How Can I Love My Child’s Birth Mother Through Her Grief?

 

“I can’t imagine how you’re feeling right now.”

“What a hard decision you are making.”

“Thank you for trusting us with your baby.”

“You are so brave.”

“I admire your strength.”

 

These are all statements that one might hear being said to a birth mother in the hospital or at placement. How many of us have stood in that moment and wished we had something better to say than the typical “thank you” or “I can’t imagine”? How many birth mothers have wished there was something that could be said that would make the whole situation hurt just a little bit less? As I have had the opportunity to walk alongside birth mothers throughout their pregnancy and placement experiences, I have learned that you can just never be fully prepared for how differently each and every birth mother will feel during the placement process. Some cry, others rejoice, some are disengaged, and others decide that adoption is no longer the choice they wish to make. No matter what emotions are being shown on the birth mother’s face, there is grief involved. This grief feeling may not hit immediately, but it will.

 

As adoptive families and adoption caseworkers, we have the incredible opportunity to support birth mothers through this grief. While all of the above statements are true and the birth mother is strong, brave, selfless, and worthy of admiration, what are some things we can remember about her and ways we can support her through her grieving? Remember that she just went through the 9-month experience of carrying your baby inside of her body and loved that baby enough to choose life. Remember that she just spent “X” number of hours giving birth to a baby that she is choosing not to bring home with her. Remember that this experience is painful and remember that she is incredible.

 

No one has all of the answers in regard to making the pain of adoption go away. No one can pinpoint exactly how each birth mother and adoptive family will feel and respond to the placement of a child, but here are some pieces of advice I would give to adoptive families during all phases of the adoption process:

 

  • Respect your birth mother’s wishes. She is trusting you to care for her child for the rest of his or her life, and while you have the tremendous joy and responsibility of being the baby’s parents, she will also ALWAYS be his or her parent too. The power of DNA is strong and respecting a birth mother’s tie to her child is necessary for both the child’s growth and the birth mother’s growth. Send the pictures that you promised, post or mail the update that you said you would write, make that visit happen even if it is not the most convenient for your schedule. Your birth mom/birth family is worth it!
  • Encourage her to seek support. If your birth mother has a wonderful support system or if she has no one, encourage her to continue healthily processing her emotions and feelings toward the placement of your baby.
  • Tell her you are thinking of her. Even if you do not have the most open of relationships, she wants to feel special, known and remembered (we all do!) so keep trying. Just because your birth mother is not comfortable with contact or gifts right now, that does not mean the door is closed forever. Send your letters and pictures to the agency for the day that she does decide she is ready to know your family and build a relationship with you and your child.
  • Build a genuine relationship with healthy boundaries. While this is easier said than done, be open and honest with each other about your desires for this relationship and do not promise more than you can provide. Set a schedule for picture updates, texting, visits, etc. This relationship is ongoing, so make a plan with your caseworker and your birth mom regarding how everyone’s voices can be heard and how you can ensure that all involved know what to expect for the days ahead.

 

Enjoy your baby and enjoy building a relationship with their birth mother. You have embarked on one of the sweetest and difficult journeys a family can choose to take, and it will be worth it! It will not always be easy, and you will not always be comfortable, but listen to your birth mother, think about her, respect her, and love her- no matter what! She will grieve and you will grieve for her. Continue to pray for her every day and speak highly of the incredible woman that gave your baby life.

 

written by Phoebe Stanford | MSW intern

Abounding Opportunities for Children with Down Syndrome

 

In case you didn’t know, October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. As a mother to a child with Down Syndrome it’s one of my favorite months as it gives me a good excuse to talk about my child to anyone who will listen! But every year at least one person asks me why we need an awareness month because, “Everyone knows about Down Syndrome” they claim. The truth is, while people know DS exists, most of the perceptions about people with DS and their lives are largely outdated and inaccurate. This is partially because the educational and social opportunities available for children like my son are growing and increasing every year in communities all across the world. These new opportunities help people with DS reach their full potential and bring a new sense of community among special needs families.

If you have a new child with Down Syndrome or are considering adopting a child with Down Syndrome you probably want to take advantage of these types of opportunities, but you may not know where to look for them. While every community is different and I can’t tell you exactly what’s in your area, there are some things that should be available no matter where you live and other programs that are common in most cities.

Therapies and special education are a HUGE part of life when you have a child with DS, and every child with DS is provided certain things through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Depending on your child’s age they will be provided services such as therapies (sometimes in-home or at school), play groups, pre-school, early intervention services, service coordinators, and employment services (for teens and adults). A good early interventionist or service coordinator can be extremely helpful in getting you connected to other services available in your state such as respite care funding, diaper programs (for older children), community support waivers, free medical equipment programs, and information about Medicaid eligibility. For more information about the IDEA, you can visit their official website here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/

Community is vitally important to everyone but especially for families and individuals with special needs. When you are not part of a community, it’s easy to feel so alone, like no one understands your life or your child. But when you get connected… It’s hard to describe the kind of instant connection you can have with someone when you realize that you both have a child with DS. Thankfully, most communities have some type of special needs family support, and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) has over 375 local affiliates all over the US. These organizations can provide emotional support, advice, and socialization for the whole family! Our local Down Syndrome Association is very active and has multiple events every month. With opportunities like mothers’ night out, private events at the local children’s museum, summer camps, and the annual Buddy Walk… there really is something for everyone! Your child’s service coordinator or early interventionist can help get you connected to one of these associations, or you can check the NDSS website here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/ . Another great community can be found in online groups. I’m a member of a special mom’s support group on Facebook which has been very helpful for me. Besides just the emotional support and information on local events, the ladies in the group offer amazing advice on everything from potty training kids with special needs, to toys, to which movie theaters are the most “sensory friendly”.

Before I had a child with Down Syndrome I had NO IDEA about all the local events and opportunities available to people with special needs. There are so many that it would take me weeks to compile an accurate list of events in just the upstate of SC, but here’s my quick list of popular other opportunities to check for in your area:

– County Rec camps and swim lessons for special needs individuals
– Special Needs day or Sensory Friendly day at your local children’s museum or zoo
– Sensory friendly events at your county library
– Date night or respite night at your local church
– Kid’s gyms or playgrounds with inclusive equipment for kids with all abilities
– Sensory friendly movie times at the movie theater

– “Wings for All” program at your local airport to help older child practice before they travel
– Sports teams, dance groups, and horseback riding programs that are inclusive
– Holiday events like egg hunts, parades, or Santa encounters that have special needs areas or times

The point is, opportunities abound if you know where to look for them. And if something doesn’t exist yet, maybe you can help start it! Almost every event or opportunity for our kids exists because of a parent and a community. A parent who said “my kid needs this” and a community who helped make it happen!

If you have a child with special needs, tell me what’s your favorite event or opportunity in your community? I love hearing new ideas and discovering new programs!

 

written by Jennifer P | Adoptive Momma

How to Be An Adoption Advocate

 

Have you ever thought “I want to advocate for adoption but how can I do that if I am not called to actually adopt?” or “Am I really helping advocate for adoption if I am not adopting?” It is completely valid, acceptable and feasible to help advocate for adoption without adopting yourself and yes – you will be an immense help in advocating for adoption if you do so.

Support adoptive families

Whether you are supporting adoptive families through encouragement and prayers, financially, helping them prepare their home for when their child comes home, being a steady emotional support to them throughout their adoption process, or helping them with finding or obtaining resources that they need while completing their paperwork – support comes in many different ways and is incredibly valued and appreciated by adoptive parents.

Advocate for waiting children

Social media can be used as an incredible tool for advocating for children. Nightlight has a “Wednesday’s Child” every Wednesday that we share on social media. Simply clicking the “share” button from our Facebook page has led to many interested families being able to pursue waiting children.

Educate others through adoption-positive language

Many people do not realize there is such a thing as adoption-positive language. By modeling the appropriate ways to speak with adoptive families in regards to their children, you are educating the public on how to have an adoption-positive language. For example, instead of saying “is that your real child” or using terms like “birth parent” instead of “real parent”, “birth child” instead of “own child” or “waiting child” instead of “available child” all help educate others on how to speak in an adoption-positive way. Being an example of this language encourages positivity toward adoption and helps adoptive parents and children to feel safe and understood.

Educate your community about adoption

If you have biological children, discuss adoption with their teacher so that their teacher could consider assignments that could potentially be hurtful to students that they have whom are adopted. Ask your church if you can set up a display for Orphan Sunday in November. If you have a book club, a bible study etc. that you go to weekly, discuss different adoption stories to display the positivity of adoption.

Advocate for Changes in Adoption Laws

Whether you are advocating for adoptive parents to have an adoption leave when their children come home, advocating for birth mothers to have mandated counseling after the adoption takes place, or advocating for the adoption tax credit to stay in place – you are advocating for adoption in a major way. In order to advocate this way, you can contact your senator or representative as each member of the U.S. congress have contact information.

Donate

If you don’t know a specific family that is adopting that you can donate to, you can donate to places that provide grants and scholarships to families or to organizations who advocate for adoption or foster children who are in need of homes. Check out websites such as AdoptionBridge.org to view waiting families and support them financially as they seek to grow through adoption.

 

written by Jordyn Giorgi

Back to School for Adoptees With Childhood Trauma

Children who are adopted often come with an early history of trauma. Children with such a background can find the school setting difficult, which then affects their academic performance. Often this background of trauma can lead to such problems as sensory issues and being over or under stimulated; difficulty with controlling emotional responses (e.g., outbursts, anger); difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships with friends at school; little sense of boundaries; and a lack of appropriate trust and “felt” safety. Your child may be bright but at times uncooperative, easily distracted, and “hyper.” Do these symptoms sound like ADHD? Yes, they do. Often a child with such symptoms may be labeled as having ADHD, but the child may be reacting to triggers in the environment due to the child’s past experiences of abuse or neglect. Medication most likely will do little to alleviate the symptoms. Instead, other measures will be needed to help your child feel safe at school instead of out-of-control and afraid.

First, public school may not be the best option, especially if your child is newly arrived from another country. School can be a battleground for children who have limited English language skills. Your child will need to be nurtured in a safe environment before learning can begin. Children who have experienced trauma can be in a “flight or fight” mode, and they are operating in the lower brain where their emotions are working overtime. Without proper nurture and attachment, your child may have difficulty using the frontal cortex—the thinking part of the brain. If the child cannot move to the upper brain to perform school-work, your child will most likely underperform academically.

Some private schools may be appropriate. Often because of lack of funding, they do not have the resources for giving children the individualized attention and special services needed. However, if the atmosphere is calm and nurturing, the private school may be a good option, especially if your child is brighter, has a command of the English language, and does not struggle with serious learning disabilities.

If possible, home-school your child. While home-schooling is not an option for many parents, if at all possible, have your child home with you. Even a limited period of time can help your child do catch-up work while adjusting to being in a family.

If your child is in public school, the type of classroom your child is in can be critical for your child’s long-term well-being. If your newly adopted child is school-age, you will need to consider the child’s academic skills as well as your child’s emotional and social age. Of course, in a regular public school system, you cannot place your 11-year-old child whose English is wobbly into a first grade class. Your child should be placed in a grade close to the child’s age, and, as needed, provide the child with extra supports.

Children from the foster care system, who are not legally adopted, usually cannot be home-schooled. Therefore, how the child is treated in the public school system is even more critical. Your foster child may appear bright, certainly speaks and understand English, but the early trauma can still greatly affect school work. Special provisions may still need to be made even if your child appears “normal.”

Whether your child has newly arrived from the foster care system or was adopted years ago, you will most likely need to be an advocate for your child. Often children can become overwhelmed with the noise, expectations, and school schedule. If you feel your child is struggling—even if academically doing well—you need someone who can help you speak the language of school personnel to get the special services your child may need. Janie Dickens, an adoptive mother who understands the special considerations of adopted children ( Janie@passadvocacy.com),  provides consulting services with Nightlight through our Post Adoption Connection Center. You do not have to be in the post-adoption phase to reach out to her, as you may want to prepare yourself and your child’s school environment before your child arrives home. The first consultation is offered at no charge to Nightlight families.

Janie Dickens  of  Pass Advocacy can help you determine if your child may need academic and psychological testing, including an evaluation for any sensory issues or learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. These tests can be expensive if taken outside of the school but are offered at no cost to students in public schools. Again, you most likely will need to advocate for your child to receive such testing, and it may take several months before the assessments are administered.

For children without special educational needs but who have a history of trauma and need certain accommodations, a 504 Plan may be more appropriate. If your child has special educational needs, then your child may qualify for what is called an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). This article regarding children affected by trauma provides info about the 504 Plan and IEP as well as tips for helping your child during the school day.

Furthermore, be sure your child is well-fed and well-hydrated. Children need to eat regularly and take frequent water breaks. Many children eat very early in the morning, before the bus arrives, and then may wait four or more hours before having lunch. Other kids have lunch in the late morning and then must wait until school is out and the bus arrives home to eat again. That is entirely too much time for most children to go without food or a drink. For children who have a history of food-depravation, which includes most children adopted internationally and many from the foster-care system, such a time span can cause a calm child to be out-of-control.  It is essential these children have a substantial snack every two to three hours. In addition, they should have some water or diluted juices just as frequently. Without regular snacks, children are more likely to be frustrated, “hangry,” and behave more impulsively. Without sufficient hydration, our brains—and your child’s—can have a decreased cognitive function of up to ten percent.

Children need to have regular breaks to stretch and move throughout the day. One recess a day is probably not enough.

Many foster and adopted children struggle with anxiety due to not feeling safe or being overwhelmed by the teacher’s expectations. Teaching your children how to use the 4-7-8 breathing can help alleviate some of this anxiety. In addition, this type of breathing can help children—and adults—fall asleep more easily and reduce angry outbursts.

Another area in which parents have difficulty with their children is after school. Some kids come home exhausted and may need some downtime. This is not a time for videogames, unless your child can play for only 15 minutes. Your child will need a snack and perhaps play board games or engage in other quieter activities. Some may need a short nap.  On the other hand, some kids come home wired to run around and play outside. This is fine. Homework can wait. Trying to get tired or boundless energy kids to do their homework is fruitless. Let them play for an hour or so and then approach homework if they must do it.  There are matters more important than homework—creating family bonds.

 

written by

Laura Jean Beauvais, M.P.H., M.A., L.P.C. | Director of Counseling

Attachment Specialist I | Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner|  Counselor/Coach

Back to School: Tips for Adoption Friendly Teachers

 

With back to school dates on the horizon, it’s time to anticipate a new group of kids, and new challenges with helping little ones grow and learn. For parents who built their family through adoption, this also means deciding whether or not they will discuss an adoption story with their child’s teacher. While this decision is unique to each family, there are many ways that an adoption, and trauma informed teacher can make a significant difference in the lives of the children that join their classroom. Here are a few tips that will help children who were adopted thrive in any classroom setting.

Don’t let an adoption story create expectations about behavior- As an adoptive mother, I have worked with teachers who were knowledgeable (and empathetic) about trauma backgrounds, and those who had preconceived ideas about what it meant to have a “foster child” in their classroom. My children have responded very differently in those two environments. We had a teacher that spent time understanding our children’s history, and was passionate about helping them thrive in a classroom setting. While they were not in a situation that warranted an IEP, she came up with clever ideas to help them grow in confidence in her classroom, and because of that they thrived beautifully. She set the bar high, and gave us tools and terminology to communicate to future teachers so that they would continue to thrive in the future. She will never be forgotten. Heck, I plan to send her a yearly Christmas card and cookies or something. She was a huge blessing to us.

On the flip side we have worked with teachers that automatically assumed our children would be trouble-makers just because they heard the word ‘foster’. One thing you may learn about kids who have experience trauma, they are very observant about what is going on around them. It’s a safety mechanism to be very aware of their surroundings. It’s not so easy to hide your feelings as you may think, and if they know you expect them to misbehave, you might create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Honestly, it can be nerve wracking for parents to approach a new teacher about a trauma history or adoption story. Will you care? Will you help them and come alongside them in their journey to help their child thrive? Will this information create a stigma that will become a problem for them all year? Each child is unique; their adoption should not define them.

Be intentional about projects that may be geared towards traditional families Family tree projects are common in schools. It’s fun to discuss genetic roots as a teaching lesson for kids, but often children from non-traditional families feel uncomfortable with the spotlight being put on their story. Their peers may ask some honest, but tactless questions. Some of these projects may be impossible for them, and whether they participate or not, it will highlight that their story is different. Some children love being different, others don’t.

When creating projects, try to be mindful about how different families can be. Create expectations from the start that differences should be celebrated. We always buy The Family Book by Todd Parr each year for new teachers (they are still young so this works well). This is helpful for story time, and benefits both our kids, and other kids that may feel that their family doesn’t fit the traditional model. Each project can be created with room for differences, and not be so strongly based on genetics.

Their story is their own One of the first things I learned as a foster parent was that as soon as I mention the word adoption, a few questions will come up; “What’s their story?”, “Do they have issues?” “What happened to their real family?” Don’t even get me started on the word real

All of these questions are varying degrees of inappropriate, but they come almost automatically. People are wired to be curious, and since they can read someone’s adoption story online, why shouldn’t they be able to ask about this child’s story too? The problem is that people are constantly asking for a very significant, and painful story about a child right out of the gate. Often with the child right there, LISTENING. That child may want to keep that story private in the future, and adults should allow room for that decision to be made when possible.

Many adoptive parents are well trained to only share necessary information to certain people. They might also get annoyed by blunt questions that show how little you may know about the adoptive world. Remember, they are likely hearing questions like that more often than you realize. It gets old.

Here’s what you should know; Don’t use the term real family, ever. Everyone in adoption is real, the biological and adoptive people. Members from the birth family are spoken about with great kindness and care, at a minimum to prevent a child from feeling shame about where they came from. Often families have relationships with their child’s birth family, and consider them part of the family too. Also, not all types of adoption are the same. Children that were adopted internationally will have very different needs than children adopted domestically, or from the foster system. Try to learn a little bit about each type of adoption if you can.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions I know I may have implied that you shouldn’t ask questions, but really just be mindful of the questions you are asking. Good honest questions can set parents at ease. If they let you know their child was adopted, ask them if there is any terminology that they would prefer for you to use in your classroom, or anything they would like you to know to help their child thrive. Ask if they would be willing to share any necessary information about their child’s story, if it would become relevant in your classroom. If they see that you already are thoughtful with your questions, they will open up and talk to you.

Most importantly, know that you are an important part of this child’s story. You can make a huge difference in a child’s year, and sometimes life, simply by taking the time to learn a little about adoption, asking good questions, and creating an environment that is friendly to non-traditional families. The school system can feel complicated to navigate for parents sometimes, and intentional teachers truly leave a lasting mark in the hearts of the kids and families they are helping.

 

written by Deb Uber

Needs of Children Adopted Internationally

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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.

What is Secondary Infertility?

 

 

Last Wednesday, social media was flooded with photos of siblings—it was National Siblings Day! Some of you may frequently remember your brothers and sisters with fondness and great memories. Others may be reflecting on the colossal efforts you have made to have civil relationships with each other.

Siblings Day is a day of celebration, but it is also a day to acknowledge that not everyone has an easy time getting to a baby, let alone a sibling for their child!

Infertility does not exclusively occur with couples who are trying to start a family for the first time. Some are still facing infertility, even after they have brought a child into their home. They may desperately wish to give their child a sibling but it ends up being more difficult than they realized. This is called secondary infertility. According to the Mayo Clinic, secondary infertility is the inability to successfully achieve pregnancy or carry a baby to term after previously having a child.

Secondary infertility can come as a shock to many couples. And there are several emotions that come with the diagnoses: grief, guilt, shame, and even depression. However, through embryo adoption, a couple can still have hope to successfully expand their family.

Celebrating National Siblings Day does not look the same for every family. Siblings are more than just blood and DNA. There is no right way to grow your family—just look through some social media posts to see the countless unique ways families’ across the country celebrate their siblings. If you want more information on growing your family in a unique way, visit Snowflakes.org to learn more.

The Travesty of Human Trafficking

Definition: Human trafficking is exploitation of another person to force them to work for little or no pay. It’s often associated with sex work, but trafficking is a little broader than that; for example, many trafficked people are forced to do agricultural labor.

 

Human trafficking is a sticky subject that’s as important to address as it is uncomfortable to think about. We don’t want slavery to be an issue, so sometimes we forget that it still is. Maybe we don’t want to know what’s going on in that dark corner of society. Why should we be aware of the human trafficking situation?

 

Every compassionate person is grieved by the idea of someone else being mistreated or abused. Just as we don’t want to have our life, its potential, and our dreams stolen from us, we don’t want others to experience that loss. But while sometimes we feel pain in our hearts, or empathize with someone in our head, that doesn’t mean our hands act. We may be educated about the plight of slaves, but let us be stirred to action by it.

 

There is a Biblical mandate to help the helpless: Jeremiah 22:3 says, “Thus says the LORD, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” If we are God’s people, we should act according to His values. We ourselves were helpless, and He saved us; should we not do the same for others He longs to save?

 

Let us take a few moments to explore some facts behind human trafficking, and learn about ways people (law enforcement officers and civilians) are fighting this crime. By raising awareness, we seek not merely to educate others, but to spur them into action. Informed minds are a good first step, but busy hands and rescued lives are the goal.

 

 

“If you truly believe in the value of life, you care about all of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.”               — Joni Eareckson Tada

 

Statistics about Trafficking

Worldwide, there are about 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor.a For this number, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates a 9:1 ratio for labor trafficking victims to sex trafficking victims. While there are more slaves in the labor trade, sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of trafficking in persons (79%).b

 

In America, commercial sex enjoys a booming market. Sex is catching up to illegal drugs in demand, and has already passed illegal firearms. This may stem from the relative lower risk of the sex trade, and because victims can be “recycled” and used again.

 

Exploitation of minors is a large concern, especially for parents in metropolitan areas, and about kids from unstable homes. ILO estimates that one in five trafficking victims are minors6; the age for entering victimhood is becoming younger and younger, currently at about 13 years old.c In the United States, Polaris studies found that a little more than 40% of suspected or confirmed child victims of domestic sex trade are runaways from home, foster care, or shelters. 40-70% of all street youth engage in prostitution, at least occasionally, to meet their basic needs. Interestingly, this population is divided nearly equally among male and female.a

 

By state, California has the highest number of human trafficking cases by far, and Georgia is 8th highest on the list. Nationwide, more citizens than foreigners are victimized. Most of these victims are adults, and the majority of them are female (82%). In 2017, Polaris reported 8,524 cases of human trafficking in the United States, and 405,308 total cases since 2007.d

 

Let’s look even closer to home: since 2007 in Georgia there have been about 3.3k victims of “moderate” trafficking cases, and just under 4k victims of “high” trafficking cases.d More recently, in 2018, about 21% of trafficking cases were labor-related, and around 68% were sex trafficking. The number of victims are almost equal for foreigners vs. U.S. citizens, which is a sinister aspect of sex trafficking: the trade isn’t isolated to any one geographical location, neither does it tend to target one race or socioeconomic class over the other.d Women are the only ones that seem singled out, since about 4 in 5 victims are female.c Everyone has at least one woman involved in their lives (a mother, sister, wife, daughter, or friend, etc.), so this is truly a risk that concerns everyone.

 

Last decade, between 2003 and 2007, Washington, D.C. studied 8 major American cities and found that metro Atlanta had the largest sex trade among them, making more revenue off sex ($290 million) than illegal drugs and guns combined.e Miami was 2nd at $200 mil, and Dallas was $99.

Statistics:

Every month in Georgia:

·         354 minors are sold for sex to 7,200 customers.c
·         Including repeat purchases, an estimated 8,770 sex acts are paid for.c
·         Approximately 374 girls are sexually exploited.f
·         About 12,400 customers pay for sex.g

Trafficking in Atlanta:

·         Roughly 300 girls from Atlanta are lured into trafficking every month, many of them from Mexico.e
·         Most sex purchases are done around suburban and metro Atlanta, 9% of them made near the airport.g
·         Atlanta has the highest number of trafficked Hispanic females in the nation.h

 

Effects of Trafficking

So far, all we’ve explored is the population of modern slaves. We’ve established there are far too many people suffering in bondage. Now let us consider the individual slave, and the horrors that defile their life. Statistics mean nothing if there is no day-to-day reality behind them; we will only try to stop a force when we believe it is wicked. What is it that makes trafficking something we should spend energy fighting?

 

The deleterious effects of trafficking are numerous. Of course, there are physical harms done to a body, if they’re forced to work long hours in a sickly environment (chronic fatigue, infectious diseases, and pain are common results of this), or are a part of the sex industry (there is rectal trauma, pregnancies, or botched abortions, and exposure to STDs). Additionally, it is possible a victim is malnourished, physically abused, and unable to get treatment for conditions such as diabetes or cancer. Many victims may turn to substance abuse as a method of mental escape, if they can’t get away physically.

 

There are also psychological harms to consider. Rescued victims of human trafficking are at a great risk for “anxiety, panic disorder, major depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders.”12 Victims also commonly suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD greatly contributes to functional and behavioral problems, such as self-mutilation, suicidal behavior, and difficulties in controlling emotions and concentrating. Thus, even if a victim is physically taken out of the hands of the trafficker, it can be difficult for them to recover, obtain and keep a job, or even perform basic functions in society.i

 

Amorality of Trafficking

“For me, no ideological or political conviction would justify the sacrifice of a human life. For me, the value of life is absolute, with no concessions. It’s not negotiable.”                 — Edgar Ramirez

 

Hopefully we find our stomachs turning over as we consider these atrocities. Feelings of repulsion and disgust assure us that we are not sadistic, but we should understand this is more than just a crime or violation of the 13th Amendment. Trafficking is a moral wrong, and a trespass against not only a person’s body, but on a human’s soul.

 

Our Creator, Who shaped our minds and bodies, knows exactly what the injurious impacts of trafficking are. He speaks clearly against kidnapping in Exodus 21:16 when He commands, “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Deut. 24:7 speaks similarly) In Luke 10:7, Jesus says “The laborer is worthy of his wages,” meaning we should pay one another fairly. (This is repeated in 1 Tim. 5:18) In 1 Corinthians 6, verses 9 and 18 speak against sexual immorality and promiscuity, declaring that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God, while Deuteronomy 22:25-29 explains the punishment for a rapist.

 

Clearly, human trafficking, whether for labor, sex, or anything else, is contrary to God’s perfect plan for the earth. He instilled in us an antipathy towards these heinous acts, and inspired us to hate what He hates. He even tells us to do something about the problem: Psalm 82:4 says “Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”

 

The good news is that there are already individuals who are passionate about rescuing the weak and needy. Laws have been passed in Georgia that allow space for stricter punishments on traffickers, and make their case harder to defend.j But we must realize tighter punishment isn’t sufficient to eradicate the problem; if traffickers will ignore their conscience and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, then cracking down tougher laws won’t stop all of them, either. Thankfully, there are plenty of non-governmental programs who place value on human life and are also ready to see the captive set free.

 

 

What Can We Do?

Although it’s difficult, many victims find they can recover from their trauma and become productive in work again. As Psalm 68:20 says, “God is to us a God of deliverances; And to GOD the Lord belong escapes from death.” Already there are teams and institutions in place that make concerted efforts to free slaves and offer them another chance at life. Some of these are listed below:

 

Street Grace is an Atlanta-based and faith-driven organization dedicated to decreasing the demand for the sex trade. They fight domestic minor sex trafficking through awareness, education, and action. They seek to train all city and county personnel to recognize and report cases of trafficking.c

 

Not for Sale is based in San Francisco, but is at work in over 40 countries across 5 continents.  They labor to stop modern slavery through a 3-step process: they meet the needs of slaves, learn why a region is at risk for slavery, and seek to establish ways to reduce that risk and enrich the lives of inhabitants. “Forced labor is a tool,” they say, but an unethical one they seek to replace with skills, stability, and fairness that still values each person.k

 

There are also networks, like The National Human Trafficking Hotline which is operated by Polaris, a non-profit, non-governmental organization. Funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Hotline provides assistance via phone or email in over two hundred languages, at all hours of the day, every day of the year.a

 

Most networks are typically non-profit and rely on the monetary and spiritual support of their communities and churches to function. There are many, many more such projects and groups worldwide, all seeking to rescue specific types of victims.

 

If donations and prayer seem like overly simplistic solutions to the matter of human trafficking, there are more ways to respond. Most organizations gladly welcome more volunteers, and there are ample opportunities to stand against modern slavery every day: educate others about the horrors of the trade; teach your children to protect their peers; learn how to report suspected cases of trafficking; if you see a woman in tears, ask her if she’s okay; stand closer to the little boy who’s alone on the metro, or keep an eye on him as he walks through the mall (you needed to visit the LEGO section anyway, didn’t you?).

 

Be aware of others, and the battles they may be fighting, and more importantly be always ready and equipped to fight your own battle for the Lord. The words of 1 Peter 5:8 will always be true: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” God grant that, through our concerted efforts fueled by the Lord’s power and grace, we can make that prowling lion starve.

 

 

 

  1. Polaris Project. (2010). “Human Trafficking Statistics.” http://www.polarisproject.org/resources/resources-by-topic/human-trafficking
  2. International Labour Office. ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labor: Results and Methodologies. (2012). Special Programme to Combat Forced Labour. http://www.ilo.org/sapfl/Informationresources/ILOPublications/WCMS_182004/lang–en/index.htm
  3. “Initiatives.” Street Grace, www.streetgrace.org/initiatives/. 2019.
  4. “We’ll Listen. We’ll Help.” National Human Trafficking Hotline, humantraffickinghotline.org/. 2018.
  5. Belt, Deb. “Atlanta Ranked No. 1 for Sex Trafficking; Conventions to Blame?” Stone Mountain-Lithonia, GA Patch, Patch National Staff, 13 Mar. 2014, patch.com/georgia/buckhead/atlanta-ranked-no-1-for-sex-trafficking-conventions-to-blame. 2019.
  6. Governor’s Office for Children and Families. (December 2009). Unprecedented Private-Public Collaboration to Support Adolescent Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Georgia. Retrieved from: http:// children.georgia.gov/press-releases/2009-12-29/unprecedented-private-public-collaboration-support-adolescent-victims
  7. The Schapiro Group. (2010). Men Who Buy Sex with Adolescent Girls: A Scientific Research Study. Retrieved from: http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org/sites/wfnet.org/files/AFNAP/TheSchapiroGroupGeorgiaDemandStudy.pdf
  8. Thomas, Sara R. and Renea Anderson. Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery. Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Human Trafficking Unit. Retrieved from: http://dfcs.dhs.georgia.gov/sites/dfcs.dhs.georgia.gov/ files/related_files/site_page/BST%20Human%20Trafficking%20Workshop.pdf
  9. Clawson, Heather J, et al. “Treating the Hidden Wounds: Trauma Treatment and Mental Health Recovery for Victims of Human Trafficking.” ASPE, US Department of Health and Human Services, 21 Feb. 2017, aspe.hhs.gov/report/treating-hidden-wounds-trauma-treatment-and-mental-health-recovery-victims-human-trafficking.
  10. “Human Trafficking.” Office of Attorney General Chris Carr, law.georgia.gov/human-trafficking. 2019.
  11. “Homepage.” Not For Sale, 2016, www.notforsalecampaign.org/.

 

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.