Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tough Questions

I knew it was coming as soon as the words left my mouth. I opened a door and there was no closing it now. Six-year-old Zak asked me how come Bo's fingers are stuck together and I explained that they never separated when he was in his mommy's tummy. 


I saw the wheels start churning instantly, but it wasn't until we were alone in the car several hours later that he started asking questions. 

"Did Bogdan have a mom in Serbia?" 

And so I explained about birth moms and dads. 

"Wait. Why didn't they just keep him?"

I explained that they decided to leave him at the hospital when they found he had Down syndrome. 

"So they decided to be mean and leave him there just because he has Down syndrome?" asked my incredulous boy.

"No, baby. We have no idea what those people were told or believed or thought was the best thing for Bo. In Serbia, for a long time, people, including doctors, believed that kids with Down syndrome couldn't learn and would never walk or talk or play or do any of the things we know they can do. We don't know how hard it was for them to do what they did. I'm sure it was a very sad time for them, though." 

"Do you think they know we have him, now?"

"I do, actually. I know his birth mom signed the papers allowing for him to be adopted after she watched an American family adopt another child from his foster family. I think the social workers probably told her about us." 

And just like that, he was satisfied. 

"Can I get a gumball from the store?" 


Grace abounds.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

All Mine

"Are they all yours?"
This is, by far, the question I get the most when people learn I have eight kids. One day I will respond, "Okay, you got me. I threw in the neighbor kids just to inflate the numbers." 

What they really want to know, I think, is if I gave birth to all of them. Why, I'm not really sure. Does it make me more of a super woman if I did? Does it make me less invested as a mother if I didn't? Regardless of how we got them, of course they're all mine, but I still hesitate when I answer affirmatively, like maybe I'm being slightly dishonest or something. 

The truth is we have adopted one of them. 

We took that child for outpatient surgery this morning. As she measured, the nurse told him, "Boy, you're a tall one." I smiled as I bit back the response that almost automatically flew from my lips, "He gets it from his daddy," referring to my six foot, four inch husband with whom he shares zero DNA. 

I forgot. I find myself doing that more and more as he's becoming one of us.

The idea that he is ours was made perfectly clear a few hours later, when he had been in surgery just twenty minutes. The nurse liaison came and told us that surgery would last approximately two and half hours and now would be an excellent time to get something to eat. We were given a pager and gathered our things to head to the cafeteria for soggy bacon and powdered eggs. 

The procedures being done this morning were relatively minor but there were a lot of them and anesthesia always comes with risk. It was with great apprehension that I had handed over my crying boy to the surgical nurse and watched them walk away.

I had just put the lid on my oatmeal and was waiting for my husband to get in line to pay when all of the sounds in the busy cafeteria fell away and my full attention was captivated by the beeping, flashing, and vibrating disc in my hand. Confused, I couldn't make sense of it and just stared at it for what seemed like minutes as I held my breath. 

In a quick exhale, I grabbed my husband's arm, "Honey. Honey! It's beeping," as I thrust the offending pager at him. The fear in his eyes masked my own. "It's too soon," we communicated without words. Hearts in our throats, he asserted that he would go and slid his tray to me as I grabbed for the back pack of our son's belongings. 

My brain felt as if it were simultaneously racing through all the possibilities: Did he aspirate? On what? Could he have somehow found and consumed a lost Cheerio from the lining of the car seat without our knowing? - And slogging through molasses the tasks at hand: What am I supposed to do with this food? Pay for it? Why? I don't want to eat if my son didn't survive. I can't just leave it here. I already put raisins on this oatmeal.

Valuable time was ticking by as I shakily handed the cashier my credit card while she counted pieces of bacon. I shoved the containers in a plastic bag and raced up the stairs. Forgetting that I have no sense of direction, I charged ahead and became hopelessly turned around. Nothing made sense or looked familiar. In a full blown panic, I whirled around in a circle until I caught sight of the familiar looking couple we were seated across from earlier in the waiting room. I reoriented myself, approached the desk and was led to a small room. The doctor took one look at me and hastily said, "It's okay. He's fine. I just needed another consent signed."

As the relief washed over me, I signed that consent through tears. I barely heard what she said and when she walked back into surgery, I ate my raisin-filled oatmeal with gusto as the adrenaline drained from my system.

So, yeah, given my reaction, I think I will now respond with confidence,

"Yes, they're all mine!"

Waiting for the drama to begin.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Twenty minutes of waiting and nothing to show for it, I realized not everyone who advertises on the internet is what they seem. I wish the parents highlighted in this article would have known it, as well. 

When I shared the gist of it with my husband, he was aghast. He has not read some of the horror stories that I have about children with severe RAD and PTSD and desperate parents who feel they have no hope. I know that disruption is sometimes necessary and adoptions do fail and the result is unrelenting heartache and guilt for all involved. But most of those children are not given away to strangers via the internet. I can empathize with the parents in this article, but I can in no way excuse their behavior. 

I feel much the same way about this issue as I do about the rise of divorce in the church. I feel like we need to head off the problem in the beginning instead of scrambling to heal the hurt at the end.  Families need to be better prepared for what they may face before they face it in adoption. I am not advocating for MORE rules and red tape in international adoption. It is already tough enough. I'm just saying that we need to get real about pre-adoption counseling. 

Recently, we received a phone call from a couple asking us which agency we used for our home study and if we'd recommend them. We did so highly. After getting some more information from the callers though,  I wish we hadn't. Our agency was wonderful. It is a Christian ministry who loves to place children in Christian homes. They work tirelessly to do so.  The home study is a difficult process and some social workers can even be adversarial, but they made it as easy as it can be. Because of those reasons, I think they are the wrong agency for this couple. 

These people have young children but plan to adopt an older teen girl that they recently met from Eastern Europe. Adopting out of birth order can be tricky, and many agencies advise against it; some will not even allow it. I have personally seen it be disastrous on two occasions, both with teen girls. In my, not at all expert opinion, teen girls are just hard to deal with even without adoption baggage. Couples who have not yet parented a teen girl may have a really, really tough time separating what is "normal" teenage angst from what could be RAD, abandonment issues, PTSD, culture shock, etc. 

They need an agency that will ask them the hard questions and prepare them for what they may likely face. Questions like:  
  • What is your plan if your little girls start telling you their big sister is hurting them behind your back?
  • What will you do if money goes missing from your purse and she denies taking it? 
  • To the husband: How do you plan to handle it if she comes on to you sexually? 
  • To the wife: How to you plan to handle it if she suggests to you that he welcomed her advances? 
  • Are you comfortable calling the police on your child if she becomes physically out of control? 
  • Are there inpatient or outpatient treatment programs in your area for teens with severe behavioral problems, and does your insurance plan cover them?
  • Do you have a trusted friend or family member who will take in your child if you need a time of separation to work out issues? 
I don't want to scare anyone out of something God has called them to do. But I think everyone should go in, eyes wide open and as prepared as possible. The Bible says that we are to be innocent as doves, but wise as serpents. I think the enemy wants to keep us in the dark about the need for adoptive families, to keep us complacent so we don't adopt, and failing that, to keep us ignorant so we fall if we do.

Abandoned children have deep, deep wounds and emotional scars that take years to heal. Love is an incredible start, but it is rarely enough. That does not mean that we fail to try. It simply means that we approach adoption as we approach life....with humble, seeking hearts, begging for wisdom and mercy, in constant connection to our Source. 

For the record,  we offered to meet this couple for coffee to discuss adoption and share some of what we've learned. They turned us down. They are confident they are prepared because they've "been thinking about this for a long time." Sadly, that does not make me feel better. 

Honestly, I don't know what kind of counseling the people in that article received prior to adoption. I'm betting they didn't have heart to hearts with those already in the trenches. I wish they had. I do hope, however, the piece serves as a warning for others going forward to be more prepared and to have support systems in place from the beginning. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Not Alone (And Not a Failure)

I'm just going to be honest because that, dear readers, is what I do best. I have been battling a loneliness and a heaviness, lately regarding Bo. We are living a life that the average person cannot understand. I cannot think of one person in my "real world" that can relate to my life; that I can call and tell about the latest poop fest or my fears about the upcoming IEP or a recent misunderstanding about Bo in our new homeschool co-op. I do share those things, but usually after I've processed them or found the funny spin in it all.  

I don't want to sugar coat adoption. In fact, I think I once promised that I wouldn't. Frankly people, it's easier to do that. There is a lot of pressure to provide the happy ending that you know folks expect to hear. It's fun to post the cute pictures of the smiling child and pretend that life is just grand in the happily-ever-after-world they helped create. 

(Let me stop right here and express that I love this child deeply and I would do everything all over again without hesitation to make him mine, even feeling what I feel and knowing what I know.)

Lately, I've struggled with feelings of failure. Bo is just not progressing like I thought he would. I foolishly thought that once we got him home and began to meet his needs, he would start to communicate, to follow directions, to decrease negative behaviors, etc. Those things are happening, but at a pace that feels ridiculously slow. I feel like we aren't doing this right!

I keep saying that he has come so far, and he has...as long as the unit of measure is millimeters. 

Socially, he responds very much like an infant. All those smiling pictures I post on Facebook and here? Those are obtained by turning the camera backwards so he can smile at himself, like a baby does in a mirror. He also pulls hair and then smiles when KJ or Eon cry from the pain in a giant game of cause and effect just like your average eight-month-old. 

He loves shoes. He will crawl into my closet and sit for long periods of time staring at shoes, pushing them with one finger, lining them up, and occasionally trying them on. If we are in public, he will sometimes attempt to take a shoe off a stranger's foot or abscond with a random sandal at the splash park. 

He paints with poop. We must carefully dress him in onesies during the day and zip-up pajamas at night or he will go digging in his diaper and we will find it coating himself, his toys, and the walls. 

He still drinks thickened liquid from a bottle. We must put his food directly on the high chair tray or table because he will fling a plate faster than you can blink. We have to be very careful not to leave cups of liquid lying around because he will throw those, as well. 

I'm not trying to be negative Nellie, but rather to give you a picture of what our lives look like on a daily basis. He really has improved in some ways, so you can imagine what our lives looked like in the days immediately following our homecoming. 

So I was feeling discouraged and alone. And then I read Jen Hatmaker's post here in which she talks about the two years since adopting her children (neuro-typical) from Ethiopia and she is honest about the hard and the ugly and, based on how it filled my Facebook feed, it resonated with people. It did me, and her adoption and my adoption could not be more different. I cried when I read the comments and could relate to so many who shared their stories. It gave me hope and made me feel less alone. Tesney, whose adoption of Kirill I followed two years ago, responded with a post of her own which encouraged me to write this one.

And then I read magic words from Susanna. She wrote a post describing their newest son, sixteen-year-old Tommy, who was adopted from Plevin, one of the worst orphanages known to me. Tommy acts very much like an infant, as well, except he shrieks frequently, is bigger and stronger, and has foul smelling diapers. Susanna writes: 
Typically, when a child is loved and cared for, the older they grow, the more they progress. 
Tommy was so hurt for such a long time, that instead of progressing more as time went by, the opposite happened.  The older he grew, the more potential he lost.  The more unlikely it became that he would recover from the harm that was done to him. 
His progress in all areas might be infinitesimally small.
And do you know what?

There are no words to describe how okay that is with us.
The bolded line leapt off the page to me! I needed to hear that it is okay. It is okay if my son continues to act like an infant. It is okay if he never catches up to his same aged peers with Down syndrome, including his big brother. It is okay if he continues to act oddly with strange quirks and vocalizations. (It is not okay if he continues to play with poop. I have got to draw the line somewhere and that is definitely the line I choose!) 

He does not need to perform for us and he doesn't need to perform for God. I suddenly realized that all the expectations I have for Bo are not really for him, at all. They are completely selfish and rooted in pride. I needed to be "successful" with this, whatever that means. I think I also wanted redemption to look pretty. It's not pretty. Derek Loux had it right, of course. 
“My friends, adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him.” 
God doesn't need me to pretend like it's easy. It's not. I can be honest and real and hopefully, He will still get glory in the long run. The bottom line is that I could not do this without Him. It is, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done. (Remember, I have birthed seven children, some of them without medication.) I have come to the end of myself and found Him there, time and time again. My coping mechanisms are failing one by one and still He remains faithful. 

Some things have gotten easier as we've gotten to know Bo and better predict his needs. He has bonded with us well which is something few adoptive parents experience so quickly and we are incredibly grateful for that gift. It really does coat all the other stuff with a special grace and makes it so much more manageable. 

If you are another adoptive mom, I wrote this post so that you might read it and realize that you are not alone and you are not failing, either. Success is not measured in the progress of our children, but rather the obedience of our hearts. 
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Heebie-Jeebies Buffet

They were gaping at us, mouths open, eyes wide. It wasn't even like we were fodder for conversation at their own table as there wasn't any, so fixated were they on us, or more specifically, on Eon and Bo. 

To be fair, we weren't exactly dining in an upscale or even mid-level restaurant. We were eating at a Walmart buffet, if Walmart had a buffet. Same clientele...if it were Walmart at midnight...on a weekend. But, church had just ended on Saturday evening and it was late. The kids were hungry and this place was cheap (which is imperative for a family of ten) and all-you-can-eat. 

We sat ourselves in the back room for large groups, divided up which big kids and grown ups would take which small kids and set off to fill plates. I stayed behind with Bo, who was already buckled in his high chair, and Eon, whose big kid made a bathroom run. That's when I noticed them. 

Eon being Eon was vocalizing a bit loudly his displeasure at having to wait. I assured him that Ellie would be back soon and began asking him what foods he planned to select. The older lady at the next table started watching him and our interaction. She was there with what may have been her husband and some adult children and their spouses. Sensing her stares, I felt like I was "on" and became even more animated as I interacted with the boys. 

Eon's big kid returned and took him to get food and the woman shifted her attention to Bo. When Shawn returned to the table, I left to get food and by the time I came back, the starers had grown by two and were eerily silent while the rest of their table ate and talked. I fed Bo while chatting with Eon and Ellie who were sitting near me wondering what in the world I was going to say if those people actually said something rude to me. 

My first thought was wondering how I was going to hold Shawn back so I could have a go at them first. I'm always so Christ-like when my mama bear instinct strikes. 

Before I had even gotten to Bo's dessert, their entire table was completely silent and blatantly gaping at our precious boys. 

I have no idea why. 

The boys weren't making a mess or being loud. I was feeding Bo, so he wasn't feeding himself with his hands which he does at home. Eon was using his utensils properly. It was just bizarre!

When I see people notice us, I always like to think the best. I usually imagine that they're wondering if the boys are twins or trying to figure out if they both have Down syndrome. I sometimes wonder if they have a relative with special needs. I glanced at them a few times to try and gauge the situation. They weren't openly curious. They weren't openly disgusted or hostile, either. They were just openly...staring with completely blank expressions. Heebie-jeebies creepy.

Shawn, at the far end of our table texted me:
If they keep staring at Eon and Bo, I'm going to beat them with a chicken leg.
Clearly, I'm not the only one whose instincts stray far from cheek turning when it comes to our kids. 

After a bit, they got up and left. We spent some time talking about it as a family. It's funny how you can come up with so many clever things to say after the fact. Everyone has their own idea of what they should have said. I wish I would have looked them straight on and, with a syrupy southern accent and a big smile said:
Would y'all mind if I take your picture? I have this blog, see, where I chronicle our lives with these beautiful boys and I have never had anyone take such and interest in them while they eat! I think it would make for fascinating reading on the blog if I showcased you with your picture! I shore hope you don't mind. You wouldn't now, would you? Of course not! Scrunch in there close now. That's right. Smile! 
Sadly, I did not do that, so you will have to use your imagination. I will tell you that, before the staring started, one of the sons stood to get more food and scratched his belly for a good long while and gave us an extended view of his poorly toned, excessively hairy abdominal region. (My eyes! My EYES!!!)

Maybe that will help you frame the situation. Heebie-Jeebies creepy, I'm telling you.