Friday, August 31, 2007

WACAP Pioneers: Send me your blogs!

I'm adding a new section on the lower right sidebar specifically for the blogs of other WACAP families in the Vietnam pioneer program. I have one listed so far (Young Adventures), but surely we can find a few more. If you'd like your blog added, please let me know. I think it will be great for us to be able to follow each other's progress and help each other keep up with what's going on!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Random Babbling: Adoption's Dark Side

Adoption is such an incredible gift, isn't it? The process is long and tedious with many ups and downs, but the end result? Finally having that long-awaited, precious little blessing in your arms and looking into the face of this new little person who, by some miracle, you now get to call your own... There's very little in life that compares to that! And the first bonding moment is one you will never forget- that first moment when some little thing happens... maybe it's a certain look, a first smile or shared laugh, that sweet little head laying itself on your shoulder, or the first time you're called "Mommy" or "Daddy," but it's the moment when you feel for the first time that you are being accepted into the heart and life of this precious person. You're In. During those moments, you feel as if every thing's going to be OK. You're child is attaching, seems happy, life is great, and you love that kid enough that you cannot possibly imagine her ever experiencing any adoption "issues." She knows she's loved and wanted, right? You've made sure of that. During those moments, adoption doesn't have a dark side.

But, the reality is that there is a dark side to adoption, isn't there? In addition to everything positive and wonderful about it, adoption can also mean loss, grief and pain. The simple fact is that we wouldn't be blessed with parenting these children if they had not first lost something, correct? It's not something we like to dwell on or talk about, and if we haven't experienced the problems it can bring, we hope they won't happen to us. It's something that some soon-to-be adoptive parents are sometimes not even aware of, and well-meaning friends and family sometimes just don't "get." Adoption is not all sunshine, roses, and fairytales. It can be dark. For some families, it can be a nightmare.

As an adult adoptee, it has taken me many years to acknowledge that adoption-related pain or other "adoption issues" even exist. I couldn't fathom how an event I don't remember could have an impact on the shaping of my personality, my relationships, and my views of myself. I didn't want to accept that I could possibly have attachment issues, abandonment issues, trust issues, or any other issues. I am the way I am because of someone else's choices before I was born? Absolutely NOT! I'm a fairly intelligent, rational person. I control how I think and feel. I thought any similarities between me and other "typical" adult adoptees were merely coincidental. I do not have to let one event that happened in the first days of my life, an event beyond my control, dictate how I behave or who I become... And I most definitely do not feel any pain because of it. That would be silly! What is there to feel pain over? I was much too young to be aware of "losing" anything. I don't feel loss. I don't feel hurt. I don't feel mad. I don't feel anything negative. I don't. I DON'T. It's just something that happened and had absolutely no effect on me at all... Right? Ummm... Not so much.

As the parent of an adoptee, I have been forced not only to acknowledge the existence of adoption "issues," but also to accept that some of those issues are alive and kickin' in my own home. In my daughter... And in her mama.

I am somewhere in the vacinity of 40 years old. That means I grew up during a time when open discussion about one's adoption simply wasn't done. There was no acknowledgement of pain, no answers to questions (not even an understanding that asking questions was allowed), no reassurances that "feelings" were OK. "Proper adoption terminology," didn't exist. Radical or Reactive Attachment Disorders (RAD)??? Whaat? When I was in my early teens, "RAD" meant something else entirely. Your birth mom didn't make a "birth plan" for you, you were just plain "given up” and that was that. Never mind that "given up" sounds very similar to "given away." Don't ask about it. Don't say anything. And the topic of birth parents was not to be discussed. Why, that's just not healthy. Besides, to ask too much about birth parents would be to reject the parents you have now. Do you know what an enormous burden that is to place upon a child- not to say anything that will make her parents feel rejected? Never mind that you may already be struggling with vague feelings of rejection yourself. You should be grateful and shut up. After all, you were "chosen." That one word was supposed to cover and fix whatever ailed you. Chosen... Feeling unloved, unwanted, rejected? Why? You were a CHOSEN child. There. Feel better? (But, wait. For one person to "choose" me, doesn't that mean that another person... didn't?) Back then, there were no lifebooks to chronicle and celebrate a child's life before their adoption. Your life began at your adoption, Silly- not on the day of your birth. Whatever happened before that was insignificant and just none of your business. Adoption Day was not a holiday. I don't even know what date my adoption was. A child was told of her adoption when she was "old enough to handle it," or sometimes not at all.

This is not to say that my parents did a horrible job. They did the exact same thing we're all doing today. They trusted and followed the popular parenting advice of the day and did the best they could do. So... Did all of this make me a better person? A stronger, healthier, happier, well-adjusted person? Did sweeping the truth under the rug make me grow up protected from pain? I'm gonna give ya two guesses on this one...

Have you ever heard of parents replacing a child's lost or deceased pet with a new one to help the child "get over" their loss? I have. In fact, I've done it myself... twice. Wound up with a dog I never much cared for that way. A replacement pet. I think most of us would claim we have enough sense to recognize that what may work with an animal will probably not work with a human being. Yet, in the past, that was the prevailing mentality toward an adopted child. There was no thought given to the child's loss; no clue that grief or pain could creep in anyway. New parents just swooped in and replaced the old ("And let's just hope the kid doesn't notice, and never asks...").

Times have definitely changed and adoption has changed. We've learned a lot more about raising our children to be emotionally whole and happy, healthy people. Today, there's no shortage of experts cranking out their theories and opinions for all of us to follow. Unfortunately though, I think parents today still fall back on the "replacement parenting" mentality, at times. We hope to be such good replacements for what's been lost that the child will never feel any difference. We want our love for that child to be enough, don't we? Enough to make up for anything they've lost. And maybe, if we never mention words like loss and grief in the first place, they'll never feel it. (Shhh. Don't talk about it. Don't plant that idea in their little heads, and maybe it will never be an issue. Not in our family, not after the love I've poured out on him... Besides, he seems to be fine. Look at that smiling face!). If we’re being very, very honest, we should also acknowledge the fact that the topic of birth parents and how to “handle” them is still pretty threatening and scary to many of us. We don’t want the competition, do we? We've come a long way in adoption parenting, but maybe not so far that we've left our own selfish insecurities behind. Truthfully, do we really want to share our place in our kids' hearts with them? Our precious babies have filled such a huge hole in our lives, and we expect our love to do the same in them. But some holes are not so easy to fill.

People are always commenting on Brianna's smiling, happy demeanor. "Is she always this happy?" “...She's always smiling," they say. "Yes, she's a very happy little girl... The joy of our home," we say.
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And she is. Honestly. But occasionally, Brianna has experienced little "adoption meltdowns" when she cries so hard and looks so sad my heart aches as I sob right along with her. Her meltdowns seem to be triggered by nothing in particular. It happened most recently a couple weeks ago in the middle of a church service. I'll spare you the details, because I believe they are personal and should belong to her. It's her story and her place to decide how it's told someday, and to whom. I'll just say that during these times, her little heart hurts and she can't understand why or how to explain it. She's confused. I try to use all the right words that the "experts" say to use, but at 6 years old, she can only grasp so much. We have to keep it simple, yet the feelings she's having aren't simple at all.

This has only happened a handful of times in five years, mind you, but each time it does, it's an exhausting and heart-wrenching experience for both of us. But still, I feel blessed to be trusted with the valuable opportunity to glimpse into the heart of my daughter and share her hurts. The bonding that happens as we sit and rock and wipe our tears is something I wouldn't trade for anything. I wish I could snap my fingers and make her pain go away, but I can't. Instead I try to use that pain to our advantage, as an opportunity to build trust, strengthen our attachment, and teach her that my love for her really and truly is unconditional. I cannot imagine passing up such an opportunity or trying to quickly sweep it under the rug.

So, what's my point in all of this? What's the big answer from someone who has experienced adoption from two sides? Hey, didn't you read the title? I said I was babbling, here- maybe there is no point. I definitely don't have one quick and easy answer to fix all adoption woes.
All I really know is this: I've discovered the hard way, that choosing to deny the existence of pain does not make it stop. Quite the opposite is true, actually. So I'm learning instead to embrace it. Welcome it into the family and give it its rightful place. Deal with it. I'm thankful my children are growing up in a different time with different attitudes than "back in my day." Hopefully, they will never struggle alone with their feelings the way their mama did. I'm trying to make sure of that. I want them to know that when they feel pain, I will feel it with them, and hopefully we will learn together how to make it easier to bear.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mike's Fine

Very quick update on Mike's knee for those who asked. Mike told me that when it first happened, he felt his kneecap move around to the side of his leg. That sounded pretty gross to me and I figured that couldn't possibly be a good thing, so I was envisioning all kinds of horrible things. It turned out to be a bad sprain (they think) and he's going back to a Dr. on Tues. to make sure it's O.K. He's out of FB practice until after the check-up, but he's already doing much better. He's getting around pretty well with the knee brace they gave him. He started out with crutches, but only needed them for a day or so. Thanks for being concerned about him, though. More later. Enjoy your weekends, Everyone!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hi, All! I know I haven't posted in a while, but there's really nothing to post. I don't have anything exciting to tell you about the adoption's progress. We are waiting for two documents to be certified by the State and a letter from our accountant, which will also have to be certified once we get it from her. Our VN coordinator at the agency says that all the other paperwork we've sent looks good, so we'll be ready to roll once we get those three things back and turned in to our agency.

On the home front: Mike started public school this year as a Sophomore and has gone out for football. They had a practice yesterday (Sat.) morning and he injured his knee. It's swollen to twice its size and Darrell is taking him to the ER today. Welcome to the wonderful world of school sports, Mike! I'm hoping it doesn't turn out to be anything serious. He can't put much weight on it at all. School started last Wednesday for us (both public and at home). I try to follow the public school's schedule as much as possible for our homeschooling, so all the kids get the same days off. I do take a little extra time off before Christmas, though- which we have to tack onto the end of the year. At home this year I have an 8th grader, then kids in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades! I'm finding it very hard to juggle my time efficiently and find the right rhythm, to give them each the time they need. The young ones need a lot of one on one attention. Once we get a few weeks into it, I'm sure it will start to flow a little better; after all, it's only been 3 days. It just HAS to get easier, or Mommy's sanity is in jeopardy!

I'm really starting to wonder what we'll do about all the kids when it's time to go to Vietnam. It will depend on what time of the year it is, of course- whether it's during the school year or summer. The only option I can think of right now is to have my mom come up here and stay, but that's really putting a lot of stress on her (or anyone else we'd ask). Asking someone to come into a home with 6 kids for approx. 3 weeks is really asking A LOT. See, this is how the mind of Michelle works, guys... Our paperwork isn't even finished yet, but why wait to stress over something that's still months down the road when you can start stressing about it today? I know... I'm nuts.

Time for church... Enjoy what's left of your weekend, Everyone!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Holy Grail of Adoption Paperwork is in my hands!

Yippee! I'm looking at the prettiest piece of paper I've ever seen. We received our *I-171H ("Notice of Favorable Determination..." from USCIS) in today's mail!!! I was expecting a much longer wait. This is the thing that many families wait and wait and wait for; sometimes for MONTHS. What a quick turn-around; only 3 weeks and a few days after fingerprinting! Once we get this certified and sent to our agency, our dossier will be complete and ready to submit. We now have until October 11, 2008 to complete our adoption before our fingerprints expire and until Feb. 2, 2009 before the I171H expires. Let's hope and pray our adoption will be completed LONG before either one of those dates! We also rec'd our certified marriage record, which I wrote about in a previous post, so that little glitch was resolved quickly.
(*I've mentioned the I-171H in previous posts. If you don't know what this is, here's the short explanation: Think of it like a "permission slip" from the US Gov. to bring a child home for the purpose of adoption. Our paperwork cannot be processed in Vietnam without this.)

WARNING: (red lights flashing, loud buzzer going off) JESUS ALERT. If you don't want to read Christian content, this is the time to leave (but I hope you won't).

Now, on to other minor issues, like: How to come up with the fistful of dollars needed to complete this thing! Hopefully God's already making the way and we'll see His handiwork soon. He's always been so good to us and has never given me a reason to doubt. He's definitely blessed our progress in this adoption so far!

I think there is a common perception that adoptive families must be pretty wealthy. That is usualy not the case at all. I would say the vast majority of us are just normal families who struggle and juggle to come up with the necessary funds. Many families use adoption loans and/or grants, start home businesses, or take on second jobs to finance their adoptions. The costs can be so overwhelming (no, just plain SCARY) and stressful to most families and a definite deal breaker for some, which is unfortunate. Our belief is that if God is in something, He WILL make a way. The way may not be easy, and it may not be obvious until the last minute, but it will be there when we need it.

I'll be totally honest with you. We do not have the money in the bank to pay for this adoption and have no idea where it will come from yet. We're not supposed to speak of such things, are we? We're not supposed to admit we struggle with anything, especially finances. Our pride tells us to keep that to ourselves and keep up appearances. So, why am I telling you this (Don't worry- this is not a plea for donations!!)? Because if I don't, you won't know what God has done. I'm telling you because I don't want the credit for bringing our baby home to be given to a bank account. It's practically empty. Our adoption will happen because of God's provision and blessing. Money or not, we are going to do the same thing we did with Bri's adoption- trust God to provide for what He's led us to do. Does that mean I'm super confident and not afraid?? No. But, that's what faith is... Continuing on with the plan, even though it's scary. Believing God anyway. Keep walking through the fear. Do I have doubts that this adoption will happen? Nope. Not one. God's in it. It's gonna happen. Period. Something as trivial as a large dollar amount cannot limit such a powerful, wonderful, loving and good God.

To some, any decision based on faith is foolishness. I get that. Call me foolish. Question my intelligence. Whatever. God has given me all the proof I need to know that my faith and trust have not been misplaced. By this time next year, my baby will be sitting here with me. I know it.

Some of my favorite verses for situations like these...
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6
Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
Proverbs 3:9-10
"...Test me in this (tithing)," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it..." says the LORD Almighty.
Malachi 3:10-11

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Kitchen Photos

The kitchen and dining room are finished (close enough anyway). Here's how it turned out.

We're pretty happy with all the extra room. Next, we'll start turning the old kitchen into a bedroom for Tuck and the new baby. I'll post pictures of that as we go, too. It shouldn't be nearly as complicated or time consuming as this has been.

And, since this big lazy thing is now a permanent fixture in the doorway to the kitchen, I guess I'll include a picture of him, too...

Honestly, does it get any better lookin' than this?