Adoption, Isolation, and Community

This summer, I have had the great privilege of helping to plan and organize a retreat for adoptive/foster mothers in our community.  Over the weekend, I gathered with a group of mothers for an incredible time of fellowship, laughter, tears, prayer, and restoration.  We all went around and told our stories of waiting, longing, loving, and fighting for (and with) these precious children.  The stories were all different, but we were all tied together by the thread of adoption, of pointing to a child born of another woman and claiming him as our own … and all the heart-wrenching joy and pain that goes along with that.

This weekend was eye-opening and restorative to me in more ways than I could name here, but one thing struck me above the rest.  This weekend was more than a couple days and night off for these women, it was a place of freedom.  It was a safe haven where the truth could be shared without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.  It was a place where we could all look each other in the eye and talk about how hard this is, how it’s harder than we ever imagined.  How every single one of our kids has been through the trauma of adoption – many through much worse – and caring for their tiny souls can sometimes be unequal portions of joy and excruciating pain.  I sat and cried with women who have been adoptive parents for five … ten .. fifteen … twenty years, and can’t think of one person outside their family who knows this road they are walking.  It struck me that this is the “rule”, not the “exception”.

There are a lot of reasons why adoptive parents feel isolated, and a lot of fears we have about being honest about the hard truths of adoptive parenting.

… we don’t want to further any stereotypes about adoption or adoptive/foster children.

… we want to protect the privacy of our children and their past.

… we don’t want to scare you away from adoption or foster care.

… we don’t want you to think we regret it.

… we don’t want to ruin the happy picture you might have of adoption.

… we don’t want you to think that we or our children are crazy.

… we don’t want to disappoint those of you who financially and prayerfully supported us.

… we know that we cannot expect you to understand, because we didn’t understand either.

Every form of parenting has its challenges, and every parent can struggle with feeling isolated in those challenges.  What I saw this weekend and have observed from my own experiences is that although adoption comes with an incredible community, the day-to-day can be very lonely.

If you have an adoptive/foster parent in your life, I wish I could give you some Pinterest-worthy little list of ways to emotionally support that friend. I just don’t think it is that simple.  All I can offer are some tips that I gathered from the collective experiences we shared at the retreat:

– Even if you are trying to be helpful, avoid offering advice.  Most every traditional parenting technique/trick won’t apply (yeah, it drives us insane too).

Be a safe space. If you already have a good relationship, take it a step further and let your friend know that you are there as a safe place of confidentiality, support, non-judgement, and acceptance.

Initiate.  For all the reasons listed above, your adoptive/foster parent friend probably is hesitant to take the first step to getting real about the challenges they are facing.  Maybe try something like: “Hey, friend, you’re doing a hard thing that I have no experience with.  But, I want to be a support to you, and want you to know that I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in this even if I can’t understand or relate to it.  If you want someone to listen, I am here with a cup of coffee (read: glass of wine).”

Be a listening ear and/or a crying shoulder.  Sometimes it is intimidating to reach out to someone who is walking a different road than yours because you don’t know how to offer that kind of helpful advice.  Listen, friend.  YOU DON’T NEED TO!  The biggest blessing to me this weekend was to sit in a comfy chair with women who’s only agenda was to listen while I verbally processed.  They didn’t need to say anything for me to walk away feeling refreshed, and neither do you.  Just be there.

Offer help, but then let your friend modify.  I think we all know that the old “Let me know if you need anything!” is mostly a bunch of crap.  Adoptive parent or otherwise, very few of us are ever going to take you up on that.  If you really want to help, offer something specific.  BUT.  Then let your friend modify to fit his/her family situation and current needs.  We might not yet be able to accept a free night of babysitting, but you could come over after bedtime to watch a movie and talk.  Consider offering one or two fun ideas (I will take you out to dinner so you can have a break from your kids) and one or two practical ideas (I will come over and do your laundry so you can spend time with your kids), so your friend has the freedom to accept your offer in a way that is truly helpful for him/her.

 

And to those of you that are adoptive/foster parents who are feeling isolated, find a way to connect with other adoptive/foster parents.  Go up to that other adoptive/foster family at church and introduce yourselves.  Search online and on social media for support groups in your area.  Start a weekly or monthly meet-up with the adoptive/foster parents around you.

I think I can pretty safely speak for adoptive/foster parents as a whole when I say that we are ALL open to support from other adoptive/foster parents, and thus are ALL willing to give it.  It took almost no time at all at our retreat for women who were strangers not an hour before to exchange numbers with sincere promises to call each other in the hard moments.  It is something we are all desperately searching for, so I am confident you will not be disappointed in your efforts to reach out.  If you are adoptive/foster parent in the Cedar Rapids area, the goal of the retreat this past weekend was to launch a regular support group for adoptive/foster parents.  Contact House of Hope and ask to be notified about the upcoming gatherings.

 

As our family is about to take off for a new chapter in California, this is something we want to be very intentional about.  If there isn’t a support system already in place in our area, we want to start one.  One of our theme verses from the weekend was Proverbs 24:6, “… for with guidance you wage your war, and with numerous advisers there is victory.”  We know that adoption is plucking a child out of the enemy’s grasp and then engaging in a lifelong war for them.  We’re not far into this battle, but we already know the importance of “numerous advisers”.  This far too important of a journey to risk walking alone.

Source: Flickr Creative Commons by T*C*W*

Source: Flickr Creative Commons by T*C*W*

Where will we be living?

Finding housing in the San Francisco Bay Area is INSANE.  It isn’t that there aren’t many options – there is everything from condos to apartments to itty bitty houses to mansions.  There is big city life, and the quite of the suburbs.  There is life on the coast, the peninsula, islands, or inland.  Oh, yes.  There are options.

No, the issue is not the amount of options, it is securing one of them.  Basically, there are tons of people looking for housing, and those options go quick.  Like, within days.  Or hours.  I am not exaggerating when I say that if you are not able to show up on someone’s doorstep with a big wad of cash in hand the moment they post that housing option, you don’t have a shot.

Needless to say, trying to nail down housing from out of state is virtually impossible.  The second anyone realizes we are not local, they quit talking to us and I can hear their laughter echoing all the way to my empty email inbox.  We just can’t compete.

So, we decided to alter our plan a bit and look for an apartment rather than a house.  Apartments are much easier to secure from out of state (though still very competitive), and short-term lease would give us a chance to get settled while still exploring the diverse options of the Bay Area before choosing something more long-term.

So when we came across an 3-bedroom option in our price range on Alameda Island, we were ready.  We knew we had to act fast, so that ENTIRE day was spent filling out applications and making arrangements to ensure that we wouldn’t miss the opportunity.  An awesome friend from college who lives in the area toured the facilities in our place, and soon the details were in place.  One month from tomorrow, we will be moving to Alameda Island!

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Alameda Island is located in the San Francisco Bay, east of downtown San Francisco and southwest of Oakland.  We have heard so many good things about the island, and are really excited to call it home!  Since we will be new to the area, we have been reading up on Alameda and thought it would be fun to share with you some of what we have learned …

– Alamed Island is known for its mix of historic and hip charm, idyllic feel, small town shopping distracts, tree-lined streets, and island culture.

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– Alameda has a population of 75,000 (by comparison, Cedar Rapids has a population of 128,000 and San Francisco has a population of 837,000) and is made of roughly 10 sq. miles of land.

– Vehicles can access the island by three bridges and two “street tubes”, which are underwater tunnels connecting the island to the mainland.

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– It has the only pedestrian/bicycle-only drawbridge in the US

– We can also can travel to San Francisco across the bay by ferry.  (Side note – I think it is so cool that Alex could take a ferry to work every day, but he is opposed to boats.  And water.  Rest assured that Elliott will definitely be taking the ferry because OBVIOUSLY.)

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– Alameda has warm, dry weather – the average temperature is in the mid-70s in the summer, and the low-60s in the winter.  GOODBYE -20 WINTERS!

– Averages 260 sunny days a year.  GOODBYE SEASONAL DEPRESSION!

– It is known for its Victorian houses.

This Queen Anne Victorian has 13 bedrooms.  It stands at 1000 Paru Street - on the Corner of Paru Street and San Jose Avenue across from Franklin Park in Alameda, CA.  It was built in 1893;  Architect was Otto Collischonn (according to An Architectural Guidebook to San Francisco and the Bay Area By Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny)

– It has a large Filipino and Portuguese community, as well as a lot of other cultural diversity.

– The speed limit on nearly the whole island is 25 mph (from what we have read, this is STRICTLY enforced because of the huge amount of bikers and pedestrians).

– Attracts wind and kite surfers.

– Has great views of the San Francisco and Oakland skylines

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San Francisco skyline

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Oakland harbor

– Home of the Oakland Raiders training facilities

– Known for its 4th of July parade (second oldest and second longest in the country)

– The west end of island is known as Alameda Point and is home to a decommissioned Naval Air Station.

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San Francisco skyline in the background!

– Movies filed in Alameda include Bicentennial Man, The Net, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix: Revolutions, Bee Seasons, the original Yours, Mine & Ours, and Rent.  A massive hanger at the Naval Air Station is used to film scenes requiring computer-generated imagery for other movies such as Flubber, Mission: Impossible II, and the Matrix trilogy (including the signature bullet time scene).  The naval base also often hosts MythBusters’ more dangerous experiments.

 

There you have it!  We are excited to explore the area!  And keep in mind that we WILL have a guestroom 😉

Won’t You Save Me, San Francisco?

Dear Friends & Family,

We have some big family news to share …

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we’re moving to San Francisco!  Home to the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, year round great weather, Silicon Valley, plus a lot a of truly great Train songs.  And soon … the Lairds!

To share with you how we came to this major life change, we have to take you back to College Alex and College Jessica, when we were newly engaged and dreaming about our future life together.  It was our senior year, and Alex already had a job offer in Cedar Rapids.  Even though we both wanted to try living somewhere other than the Midwest, we decided to take what was a sure thing and start our married life out somewhere familiar.  But one day, we promised ourselves, we would move somewhere different.  Somewhere neither of us had lived before.  Somewhere in a big city (voted Alex) and near the ocean (voted Jessica).  We put it on the back burner and decided we would work out the particulars of when and where at a later date.

Fast forward five years, and we are married and have a incredibly awesome toddler.  Suddenly, we started to get that itch again.  We absolutely LOVED our time in Poland, and aside from bringing said toddler into our lives, it reignited that thirst for the adventured we had pushed out of our minds for four years.  It seemed like the time might be right. And so, we began praying and tentatively talking about the options.  There were a lot of factors to consider – we needed to be somewhere with a thriving tech industry, we preferred a more moderate climate (sorry, Iowa …), and wanted Elliott to grow up in a place of cultural and racial diversity.  We made a list of cities and states we could picture ourselves in, and soon it became clear that San Francisco was the winner.  Aside from just being a fantastic area, Alex has dreamed since he was a kid of living and working in Silicon Valley, the famed tech capital of the country – maybe the world.

After that, it was simply a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to come along.  A lot of options were on the table when a thriving start-up company contacted Alex after seeing his resume online.  Several interviews and one 24-hour trip to San Francisco later, we had made up our minds and said yes.  One month from now, we will be on our way.

As excited as we are, this is still bittersweet news to share.  Iowa has been our home for four wonderful years.  Here we have made lasting friendships, been a part of a church family that we love, and watched our community rally around us to bring Elliott home.  Living here is a chapter of our lives that we will always cherish and for those reasons, we are sad to leave.  But with local family and friends, you can bet that we will be back – regularly.

In our four years in Iowa, we have been blessed abundantly and made so many memories.  Life is always changing, and the Lord is always bringing new opportunities to grow, be challenged, and minister in new and stretching ways.  We are incredibly excited to see what lies ahead for us in these ways.  Our adoption of Elliott taught us saying “yes” to an open door can bring challenges, but it also brings a new kind of joy and faith that comes from being stretched beyond what is comfortable.  And with that knowledge and equal parts excitement and sadness, we say “yes”!

There are so many more details and stories that have gone into this already, and we know there will be many more to come as we prepare to move in mid-August.  If you would like to hear more or get together before we leave, please let us know!

 

Thanking you for your prayers as we begin this new chapter,

Alex, Jessica, & Elliott

When Silence Isn’t An Option

As you know, this blog has been almost exclusively dedicated to our adoption and orphan advocacy.  It is The Thing that God has laid on our hearts, and what has consumed most of our waking (and sleeping) hours over the past couple of years, and it is the motivation for most of the posts on this site.  However, due to other events of the past years and months and weeks and days, we want to talk about something else today.

Those of you who know us personally or have been reading this blog since Day One might know that we did not chose adoption out of a medical need or inability to conceive a biological child.  Though those are 100% valid reasons for choosing adoption, it wasn’t our particular path.  We chose adoption because of a deep-rooted and consuming conviction that it is our Biblical responsibility to fight against the injustice of children going through their lives without families and homes.  It was the type of conviction that comes from looking up from a Bible and realizing that there is no alternative.   We are commanded to care for the orphans of the world.  And although there are many ways to go about accomplishing that, none of us are exempt from that command.  It was out of obedience to this that we were blessed beyond measure with the gift of our son.

But the true, deep-seated motivation for our adoption comes from a desire to stand up in the face of injustice.  It originates from a burning place inside that says, “I can’t solve this problem, but I can do something …”, from an unquenchable urge to be a part of the solution rather than merely occupying a seat on the sidelines.

It is something that, as Christ-followers, is a fundamental component to our faith.  Far from a passing desire to be a part of some fleeting social movement, we see God’s love for the oppressed woven into the entire narrative of the gospel, seeping out of every nook and cranny of His Word.  There is simply no other way to interrupt verse after verse that rejects apathy and demands action on behalf of those who are being treated by the world as anything less than the God-gift they are.  Our God is the God of the oppressed, and we simply do not feel comfortable calling ourselves Christians without making that our mission as well.

But oppression comes in many forms, and injustice takes many shapes …

… like children abandoned to languish in the streets or in a crowded orphanage.

… like a single mother feeling the stigma of institutionalized poverty.

… like teenage girls sold into sex slavery.

… like nine innocent people horrifically gunned down for the color of their skin one week ago.

Top row: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton middle row: Daniel Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders Bottom row: Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson Click image to read more at image source.

Top row: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
middle row: Daniel Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders
Bottom row: Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson
(Click image to read more at image source.)

All week, I’ve felt the heavy weight of the unspeakable tragedy that rocked Charleston and the Black community.  I’ve felt confronted by many more questions than answers, unable to fathom how such a thing could be done, and why.  More than anything, I felt tired.  Tired of hearing about yet another senseless act of brutality derived from racism, a headline we have become much too familiar with recently.  Tired of the truth that this is the world my son will grow up in – a world where people are shamed, humiliated, profiled, judged, stereotyped, targeted, and even murdered due to the fact that their skin is darker than someone else’s.

I felt sick.  I felt angry.  I felt useless.  I felt the same fire against injustice that once had me signing on the dotted to claim a toddler from another world as my own.  I felt conversely outraged at the amount of churches and pastors and Christians who have remained silent on this topic, while at the same time kicking myself for my own lack of action.

God, forgive us.

This week I’ve been confronted with my own insecurities about this topic.  I’ve stayed silent out of feeling unqualified to speak on the issue of race, out of fear of saying the wrong thing the wrong way.  And the truth is, I’m not qualified, and I still worry I will say the wrong thing.

But I cannot continue to say nothing.

In the injustice of the orphan crisis, I knew how to take action, but I don’t know how to take action against the injustice of racism.  As I have prayed and asked God how I can be used, I felt overwhelmed with the conviction that just as in our path to adoption, inaction is not an option.  Silence is not an option.

So as we seek God in our home about how we can take a stand against the overwhelming injustice of racism in our country, we will first start by ending that silence:

Brothers and sisters of Charleston and the Black community as a whole, what happened to you last week was an act of racism and it was wrong.  What happens to you every day as you feel the oppression of institutionalized racism is wrong.  We don’t know what to do or how to help, but we know that staying silent on this subject is wrong.  We mourn with you.  We cry with you.  We pray with you and for you.  In this time of incredible sadness, we stand with you.  We join this fight with you, knowing that while we cannot solve this problem, we can do something.  We can be a voice.

As someone who struggles with anxiety, I have found incredible power in naming something as truth in the face of confusion and panic, of identifying a thought to bring it under control.  That is what we want to do today with this post.  We want to identify what happened and call it what it is – racism.  We want to take a meager step out of the confusion of not knowing where to start in the fight against this form of injustice, reaching out to grab on to what we can do – speak.

Our experience in the world of orphan injustice taught us that there are two very simple first steps.  1) Identify the injustice and speak it out loud.  Silence only allows oppression to flourish, while calling it out the darkness and into the light has a funny way of stripping it down its simple core: injustice.  2) Remove yourself from the sidelines and place yourself in the action.  Find ways – even if they feel small – to be a part of the solution.   Pray for direction and opportunities.  Educate yourself on the issues.  Be teachable.  Examine any of your own racist attitudes.  Call out racism for what it is and refuse to be a silent participant when you see it, whether it is blatant or subtle, like in casual jokes in the break room.  Study God’s Word for evidence of His fight for the oppressed (trust me, the search won’t take long), and emulate that with your own life.  Be a voice.

If you, like us, have been wrestling with these issues as the breaks between racially-inflamed news stories have become fewer and farther between, join us in praying for change.  Join us in asking God to use us as a part of the solution, rather than remaining a part of the problem or a passive observer.  If you don’t know where to begin, as we have felt, ask God to open your eyes to ways you can be used where you are to fight against this or other forms of injustice.  While we continue to seek God about how we can be used in the battle against racial injustice, He brought to our attention a different opportunity allowing us to serve those living in poverty in our own community – a different but equally important form of oppression.  You never know where He will take you when you stand up and ask to be used.

All we know is that just as we felt when we began to explore the convictions that led to the stories and miracles contained in this blog, doing nothing or staying silent is not an option.

 

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

– The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“From oppression and violence He redeems their life, and precious is their blood in His sight.”

-Psalm 72:14

Miracle Day: One Year Later

It isn’t difficult to call to mind and heart the feelings I had waking up exactly one year ago today.  Most of the time I can’t even remember how I felt one week ago today, but some days etch themselves into your brain and never fully fade from memory.

I woke up that day and savored those first few hazy moments where you can’t quite remember what is going on in your life, because your brain hasn’t woken up yet.  Even though I couldn’t remember why, I knew I should enjoy those blissful moments before reality set in.  I suppose it was a habit my mind had picked up over the last seven weeks, a small, warm measure of self-defense before being thrust into the cold, harshness of the day.

Then the fog cleared, and I was left with the truth – it was over.  The simple statement seemed mocking in the face of the complexity of what the last seven weeks had been, say nothing of the months before them.  The baby boy known only to the rest of the world as “M” was lost to us forever.  We had loved him, we had prepared for him, we had set up a bedroom in our house and forever in our hearts, we had fought for him.  But now, it was over.

In those first days seven weeks earlier, after getting that initial phone call, I remember walking around with the odd feeling was made of the most delicate glass, that the slightest bump or scrape would shatter me into a million pieces.  I have since talked with women who have experienced both late-term miscarriages and “late-term” adoption losses, and have been told that the pain is remarkably similar.  For seven months I loved that little boy with my whole self, but it was over now.

Mercifully, though the pain had not dulled in those seven weeks leading up to the “it’s over” phone call, the shattering feeling had lessened.  There was nothing else for me to do during those weeks, so I had thrown myself into Lord.  Though they had been the most difficult seven weeks of my life, I look back on them now with a odd fondness for the sweetness of that time with Him.  Through it came a sustaining, life-giving strength that showed me that there was a way forward.

On that very first day of those seven weeks, our pastor came over and sat with us while we bounced between grief and anger and confusion.  I remember being so grateful that even though he was technically my co-worker who the day before had probably been listening to an in-depth description from me about number of cheese slices and water balloons I still needed for VBS, he was still our pastor who dropped everything to sit on our couch with us – disheveled, sleep-deprived, and in our pajamas.

A lot of that day is incredibly hazy, but I do remember sitting there on our couch, him across from us on the recliner, and my mother-in-law in the kitchen warming up soup.  He shared this verse with us:

“I would have despaired, had I not expected to see the goodness of the Lord.”

 -Psalm 27:13

I don’t think I had ever heard that verse before.  Maybe I had skimmed over it once while reading, not yet knowing what “despair” was.  The verse lodged itself in my mind, I asked our pastor to write down the reference so I could come back to it.  It became a mantra I would repeat to myself daily for the remainder of that year and our adoption process, and still to this day.  During those seven weeks, I learned that despair hits us before we have time to even glance up and see that its coming, and I believe that God grieves with us in those times.  But at some point, He also provides a way out, a path forward.  A chance to expect to see His goodness, even with despair still breathing its hot breath down our necks.

One year ago today, I woke up on the second morning after the “it’s over” phone call, seven weeks and two days after the initial shock of despair.  As the haziness passed and the icy reality of the last weeks flooded back, there was something new.  A tiny light piercing through the darkness, a feeling that had been absent from my heart for awhile.  Hope.

I clung to that hope like a lifeline and let it pull me out of bed.  For the first time in weeks, I allowed myself to dip my toes into what might be ahead, rather than dwelling on what was now irrevocably in the past.  One of the main lessons I had learned during that time was to live one day at a time.  At that point, it had been a method of survival, as thinking beyond what was right in front of me was too exhausting and overwhelming.  Right now.  Today.  Deep breath in, deep breath out.  One foot in front of the other.

One year ago today, I began my day as had become my custom – repeating Psalm 27:13, asking for strength for the day, reminding myself to only focus on right now.  But I couldn’t shake that nagging feeling of hope, whispering in my ear to trust that something more was coming, asking me to expect to see His goodness.

Awhile later, still pondering this, my phone rang.  It wasn’t my usual ringtone, but the mechanical “Brrrrrring!  Brrrrrrring!” of an old-timey telephone.  Only one person in my contact list had a designated ringtone – our agency direct.  Over the last seven weeks I had developed a near-panic attack response to that sound, but this time I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.  What was there possibly left to lose?

Even so, I tentatively answered and heard a familiar, Eastern European accent.  She had been calling with bad news for weeks, and had more than once just sat with me on the phone while I wept.  But this time, there was a lift in her voice – or was that me projecting on her the hope I so desperately wanted to feel?

She spoke for a few minutes about our options for moving forward, something Alex and I were just starting to feel recovered enough to consider.  I could tell this wasn’t the reason she called, though, and had a feeling she was leading up to something – something big.  Then, with a pause and a deep breath, she dove in.

The rest of the conversation is something I only remember now because in a ridiculous moment of foresight, I wrote most of down after we hung up.  Even then, I knew I would want to remember.

There was a baby.  A little boy who had just turned one.  A bundle of God’s goodness in the midst of our own despair.  And he could be ours.

“I’ve just sent you an email with pictures.  He’s beautiful … I don’t want to push anything on you guys, especially if you aren’t ready.  But, if you are, I think you would be perfect for him, and he would be perfect for you … talk to Alex and let me know what you want to do.”

Unable to fully comprehend what was happening, I sat down my phone and had to remind my feet how to walk me across the room to where my laptop was sitting on the kitchen table.

With shaking hands, I clicked on the email.  Just like that, my life was never the same again.

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The rest is truly unfathomable to me.  From a place of darkness and despair, to crying while looking at pictures on a computer screen, to eventually walking in that backyard … sitting on that porch … living in that house.  Feeling that miracle little boy as he is placed in my arms for the first time.

To now.  Exactly one year later, with him sitting at my kitchen table eating raspberries.

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How is it even possible?

One year ago, I didn’t know the joy of this child’s smile or recognize this sound of his cry.  I didn’t know that he loved cars and beets and had the ability to brighten anybody’s day.  But I knew that although God did not knit him in my womb, He had placed him in my heart and one day in my arms.  I knew it was the beginning of forever.

“I would have despaired, had I not expected to see the goodness of the Lord.”  

-Psalm 27:13

April & May

Hello, friends!  I know we have basically dropped off the map these past couple months, but that’s mainly because life has been ca-ray-zy.  I have been telling myself that one day when things calm down, I will sit down and blog posts for different highlights of April and May.  However, I’ve determined that the likelihood of that happening is pretty much 0%, so instead, here is just one post about fun things from Spring!

All of Elliott’s therapies have begun!  After spending more than month in various evaluations, we are finally on a regular schedule with therapy.  Therapies fall into two categories for us – at home and at the hospital.  One day a week we go to the hospital for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy back-to-back in one super therapy afternoon.  Our at-home therapies come to our house to work with Elliott (LOVE LOVE LOVE), and include physical therapy, speech therapy, and a type of education/play therapy.  Currently, the physical therapist visits once a week, and the other home therapists visit every other week.  All of this shakes out to at least two therapy days a week, which definitely keeps us busy!  The progress Elliott is making through the help of this amazing team is unbelievable, so we are incredibly thankful for all the many ways they are investing in our family!

Elliott's physical therapy walker

Elliott’s physical therapy walker

Elliott's left foot is a little wonky, so his therapists are helping correct that

Elliott’s left foot is a little wonky, so his therapists are helping correct that

We celebrated Easter!  Easter is considered to be the most widely celebrated holiday in Poland, filled with many rich traditions representing the country’s heritage and Catholic roots.  And although Easter is, of course, very important to us as well, we realized we didn’t have many traditions specific to this special time.  In order to celebrate Easter, we decided to incorporate Polish foods and traditions.  We invited Alex’s parents over to join us for a spread of traditional Polish Easter foods and a meal filled with nods to Elliott’s heritage and our time spent there.  Making the meal definitely stretched me outside my cooking comfort zone, and I was amazed at how much I loved being surrounded by delicious smells that I remember once disliking.  If I closed my eyes, I could imagine I was in Baba’s kitchen.

So many traditional Polish Easter foods!

So many traditional Polish Easter foods!

Pussy willows are used to decorate during Easter because palm branches are hard to come by in Poland

Pussy willows are used to decorate during Easter because palm branches are hard to come by in Poland

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We celebrated Elliott’s Name Day!

Name Days are a beloved Polish tradition that is comparable to our celebration of birthdays.  Poland is predominantly a Catholic country, and had a tradition of naming children almost exclusively after saints.  Each saint has a designated day on which he/she is recognized, and everyone who shares the name of that saint celebrates his/her Name Day on that day!  Name Days are celebrated very similarly to how we celebrate birthdays, with friends, family, gifts, food, and desserts.  The biggest difference between American birthday celebrations and Polish Name Day celebrations is that Name Days are not connected in any way to age.  As in, no one would refer to this as Elliott’s “second” Name Day as they would his “second” birthday.  Many say this is why the older generations particularly prefer Name Day celebrations to birthday celebrations.  It is becoming more common for younger people in Poland to celebrate both their birthday and their Name Day, though many still celebrate their Name Day exclusively.

We decided that because Elliott’s Name Day and birthday are close together (April 24th and May 28th, respectively), our Name Day celebration would be a more personal celebration with just our immediate family, whereas the birthday celebration would extend to other friends and family.  But for his first Name Day, we decided to have a party with family and friends to give them a little taste of Polish culture.  True to Polish custom, we spent the days leading up to the celebration making tons of food – mainly pierogis straight from Baba’s recipe (GUYS.  I can’t even.).  We devoured them, watched Elliott absolutely dominate some cake, then opened presents.  It was our first time to celebrate Elliott on a special day, which was made even more special by having family and friends present!

We got this puzzle for Elliott to recognize both his Polish and American names

We got this puzzle for Elliott to recognize both his Polish and American names

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We moved!

When we got home from Poland, the lease was almost up on the home we had lived in for three years.  And even though we hadn’t been home long yet, we decided we wanted to look for a new place.  Despite having the new addition of Elliott, we wanted somewhere smaller.  Living in Europe for a couple months was an eye-opening experience in more ways than I can count, but one thing we particularly enjoyed was their use of smaller spaces.  The sizes of houses/apartments was significantly smaller than what would be considered normal for typical American family, but they do it well a more minimalistic lifestyle that seemed to be the norm.  Everything is a little smaller, a little slower, a little cozy.  It felt cramped at first, but by the end of our time in Poland, we realized that aspect of the lifestyle really appealed to us.  Our house back in Iowa, even with a new family member, felt like it was full of wasted space.  We immediately set to downsizing, purging, and simplifying.  Soon, we found a house that perfectly merged the coziness of a Polish home with the style of the American ones we were used to, and we LOVE it.  It was strangely satisfying to get rid of most of what we had in storage and keep only what we really loved or really needed.  The house is nearly half the size of our old one, and we couldn’t love it more.

We know we won’t be here long term – it is adorable little rental we will stay in while save and decide what is next for us.  When we moved in, I told Alex that it reminded me of the cabin in the woods our friends from church let us go several times during our adoption process for some time to retreat and reflect.  In my mind, I’ve been calling our current home ‘The Retreat House”, because that is what it is – a cozy, homey, lovely little place where we are learning to be a family before we transition to the next chapter.

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This furniture/decor belonged to the previous tenants, but here is a peek inside!

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We went to Ohio … twice!

I have two younger sisters, and this year both of them graduated!  My middle sister graduated from THE Ohio State University and is now a first grade teacher, and my youngest sister (the one who came to Poland with us) graduated from high school and is about to be a freshman at Taylor University.  I could not be more proud of either of them, and it was a joy and an adventure of Elliott and I to travel to Ohio for each of their graduation ceremonies and celebrations.  Elliott handled the 10-hour (each way) drives surprisingly well, except for the final leg of the second trip home, where he spent ten hours loudly expressing how he really felt.  He got to meet the rest of my family, as well as many old and dear friends.

The trips were also a bit of a test to see how he would handle the kind of new experiences and new environments that used to send him over the edge from over-stimulation and stress.  Overall, things went better than expected in this department.  A few old behaviors rom our early days with him popped up, and we needed several recovery days after each trip for him to fully become himself again.  But overall, we were pleased!

Roadside bottle break

Roadside bottle break

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Elliott meeting my some of my aunts and one of my little cousins

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Meeting my childhood best friend of 20+ years!

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Aunt Kara’s OSU graduation

Aunt Laura's high school graduation

Aunt Laura’s high school graduation

Overall, it was an incredibly busy/crazy/stressful/fun couple of months.  As I sit on my front porch and write this, I’m still feeling like I never want to leave home again, and am looking forward to a summer full of our first warm weather (FINALLY) adventures as a family!

 

New Ventures!

Almost two years ago in May of 2013, Alex and I made the decision to begin deciding about the adoption process (this is how two Type A people make plans).  We knew it was something we definitely wanted to do – adoption had been on both our hearts since we were children.  The tricky part was figuring out the details … the whens, hows, wheres, etc.  It was a lot to consider, and we weren’t sure if we were “in the right place” to bring a child into the equation, let alone via the complicated process of international adoption.  So, like any good control freaks planners, we agreed to spend the next year researching and considering and would officially begin in May of 2014, on our next anniversary.

If you’ve been following our story for long, you know that God inserted Himself into the equation (without consulting our superior brains, mind you) and not three months later, we had begun the process.  In a way I still can’t fathom, we stumbled across a small international adoption agency, signed on the dotted line, and started this insane journey having NOT THE SLIGHTEST CLUE where it would take us.

In case you are new to this blog (hello!), we’ll let you in on the secret.  It took us here:

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But starting the adoption process sooner than we thought meant thinking through a lot of big decisions.  Aside from the usual adoption-related decisions such as choosing an agency or a country, one of the biggest decisions we faced was whether or not I would continue to work after our adoption was complete.  I had been working at a job I enjoyed very much, and was having trouble picturing myself not working at all, even though we felt that it wouldn’t be wise to place a newly-adopted child in daycare.  After a huge amount of discussion, prayer, and deliberation, we decided that I would step down from my current position to be at home with Elliott.

It was a very difficult decision, but in the months between leaving that position and traveling to bring Elliott home, I realized something.  I was in a cabin in the woods the week after stepped down.  I wanted a few days alone to process the change going on in my life and allow myself to prayerfully transition.  During that time, I spent a lot of time praying and thinking about the things I was deeply passionate about, and how God might one day call me to use those passions.  It was during this time of prayer and reflection that I realized that as much as I enjoyed my previous position in church ministry, it wasn’t where my heart truly lied.

It was in this:

 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”  – James 1:27a

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.” – Psalm 68:5

“… because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him.”  – Job 29:12

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” – Psalm 82:3

“… defending the fatherless and the oppressed …” – Psalm 10:18

My favorite college professor used to say, “Find what makes you pound your fists on the table, and then do something about it.”  Knowing that millions of children were around the world dying, starving, being neglected and taken advantage of, fending for themselves, never knowing the simple dignity of being loved by a family … that was what made me pound the table.  And I had to do something about it.

Even in the midst of our own adoption process, I knew I would never be satisfied to stop there.  And so, I asked God to show me how to be His hands and feet to the fatherless and the oppressed.  I had absolutely no idea what that would like or how it was even possible, but asked that when it was time for me to begin working again, God would open a door to allow me to work in the field of orphan care, advocacy and adoption.

Just a couple months later, God opened that door.

We were in a very unique position in our adoption, because our agency had never worked with Poland before.  Our adoption was considered a “pilot” adoption, a test to see if the agency would begin a full adoption program in Poland.  Someone has to be first, right?  This certainly heightened the adventure, and meant that we were working alongside our agency to figure out how the heck one goes about adopting a child from Poland.  It involved a lot of trial and error, late-night research, re-doing steps, and an enormous learning curve.  It meant going to Poland without the advantage of having someone from our agency knowing what that would entail.

For two Type A planners who were still learning to let go of control, it also meant a huge amount of faith.

And yet … we made it.

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In the weeks leading up to our trip to Poland, our agency director and I began talking about the fact that now that our pilot adoption was going to be successfully completed, it was time for her to start thinking about the agency launching a full program in Poland.  And how a new program like that would require a director.  A “case manager”.  Someone who was passionate about adoption and had experience with Poland and might be good at that kind of thing.

Just like that, I saw the door crack open.

Long story short, today I begin a new journey in the world of adoption.  This time, I will be on the flip side – no longer than anxious parent-to-be, but the one guiding those parents through the paperwork, the logistics, the ups and downs, the travel, and starting life together as a family.  I’ll walk alongside families as they take the same journey we did.  I’ll get a front row seat to watch orphans become sons and daughters.  I’ll get to play a role in making that happen.  And I get to do it all through the country of my son’s heritage, a country I have grown to love deeply, while working from the comfort of my own home so I can also be there for him.

Today, in a far better way than I could have imagined, I begin my dream job.

Never would I have guessed that a late-night internet search for SOMETHING TOTALLY UNRELATED would lead to our adoption agency … which would lead to our son … which would lead to this opportunity.  And the journey continues.

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 “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

-Ephesians 3:20

Being Home: Is there anything we need?

How was the trip home?

What is it like being home as a family of three?

How is Elliott adjusting?

How are you adjusting?

How is attachment going?

Is there anything you need?

As time allows, I will answer these questions and just post them as they are completed (click links above for previous posts).  Thank you so much for your warm welcome home to our new life!

 

Is there anything you need?

This is going to be a shorter post than the others in this series, which is good because The Sickness has hit our house … again.  Just when I started to feel better, Alex and Elliott seem to have caught it.  Someone pass the vitamin C …

From the time we arrived home (and even long before that), many of you have been asking if there is anything that we need.  Tons of you have offered clothes, toys, baby gear, etc., so many that I have had trouble keeping up!  THANK YOU!!  Your generosity over this past couple years has blown us away, and you have truly blessed us with your kindness.  I know many of you are going to town with spring cleaning right now, and we want to thank you for your generous offers of things your kiddos have outgrown!

If you do have things that you are planning to donate or throw out, we would love to know if that includes any of these things:

 

CLOTHES.  Elliott’s wardrobe is kind of hilarious right now, because we were SO FAR OFF on guessing his size.  We knew he would be around 20 months old when we brought him home, and assumed he was going to be a bit small for his age.  We also knew it would be cold.  So, being the logical people that we are, we decided to aim for size 18 months of the winter variety.  When people offered us clothing, we turned down anything smaller.  We hit the resale shops and filled Elliott’s closet with 18-month sweaters, pants, warm socks, all your general coziness.  And then we left for Poland, and in our eagerness before meeting him, we headed to the mall and got him a few more such outfits.

Then we met him.  And he was ITTY BITTY.  We pulled out all the new outfits we lovingly picked out for him and laughed with Baba as we realized we could easily fit at least two of him in everything.  Even now, after the kid has put on some weight and height, he is still a tad small in size 9-months at almost 22 months old.  Oops!

In her kindness, Baba bestowed upon us almost all of Elliott’s clothing from their home, at least what currently fit him.  And when we arrived home, Elliott’s new extended family was ready and waiting with 9-month clothing to get him through the winter.  But all of a sudden it is March and today the high is 79 degrees, and we’ve realized that the only warm-weather clothes we have that fit him are a handful of onesies and some short-sleeve pajamas.  So, if you have little boys and are cleaning out their closets, we would happily take 9-month & 12-month summer clothes off your hands!

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TOYS.  In general, we kindly turn away most offers for toys.  Elliott already has more than enough, and isn’t really much of a “toy” kid anyway, not having grown up with them so far.  However, his therapists are encouraging him to play with toys that promote fine motor skills (such as placing small toys into matching holes, etc.), cause and effect toys (such as toys that do something when you press a button or pull a lever, etc.), or toys that encourage problem solving (such as toys that kids have to work to figure out).  I would say that we are looking for these types of toys that would be appropriate for a 12-18 month old.  If you have anything like this that your kids are done with or would let us borrow for awhile, we would appreciate it!

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BABY STUFF.  If you follow us on Facebook, you may have seen that we are moving to a new home (still in Cedar Rapids) soon!  Our new house has all hardwood floors (as opposed to our current one which is fully carpeted), and we would like to get a walker for Elliott.  He had one in Poland, where nothing is carpeted, but his therapists said we should take a break from it until he starts crawling.  But now that he is crawling and we will back to smooth floors, we think it would be great for him to use one again!  We are talking about this kind of walker, where the child sits inside of it and can “walk” around inside of it.  Again, if you have one of these that your kids have grown out of, or have one that you would let us borrow before your next baby is ready for it, that would be fantastic!

Elliott's walker in during our foster family days, when we still had to cover his face and sneak him tastes of cookie batter.

Elliott’s walker in during our foster family days, when we still had to cover his face and sneak him tastes of cookie batter.

 

We are so thankful for all of the kind and thoughtful offers we have received!  If you have any questions, you can contact us at contact@unspokenadoption.com.  Thank you!

 

Being Home: Attachment

How was the trip home?

What is it like being home as a family of three?

How is Elliott adjusting?

How are you adjusting?

How is attachment going?

Is there anything you need?

As time allows, I will answer these questions and just post them as they are completed (click links above for previous posts).  Thank you so much for your warm welcome home to our new life!

 

How is attachment going?

You can’t talk about adoption long before talking about attachment, and with good reason.  From the moment you lay eyes on your adopted child, you are embarking on a road to not just legally join him/her to your family, but a life-long journey to solidify, moment by moment, that you will unconditionally love him/her.  It is something that we spent many months researching and studying as we prepared to bring Elliott home, because we knew how important those first days, weeks, and months would be.

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As it applies to adoption, attachment parenting looks a little different (and sometimes downright counter-intuitive) to how one might parent a typical toddler being raised by his/her biological parents.  Not only have adopted children experienced the incredible trauma of being removed from all that is familiar, they have no frame of reference for a “parent”.  They may have experienced caregivers, orphanage workers, foster families, medical professionals, etc., all of whom may have met various needs to some degree, but never have known what it is to be loved by a forever parent.

You know those toddler toys that encourage kids to poke a variety of shaped blocks through their matching holes?  You stick the circle through the circle-shaped hole, the square through the square-shaped hole, and so on.  And no matter how hard you try, each shape will fit through only one hole.  Expecting a young, once-orphaned child to understand this new thing, this “parent”, is like handing them a Volkswagen and asking them to fit it through one of those small holes.  They simply have no category in which to understand “parent”, and the concept is so huge, so life-altering, and so emotionally saturated, they can’t possibly wrap their minds around it.

I have written on here before about my good friend, who gave birth to her son just before we left for Poland.  From the moment her son arrived in this world, he was bombarded with messages of love.  Enamored parents were there to welcome him, snuggle him, kiss him, shower him with love and affection.  This love was also demonstrated to him through the meeting of needs.  When he was hungry, his mother fed him.  When he needed changed, his parents were there.  When he was tired, his father wrapped him blankets and rocked him to sleep.  Day after day, night after night, at the slightest sign of discomfort, he had two loving individuals meeting need after need after need.

This is the development of attachment, in it’s most basic and natural form.  Over thousands of small, seemingly insignificant interactions, my friends are sending a message to their son: “You are loved, you are wanted, and you can trust us to always meet your needs.”  Through the daily repetition of this message, their son has learned the concept of “parents”, and already knows who those people are.  He reflects this attachment back to them by crying for his mother when I hold him, immediately quieting when she takes him in her arms, expecting his needs to be met by expressing them, and preferring to be soothed by them rather than soothing himself.

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Studies have shown the incredible impact of the absence of this positive learning cycle, even in the very youngest of newborns.  One of the books we read on attachment describes it as newborns receiving one of two messages when they first enter the world.  Is it “Welcome, Precious!” or “There’s no place in this world for you!”?  Newborns are keenly aware of the distinction, and the effects of whichever message is taught to them from birth can last a lifetime.

Attaching in adoption to a child who received Message #2 means undoing that impact and instilling Message #1 into their hearts and minds.  Because it happens so naturally with a biological newborn being raised by loving parents, we don’t often think of that daily need-meeting as teaching them attachment, but that is what it is.  And to attach to a child who has never experienced that means first going back to Square One and teaching Elliott what our friends naturally taught their son at his birth: “You are loved, you are wanted, and you can trust us to always meet your needs.”

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After doing a lot of homework on the subject, Alex and I wrote up our “Attachment Plan”, which were basically guidelines for us in bonding with Elliott.  As someone who has spent a lot of time around young children, I knew I would need the remind to approach him differently.  Here is what we wrote:

  • We will practice cocooning.
  • We will make his world as small and predictable as possible.
  • We will stick to a daily schedule and routine.
  • We will rock him to sleep for naps and bedtime.
  • We will be his only caregivers – for everything.
  • We will attempt some form of co-sleeping.
  • We will fuss over him and baby him.
  • We will parent him according to his “family age” rather than his “biological age”.
  • We will attempt a lot of baby-wearing, both at home and out and about.
  • We will engage in lots of play that encourages eye contact, touch, and laughter.
  • We will go to him immediately when he cries.

Basically, our plan was to treat him as if he was our newborn baby, because our relationship with him was just that.  One of the ways that has been proven to be most effective in developing attachment with a young adopted child is to essentially take him back to the basics and allow him to go through the natural stages of attachment and newborn need-meeting to teach him the concept of “parent”.

We also wrote a list of things we will look for as some big-picture signs of attachment in Elliott:

  • He seeks us out (even among other people) for need-meeting (care, touch, food, comfort, etc.).
  • He prefers being soothed by us rather than self-soothing.
  • He displays appropriate stranger danger.
  • His “trauma behaviors” begin to wane.

So, how is attachment going?  Here are some good signs we observe:

  • He does seek us out among others.
  • He expresses his needs to us, because he knows we will meet them.
  • He prefers us to other people.
  • When he is upset, he calms when we comfort him.
  • Most of the time, even just our presence is enough to comfort him.
  • His self-soothing behaviors have virtually vanished.  (For Elliott, this was a sucking motion he did when he was trying to calm himself down.  Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but we were looking for him to seek us out for soothing rather than a preference for being left alone to self-soothe.)
  • His trauma behaviors are waning.  (For Elliott, this was mainly sleep/eating issues, night terrors, being very easily over-stimulated, and extreme clingyness.)
  • He makes excellent eye-contact.
  • He looks to us for reassurance in new situations or environments.
  • He likes to cuddle and snuggle with us.

Here are some things we are still working on:

  • Displaying appropriate stranger danger – right now, this is about 50/50.
  • Catching up on attachment to Alex after our time separated from him while in Poland.
  • His confidence in playing independently if we need to step out momentarily or work on something else nearby – essentially, knowing that we are not leaving permanently even if we are out of eyesight and that we always come right back.
  • Venturing out into new environments and situations.

As of Sunday, Elliott has been home with us for one month (about three months total of being with us).  Overall, we are much further along than we expected we would be.  His prior healthy attachment to his foster family and the time we had to prepare him for the transition instantly put us weeks or months ahead of where we might have been otherwise.  And as challenging as it was, our two months of virtual isolation in Poland was a form of forced cocooning we absolutely needed.

Thanks to these circumstances, we have been able to take some steps away from our initial attachment plan sooner than expected.  We go on short outings, such as story time at the library or on a play date with the cousins.  We allow close friends and family to spend short amounts of time with him.  We’ve transitioned into him sleeping in his own room, and are encouraging small measures of developmentally-appropriate independence.  If something goes well, we try it again or branch out a little further next time.  If it doesn’t, we usually need to follow it up with a day or two of quiet time at home.

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Now that we have been home for a month, we are going to start trying other new environments and slowly return to our normal routine.  Many of you are local friends who have expressed lots of excitement in meeting him, which we love!  If you do bump into us as we venture out, here are some ways you can be a huge help to Elliott:

  • Please allow us to meet all of his needs.  If he drops something, gets an “owie”, is eating, etc., please let us respond to his need.  Why? Consistency of US being the ones to meet his needs (even tiny ones) is very important to reinforcing in his mind that his caregivers are not changing again.
  • Instead of picking him up or hug/kiss/snuggle him, please just pat his back or give his hand a squeeze.  Why? Adopted kiddos often have trouble understanding “stranger danger”, as they are used to trying to impress new people in an attempt to earn their affection/attention.  Even if you are not a “stranger” to us or any threat of “danger”, it would be helpful if you would keep a bit of distance while we work on this concept.
  • If we are somewhere with lots of friends (such as church), please try to avoid forming a crowd around Elliott or getting too close into his space.  Why?  Lots of new people, new environments, or places where the attention is all on Elliott are very over-stimulating for him, though you won’t be able to tell at the time.  He will be charming, engaging, social, friendly, and will probably reach out for you to hold him.  But as soon as we leave the situation and the pressure is off of him to preform (see above bullet point) his little body has a break down from all of the stimulation and it can take days for him to reset.

We are incredibly thankful for how God has brought us together as a family, and for the amazing support we have received from our friends, family, and community!  These past three months have been incredibly important for our family, but we are definitely excited to start venturing out and seeing all of you lovely people again!  Thank you so much for understanding the limitations we have right now, and for praying for our attachment process!

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Being Home: My Adjustment

How was the trip home?

What is it like being home as a family of three?

How is Elliott adjusting?

How are you adjusting?

How is attachment going?

Is there anything you need?

As time allows, I will answer these questions and just post them as they are completed (click links above for previous posts).  Thank you so much for your warm welcome home to our new life!

 

How are you adjusting?

When our adoption journey was finally about to take us on a plane to Poland, I started to mentally freak out a little bit.  We had read extensively about the adoption process, the attachment experience, and how to best begin life with a newly adopted child.  But sitting in my future son’s room surrounded by empty suitcases and the contents of the baby shower gifts piled around, it was the little details that were causing the freakouts giving me pause.

Do I take the plastic spoons or the metal spoons? Do I even need spoons?  Maybe just bottles?  Do I even have any bottles?  Is it possible he doesn’t eat food and only takes bottles?  Maybe just a bottle before bed … kids do that, right?  Oh, and speaking of bed, should I take this sleep sack situation?  Maybe just a blanket?  Wait, you’re not supposed to put blankets in a baby’s bed, right?  Or maybe he is big enough now to safely fall asleep with one?  And how do I know when he needs to sleep anyway?  And what if …

For this reason, I spent an embarrassing amount of time staring at spoons and packing nothing.

When our original adoption of Baby M took a sharp left turn into darkness and eventually became our adoption of Baby W (who became Elliott), something happened to the way I allowed myself to experience this adoption process.  In many ways, I distanced my heart from it – at least, to the extent that I could control.  Parts of it were conscious decisions.  Losing Baby M was adark, deeply painful experience, and as we tentatively dipped our toes back in the waters after learning about Elliott, we decided we had gotten too attached too quickly the first time around.  Adoption is an incredibly unpredictable experience, and still healing from our first loss, we could not imagine going through that grieving process again.

We decided that for as long as possible, we weren’t going to talk much about him or even “place” him in our future (“When Elliott’s here, we’ll do this …” and “Once we are back with Elliott …”).  For months leading up to our trip, we barely even spoke his name.  I think I already wrote on here about the time last Fall when we were finally letting ourselves out of that box, Alex said he was most excited about snuggling with his son.  When he asked what I was most excited about for the future, I said getting our travel dates.  It wasn’t until I reflected on that moment later that I realized I was still not allowing myself to “feel” about this adoption.  That part of me was so closed off, I couldn’t even bring myself to actually picture life with my son.  I couldn’t think about anything beyond the logistical details.

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I realize now that one of the ways I coped with the loss of Baby M and protected myself from getting too attached too soon to Baby W (Elliott) was by throwing myself into the logistical aspects of our adoption.  Thankfully (and I realize I am probably the only adoptive parent to ever say this), there are no ends to the logistical puzzles of the adoption process.   At this point, I was also no longer working, so I threw the full force of my nervous energy into forms, spreadsheets, and paperwork.  It was mind-numbing.  It was soul-deadening.  It was all the things I hate about the adoption process.  But …  it was also distracting.  And I needed all the distractions I could dredge up to keep my mind safely in check and far away from a little boy 4,000 miles away.

This is why, not too far down the road, I found myself sitting on the floor of Elliott’s room debating with myself over spoons.  I was out of paperwork to do, and faced with the reality of going, and there weren’t many ways left to distract myself.

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I tell you this because now I realize that even after I met my son, in many ways I continued this pattern in those early weeks.  While with the foster family, I didn’t feel free to love him in my own way, because at that point I still felt like a temporary babysitter, like a teenager hired to care for this child in the way that best resembled the way his true mother-figure cared for him.  Not only did I want to make things as comfortable and familiar as possible for Elliott, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that my parenting abilities were being tested.  This woman who loved that boy with everything in her had the power to tell the judge that I was not fit to be his new mother.  And that judge would listen.

Because of this, no matter how much time we all spent together, there was still that nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “What if?”, reminding me that at that point, I had no more legal rights to this child than my next door neighbor back in Iowa did.  It could still go wrong.

What was strangest of all was the part of me who had spent months distracting myself from feeling anything latched onto this in-between role in Elliott’s life.  It was like stepping into the shadow of someone else’s mothering relationship with my to-be son, and allowing myself to disappear into the safety of it.  That way, if it did fall apart, I wouldn’t have to pick up the pieces of my own shattered attempt at adoptive motherhood.  Again.

It is still too fresh to reflect on entirely, but I think this phase lasted almost until we came home from Poland.  From that week with the foster family, the few weeks waiting for our court date, and then the weeks of delays afterwards before it was really, really, really official … in many ways I was still living in self-defense mode.  I was acutely aware that every little bit of myself that I gave to this tiny person would be a piece I would never get back, and it still could go wrong.

And then on that glorious day, we came home.  Just the thought of it still brings tears to my eyes.  It wasn’t just the end of our adoption, the end of our tumultuous time in Poland, or the end of my separation from home or Elliott’s and my collective separation from Alex.  It was the end of the hold I had unknowingly placed on my heart.  It was what I think of as the true beginning of my role as Elliott’s mother.

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So, how am I adjusting, you ask?  Well, I am suddenly the center of that little boy’s world.  We share smiles and giggles and snuggles and tears.  We have a million tiny things between us that our uniquely ours.  I am his mother, and I will never be finished adjusting to the knowledge of the immensity of the privilege.

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