Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Abba Fund

The ABBA Fund Blog , written by Jason Kovacs is a resource you will want to check out if you haven't already!  As many of you know, The ABBA Fund has helped play a huge part in both of our adoptions.  If you are contemplating adoption, but are hesitant or somewhat paralyzed by the expenses involved, I urge you to look into this ministry.  They provide no-interest adoption loans, but not only that, they are also a wonderful resource for gathering ideas on how to fund an adoption.  

I truly believe there are MANY out there who have a heart for the fatherless, the orphaned .... but perhaps they are like us, a single-income family or a very modest income family.  If God had opened your eyes to see the needs of orphans, if He has opened your heart to love them, if He has opened your ears to hear their cries . . . do NOT ignore what He has done.  I am not saying it's gonna be easy, in fact you just might be in for the largest time of growth in your life!  

Our minds get polluted here in America about what "need" really is.  Everyone is so busy chasing the "American Dream" that often we forget what really matters for eternity.  Our family's bank account might not be too padded, but I cannot even put into adequate words what it was like to look out on Father's Day as we prepared for prayer time at church and see our two daughters who now have a Daddy.  My heart just aches for the many children we saw in our recent trip to Ethiopia who do not.  

I've said it before and should repeat it again ... not every family is called to "adopt", but we are all called to CARE.  I just want to encourage you, and urge you that if you truly have a heart to open your family and home to a child .... do not let ANYTHING stand in the way.  We have seen God move mountains!  He helped us climb over many of them as well on our recent adoption journey.  

Check out Jason's posts on the ABBA Fund Blog.  It will truly be an encouragement to you.  We are so excited about what God is doing in their ministry.  You can sign up for a monthly newsletter as well that comes via email.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Things People Say . . .

Before we adopted the first time, I had done extensive reading about "becoming a trans-racial family" and such related things.  Becoming familiar with things people might say, etc.  It was a huge help in preparation.  But I have to tell ya .... nothing can quite prepare you for when the things are said to "you" and "your children" when you're out and about, or just in conversation.  It might come from a friend, a complete stranger, or even a family member.  I'm convinced that almost all the time it is not said in haste or in any way intended to be offensive.  

For all of you adoptive veterans, this stuff will be old to you .... but after a recent shopping trip and hearing yet more of those types of things, I thought it might be helpful to those of you beginning this journey to hear some of our experiences.  

These will be in no particular order.  Because our blog is not only a place for family and friends to have kept up to date with our adoption .... and since many of the folks who visit here are fellow adoptive families .... I'm focusing on the second group with this topic.  I guess that's just a little disclaimer that if friends or family were to read anything in this post that sounds familiar .... NO worries .... these things happen and for the sake of helping to prepare and encourage the adoptive families that stop by here I'm gonna share them.  There, I feel better now.  :)  

  • Is she yours?
  • Is her behavior different because she's black?
  • Well, at least she's not FULL black (assuming our first was bi-racial, which was not accurate by the way - ha!).
  • So, are you babysitting?
  • Are they sisters?  (I knew this famous question was coming once I had both girls out.)
  • Where did she come from?
  • Gee, she turned out cute. (from a nurse at a 2 yr. well check, commenting in a surprised tone as you would a breed of a dog - thank goodness that nurse is no longer there!)
  • So what happened to her mom?
  • How could someone just leave her?
  • Well, at least you're not gonna live close to the grandparents and be rubbing their nose in it. (the fact our child would be likely African American)
  • Maybe she can grow up and marry so-and-so's child (who is of similar ethnicity).
  • So, did you get inspired by Brad and Angelina?
  • Wow, so adoption is so fast huh?, ya just go pick 'em up! (obviously that person knew nothing about adoption)
  • When do you get the title to her? (question about when is the adoption final - and yes I about died that day)
  • Are they twins?
  • So did ya just get to pick one out?
  • You can do like she did (pointing to me) and just "adopt" your girls. (this was said to another expecting mom saying how she hoped her baby was a girl)

There's no doubt been many more, but these are the most common.  Again, I truly believe that most of the time the person means no ill-intention.  Sometimes I take the opportunity to educate and answer their questions.  Sometimes I just wanna be out with my daughter(s) and enjoy my day.  Amazingly I still get surprised and wonder why people notice us.  I forget we stand out to some.  

Right now my girls are 3 and 1.  It won't be too much longer and they will begin to understand the questions.  They will be faced with the harsh reality of an imperfect world.  I used to worry more about this.  During our trip to Ethiopia though .... seeing SO many children without a family, many without the basic needs in life ... somehow it helps to put it in perspective.  And while my daughters will never share my skin-tone, I pray that they will know without a spec of doubt that they are LOVED and CHERISHED.  Their lives will not be without heart-ache.  None of us get that luxury.  But in our home and in our family they will have a safe haven and Lord willing we will help prepare them as they go out on their own someday.

I think one of the biggest "helps" we can give our children is to just be aware of what types of things will be part of our lives.  People ARE going to say things.  We WILL be noticed as a family.  It's not all negative, for sure not at all.  We have had people embrace us, encourage us, celebrate with us ... friends, family and even complete strangers.  But I would be doing my children a dis-service if I was naive about the other side that sometimes happens too.  

As more and more families embrace adoption, I have to think that as my children grow up there will be others in their circle of influence that share similar family make-ups.  As the girls and I were sitting waiting for the guys to pick us up at the mall the other day we enjoyed one such encounter.  Arsema was in the stroller, content people-watching, while Naomi took advantage of mommy having an empty lap and curled up for a snuggle.  We were just visiting about who knows what, I can't even remember what my chatter-box was conversing about .... when a little girl about 5 or 6 bopped by on her way back to her mother.  Naomi perked up and said quietly, "Mommy ... she looks like me!".  Sure enough, they shared the same light chocolate brown skin and ringlet curls.  I had noticed this mom/daughter duo a little earlier but hadn't said anything.  So I just sat and observed through my daughter's eyes awhile.  The little girl snuggled up on her mom's lap too, down a ways in another seating area.  Naomi said ... "Mommy, she likes to snuggle with her mommy too.".  She commented again about her looking like "Naomi".  I said ... "What about her mommy? ...... I think she looks like me."  (her mommy matched my skin-tone)  Whether the little girl was adopted, or just had parents of different ethnicities we'll never know ... but Naomi and I just sat snuggled up together, just as the other mommy/daughter were and smiled and felt warm inside.  It was a special reminder that there are other families who are going through a similar journey as we are in this life.  I cannot imagine my life any other way anymore.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Visiting the Caregivers

So . . . we met Arsema on Monday and on Wednesday we went to the Gladney care center for the long-awaited coffee ceremony.  We went early as we had tons of pictures to take for waiting families and we also wanted to spend time with Arsema's care givers.  We knew from the pictures we had received that there were a couple of care givers who she was especially attached to.  Yes, that is a slight grin you see in this picture after two days being together ....... ah, the little victories.  :)

She spent about five months in Gladney's care following being at Kebebetsehay orphanage.  They nurtured her, loved her and helped get her strong and healthy as she waited for us.  We are forever grateful to them for all they did for our sweetie.  Gladney also has a full-time nurse, named Sister.  She and Arsema knew each other very well since they spent so much time together with her being sick with TB.  I had heard some stories so I was a bit prepared, or so I thought, for what we would experience.

It wasn't but a couple seconds and one of the caregivers spotted us and started calling for Arsema.  Soon then another and they were insistent we would come across the street first to where she had been (the two houses are across the street from each other).  So as we entered the gate about ten caregivers came running from every direction chanting Arsema .... Arsema ..... and the rest is about a blur.  HA!  

I had her dressed in a pretty little dress for this special day and I raised her up out of the sling so one caregiver could hold her.  In a matter of literally three seconds or less she was stripped down ... at first I thought, oh no, they didn't approve of how I'd dressed her .... but no ... it wasn't that ... of course it was to change her into a dress that one of them had gotten for her. 


So soon she was changed and they were all squabbling over who would hold her and get their photo.  It was joyous craziness I tell ya!  David started snapping photos and I went to pick up a couple babes who wondered WHAT ALL THE FUSS!!! .... they were not so happy the attention was on someone else.  It was precious.  So I enjoyed some moments holding wee-ones that I'm sure some of their mommies and daddies are following our journey.  

I had heard how much the caregivers love the children, but can I be horribly honest with you? ... please no icky comments or I might cry .... but it just didn't bring me much comfort as we waited and we waited and we waited for our referral.  I knew she was being cared for, but this momma's heart just broke that I couldn't be there.  Seeing these young women with her, most of them having been orphans themselves ...... it was just beauty like I can't describe.  There was sadness and rejoicing all wrapped up together.  

What was especially encouraging was that just after two days of her being with us (remember my last post she was s-l-o-w to warm up to us) she was already showing signs of attaching to us.  When she'd see someone she knew she'd just SQUEAL with delight and leap for them.  I would love to see her like this and happily hand her over and just observe.  It was such a wonderful morning there.  To see her in the place that had been "home", in the arms of those who loved her.  But watch out because unless it was a favorite of hers, she was not about to just go to anyone and would cling to me instead.  Then the caregivers would just roar laughing as she was so picky and choosey over who could have her affection.  

It was amazing how much was communicated that day without many words spoken.  These young women are so thrilled that the children will have a mommy and daddy ... a family.  I found they were so eager to show their affection .... many, many hugs and embraces were shared.

Then we went across the street to the coffee ceremony.  Arsema saw "Sister" from across the room there and I knew right away where she was headed.  It was wonderful.  Sister got to take her around and spend some time with her and Arsema was just enjoying it so much.  It was such a boost to her sadness and uneasiness.  What was so precious was when Sister came back to us and Arsema could not decide who she wanted .... Sister or her new momma.

Back and forth she'd reach, until I just motioned for Sister to sit next to me so she could have both.  Then it was time for snuggling, a bottle and a nap while we finished the enjoying the wonderful coffee ceremony.

Strong, delicious coffee with sugar and popcorn.  A most unusual and wonderful combination.  

We visited one more day before leaving and then that was it.  By then Arsema was bonded even more and while it was SO wonderful to visit, she and I could only handle one last visit. It was time to say good-bye and embrace our new life together.  

Some have asked what we call her now ...... Maleah or Arsema.  After our time in Ethiopia, Arsema will always be a special name for her.  They would sing her name to her in a little chant to a tune that is embedded into my heart.  It still brings her smiles and dancing when I sing it to her.  So the answer is we use both.

For you waiting families .... with the recent events and delays, I hope you can be encouraged to know that while your arms ache to hold your child . . . they are being loved and cared for by women who are truly devoted to them.  They aren't there to replace you .... when you go they will be SO thrilled to finally meet you.  I saw it in them as we delivered care packages.  They LOVE seeing the family pictures and show your little ones your pictures and tell them MaMa, DaDa, brother, sister, etc.  They are eager to see these children meet their forever families.   I know the waiting and unknowns can be heart-wrenching.  Keep holding on .... your little ones are counting on you to stay the course.  

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Meeting Arsema

Wow, can it really be a month since that big day? I've wanted to share more about our meeting day for you families that are adopting older babies. I was so grateful for the families that shared with us, to help prepare us for the possibilities.

We had gotten those infamous "updates" from Gladney helping clue us in to the fact that our babe would likely not be leaping for joy into our arms. Ya know ... those phrases like ... slow to warm up to strangers, tempermental (yes, Travis had the audasidy to tell sweet Arsema's parents that she was tempermental!). In fact!! .... when we met him at the airport after all those LONG flights he kind of chuckled when he knew we were Arsema's parents. But now I chuckle at him to know she was just savin' up all her charm for us. Anyway, point is, we knew it was going to be a process to earn this child's trust. Keeping a few things in mind really helped us.

1) Have realistic expectations and take things slow.
2) Be continually mindful that EVERYTHING is changing for this child: every routine, every smell, every sound.
3) Be patient, both with your child and each other.
4) Prepare! . . . Lift weights prior to travel, these kids are HEAVY!

Realistic Expectations:
Every child is unique and different, as are their circumstances that brought them to the point of being an orphan to begin with. We knew Arsema had already had a long battle with illness and two major moves in her short life. When she arrived at Gladney from the orphanage she could hardly bear weight on her legs (at nine months old). You should see her strong thighs now! Wowzers! You could describe her our first day as being quiet, cautious, withdrawn, shocked, solemn, sad, scared, timid, fearful. She'd stare through us down to our core. She didn't even cry, it would be too risky to show that much outward emotion. She was somewhat stiff. But we had seen her in action (THANKS to some traveling families) so we knew what some of her facial expressions were when she wasn't in such shock and stress. This helped tremendously.

EVERYTHING changes. When you are out and unsure of what those around you are saying, or trying to communicate to your waitress and they don't understand ..... this is your child's new reality every moment! We tried to keep this at the forefront of our minds. Older babies aren't so naive about everything changing and they aren't old enough to be able to prepare them as are pre-school age children. It's just all of a sudden, in one moment, their entire life is turned upside down. You the parent are dying to get there .... you have LONGED for this moment ... but you must remember that for your child, their whole little world is getting flipped upside down and shaken up. We found that it really helped to relate to her when we kept this in mind.

We knew it was possible she would not bond to either of us quickly, or possibly just one of us. Poor Arsema, it was like I was the best option of the choices before her and she would "tollerate" me. That's all it was for awhile. I'd hold her stiff body and just gently rub her back. I tried not to speak tons to her, as humming seemed to soothe her more than a bunch of English chitter-chatter. I could tell by her pictures she was teething, but the first day she didn't even dare open her mouth to chew on her fingers. At first she wouldn't eat even for me. We knew by the size of that belly and thighs the girl liked to eat! :) So I'd just offer things to her and let her go at her own pace. Looking back, I think this was a huge part of the progress that followed. While all this was going on, her daddy's heart was breaking (though he tried not to say it) as she would not have much at all to do with him. We just took it slow. We were pro-active in showing each other affection in front of her, so she'd know we were "together" in this. In all those car rides (trust me you'll be in the car a LOT) I'd sit close to David, with her on my lap. Eventually (this took quite awhile) I'd have her sit between us ... huge step. Before long she'd hold out her foot for David to play with it. It was all on her terms. She'd pull it away like she didn't want him touching her .... then she'd put it right back for more. These simple little games really built trust. If this happens to you, where your child bonds to one first before the other ... I'd encourage you just to support each other and remind each other this is perfectly normal and it won't last forever.

Seriously! .... prepare yourself for a LOT of carrying, especially that of an older baby. I knew my girls would be similar weight. Thankfully Naomi still likes to be carried a lot when we're out and about. She helped keep my arms strong and ready. But there is a difference of a 25 lb toddler/preschooler that "hangs on" and a HEAVY 23 lb baby that is resisting being held. Since she would only let me hold her ... and since you're on the go SO much while in Ethiopia ... you can imagine that even the most dedicated mom would grow weary ... especially on the days you don't feel so well. I would switch off from just carrying her myself, to using a sling, to using a front pack carrier. This helped as each version uses different muscles. Prepare your heart too. It is a process! Did Arsema fall in love with us instantly? ... no way. She wouldn't even touch the toy I brought her to entice her. But each few hours we saw progress. There were so many little milestones along the way during our time in Ethiopia. Now instead of the "mostly sad and occasional smile" we get the "tons of smiles and laughter and occasional sadness". It has been SUCH A JOY to watch her blossom in this process.

It is hard to watch your child have to go through this transition phase. I hated seeing her sad. I wanted her to know so much how I deeply loved her and worked SO hard to get to her. But the grief IS part of the process. And as you just work to meet them right where they are at ..... the bonding comes. As you work to meet their needs consistently ... trust comes. And before you know it .... attachment has begun.  

People ask how Arsema is doing with bonding/attachment. I'm so grateful to be able to say she is doing WELL. As I write this she has woken from a nap and her daddy got her up, fed her a bottle (she would not take food from anyone besides me at first) and has her out in the yard in the stroller. Just four short weeks ago I could not leave her for 2 minutes to use the bathroom without total breakdown. She's come a long way. The language barrier is still there. But every few days I hear her say a new English word and it just cracks me up! She's learning from us ... but I think more importantly we've learned so much from her.