Friday, May 19, 2017

On My Son's Unknown Birthday


I started writing this about a month ago and almost didn’t post it due to potential loss of timeliness. Upon considering the irony of that, here it is:


First of two birthday parties with family.

“I five now? I five?” This is how my son woke up and woke me up every morning for the past several months.

“Not yet,” I’d say back to him then and multiple times throughout the day when he asked.

My husband was more specific: “Nope, not for 44 more days.”

It has been this asking, my husband’s response, and the realities behind abandonment that have had me reflecting and grieving a bit these past few months.

.  .  .  .  .

One year and a couple months ago I ordered a birthday care package to be sent to my would-be son at his orphanage. (Adoptive parents generally can’t send things directly to the orphanage, so a couple small in-country businesses have stepped in to fill that gap. They also translate messages.) I ordered a toy plane to help his mind begin to wrap around his impending trip, wrote a letter, sent money for a cake to be purchased, and ordered a healthy snack that could also be shared. This was a last-minute decision made while planning to go to China ourselves to get him. We had hoped to make it there in time to celebrate with him. For almost a year, that date was a hopeful target, but we missed it by about 2 ½ weeks.

When I sent the care package for his birthday, I worried it wouldn’t make it to him in time. In reality, it didn’t make it at all. When we met him, he had nothing with him from either care package (we’d sent another one several months prior.) When asked about it…after showing their surprise that we would want him to have those things, we were assured that they would give him what was in the first package later that week when we visited the orphanage. They had not, however, received the birthday package. When we arrived at the orphanage on the designated day, the birthday package was put in our hands. It had arrived in the preceding two days.

We were in Tennessee for the first party
I look back at all this birthdate focus and realize how silly it was. Of course, no mother is silly for wanting to get to her child more quickly, but this date that I now write on all his official paperwork and forms was really just another day on the calendar.

When children are abandoned, it is a rarity for anything to accompany them, let alone a handwritten note containing personal data. Generally, once a child is found and a guesstimate of their age is surmised, the day they are found is used to count back from. Let’s say a child is found on December 10 and a doctor thinks he or she is two years old. His/her birthday would become Dec. 9th or 10th two years prior. This haunting day of abandonment becomes indelibly tied to their birth.

Our son’s assigned birthday is an anomaly by this pattern. With guessed gap of six months, where December 19th would become June 10th, five months and fifteen days were subtracted. We’ll likely never know the reason for this. The positive spin that we can put on it is that, for whatever reason his date was chosen, it ended up being my grandmother’s birthday as well. She wasn’t able to meet him but they’ll always share that.

Many of you may wonder, “What if the doctor was wrong?” Exactly! Of course the doctor is wrong. Who do you know, pediatrician or otherwise, who can guess exactly how old a child is to the day? And what are the odds this would match up with the day they’re abandoned? Not likely.

Second party with other side of the family
The loss of a known birthdate is a small thing in comparison to the greater losses that come with it, but that’s just the thing. Not knowing, not being able to ever know the actual day my son is born is a near-constant reminder of his great losses: the loss of his family, history, and--of course--now culture and language.

As my son turns five, whenever he actually turns five, I worry that his current excitement leading up to the day will end up being grief as he gets older. A sad reminder of everything we’ll never know. This may explain why I have recently been binging, splurging, scavenging—whatever word makes most sense for my new obsession with buying everything I can find online that is connected with my son’s home city. Ebay is a treasure trove for this stuff. Who knew?

It started out innocently enough with my trying to purchase Chinese vases for honoring my son’s other mothers on Mother’s Day. This turned into learning of various arts my son’s province and city are known for and trying to hunt that kind down. That led to my finding antique coins minted in his city, historical photos and stereographs of images taken in his city, antique maps of his province and city, books about his city, stamps from his city…some seriously cool historical stuff from his city.

In my grieving his loss of history, I may have purchased a LOT of whatever history I could find for him. Mind you, these gifts will be given to him throughout his life and last his lifetime…but I may want to be aware of these feelings I have leading up to his birthday—and disconnect my PayPal account for a while.

Because, all of this, I think about each morning and throughout the day when asked if he is finally five.
Unbirthday Party last August
It helps that we celebrated with him three times this year (not counting the “unbirthday” party we hosted for him a few months after he came home with us last year.) Hey, if you don’t know when you’re birthday really is, celebrating it more often spreads out your chances. Am I right?

One of those celebrations was an “early” party with cousins where he got a card that says, “You’re 5 today!”

“I am? I five?” he asked as I read it to him.

“Sure,” was the best I could muster.

Friday, May 12, 2017

To My Son’s Former Foster Mom on Mother’s Day

My son was adopted at four years old and was blessed to have a foster family for two and a half of those years. We, my husband and I, believe that these foster parents are the primary reason our son is doing so amazingly well with us today. Contrary to the tragic image of the American foster parent, who only “does it for the money” and likely beats and neglects the child as much or more so than the birth parent the foster child lost, Chinese foster parents are known for spoiling the children in their care. I have heard on more than one occasion that Chinese foster parents rarely say “no.” Being that they are generally the age of grandparents, and based on some observed behavior of my son, this is very possible and even probable. And I am glad, so glad that he had these doting people in his life, especially since his other months prior to us were spent in an orphanage. In the first images I saw of my would-be son, in fact the videos from which we chose him, he was on a playground with his foster mother. Her voice is in the background. The first video is of him about to sit on a seesaw; the foster mom is handing him a wipe to use on a seat that doesn’t look dirty. The second video is of him going down a slide, all the while holding onto a television remote that he could only have gotten from the home of his foster family. They had our son from about age one to three-and-a-half and; in a file we received with information about him, under favorite hobby, “television” is listed. He was one at the time this document was created. Yes, I highly suspect that our son got some royal treatment…and rightly so, in my opinion.
Just before Mother’s Day last year (the day I met my son), I vowed to always honor the other mothers in his life. This letter that I am not able to send to his foster mom is part of my attempt to do so:

To My Son’s Foster Mother:

I’ve thought about you a great deal over the past two years:
as I waited to go get my son,
when I learned that he was no longer with you,
when we went to get him and hoped to meet you,
when I wasn’t able to meet you and have tried learning more about you--and failed,
when our son saw your picture for the first time after coming home with us and has talked about you ever since,
and as he has made amazing strides over the past year with us.
I know that he’ll always be part yours, that you will always be a part of him. That’s why, in this letter and future letters, I’ll refer to “my” son as “ours”.

There are so many things that I want you to know, that I wish I knew about you. Since this can only be a one-way communication, I guess I’ll start.

I have photos of you with our son in his photo book from his first referral. I’m so glad that you were captured in those images of him. This will be such a gift for him to have the rest of his life. It has been a gift for me to see the woman who cared for our son during the most formative years of his life. He came to my husband and me knowing what a loving family was and wanting one again, knowing what a loving mother is and claiming me as his new one while not forgetting you.

These photos with his foster mom are
from his first referral with our agency.
I know that you loved him well. I can see it in the photos I have with you in them, but I also can see it in our son. He is quick to love and he loves well. I know that he got that from being loved so well by you.
We talk about China a lot and I think that when he’s thinking about China, in the broad sense, he’s thinking about you and your husband.

I was a foster mom.
Like you were for our son, I was a foster mom for over two years to one child.
I know what it’s like to love a child you know you will lose and I know what it’s like after the loss. “Thank you” will never cover the gift you gave our child, but thank you for what you did for him—for what you do.
I admire you for having done this with so many kids. I know of at least two children other than our son that you’ve parented and have heard lovely things about you on this side of the world from agency workers who have observed you with one of these children. Your actions are truly changing the world.
  


Please know that I tried to meet you when I came to get our son. I asked as many questions about you as they would allow and I asked to meet you, too. The orphanage director couldn’t understand why I was so persistent in learning about you. When I finally explained that I, too, have been a foster mom, then she understood. She smiled at me and it was obvious that she knows how important you are.

Our son talks about you all the time. He doesn’t fully understand what the word “foster” means yet, but he knows that you were his foster mom. When he gets mad at me, he tells me he misses you. But he misses you other times as well. The other night, he told me that I don’t know you and have never met you but that we are just alike. I’m so glad to hear that.

He’s starting to figure out how his new extended family connects and he was asking everyone around the table who their mom is. I asked him who his mom is and he stopped for a moment to think. He was thinking about you. Then he asked, “My foster mom?” He knows, every second, that he has more than one mom.

Hmmm...I wonder why he thinks our hair looks the same?
He’s doing amazingly well. Every teacher, doctor, social worker…everyone he encounters are shocked at the bravery and tenacity and intelligence and adaptability and sense of humor he has. I am complimented in restaurants on his manners. I know you will not be surprised to know that he has been a blessing to everyone in his new life…especially me.

I’ll always be open to talking about you with our son and, when he wants to try to find you—and I’m certain he will someday—I will help him to the best of my ability. I’ve actually tried to find you already…with no such luck as of yet.

And so, on this Mother’s Day and all those to follow, we will buy you flowers. I bought a Chinese vase in your honor and we will use it to honor you every year.

Maybe someday he—and I—will be able to give them to you in person.


I include your photos here because, while I won’t hold my breath, I have learned that the internet is indeed powerful and, if this somehow finds its way to you because of these pictures, I would be beyond grateful.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hope and Hair: A Year as a Family


In the days just prior to my husband and I getting on a plane to go get our son, I wished something. I sat on the very bed that I wrote about in this post and said these words:

“I hope that he’s a mama’s boy.”

We’ll come back to this.

Our son’s city was very hot and humid the day we met him. The time set for our meeting him was 3 PM and we were out and about prior to this, so we needed to shower again before finally seeing his adorable face. When we were out in the heat of the day, I wore my hair up. But, as we made our final preparations before heading up to the conference room that would host our fateful meeting, I looked in the mirror and decided, somewhat vainly, that I would leave my hair down.

I thought, “Maybe he’ll see my hair and think that he has a pretty mom.”

In ruminating on this first year, I could tell you about his bravery, how smart he is, his shocking language acquisition, his sense of humor, how amazingly adaptable he has been… I could share so so many things, but I will share about my hope for a mama's boy and…my hair.


The around-the-back hair hold.
When we first met our little guy (as I wrote about here) he was initially afraid to even look at us. However, within twenty minutes, he was laughing and playing. Right before we were left by the officials to go to our hotel room as a family, I was playing peek-a-boo with him at the door. Our translator told him we had lots of toys for him in our room (which wasn’t all that true as we couldn’t pack that much…but let’s just say that this child has been pretty spoiled since then.) Upon hearing that, our little guy willingly let me pick him up and off we went into the world of our hotel (which he thought was our home) with our new son who made us a new family.



If you look at this very first photo that my husband took of us just before we entered our hotel room together, you can see a glimpse of what happened with my hope and my hair. I don’t know if it was in this particular moment, but very quickly (and maybe simultaneously) our little guy claimed me as his mama and became infatuated with my hair.

In his eyes, I can do no wrong. It’s nice, of course, but I actually feel a little guilty about it since my husband is such an amazing dad. I know that our son knows this intuitively but, verbally, this guy is all about me.
When I say that he is all about me, he is ALL about me to the extent that I’ve wondered if I should go back and re-wish that my son would be a 75% mama’s boy, because it's no exaggeration to  say our little guy is a mama’s boy 110% of the time. If it weren’t for the fact that I could not physically carry him everywhere we went in China (he was four when we met him), he would have happily been attached to me the entire time. We had to learn the Chinese word for “tired” so that he would reconsider riding on his dad’s back. We used this explanation a great deal in those first weeks.


I often wonder what it is I did or what it is about me that has made this little guy fall so head over heels in love. A few weeks ago, we went for an evening walk with him in a large jogging stroller so that he could hopefully fall asleep in the fresh air. He was supposed to be drowsing off in the warm spring air, but instead he was considering both his former foster mom and me.
“You’re just like her,” he said into the night sky.
I’ve seen a photo of his foster mother, so I asked, “She has long hair and loves you?”
“Yes!” he said.
Crop of extended family photo
And, really, I think that’s pretty darn close to the simple truth. This little man was very loved by his foster mom. It’s so obvious by how amazingly easily he has attached to us. He knew what a family was and he wanted that again. I heard a story of his foster father recently when I happened upon a photo of him too, and it sounds like he is a pretty special guy, but our son was a mama’s boy with his foster family as well.
Now I realize that I didn't really have to do anything to make this son of mine love me so hard and so well. He already had a picture of what a mother looked like and what he felt about her. She loved him hard and well and he transferred that to me.
That leads me to my hair.
The hidden hair hold
We decided prior to going to get our son that we would co-sleep with him (if he wanted to) in order to help him feel safe and to build attachment after missing years with him. The first night, it took our hyped-up little guy about five hours to fall asleep, but when he did it was with me in our bed. That has become the rule. He then added this to it: in order to fall asleep, he must be holding my hair.
I say “holding my hair,” but that’s a bit misleading. It’s more like wrestling my head and hair with his fingers--and his fingers usually win. The rat’s nest bouffant styles I have ended up with as a result of literal HOURS each night of his “hair holding” have been historic. He crawls on me, rolls on me, lays on me, curls around my head, straddles his arm across my face to reach my hair…whatever it takes to get “comfy, cozy” (his words) and then finally falls asleep.


A better picture of hair wrestling can be found here.
There has been the occasional night that this process has gotten the best of me. I’ve had to "cry uncle" a few select times when I was losing so much sleep to this ritual that I was beginning to also lose my mind. When I had to say, “Mayo toufa” (in Mandarin) or “No hair” (in English), my mama’s boy son will promptly begin to full-out lungs-out cry.
Yeah.

Early on, I began joking that he would have to take a lock of my hair with him to sleepovers someday. When his preschool teachers visited our home before the beginning of the school year and said that he could bring a comfort object for rest time, I kidded that it would need to be my hair. Then my mother-in-law made a brown yarn pony tail for him. (That’s slightly less creepy than actual hair, right?) And so, on my son’s first day of preschool, safely packed into his backpack was a facsimile of my hair. ...Well, that was the second day. I attended the first day with him, and he used my actual hair as I leaned over him from a chair. Call me an enabler.

Holding his prize
“Holding” my hair has become the way we know without a doubt that Little Man is tired.
When we go on family trips, even short ones to Grandma’s house, I am asked to sit “next right” to my son in the back seat. As he gets tired, the whining ensues because, despite my sitting next to him, he can’t reach my hair. (I tried making this happen for him once. It was painful.)
While horseback riding in Tennessee, even though he insisted he could have ridden all by himself, the tail end of the trip (pun intended) included my son holding tight to my braid. 

We’ve shared innumerable “I love you”s in the past year, but there have also been a number of these:
To celebrate our family’s year together and our son’s birthday, we took Little Man to an indoor water park. There were about 200 families there who had adopted, so it was an especially neat event. On his last ride down the big slide, Little Man and Daddy went together and I stayed at the bottom to take their picture. When they had climbed to the top and were waiting in line, they could look over the side and see me all the way down at the bottom. After much waving, we saw each other and I gave them the sign for “I love you.” My son yelled down, “I love your hair!” When his dad told him that I wouldn’t be able to hear him, he yelled it all the louder.

I'm pretty enamored with him too.
Blessed with this crazy, loud, hair-holding mama's boy

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tripping on Emotions: Love and Memories with My Two Sons...One of Whom is No Longer Mine

For those of you who don't know, I had a foster son for over two years who I would have adopted had I been given that opportunity, and I have a son who we adopted from China this past May. For ease of communication, I often refer to them as my former foster son and my son, but really, they are my first son and second son...I just don't have my first son anymore. Here, I'll occasionally refer to them as Spider Man and Little Man, respectively. (It was as Spider Man, complete with costume, that our first son graced our home and danced in our kitchen.)

We started the process of adopting our second son while we were losing our first. We'd always known we would adopt internationally. Foster care was a surprise journey for us, but we still had hoped to keep this amazing child with us forever. We knew that the likelihood wasn't good. From the very beginning, we told ourselves Spider Man wasn't truly ours. And over the two-plus years we parented him, either we reminded ourselves or others reminded us of this--often. You can tell your head things 1000 times a day, but the heart will do what it wants. This line from Downton Abbey struck me:

It's in reference to a young woman who gave birth in secret and convinced a farmer on her family's land to take care of her. The biggest problem was that the would-be foster mother, wife to the farmer (who was unaware of where the child came from), fell in love with the child as though she was her own.
I've come to realize this as one of the primary flaws in the American foster care system. The powers that be recognized that orphanages were not the best place for children, that children need families to thrive and even survive. What they failed to recognize is that these children and these families, they would more often than not bond together as though they were blood. And so, when the children are moved back and forth and on and on, all as though they are packages, the breaking of these bonds is more and more detrimental each time...more for the child, but on both sides.

As we moved toward going to get our new son after having lost our first not long ago, the matter of pictures came up. We are a family of photos, and our house was filled with photographs of our first son with us and he with our family. For purposes of attachment with Little Man, we knew it would not be wise to leave up any photos of just us with Spider Man. This would be both confusing and would likely cause jealousy of this child who is no longer here. And so, with great sadness, we took them all down. But surely, we reasoned, it would be okay to leave up those that are of Spider Man in group photos with our extended family. To erase him entirely, that was just too much. It was decided. We left up a couple photos of Spider Man with our family and, as soon as we returned home with Little Man, we put up photos of our new family.
At first, Little Man saw himself in every photo. Never mind what the person looked like. Three white people? To him, they were Mama, Baba (Daddy), and himself. Even the photo of Spider Man with all of my husband's side of the family riding Splash Mountain was a photo with Little Man in it.
And then, just before Christmas, Little Man took this photo to my husband and said, "This is my family. Who is this?" as he pointed to Spider Man. My husband explained that this was our foster son when he had lived with us. Soon after, we made that photo disappear.

"Foster" is a tricky word. I honestly don't know where it comes from. Little Man had foster parents in China, but he never knew that's what they were. To him, they were his mother and father--the only he'd ever known before us. We are blessed to have photos of both his foster mother and foster father. Amazing treasures. He has seen these photos and I believe this began his processing of what happened to him and how he ended up here. When he looks at the photos or thinks of them, he tells us that he has two moms and two dads. Very true. When we look at those photos with him, we refer to them as his foster parents: his foster mother and foster father. We refer to ourselves as his forever parents. This child who has been with us for just over 10 months and exposed to English for the same amount of time can only begin to guess at what those words, foster and forever, really mean.

We knew when we ended up choosing Little Man (such an awkward phrase, but there it is), that there would be parallels in the age range we had with Spider Man. Though we were not 100% sure we would lose our Spider, we felt close to positive all the signs were there. And yet, just in case, we aimed for a stair-step age so that we would maintain birth order. Spider Man was five and Little Man, three. We had Spider Man from when he was 3.5 until just after he was 5.5 and finally met Little Man after he just turned four. The parallels there abound, of course. But, what we didn't put together at first was the similarities in their histories.
We had Spider Man for two years and two months. Little Man was with his foster parents for 2.5 years. We KNOW the importance of who these people were in his life. We'd very much hoped to meet them when we went to get our son. Interestingly enough, when we were in China and able to ask questions of the orphanage director (through an interpreter), she could not fathom why we would be so interested in his foster family. "What does it matter? He hasn't been with them for over six months," she said. (We'll probably never know why our son was moved back to his orphanage so soon.) When I finally explained that we had been foster parents, the director looked at me with a sad smile of appreciation. It seems that perhaps she did understand the significance. Still, no dice. We were given zero information about them and meeting them was out of the question. Just as our experience has been with foster care here, the ties that bind were not only cut but thrown away.

The overlap in our son's age range means that many pieces of clothing our first son wore have now been worn by our second. It never ceases to amaze me how strong the initial stab of pain is when I glimpse of a significant sweater or shoes or shorts. Of course, they're all significant. The memories attached to each item are so strong. But because it's not a big brother passing his things down to the younger of the two but a "brother" who never was, it often feels wrong--sacrilegious even--to allow it to be worn again. Despite conflicted feelings, I put Little Man in a sweater Spider Man had worn his first Christmas with us. Here is my instagram post from that day:

The last birthday Spider Man celebrated with us was his fifth. Because we sensed this would indeed, be the last, we threw a blow-out pirate party for him. As Little Man approaches his fifth, he now asks daily, "I five now, Mom?" Both so eager for the new number in their life.
On a day very soon, we will reach an age with Little Man that we have never parented before. The parallels will end, the clothes in common will run out. I stare at that future date with both sadness and relief. Sadness because, like his photos, I've never wanted to put Spider Man away or leave him behind. Relief because, truth be told, it is a very complicated and messy business to have a mind filled with so many memories of and comparisons with a son who is no longer mine. It often feels unfair to the son who is in my life. Someday I will be able to explain to Little Man that, just as his memory will never leave his foster parents on the other side of the world (nor would we want it to), our foster first son will always be a part of us. Until that day, it's complicated.

Emotions, they trip you up every time. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where Are Their Miracles?

At the time of this writing, there were 1505 views of my post about the miracles we witnessed with two adoptions, one being for my son's best friend from his orphanage in China. After posting, I received numerous comments on facebook, where it got its audience. There, the almost unanimous feedback has been (I'm paraphrasing here), 
"Yay, God!"
And please, do not get me wrong; it does seem like God was in the details.  But one thing an adoptive parent can't help but wonder, especially after you've been to an orphanage and seen all the other kids is, why this kid and not all the others? I obviously honed in on this one child myself because he was my son's best friend (and freaking cute to boot), but there were SO. MANY. MORE. KIDS. at this ONE. ORPHANAGE. in this ONE. CITY in this ONE. COUNTRY. While my son’s friend was getting the miracle of family (before he even got an adoptive file), what was not happening for the many MANY other children who wait? This is a question that haunts me.

International adoption can be a bit confusing. Bear with me on this brief explanation to make a broader point:
In China, children from the same province and city and orphanage can be assigned to different adoption agencies for a myriad of reasons. Some agencies have what is called a one-to-one partnership with an orphanage, which means that agency gets "first dibs" to place all kids who get files at that orphanage. (Yes, many MANY kids in orphanages will never get a file. At the end of the day, it's about dollars. Putting a file together costs time and money and, if they don't foresee a child being adopted, they won't bother. It's sort of like triage, except in reverse.) That agency has three months to place the child with a family ready to pursue them right then (once we were pre-approved for our son, we had six months to get our dossier to China.) If that agency can't do it, then the file goes to what is called the "shared file." This is the file that any agency can pull from to try to place a child. Once they pull it, they also have three months. If they fail, then the file goes back to the shared file. And so on.
Our son's file was at our chosen agency twice before we came on the scene and adopted him. We have no idea how many other agencies his file was with other than this, but it was likely at least one or two. A post about him (that I didn't see until recently…10 months after we adopted him) said that his orphanage thought he was the most adoptable child there who wasn't in the process of being adopted. I know and you know what they mean by “adoptable.” And, if he was the most adoptable…what, then, for the kids who aren't?

Scripture about orphans doesn’t seem like it can be misconstrued.

The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. Psalm 146:9 

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted. You consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows, is God in his holy habitation. Psalm 68:5

He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Psalm 10:14 

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Isaiah 49:15
For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me up. Psalm 27:10

I love these verses (and others like them). Really. I feel like they go to the very heart of God. God is FOR orphans (and widows and foreigners/refugees/immigrants). Got it.

But…
…At the risk of sounding irreverent, why are so many orphans still suffering and alone? 
What about the kids who wait years to get an adoptive file in China and around the world?

What about the kids who are aging-out of foster care here in the U.S. and orphanages and foster care all over the world? (Depending on the U.S. state, aging-out occurs at high school graduation, 18, or 21, while kids are not adoptable after turning 14 in China.)

What about the foster kids who are drugged into submission?

The foster kids and orphans physically and mentally and sexually abused?

The Russian orphans who were left without a family when Russia stopped all American adoptions? And those who were never up for getting a family that way at all?

What about the kids who are adopted—almost—and their adoption is disrupted?

The kids who are bounced from home to home in foster care so often that they end up with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), potentially unable to have a trusting relationship for the rest of their lives?

The 60% of kids sent home to their birth families from foster care only to be returned to foster care...though likely not the same foster family?

And the kids stuck in residential care and group homes because they have been so sinned against that they can never function in a family?

All of those who were in foster care who end up unemployed, homeless, and/or in jail?

What about the orphans who end up trafficked?
Where are their miracles? How, exactly, is God with them?
And, dare I go there? What about needing to be adopted in the first place? Most orphans around the world are not in an orphanage because their parents are deceased. And rarely do kids in the U.S. become state wards because their parents are no longer with us. These are each discussions in themselves, but what about protection from these situations? Why do these kids have to become orphans at all to then later possibly have a "Yay, God!" moment once they've endured so much trauma that their brains literally need help with rewiring? 

You might be thinking, "Autumn, that story you told, it was a miracle. It's proof that good can happen. Take that and run. Don't get greedy." 
I'll admit it: I'm greedy for miracles. I want miracles for every kid who suffers, especially those without a family. 
But I think that's also saying, "Autumn, don't cause me to doubt and question. I'm happy here in this "everything happens for a reason," "everything in God's timing," "God has a plan not to harm us" place." What you're saying (if you're saying the above) is that your life is pretty damn comfortable, ignorance is bliss, and you've never been an orphan or foster child and/or never looked an orphan or foster child in the eye. 

Some of you will say, “We just can’t understand all the mysteries of God this side of heaven.” Besides the huge mystery of heaven itself, I don’t buy that pat response (and you shouldn't either). It’s basically true…I just can’t find peace in it. I get to learn the mysteries of God in heaven after my death while these kids are literally living hell on earth? Nope, that doesn’t sit well.

Others will respond, “This is where Christians need to rise up and adopt all of these children!” There are even verses to support this stance, or at least to support caring for orphans on some level…these verses actually don’t go far enough:

Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. Exodus 22:22 

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Psalm 82:3 

And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. Deuteronomy 14:29

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 

I don’t entirely disagree with this argument (except that I think every faith and non-faith should be adopting). But, really, Orphan Sunday after Orphan Sunday, where is the rising up?

And for some of those who do, what about the un-adoptions happening on a fairly frequent basis?
Ever heard of Second Chance Adoptions? Or about the poor kids who end up sent to live in the equivalent of residential homes? 
I know of a lady whose sole job it is to undo adoptions, primarily for Christian families whose God and love would redeem all things…until He and it didn’t. (By the way, I don’t condemn these families. I merely bring it up as part of the question.)

Still others will say, “We just don’t know the end of that story. God can still work in and redeem a child who has had no family.” And while I don’t disagree that is possible, I also see the overwhelming reality for most kids from these situations: Prostitution and slavery and trafficking. Homelessness and mental illness and violence and abuse. Jail. Imprisonment to imprisonment. Not a lot of redemption happening there.


I know that this post is far less cheery and fuzzy-feeling and miraculous than the previous. But, just as my life is forever changed by witnessing an orphan find his forever family, it is also changed forever by looking into the eyes of so many more orphans who will never have one.

I wish that, as an ending to this post, I had answers. I don’t. My unfortunate point here is the question. 
The lament.
But too, there is this:

When I first considered writing this post, my plan was to include information about a child in China I know of who has waited a very long time for a family. This amazing 12-year-old boy was going to be my Exhibit A of “where is his miracle”? 
And then, he got one.
When I tried locating his information to share here, I learned that he was recently matched with an American family who hosted him this winter and are now in the beginning stages of adopting him. Amazing. Miraculous. 

I’m so SO thankful for him and for all of those who are no longer waiting.


Since that child can now be counted as "one less," I decided to share about another young man who is going to age-out of being able to be adopted in China. Once a child “ages out,” they are then put in a home for the elderly…for the rest of their lives. (Here is an article about a child who was adopted and the fate of her friend who wasn’t.) This child (below) must be adopted by September 2017. His information follows:


JOHN MICHAEL, male, DOB 9/20003 SN congenital heart disease (tetralogy of fallot), color blindness

Adoption for John Michael is only possible until the first week of September 2017. His orphanage is very aware of the time constraint and has received permission to WAIVE HIS ORPHANAGE DONATION.


John Michael understands the urgency and shared a message, 
“Dear Mom and Dad. I’m waiting for you in China!” 
His caregivers would really like him to have a chance to be part of a loving permanent family. He has lived in an institution since the day of his birth. He first lived in a small rural social welfare institution (orphanage), but due to his health and lack of resources he was sent to a larger orphanage in 2014. He still misses his former caregivers and friends but has made new friends at his new institution.

John Michael is not as strong as the other children due to his heart condition and sometimes this causes him to miss school, so he has to work very hard to catch up and sometimes gets discouraged and distracted at school. He is a curious boy and sometimes his explorations can get him into a bit of trouble, which is not atypical for his age. He very much likes to perform and is part of his orphanages' dance team. “His cooperation with other children's dance performance of the little Apple dance has won everyone's praise.” He is also described as having a strong adaptability, strong self-care ability, can independently complete tasks, and can communicate his thoughts and wants through language.

For more information about adopting John Michael, please email Nina Thompson at nina.t@chiadopt.org

If I'm being honest (as I've tried to be in this post), I don’t expect this child to find his family…but I sure do hope he will. I'd love to witness another miracle.

Never expect, always hope

--Autumn

Monday, March 6, 2017

Update on Two Adoptions

When we were in China to get our amazing son, we met his best friend and I thought our lives were again changed forever. I wrote about it here. For four months after meeting this little guy, we thought we would adopt him. We even started fundraising.
Our son and his best friend at their orphanage
After seeing him in person and hugging and kissing him and learning about his needs, it seemed like this little boy had walked his way into our lives. I can't say we never questioned it in the months that followed, but it kept coming back to looking this boy in the face and already loving him.
When we were foster parents, SO many people told us about how they could never foster, because they could never lose a child they loved. (I'm not sure how they thought I could.) But I'm telling you, if all of those people came face-to-face with the child or children who would be in their home...they'd find a way. This is what we were trying to do.
In those four months, I did some serious research. (Geeking out on research is something adoptive moms have in common.) I met families who have adopted children who are deaf and a family who gave birth to a deaf child. This was not a waste of time. They are amazing people, one and all. Meeting them and reading as much as I could, I learned about what a difference it makes for kids who are given access to communication in the form of sign from birth...and what it looks like for the brain when one has had zero communication, as is the case for this little boy. I learned about the age threshold for the cochlear implant and the real possibility that this little boy would not be a candidate to hear speech from an implant at this late stage. I learned about how much intervention it would take to learn to read when one can not hear. All of these, I took in stride. Then I learned that having the necessary educational resources one county over (which is the case for us) makes a world of difference. I learned what it looks like to be a parent of a child with a disability and not be given answers by school officials. (I still have not heard back from our county's head of special education. It's been 8-9 months.) I learned that the phrase "least restrictive environment" in special-education-world can mean amazing things for one student and the loss of necessary services for another.
And, in the midst of trying to parent a child in a new country and culture and home with new parents who speak a new language, I learned that the additional stress of trying to figure out the finances and complexities of bringing this additional child to a new home (that does not actually have access to the necessary resources) is a recipe for kicking my chronic illness into inflammatory mode. Turns out that trying to save the world, or at least one more child in it, can make you (or, at least, me) sick. This new mission was putting me out of commission as a mother for the son we had just brought home.
And so, while grieving the loss of the child who would not become our next son, we made those people who had been involved in fundraising with/for us aware of our inability to adopt this beautiful boy.
This is where the story gets good.
Within an hour or so of our posting in a t-shirt fundraiser group, a local-ish mom of a child adopted from China (who is deaf) we had recently met posted about it online without using our names. She had been running into major obstacles in getting the needed services for her daughter and posted about how the lack of resources here was not only affecting her daughter, but also stopped another couple from bringing a child home. (This was us.) Below her post, an adoptive mom from another state asked her to share about the boy so she could help advocate for him. Another lady I didn't know agreed. I friended the second mom, as I wanted to share this boy's information with anyone I could.
She accepted my friend request, and I clicked on her photo.
That's when it happened. 
Time stood still as I recognized two people in her photo. I immediately messaged her to ask if her family had been in China in May. She likely thought I was a creeper, but she replied that, yes, her husband had been there to adopt their newest son. I already knew this, because without a doubt this guy and young boy were two of the people we saw inside the U. S. consulate in Guangzhou, China when we were there. My husband and I had watched in admiration as this father and son lovingly signed with each other. (Can I just take a moment here to emphasize the odds of our having the SAME consulate appointment date and time and then finding these people again (having not actually met them)? Oh, and the mom who posted anonymously about us? She didn't even know that she was facebook friends with this family.)
Messages flew back and forth, and it turned out that this family with a newly adopted 9-year-old son who is deaf wanted to adopt one more time, wanted this last child to be their youngest, and wanted his special need to be deafness so that their newest son would have a brother like him. (They also have a school for the deaf FOUR miles from their home who had already taught their family sign.) I got her email and sent her everything I had on this boy. Miracle of all miracles, within TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of our finally realizing and announcing that we would not be able to adopt this child, this family (who we had SEEN IN China) emailed the adoption agency to propose their adopting our son's best friend...who still did not yet have an adoption file.
Choosing your child is an odd and difficult thing to do. It can take weeks, months, years. This family took HOURS and zero searching through other kids to decide that this boy would be their next son if they were allowed the privilege. When they shared the news of the potential adoption with all of their sons (they have three others), their newest said, "He's like me? I'll take care of him." The boy who had no adoption file already had a family. AND this family is more than willing for our son to stay in touch with his best friend.
Our son's best friend finally got a file in December. (Though it took three months longer than we were promised, some kids wait years for their file to be completed, if they ever get one.) His new family submitted their paperwork two days after his file was released and received pre-approval to adopt him about a month later. They hope to go get him by the end of summer or early fall.
I'm not sure it can get better than this. But it sort of does.
The money that we raised while figuring out if we could adopt? We were able to donate it to the family who recommended our adoption agency to us. (You can read about this amazing family here.) We raised $2000. Last month, they were worried that they were short for one of their last payments. The amount? $2000. And then they received a bill from the adoption agency showing that it had already been covered. They go and get their new son in five days.

And so, our lives are still changed forever. Staring into the eyes of a child in an orphanage, falling in love with him, and then having a front row seat to his finding his forever family...you're never the same after that.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

(Sort of) a mom

Early in the time that I had my foster son (I'll keep the label "foster" here for the purposes of this blog post), I took him to visit his biological mom and brother. This was around week two in a two-year and two-month journey, and we were all trying to figure things out. My foster son asked his biological mom, "Is Autumn my new mom?" And, understandably, his bio mom was upset. In the one moment that I can actually quote his assigned therapist without having to "stomp three times...and make myself feel better" (shout out to Daniel Tiger), she said, "Yes, Autumn is functioning as his mother."

It's a crazy system, foster care. They tell you that they want you to treat the child as if they are your own (which we did) while constantly reminding you that these children are not your own. In our experience (and this is by no means me trying to talk anyone into not being a foster parent), we were treated as second...or third...or fourth (you get the idea; whatever the "least of these" is) class citizens. During our foster care journey, we were told we were "part of the team" but--really--we were seen as no more than full-time babysitters who were to do the bidding of his social workers, etc. While it was our job to advocate for our foster son (who better to do this than those who were with him 24/7?), our opinions were actually VERY unwanted. In many cases, the rest of his "team" would sit in an office half an hour away with their cumulative "wisdom" from seeing this child for perhaps two hours a week between the three or so of them and make a decision that greatly impacted the daily life of this child. Their decision was then passed down to us. Our job as "part of the team" was to agree with whatever was decided. If we, say, asked a question, sighs were heard, eyes were rolled, and we got the "Oh no, here they go again..." reaction every. single. time. Despite this, we shared our opinions and asked our questions and sought out expert opinions--whatever we could do to get the best treatment for our foster son. This was done while taking care of his daily needs; plus two to three visits a week (which required an hour drive each and hours of deescalation); weekly therapy (another hour drive and more hours of deescalation); doctor appointments (which usually required more deescalation); school drop-offs, pick-ups, and volunteering; sibling visits that were separate from visits with bio mom; daily documentation; scheduled and surprise social worker visits...the list goes on. 
I say all this to say, our foster son was right to ask if I was his new mom. Because, despite not giving birth to him and despite not having legal rights to him and despite being treated poorly for caring for him so passionately...that's exactly who I was. (And he will always be my first son.)

It is an odd experience, doing foster care and then adopting. I don't even think the international part of our adoption story even matters in this case. There are things that happen in adoption that simply don't happen in foster care:
-There is no baby shower in foster care. Suddenly, with little to no planning, a child you did not know how to prepare for shows up for no-one-knows-how-long (though it will always be longer than the social worker claims it will be) and they are suddenly, for all intents and purposes beyond documentation, your child. I'm not writing this to say that foster families should get baby showers (though a week or two of meals is an excellent idea). What I'm saying is that there is no cultural norm for welcoming this child. There is no celebration. Yes, this child is coming from a beyond-hard situation. No one wants to celebrate that. But, generally, that is why adoption occurs as well (due to a beyond-hard situation.) Foster care is temporary. Is it the unknown. And, similarly, no one knows what to do with it. Yet, here are these people doing some of the hardest things of their lives for/with people who are not "their blood", and no one really acknowledges it for what it really is--a family. 
-Pictures can not be posted of foster children. They do something cute? Too bad. Want a family photo? Great, but don't show anyone. This child is not supposed to exist, while all-the-while they are most definitely existing in the life and home of the foster family. These kids are doing difficult things and brave things and so are their parents, both biological and foster. (Just don't talk about it.)
-There is no funeral in foster care. Follow me. I'm not talking about a foster child who has passed away. I'm referring to kids who, just as suddenly as they appeared, are gone. The neighbors have no idea why there is no longer a child running around your back yard. Other parents at the bus stop don't know why you stop showing up. (And no one asks.) This child who took over your life and left indelible marks, has also left their foster home silent and a foster parent with a heart a little a lot less full. Yet, again, there is no cultural norm for marking this. Inevitably, the child who "wasn't supposed to exist" in your life is even further edited from the frame. 


I say all of this to say that it's been really odd for us to be newly adoptive parents who came off two-plus years of fostering a child we will always consider our son. Those questions we now get from strangers of: "Is this your only child?" don't have a neat or simple answer. That hasn't been the odd part, though.  (We've never had a  problem not being neat or simple.)
What has felt odd are the comments from friends and family of our being "new" parents. (Are parents new every time they "have" a new child? ...I'm seriously asking this question because I don't know.) 
Or, we'll get "You're a natural" in reference to our parenting skills. We did get occasional staring and questions from a few family and friends when we were first foster parents, but comments like that now seem...odd. We had over two years of practice prior to our now adopted son. Is that the definition of "a natural"?
The one that stings a bit more, though, is the "Welcome to motherhood" comments. (Okay, I'll admit, they kind of alternate between making me sad and pissing me off.) Because, do not get me wrong, parenting is hard stuff. Adoptive parenting adds elements most don't consider or understand. But, foster parenting, it is one of the most difficult jobs out there. To say that, before, because there wasn't a stamped piece of paper, I wasn't a mother, but now that there is one, I am, is...wrong. 

I spent a lot of my time as a foster mother feeling inadequate. Because every. single. thing. we. did. was watched and scrutinized and questioned. Because we were constantly reminded that, though we were this child's 24/7 parents, we were ONLY his foster parents. Because mistakes we made (no one else has ever made a mistake while parenting, especially the first time) that WE reported were then "specially evaluated." (Nothing ever came of that, by the way.) Because this poor child who was told so many different things and had to deal with so many difficult things that no one should have to deal with didn't know if he was coming or going. Because when children who have just gone through an impossible separation with their biological parent/s for an unknown period of time, one doesn't (at least we didn't) say, "Hey, nice to meet you tiny terrified child, call us Mom and Dad." And so, he didn't. 
But, here's the thing. I'm so OVER feeling inadequate. Despite the fact that we were provided with inadequate training, and despite the fact that there are inadequate resources for foster children and parents, and despite the fact that we did make mistakes, because A) we are human, and B) see the notes above about inadequate training and impossible circumstances, I was his mom. And he will ALWAYS be my son. (Yes, I know, not legally.)

And so, I'd like to add this: In addition to the things ALL current and former foster parents blog about: 1) the offensive use of the word "real" mom or dad, and 2) how people from all corners of the earth constantly say, "I could NEVER do that; I'd get too attached", please add the following. If you know that someone has or had a foster child (especially if it was for a significant period of time) please consider those kids in the "official count."  Because we do.