified for. We were able to recoup a significant amount of the costs with just these two methods.

          “Since adopting, I have grown a lot as a parent and as a person. My daughter may have learned some things from me, but I think I have learned more from her. I have a much better understanding of how trauma affects people and I try to use it in my interactions with other people as well by trying to give people more grace because I don’t know what they have, or are currently, going through.

          “My advice to anyone wanting to adopt is to throw your expectations out the window because in my experience, expectations are nothing like reality when it comes to adoption. Some things are easier than you expected while other things are harder. If an adoptive parent is afraid he won’t be able to love a child who is not his biological child, I would say It definitely takes time and unconditional love. I don’t think any reasonable person would expect you to deeply love your adopted child when you first meet. I have found that attachment can be very hard, for both parent and child. Perseverance, patience, and communication have helped us when attachment wasn’t going well. As long as you continue to strengthen your relationship, love should come naturally.”

Joe, who adopted from Nigeria, discusses his faith as a guiding light through the ups and downs of adoption.

“From the time we started the adoption process to the time we finally brought our child home was five and a half years. The process was long and hard…. but unforgettable! We have learned that adoption is very much like a roller coaster, both in the process and in your emotions. For us, there were times we thought the process was moving along very smoothly, the never-ending paperwork was getting done and everything seems on schedule. But then, out of nowhere, something would happen and cause a delay. After a while, the pace would pick back up, sometimes even too fast! Up and down we would go.

 

“Our emotions would be on the same roller coaster as the process was. When things went great, we felt great. When things were delayed or doors were closed, we felt sad and hopeless. We have learned that this is just how the adoption process is. So, if you are going through that, you are right where you should be. You will have ups and downs, happiness and tears, excitement and fears, joy and anger. The memories of this journey will always be with you. And in the end, if you stick with it and don’t give up, you will have a precious child to share your life with, forever.

 

“For us, God specifically called us to adopt a child from Africa. We knew it was His calling. So whenever one of those delays or setbacks happened, we always reflected back on that calling. Did God still want us to adopt? Every time we asked Him, we got the confirmation to continue, despite the feeling of giving up. And we had good reason to feel that way! There were so many roadblocks and hiccups along the way. We had to switch countries from Uganda to Nigeria after a year and a half in the adoption process. We were officially matched with three children and almost matched with two or three others. We almost traveled to those countries twice. We were even matched with a child for a year, sending him letters and gifts, only to have it fail in the end. All those opportunities of adopting those children fell through, except the last one. The last child we were matched with worked out! We officially adopted our son in October of 2019 and the following year, in October of 2020, he came home!

 

“The adoption process is so complex and difficult to understand that we just need to trust those people that know what they are doing and trust in God that He will see it through.”

 

 

In these fathers’ accounts of the rewards and hardships of their adoption processes, the need for perseverance is a clear theme. Setbacks can be discouraging, and you may find that you have much room to grow once you are united with your adoptive child. This June, take time to appreciate the fathers in your life who give so much of themselves for their families.

 

co-written by Julie Conner & Casey Kutrip

Transracial Adoption Panel 2

 

There are many places to receive education and training during the adoption process. In addition to books, online resources, and professional trainings, we want to offer personal experiences from some of our transracial adoptive families through an online Q&A panel. These parents offer just some of their personal perspectives for you to read and consider for your individual family situation.

  1. Introduce us to your family.

 

X family (requested names and initials be changed for confidentiality): Our family has 5 people.  We, the parents, are white.  We have one daughter (11) biologically, one daughter (8) through adoption from China, and 1 son (4) through adoption from China.

 

C family: We are white parents to 4 adopted children – Issac (black, 16 years old, boy, adopted through foster-to-adopt); Vivianna (Caucasian/black/Mexican biracial, 14 years old, girl, domestic infant adoption); Jayden (black, 13 years old, boy, foster-to-adopt); and Jasmine (black, 9, girl, domestic infant adoption).

 

  1. When starting the adoption process, what made you open to adopting a child outside of your race?

X family: Adoptive mother (AM) lived in China for a semester in college and had the opportunity to volunteer in orphanages, spent several years studying Mandarin, and ended up in a career teaching English to kids from around the world.  Adoptive father (AF) was drawn to the idea of adopting a child in true need of a family and kids with special medical needs are at the top of that list.  The China program fit. In an ideal world, no child would be separated from their biological family and adoption should not be a first resort.  We really wanted to be a family for kids who didn’t have another option.  Out of honor and respect for the trauma our own children have endured, we support the Unity Initiative by Love Without Boundaries that works in China to keep families together by providing for the medical expenses of kids with special needs so families don’t feel so desperate that they end up choosing to abandon (https://www.lovewithoutboundaries.com/programs/medical/unity-initiative/).

C family: We had been dealing with infertility, and were anxious to close that chapter of our life and become parents as soon as possible. So when we were being trained as foster parents, we were told the more open we had our home, the easiest we would receive a placement.

  1. What is something unexpected you have experienced, either positive or negative, as a transracial adoptive parent?

X family: On the positive end, we have gained a connection to our local Chinese community which has been so beneficial to our children.  Our kids have access to Mandarin classes, Chinese Fan Dance, Kung Fu, and more.

On the negative end, there is a cultural movement that elevates racial identity above all to the point where adoptive parents are being labeled as colonizers for not finding a way to place a child with parents of their race of origin.  We find this unfortunate because that often is not possible and leaves children waiting on an ideal that may never exist. We believe in a historic Christian, biblical view of race. We are one race – the human race, made in God’s image first, diverse in ethnicities and cultural practices.  In our opinion, a child gaining a family should not be limited by their ethnicity.

C family: A negative is that people often think we adopted our kids as an act of charity. What we’re really doing is raising our kids just like any other parent.

  1. What have been the reactions from members of your community that share your child’s race? Any comments, questions, or experiences with them you’d like to share?

X family: We live in a predominantly Asian community (this is an intentional choice to support an integrated identity for our children).  We have experienced acceptance by them and support in helping our children stay connected to their culture of origin.  Our local Chinese school teaches them Mandarin, celebrates cultural holidays with us, and provides opportunities for cultural dance, cooking, and lessons in cultural stories and traditions.  Local Chinese families have cooked traditional foods for my children as a gift.  The Chinese Parents Association at my children’s elementary school invited me to join so that my kids don’t miss out of cultural events they host.  They invite my bio daughter to join activities too.

The comments we receive most often from Chinese people are about how “lucky” our children are and how “wonderful” we are for adopting them because they would have “no future” in China given their special needs and orphaned status.  We usually respond with, “we are the luckiest parents in the world to have these children.” While these comments are well meaning, they aren’t helpful.  No child is lucky to lose their birthparents, to have little to no information about their origins, and to be raised in a family where they “stick out” as different.  We are not saying that adoption isn’t good, just that it isn’t “lucky.”

C family: We occasionally receive unsolicited advice on our kids’ appearance. Especially Jasmine’s hair. We’ve been approached by strangers recommending salons and stylists we should try. Years ago, our reaction was total humiliation and devastation. But we’ve become more confident to stand up for ourselves and our ability to care for our kids and their appearance.

A lot of this confidence has come from other black families who have supported us and given us great advice. “I’ve never had a black woman say anything about my daughter’s rough-looking hair at the end of a long week,” they tell us. “They said that because you’re white.” We’ve found this invaluable and encouraging.

  1. There has been a lot of learning, discussion, awareness, and conflict this past year regarding how people of color are seen and treated in our society. What lessons learned this year would you want to pass along to other families considering or currently parenting a child outside of their own race?

X family: We have been intentional from the start with our kids about helping them have an integrated identity.  We want them to know that every part of them is valued in our family, including their first language and culture of origin.  They attend Chinese school to keep their Mandarin alive. One of our hopes is that they will achieve bilingual fluency so that if they ever want to go back to China and look further into their story, they can do so without the complications of a translator.   We celebrate Chinese New Year and Mid Autumn Moon Festival.  Since we live in LA, we also have easy access to cultural events.

We have also chosen to live in a predominantly Asian area where our kids don’t visually stand out amongst their peers.  They have racial mirrors, young and old, whose presence communicates to our children a normality about being Asian American. Actually, our blond haired, blue eyed bio daughter is the one who sticks out.  One year she communicated a longing for straight black hair and brown eyes so that she could be like her peers at school.

We would encourage any current or prospective transracial adoptive families to consider what the community around your children will communicate to your children about who they are.  If they rarely see another person of their same ethnicity, will they feel connected to and comfortable with their dual identity or seek to suppress or even reject connection to their culture of origin in order to fit in with the majority group?  What will this mean to them when they are older looking back?  When they go to college or enter the workforce and are assumed to have certain identity markers specific to their culture of origin, will they feel lost – not belonging in any particular world?  How will you prepare them for this?

C family: We regularly have conversations with our kids to be aware of micro aggressions targeted at people of color based on stereotypes that people still don’t realize they have. We always validate our childrens’ feelings and experiences, and teach them not to assume intention. We tell them, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions like ‘what do you mean by that?’ and ‘where is this coming from?’ or ‘why are you asking?’”

Alternatively, when people are overly familiar or intrusive, we encourage our kids to not feel an obligation to answer their questions or provide explanations. Their story belongs to them, and they have a right to share it or not share it with whomever they choose.

  1. What books, resources, or people have challenged you to consider your own racial biases?

X family: A powerful book for us was “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Love and Loss” by XinRan.  This book absolutely tears apart the dominant American narrative regarding Chinese orphans.  They were never the “unwanted”, but instead were at the mercy of cultural, governmental, and societal pressures that led to the loss of their birth families.  The pain of the mothers who have loved and lost their children will stay with us forever.  This is a must read for families adopting from China.

We appreciate the voices of adult adoptees.  The research they’ve taken part in and the forums they have chosen to participate in to help educate transracial adoptive families is so valuable.  We would encourage adoptive families to seek out blogs, books, and research centered around adult adoptee voices.

We are thankful for real life friends who are Asian American who have generously shared their personal experiences, hurts, and challenges with living a dual identity. Their voices help us be mindful of what our children are experiencing and to be more attuned to the specific education, support, and empathy they need.

We have also been so blessed this year by following The Center for Biblical Unity which is founded by a friend of ours from Biola University who is a Person of Color seeking to frame the conversation about racial identity and racial relations/reconciliation around the Bible.  You can find their resources at https://www.centerforbiblicalunity.com, and her podcast at https://www.centerforbiblicalunity.com/all-the-things.

  1. What is something you wish you had considered or learned more about before bringing your child into your home, specifically in regards to racial identity development?

X family: We wish we would have been better prepared for how to respond when people make negative comments about our children’s country of origin.  People have big opinions politically, ideologically, and otherwise about China and will voice them in front of our kids without a second thought.  Sometimes these comments leave our children feeling rejected or that their country of origin is “bad”.  We can certainly communicate to people close to us about how to consider the impact their words may have on our children, but ultimately our kids will bump up against this in the broader community one way or another.  Some people have even thoughtlessly commented that they disagree with our desire to keep our kids culture alive for them, since it was that culture that led to their abandonment.  We never want our children to feel that we reject any part of them.  We teach them that all cultures have both beauty and fallenness.  We celebrate the beauty, because cultures of the world offer unique reflections of God and amplify different aspects of His character.

C family: We learned that finding like-minded families is the most important aspect to being in a community. Other black families have black parents and black kids, so they don’t match our family dynamic in the same way other multi-racial or adoptive families do.

  1. Do you have any good resources to share on how to learn more about your child’s racial experience in the U.S.?

 

X family: Again, the most important experiences for us to listen to for the sake of our children are adult adoptees, who have a unique experience that differs from typical Asian Americans.  We enjoy the these transracial adoptee resources at  “Yes I’m Adopted, Don’t Make it Weird” that is a vlog (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmNviK-KxPVfU4iZD82oQ-A) and Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2154616001461723).  The Empowered to Connect Podcast covers the topic of transracial adoption in episodes 17-20 through adoptee interviews as well.

  1. Do you have any children’s books that you’ve read to your child regarding racial identity and/or adoption that you would recommend?

X family: We hired an artist to do basic illustrations of the life story of our children so that they could understand the narrative of their own history from a young age.   There are pages for: birthparents, finding place, orphanage, receiving a care package from us, the day we met, the day we arrived in the US, and a picture of us standing in front of our home.

We own many adoption books, but the favorite of our kids is, “God Found us You” by Lisa Bergren.

We also have several children books featuring Asian characters (not about adoption specifically).  Our kids particularly enjoy “The Mermaid” by Jan Brett, The Moon Lady by Amy Tan, and Really Rabbits by Virginia Kroll.  Our older daughter enjoys books by Grace Lin, particularly “Where the Mountain meets the Moon.”

  1. What has been the biggest challenge for you as you learn to parent a child outside your own race?

X family: The biggest challenge for us is feeling the weight of the division in our culture around race relations.  There are competing ideologies at play, but the dominant narrative being pushed is humanistic rather that biblical. We are trying to frame ourselves around a historic Christian view of race, anchoring ourselves to the truth of the Bible and relying on God to help us participate in true reconciliation and healing among races through the redemption and family offered in Christ.  We are looking forward to reading a recently released book on this topic from a Talbot Seminary professor, “Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth” by Thaddeus Williams.  See the book preview including the ethnically diverse group of contributors here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCuAkzHuRFE

C family: Honestly, we don’t often have these challenges because we’ve approached adoption and race issues very matter-of-factly with our kids. We are always working on finding the right balance between recognizing how out-of-the-ordinary our family is with how we’re just like everyone else.

For example, we don’t all agree with the athletes kneeling for the National Anthem. We’ve even had some heated debates. But we have boundaries and mutual respect for each other’s opinions, and we can laugh off the differences.

  1. What do you see is the main role a parent can play in the lives of their child concerning their racial identity development?

X family: Help them keep both parts of themselves alive and integrated – the culture of origin where their lives began and the culture of adoption where their lives are now. Do this together as a family.  Learn the language with them.  Cook their cultural foods together.  Find community members who can help educate them about their culture of origin or even about what it means to be an American with dual cultural identities.  Listen to adult adoptee voices.  Keep conversations about race, injustice, identity and truth a regular part of family life and stay grounded in the gospel.

C family: Be educated! Educate yourself, and those around you. Reach out to mentors within your child’s race for their perspective on social issues.

  1. Anything else you want to share that wasn’t covered by the questions above?

X family: Don’t get swept away by the pressures being put out there by social media, media in general, or the dominant cultural narratives about race.  Have real life, genuine relationships with people of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds and approach the things you don’t know or haven’t experienced with humility.  Listen, learn, and most importantly – stay grounded in Jesus who is the ultimate answer to the fallenness we see all around us.

C family: Please check your motives in choosing transracial adoption. Be careful that it is not your attempt to prove to those around you that you are anti-racist. It is not your child’s job to fulfill a dream for you or to bring diversity to your life. This is actually a form of micro aggression. Adoption should be about finding the best family for a child, not the other way around.

If you are interested in hearing from two more families on this topic, please check out our blog post Transracial Adoption Panel 1.

A Book Review: All You Can Ever Know

 

“No matter how a child joins your family, their presence changes all the rules; they move into your heart and build new rooms, know down walls you never knew existed.”

 

This book offers something very unique through the perspective of an adoptee. It does not hold back about the complexities of adoption and does this by the author’s own lived experiences. By the end, you feel  like you know Nicole Chung, the author, or had spent hours sitting with her, listening to her life and her deepest thoughts. She recalls memories and beautifully weaves them together with her current quest to find her biological family. Simultaneously, she feels torn between the family who raised her and the family she always longed to know.

 

Nicole deconstructs her experiences and emotions from childhood to young adulthood. It’s important to remember that every experience with adoption is different. Nicole’s story is unique to her and her family and her quest is filled with many mixed emotions. She sets out to search for her biological family as she approaches motherhood. At different times, she marvels at the connection and the physical and emotional attachments with her baby during pregnancy and after, that are imminent. She reflects how she does not have any of this with her birth mom, let alone many details of her own birth’s circumstances. It’s a loss she’s grieved but now re-experiencing in a new way.

 

This book will challenge you in many ways  that can only be accomplished through the stories of those experiencing adoption and daily living it. It reveals a hidden layer of self reflection. While we celebrate new stages of families and growing bonds, there is also pain through loss that exists in adoption. For some adoptees there is always a pain or isolation that exists in parts of their story, and although Nicole has the opportunity to find some level of closure in hers, she does not fail to acknowledge the hurt and pain that exists for others in her own story or for others and their own experiences. Whether the whole book or parts of the book are familiar to you, it should not be generalized with every adoption. For example, adoptions are also facilitated by agencies, not just attorneys and levels of openness in adoption can vary.

 

There are several informative topics addressed in the book that any adoptive family, relative or professional, could learn from. We encourage everyone to find space for stories like Nicole’s and gain deeper insight to adoption. Examples of topics included in this book are open & closed adoption, transracial adoption, racism, infertility, pregnancy, poverty, child abuse, grief, trauma, belonging and birth family reunion. You can acquire your own copy here.

 

 If you’re new to hearing the adoptee experience, we also recommend “Closure” , a documentary by Angela Tucker where she and her husband document her search for her biological family. Angela also has a podcast called, “The Adoptee Next Door”, where she features conversations with other adoptees and insights on racism, religion, immigration, trauma, and many other topics.

 

 

The Journey of a Social Worker

 

The Beginning: I walked up the trail to the lake.  Looking around I saw a group of teenagers sitting and talking.  I walked over to the group and began talking about the beautiful day.  Then I looked at Kristen and asked, “Are you ready to go?”

Kristen was a 14 year old foster child and I was her social worker.  I had received a phone call from the school stating Kristen had skipped school.  I knew where to find her and went to the lake.  There were no harsh words but there was an expectation that Kristen would come with me to return to school.

The Impact: Kristen was a beautiful girl but she had experienced a difficult life.  She needed someone to stand with her and support her as she tried to discover the life that God had always intended for her.  There are many stories I could tell of my time with Kristen.  I always wondered if anything I did or anything I said would have an impact on Kristen’s life. Years later I discovered that Kristen was married to a wonderful man and had twin boys.  And she remembered me and the time I spent with her.

The Example: Working with Kristen made me see how important it was to take time with older children.  To set an example for them in life.  To be a confidant.  To support their dreams.  To walk with them through the difficult times.  I began to see that in order for a child to succeed, he or she needs a firm foundation.  I began to think of ways that I could help young pregnant women learn how to parent their child so that the cycle of foster care would end.

After raising my own children, I began working with Nightlight Christian Adoptions as a pregnancy counselor and then a Domestic Program Coordinator.  I began to live my dream of assisting women in parenting their children.  Being a parent means loving your child so much that you make decisions that are best for them even if it makes your heart aches.  I have walked with woman after woman as they made the most loving choice for their child: to allow an adoptive family to raise them as their own.

The Support: I left Nightlight for a short time to work with a pregnancy center in my hometown with the goal to create a safe place for women who are hurting.  Women who think abortion is the only answer.  Women who are struggling to break the cycle of abuse, neglect, domestic violence.  To help women provide a firm foundation for their children.

God eventually led me back to Nightlight as an International Program Coordinator.  Now I work with orphanages and central authorities, attorneys and private investigators, government officials and others to help find homes for children who are orphans.  To help children to be placed in loving families who can provide that firm foundation for the child to live and thrive.

The Ever Changing Field: The amazing thing about being a social worker is that it is an ever changing field.  Seeing new opportunities to help people.  Learning new ways to make a difference.  Reaching out a hand to the hurting and the confused.  Sometimes taking on more than I can handle, which is typical of almost every social worker.  Always knowing that God has made some to be teachers, some to be caregivers, some to be authorities, and some to be social workers.  I am honored that God chose to create in me the heart of a social worker.

 

No matter where you begin your journey as a social worker, you will find so many rewarding opportunities to impact, to lead by example, and to show your support to those who need it the most.

What I Wish You Knew: A Birthmom Testimony

I grew up having a fairytale idea of how my life would turn out. I was going to be happily married, a stay at home mom with 6 children, I would have a huge yard with a tire swing and life would be perfect. In reality, I was married… and divorced. Twice. I was blessed with being a stay at home mom for 10 years to 5 amazing children.

 

One of the most important things to me as a mom was to be involved with my kids and provide them with a safe, loving, fun and comfortable home life and to be available to them as much as possible. That became more challenging after becoming a single mom with joint custody and needing to go to work to provide for them. The circumstances were far from perfect, and there were ups and downs, but I worked jobs that allowed me to be home with them when they weren’t at school and I was able to attend most of their school and sporting events. Being a mom, in my opinion, is the most important ‘job’ ever and I always wanted to be the best at it, but I made many mistakes along the way. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not showing them the importance of putting God first. I ‘believed’ in God and I had been ‘saved’, but I had not invited God to be a part of my life. I wanted to live a life pleasing to God, but I still wanted to be in control and do things my way.

 

I was 41 years old, I was not married, 3 out of 5 of my kids were teenagers and still at home, I was expecting my first grandchild… AND I became pregnant. It was not a part of ‘my plan’, but it was part of a bigger plan that I would see unfold in the coming years. I knew every child was a blessing from God. I tried to embrace and welcome the news of becoming a new mom again, but I was consumed with feelings of guilt and shame (for allowing myself to be in this situation). I was anxious and worried (what would my family and friends think)? I was filled with fear (how was I going to raise a baby by myself, could I physically, emotionally and financially meet all of her needs?)

 

I had never felt so alone. Each day brought new fears and worries. I prayed daily, asking God to give me strength and peace and guidance. Every time the thought of adoption came into my mind, I pushed it away. I had heard many amazing adoption stories, but those were other people’s lives, other people’s stories… what kind of ‘mom’ would I be after having 5 children to even consider placing her for adoption? But, what kind of life would she have with me?

 

She was due in September and it wasn’t until July that I reached out to the Nightlight Christian Adoptions. A lot of faith, fear, heartache, tears, prayers and love were involved in the decision to consider adoption and not raise my daughter myself.

 

I changed my mind and my opinions about adoption a lot, during the pregnancy and after. I realize as prospective adoptive parents, you’ve had your own fears and worries and difficult trials that as a birth mom I have never experienced. The adoption journey has a lot of unknowns on both sides. Be patient, be supportive… ask questions, but understand if we aren’t ready or able to answer them. Be open and honest and be yourself – be real.

 

I was fearful that there were no perfect parents for my daughter, but I realized I was far from perfect. I learned to trust God and let Him lead. He chose the perfect family for my daughter. There will always be unchartered territory, on the birth mom’s side and the adoptive parents’ side – journey it together. You don’t have to have all the answers right now.

 

The greatest gift I received from the adoptive parents in my situation, was their acceptance of me and the amazing way they showed their love, their kindness and their gratitude. They helped change my view of birth moms in adoption. I am not a ‘bad’ or ‘unloving’ or ‘selfish’ person. I love enough to want more for the daughter, that I myself could not provide.

 

I originally did not want an open adoption. They were respectful of my decision while gently making it clear that they were there if I changed my mind, and they made great efforts to include me as little or as much as I chose to be involved, without making me feel pressured. We now have an open adoption and being a part of their lives has been a blessing I could have never imagined. I do not have regrets; I do not worry or live in fear for my daughter. I know she is cared for and loved by so many and with the exact mom and dad and family God planned for her.

 

I am praying for each and every one reading this, praying for birth parents, praying for adoptive parents, praying for the children who are a blessing no matter how they come to be a part of their chosen family.

 

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11

 

–written by a Brave Birthmom

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

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

In the Classroom: Acknowledging Foster and Adopted Children

 

 

As parents of six children, all school aged at adoption, we realized almost immediately, that adoption would need to be addressed in the classroom. We have been very involved in our children’s education, so have dealt with a lot of teachers! For the most part, we have been blessed to have amazing, nurturing and involved teachers, who truly wanted the best for our children. However, even the best teacher, may not be aware of how to be sensitive to the issues our children may encounter with some of the material presented in the classroom.

This week, I received an email from the PTA President, who’d requested the 5th grade parents to send in their children’s baby photos for the school yearbook. It brought up such sadness for me, as I thought about the children in the 5th grade at our school and others throughout the country, that would receive this assignment or others that request information or photos from early childhood. None of my children have a single photo of them as a baby or toddler.  Our youngest son looks at the early photos I took of him when he was six and refers to them as when he ‘was a baby.’ I sent a request to the PTA President to consider eliminating baby pictures from the yearbook as it highlights those children from foster care or international adoption who are unlikely to have those special photos. I was ignored, so I had to call in to the school principal.

There are a few school assignments through the years that are used to talk about genetics, family trees or a lifeline. I remember the second grade assignment to make a lifeline of major events for each year of the child’s life. I called the teacher and reminded her that my child and another child in the class that was in the foster care system, might not feel comfortable having their lives up on the wall for open house and all to see! The teacher began to cry and was very apologetic, offering to immediately cancel the assignment.

One of my daughters did the genetics assignment in school, ignoring the fact she was adopted, and identified her brown eyes coming from me and her blonde hair coming from her dad’s side of the family! I thought it was interesting that she did not want to make her story part of the assignment. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed by her adoption, or wanted to pretend her early years with her biological family did not exist. It was just that her adoption and anything related to it, even the color of her eyes, is her business, and she chose not to share her personal story in a school assignment with her peers in the classroom.

It is important that as parents, we encourage our children to feel comfortable sharing the parts of their story that they choose to share. School assignments need to include all of the students and include them in a safe, positive manner. At the beginning of each school year, I go to the school prior to the first day, introduce myself to my child’s teacher and share that my child was adopted and had some difficult years. I suggest that my child’s story is his or her own, and that we encourage sharing only if the child chooses.  Assignments need to be sensitive to that child’s history or lack of photos, etc. recognizing that for a child from Foster Care or Adoption, their story will be far different than other children in the classroom and may not be appropriate for sharing. I also provide a wonderful article from the U.S. Department of Education, “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” http://qic-ag.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/QICAG-Education-Brochure-v041-final.pdf I’d encourage all parents to help pave the way for their child, by following these steps, meeting with the teacher prior to the school year, giving a bit of general history, strengths and challenges of your child, along with this article. It can only help your child to feel more comfortable in the classroom and hopefully avoid some of these challenges.

Always Hope

 

In our years of waiting to build our family, we would often lose hope that it would ever happen. We would question if the word hope even existed. And when we started seeing others build their family, we would often feel defeated and hopeless in our journey.

While we were waiting, I went on a missions trip with our church. At the end of each day, we were asked where we saw God working in our daily task. We knew the question was coming so we began to look for God working throughout the day. Our answers varied—sometimes we saw God working in a conversation with a person, sometimes it was through a kind act, or sometimes it was God creating something sacred in us individually. It became the start of something new for me–to look for God in the daily. He’s already there….but when you look for God..you see God clearer and you don’t miss a moment. You have a perspective change.

I began to write down where I saw God in the daily moments and interactions. He was in the little notes left by my husband, He was in the conversations I had with friends, and He was often found in my workplace…a homeless shelter. He was reaching me in ways I never noticed before. He was in moving in my daily and creating beauty all around me….and I finally began to see it.

As I began to see Him more clearly, I quickly saw where He was leading me. He was leading me back to hope. Step by step..….He knitted our story together. He knew our future child and her birthparents…..He already knew how our story would unfold. Seeing God and being thankful in God for what he has done, grew my confidence of what he’ll continue to do, both in the daily and in the bigger moments. This ultimately rekindled my hope. We seek Him. We thank Him. We build our hope in Him.

You have to create your own hope…and hope for me came from creating a thanksgiving spirit. When you become thankful…you become hopeful. Always. And being hopeful will completely change your perspective of the adoption process. We have to protect our view of the process, because adoption is the most beautiful adventure this mama has ever experienced. Always Hope.

World Down Syndrome Day: “Leave No One Behind”

This year on World Down Syndrome Day 2019, the charge and call of action for every person with Down Syndrome and the advocates who support them is to tell the world to “leave no one behind.” Every person with Down Syndrome is capable, deserving, and worthy to live a full life with equal opportunities. In a world where many are self-focused and driven in their own paths for life, our brothers and sisters with Down Syndrome often face exclusion and discrimination and are often “left behind.” This is especially true for our waiting children.

I had the chance to sit down with an adoptive family, Ross & Tamara, currently in the process of bringing home their two-year-old daughter from South East Asia for an interview. Here is a snippet of what we discussed.

  • What should other families considering adoption know about Down Syndrome?

Down Syndrome is often looked at in a negative light, but there is life and life abundant in parenting a child with Down Syndrome. Above all, she will be our daughter first, our daughter who also happens to have Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome will be a small part of her journey here on this earth, but it will not define her journey. There are opportunities to live a full life and many children are capable of holding jobs, driving cars, and going to college. Yes, parenting a child with Down Syndrome might add more to your life with things like speech therapies, visits to the doctor, and advocating for schooling, however, parenting a child with Down Syndrome will add more to your life in other ways; filling your heart with joy, having a love for others, and caring for the least of these. A verse that we have been praying over our family has been Psalm 68: 5-6; “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling, God sets the lonely in families.”

  • When was your heart first stirred towards parenting a child with Down Syndrome?

My heart was first stirred towards parenting a child with Down Syndrome when I read the article, Where Have All the Kids with Down Syndrome Gone?. The article focuses on the increased rate of abortion when a diagnosis of Down Syndrome is given. As a pro-life family, we want to walk in truth and walk in action. If we are fighting for pro-life, we should also fight for the children that are waiting and take action to support them. For us, that means adoption, for others, that might mean advocating.   

 

  • What does your community and support system look like?

Our community does not have many families that are parenting children with Down Syndrome, however, we have found several online communities and forums that are so supportive and available to answer all of our questions. Our church community has also been very supportive! They have come alongside of us and are praying and patiently waiting for the arrival of our daughter into our community. Our local Regional Center and school district offer plenty of early intervention and educational resources that we are so excited about accessing once our daughter comes home!

 

Let’s stand beside our friends with Down Syndrome and be a part of leaving no one behind! Here are a few links to increase your knowledge of Down Syndrome and to advocate for our friends. Let us know some of your favorites!

Resources about Down Syndrome and Parenting children with Down Syndrome:

https://www.heatheravis.com/the-lucky-few-the-book

https://reecesrainbow.org/

https://www.ndsan.org/