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/

Alone: Keeping Siblings Together

 

 

 

A couple of years ago my husband and I got hooked on a survivalist reality show.  The feature setting this show apart from other survivor type shows is that the contestants were entirely alone.  They were responsible for everything (including filming).  Dropped off unaccompanied in a remote area, the participants hunted and foraged for food, built shelters, and risked their lives for the grand prize.  The only margin between remaining in the game and going home was voluntarily sending a call from a satellite phone, in which they were immediately removed. Faced with wild boars, wolves, and poisonous berries…and yet the most common call on that satellite phone was made because competitors were feeling alone. Desperately missing their families, many grown men and women pressed the button on the phone to get home.

Something these contestants quickly learned is the innate human need to not be alone.  Some hit the button after 40 days and some after only 24 hours, but a majority hit it in despair to see family, hug family, feel the safety of family.  The most prepared and capable people of being alone, simply cannot.

Imagine now, a toddler boy.  Bright eyes, long lashes.  Chubby hands and smooth skin.  He is not a wilderness survivalist, but he too has no familiar shelter.  He is suddenly in the home of strangers.  He too wonders about food.  The afternoon eases into evening.  When the lights go out, fear grips this little boy in the scariest moment of his life.  In tears, he turns over his shoulder looking for the one consistent person in his life, his little sister.  The home he does not know, the adults he does not know, but his sister, his sister is like a thread of his own fabric that cannot be unraveled from him.

There is no stress-free way for a child to be placed in foster care.  Abuse or neglect leads up to the removal and the removal itself can be very distressing.  Just like the contestants in a contrived TV show, these kids long for reliable food, safety, and most of all to not feel alone.  In many cases, every effort should be made to keep sibling groups together.  As you can envision, not all foster families have the ability to accept multiple children at a time.  How sad for the toddler boy who looks over his shoulder and doesn’t see his sister. He reaches for the hand he knows, and it is not there. That satellite phone seems like a luxury in life’s true survival situations.

Psalm 68:6 tells us, “God sets the lonely in families.”  We think the foster family must be where God is setting them, but truly, if children have siblings, then in some regards they already have part of the family to not feel lonely.  Nightlight’s Homes for Hope house is making an effort to ensure that siblings stay together during those initial nights, when fear grips as if wild animals lurked outside.  Having a home devoted to emergency sibling placements is a safeguard against the fear and loneliness throughout the transition.  If adult survivalists use the satellite phone to get to their family, how much more do children need family in their reality?

Nightlight and Adams County Social Services have opened two homes designed to provide safety, comfort, and security to children in foster care at a time when they are most vulnerable: immediately after being removed from their family. This new model of foster care, called Homes for Hope, is designed to provide temporary foster care for children in emergency situations. A large focus of the program will be keeping sibling sets together. To learn more about Homes for Hope or the process to become a foster family contact Meaghan Nally at mnally@nightlight.org, call (970)663-6799 or visit https://nightlight.org/colorado-homes-for-hope-program/.

God’s Call to Single Parenting

 

I have always known that I wanted to adopt. Like many women, I assumed that it would be after I was married. However, God had a different plan for me, and I continue to be blessed beyond anything I could have imagined. I am a single mama of two precious boys, both adopted from China. We are now in the process of adding a little princess to our family. Trusting God to build my family has been one of the most faith-building and awe-inspiring things in my life.

I work in a neonatal intensive care unit. When I was still in training, I came across a picture of my first son. God made it quite clear that he was my son. I am so thankful that God was faithful to speak loudly and clearly enough that even my feeble faith at the time could follow Him. It seemed illogical. I was in training. I was single. I was very stretched financially. And the child he showed me was a 5 year old boy. Weren’t single women supposed to adopt little girls? To top it off, this child was deaf, a special need that I wasn’t prepared for. No one in my family knew sign language and I knew that he NEEDED extended family if I was to adopt him as a single mama. Time after time, God moved mountains. Family members were learning sign language, finances came through at the last minute, and my precious son Samuel has now been home for 4.5 years. Beyond all explanation, this child who had no language for almost 6 years is now a fluent English language speaker.

Within the first year of coming home, Samuel began to pray for a brother. I should have known then what was coming! I wasn’t ready AT ALL. We had just moved to a new state where I knew no one so that Samuel could attend a school for the deaf. But God was moving. One year later, I began the process to adopt again, I thought this time for a little girl. Once again, I had no idea how God was going to do this, financially or otherwise. Three days later, a friend texted me the picture of a little boy, asking if I had seen him on the advocacy websites. On that same day, my agency called with a referral for a little girl, exactly the age and a manageable special need that was on my heart. A few minutes later, I stood at my computer and I saw the most beautiful, perfect little face pop up on my screen. She was a vision and I knew instantly that she wasn’t mine. I sobbed and sobbed. What was wrong with me? My heart kept pulling to the little boy in my text message. Seriously God? TWO BOYS? As a single mama? I thought for sure I was not hearing correctly. I called my agency back and asked for time to pray. Three days later, I called to decline the little girl’s file and accept the little boy’s but my faith-walk wasn’t over yet. This time God didn’t “write on the wall”. This time, it was a still small voice that I really wanted to drowned out. But HE gave me courage to walk forward. That most precious little boy was in my arms in FIVE AND A HALF MONTHS! Start to finish, this was the fastest journey I had ever heard about. God provided social supports and the necessary finances in the way only God can do. Once again, He provided where I saw no way. And my Averey? He is the cuddliest, most affectionate child I have ever met. He is the perfect, funny, light-hearted balance to my serious, determined first son. They are the family only God could build.

Then in September of 2017, Averey started praying for a little sister. It took awhile for his brother to come around, but then they ganged up on me. And here we are, at another cross-roads. I have no more idea what God has in store this time than I did the other times. Samuel has graduated from the school for the deaf and both boys are attending a public school for the first time this year. We were able to move to a smaller community closer to friends and family and things have settled into a nice even pace again.

Like with Samuel and Averey, God led to my daughter. Our precious little girl (“little sister” as we refer to her at home) is waiting for us in China and we are well on our way to bringing her home. God has shown Himself already in a million ways like only He can. It gets harder each time to figure out the finances of adoption. I have expired my retirement, I just bought my first house ever with zero down and am still paying on my college loans. It seems risky at worst, unwise at best, but I have seen HIM through this process more clearly than I ever have before. He has changed me, shaped me, and molded me through the stretching of my faith. He has built a village around us and continues to do so. I continue to pray for His guidance and His provision. It is a scary thing, walking into adoption as a single parent. I watch my boys sleeping at night and am in awe that I get to co-parent them. They love to tell people who ask, “My daddy is God.” I guess that pretty well sums it up.

 

— Amber (Adoptive Mom)

Feel Good Friday: Gunter Family

 

We are Joe and Kaley Gunter. We are coming up on 11 years of marriage. Adoption has always been something we wanted to pursue but just never knew when we would pursue it. After three years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant we knew the Lord was calling us to begin pursuing adoption.

We began our adoption journey with Love Basket, a smaller Christian adoption agency who later merged with Nightlight Christian Adoption Services in March 2015. This agency stood out to us at an adoption fair because of the high value and love they placed on the birthparents. We knew we would love to be able to have a relationship with the birthparents of our child if they were open to that, so the fact this agency counseled birthparents along the journey to make sure this was the right fit for them confirmed this was the agency the Lord was calling us to use. We started our paperwork and training in March 2015 and due to several reasons, some including the merge of agencies, knowing the Lord was calling us out of our ministry position in Louisville but not sure where He was leading, and then our move from Louisville KY to Magnolia MM (which required us finding an assisting agency to complete our home study in Mississippi) all of our paperwork was finally finished in February 2017 and we were ready to be matched.

On March 2nd we received a call from our caseworker stating that she wanted to show our profile to a birth mom but the expenses would be more than expected due to birth mom being privately insured. We told her to show our profile because if the Lord saw fit for this to be our child then He would work the financial aspect out. Then we prayed, trusted, and waited. The following day we headed to Hattiesburg for a date day and got a phone call from our caseworker. We knew she would let us know either way the decision the birth mom made regarding us parenting her child. So when we saw our caseworke’s name on our phone so many emotions were flooding us. She informed us we had been chosen to parent a two day old baby girl and of all the states she could have been born in she was born in Kentucky, Louisville Kentucky at that.

We will never forget the moment we first laid our eyes on our daughter. To experience a moment you have prayed so many years for was overwhelming. She was and is the most beautiful little girl we have ever seen. We immediately fell in love with her and felt a closeness to her.

For four months our journey was fairly smoothly waiting to finalize, but then in July 2017 our story took a turn. Keeping details private, we spent 13 months waiting to finalize our daughter. This by far is the hardest journey we have ever endured, but I can say wholeheartedly I would not change our situation. Through this we learned in a way we never have to truly rely on Christ and lean on Him, even in the times we were in despair and shattered. We clung to the truth that her birth mom chose us to raise her daughter and that before the Lord created her, we were chosen to parent her.

There are so many little details the Lord has orchestrated in our story. If I could sit down with you face-to-face, I would tell you all the ways God worked behind the scenes in the little details and how truly great His faithfulness and kindness is.

All of the waiting was ordained, and we may never know the reasons our daughter’s story started the way it did. But we know the truth of this quote “Waiting time is not wasted time” The wait was long at times and there was questioning on how the Lord would provide financially for our unexpected journey to finalization and how long it would be until she was legally ours. But God truly showed up in all the hard. We learned the meaning of “all we have is Christ” when life makes no sense. A vital truth that will carry us on through this earthly life. God being who He is, showed up financially and the month after we finalized our daughter our adoption process was paid in full!!! We are so grateful for the generosity of others on our journey and the village of people God has surrounded us with. Adoption can be messy and hard at times, but it is also beautiful and worth it all.

 

Human Trafficking: What Part Can You Play in Prevention & Spreading Awareness?

 

Saroo was lost. He panicked at first and then started to wander through India by himself at just five-years old. In the 2016 film Lion, Saroo is depicted as hungry, disheveled, with a blank stare behind his big-brown eyes. He’s completely alone and vulnerable. At one point, a group of men try to kidnap him along with other children living on the street. Later, Saroo senses that a woman and another man trying to befriend him are not safe either. He manages to escape them too.

It’s a heart-wrenching story, and a reminder that the human trafficking industry preys on the most vulnerable. People who have adverse childhood experiences, who experience homelessness, and undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable to exploitation. Human trafficking can seem like an overwhelming and distant problem, but awareness can make a difference. January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Right now is a great time to consider a few simple steps we can take to stop human trafficking. Steps that can make an impact.

Begin to understand the problem.

The United States Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It’s estimated that there are over 40 million men, women, and children from all over the globe – including the United States – who are currently trapped in modern-day slavery. It can take the form of sex trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage, child soldiers, or debt bondage.

Learn the warning signs.

There can be warning signs that someone is trapped. Victims might experience poor living conditions, poor mental health, poor physical health, or lack of control. Are they fearful or submissive? Do they have visible marks or bruising? Are they living with their employer? Are they not in possession of identification documents or lacking access to them? Are they unable to speak for themselves when asked questions? Do they have tattoos or branding that signify ownership? When we think something is wrong, we can make a report to social services. The National Human Trafficking hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Help is available.

Decrease demand.

When it comes to forced labor, we can buy less and buy from second-hand retailers which is more than your local thrift shop these days. This decreases the demand for quickly produced, cheap goods. We can also support ethical brands, brands that employ survivors, and look for the fair trade label on products we purchase. There are even companies like DoneGood which recommend ethical shops to empower consumers or apps like Good On You to help us find what we need while following our convictions. What we spend money on is an indication of our values.

Seek justice.

We can promote, make donations, and volunteer for organizations that are making a real difference in local communities and around the world. Just one example is International Justice Mission (IJM) which combats slavery, trafficking, other forms of violence against the poor by rescuing and restoring victims, holding perpetrators accountable, and transforming broken public justice systems. We have a voice. At the government level, there is legislation that can protect victims and hold traffickers accountable. A resource for learning more about current legislation related to human trafficking is Polaris Project.

Participate in awareness campaigns.

Wear Blue Day is on Friday, January 11th when people can simply wear blue in acknowledgment of human trafficking victims and survivors. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center asks participants to post pictures on social media with the meaning behind this act of solidarity for them. Dressember is a campaign when advocates wear a dress every day during the month of December to raise awareness and funds for several organizations in the fight against human trafficking.

Adopt.

We know that stressful or traumatic childhood events including abuse or neglect, and homelessness create more vulnerability to exploitation. Youth in group homes are actively recruited, and social workers are trained to recognize the signs of recruitment. At-risk children long for family. Adoption can protect children and young people who are the most vulnerable to human trafficking.

Like all stories of adoption Saroo’s story is emotional and layered. A couple from Australia adopt Saroo from an orphanage, and as a young adult he begins to explore his origins. The movie walks us through an incredible, inspiring, positive healing process with closure – which we know is not always the case for everyone. But it also shows how one life could have taken a very, very dark turn if not for the investment of the man who noticed him on the street and took him to authorities, the people who prepared him for adoption, and the couple who adopted him into their family.

Creating a Life Book For Your Adoptive/Foster Child

 

 

 

Creating Lifebooks for our children is one of those things in life that some parents follow through better than others, like sending out Christmas cards. The desire is there, we’ve pictured the outcome, we understand the appreciation it will bring others, and some have gotten as far as making a Shutterfly account. But then, before we know it, it’s December 24th, December 25th, January 1st, January 30th and we’ve convinced ourselves that next year we will do better.

I get it, life is busy, especially now that we’re parenting. But unlike Christmas Cards, that are eventually thrown away or tossed into a drawer, Lifebooks serve as  lifelong tools for our children. It connects a child with their past. It helps them make sense of their experiences, the good and painful. It’s a vehicle that facilitates discussion about the often-messy circumstances leading to their adoption, helps navigate their grief of losses and past traumas, and aids to dispel magical thinking or false beliefs that somehow they caused the separation from their birth family.  All of which, if handled correctly, contributes to strengthening a child’s positive self-identify.

Through a quick internet search, you can find a lot of wonderful resources about creating a Lifebook for your adoptive/foster child. Most of the blogs and articles are better than I could ever recreate. Here are some of the highlights that I’ve learned from my thirteen years working in the adoptions and foster care field.

 

  1. Lifebooks are not reserved for the Pinterest parent. Lifebooks are not meant to be perfect or even pretty. They are filled photos, artwork, words, historic information and journal entries. No Shutterfly account needed. Use a book were pages can be added and rearranged, such as a three-ring binder.
  2. Don’t know where to begin? Start with important dates and places. Stuck again? Search the web for template pages and ideas. Iowa’s Foster and Adoptive Parent Association IFAPA has created over seventy free life book pages for foster and adoptive families and social workers to use. http://www.ifapa.org/publications/ifapa_lifebook_pages.asp
  3. Do a little legwork. I know of one fost/adopt family whose daughter attended twelve schools in only eight years. To help fill in her story, they retrieved the names of the schools from former case workers and spent one summer visiting each school, taking photographs of the schools and asking the school offices for their daughter’s yearbook picture.
  4. Involved the masses. Contact important individuals from your child’s past and ask them to contribute notes and memories. These people may include case workers, foster parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc. Even if you don’t have many contacts from your child’s past, you must have had contact with a social worker who facilitated your adoption.
  5. Involve your child. The life book is for your child and in order for it to be a useful therapeutic too., they must contribute. When they are young it may be a drawing they made of their birth family. As they get older they can contribute more. They also must be allowed to handle it, carry it around, land ook at it when they please.
  6. Remain honest. A Lifebook should provide a child the truth about their own life history. The story can become more sophisticated as the child grows older. As painful as it may be, recording the reasons for the child’s adoption is important because truth dispels false beliefs that a child may otherwise have that they caused the circumstances that led them to be separated from their birth family and false guilt that may affect their self-worth. Lifebooks also allow for feelings, complicated and real, such as how much a child loves their birth parents and positive memories living with their birth family even when those parents may have been neglectful, abusive or primarily absent
  7. Leave lots of blank pages to continue to document your child’s growth, development, school progress, hobbies, and relationships etc.

The simple fact is there is no right or wrong way to make a Lifebook, but by not doing a Lifebook you’re missing a powerful way to positively impact your child’s sense of self and the way they view their past, present and future. It’s also a great way to deepen the parent/child relationship. The Christmas cards can wait until next year, your child’s Lifebook should not.