Way Back Wednesday

*Adoption blog, star date January 2011

What's Way Back Wednesday?

One of the many unknowns in adoption is your child's medical history. You don't know if his or her biological parents had cancer, asthma, high blood pressure, chromosomal disorders, genetic blood diseases, or diabetes.

I did not like this particular aspect of adoption, not one bit. I thought that not knowing what health problems Pearl might get in the future, and her lack of medical background would cripple our efforts at caring for her health. I thought it would be hard filling out papers for the pediatrician, dentist, therapist, whatever and not having a single thing to mark down for her medical history. I thought it would be hard on us and on her, not knowing if minor symptoms were indicative of major illnesses to which she is genetically predisposed.

I thought not knowing her biological inheritance would be really scary.

Hey, so it's really not. It's not scary at all.

I mean, when you think about it, so what if your grandmother had cancer. (I am NOT being flippant about people having cancer. Please know me better than that. I AM being flippant with medical histories.) That doesn't mean you will have it. So what if your father didn't have diabetes. It doesn't mean that you won't. What I'm trying to say is that in the grand scheme of life, a medical history just really isn't all that essential. It actually simplifies paperwork. Instead of checking or unchecking a zillion boxes on a form, I can just write "unknown" and go back to playing with my kid instead of filling out a sheet of paper that would just help a doctor make assumptions about her anyway.

Plus, it helps me to not worry about what she "might get" and instead focus rather intently on who she is and how she is right now. I like that Pearl's physicians have to think very carefully and specifically about every one of her symptoms. Her lack of medical history actually means that she gets some pretty individualized attention. I like that doctors can't make assumptions about her based on her biology, but rather are forced to look at her as a little person and treat her as uniquely as she deserves to be treated. 

The flip side

Tonight we saw some dear friends ride down the airport escalator with their new son in their arms. Others are headed home soon and very soon with their new little ones.

Since coming home with Pearl about two and a half years ago, we have seen child after child come home with their new mamas and papas. Sassafras and Pearl have been to the airport as much as they have been to hospitals to welcome our friends' new additions, and always help me remember to pack the tiny little American flags to give to our new fellow citizens.  

You'd thinking that surely by now I can keep my silly little self together at these airport homecomings, but I absolutely cannot. Tears, every time. The why-even-bother-with-mascara kind of tears. 

It's knowing these people's life journeys as well as their adoption journeys and just all the victory that is displayed in those tiny little hands clutching their mamas' shirts. 

It's knowing that some of the countries these sweet children arrive from have made worship of Christ illegal...yet seeing them in the redemptive arms of their sweet mamas and faith-filled daddies and realizing that now they'll hear about Him daily. 

It's knowing that for God to have moved these children halfway around the world to be with a family who will adore them, He must have some seriously big plans for them. 

It's knowing that much unlike their experiences as orphans, these kiddos now never have to worry about having disease-free water or a place to sleep or enough food to eat or clothes to wear or someone to love them and say so by standing up for what is right for them.

There's just so much to take in, seeing a former orphan (and breathing in what that really has meant for that child) in the arms of a mama and daddy who will love that sweet kiddo in all the best ways. And so I overflow. 

And then we follow them out the front doors into reality. 

The culmination of the adoption journey might be felt at the airport or standing at the crib seeing a new little inhabitant, but it is at this out-the-door moment when real life begins for an adoptive family. I watched them head on out and began to pray for their first weeks and months together, hoping that they're not but knowing the transition and that they could be headed for hard. 

Now those new families are beginning the back-breaking work of bonding and attaching with their new children. We've walked through some fire in that area, and know that parenting adopted kids is a bit trying in some pretty unique ways.  

Now that we've been on the flip side, we are seeing that supporting adoptive families is hard, too. When all we've wanted is to grab those new kiddos and squeeze the goodness in them or kiss all over their perfect faces, we have to practice self-restraint because we know that  these children need help learning that they aren't in an institution anymore and now need to develop a sense of trust and dependency solely on their parents. 

When after praying for these kids for so long we want to grab their arm and get them to look at us so we can try to see their smile, we have to resist because we know that parent-only attention is what will help knit their families' hearts together.

Taking care not to ignore their siblings is an important way to support newly-adoptive families as well. Some of our closest friends knew this was an issue in our family, and they deliberately made sure to speak to our Sass first when we saw them. It made all the difference in the world for a sensitive little something who was confused about why everyone literally ran to dote on Pearl but most of the time just shoved or elbowed her out of the way. 

Directing these freshly-home little ones back to their mamas and papas is the best way to love these families right now. And wow, it is HARD...because they are CUTE, y'all. 

But if a little hard for us takes away a lot of hard for those families, so be it. 

Way Back Wednesday

*Adoption blog, star date November 2010

**We had been home for about 2 weeks when I wrote this post.
What's Way Back Wednesday?

I once read from an adoptive mom that as hard as the adoption process is, the real work begins after you get home with your new child.

Obviously our process could have been way worse, but it’s true that we had several difficulties along the way. It was a rough process. But even with all of those glitches, some days I have to agree with that mom. Some days are really hard work.

Today was a hard day for Pearl. She has been showing some signs of teething, and seemed to have a bit of trouble with her tummy as well. We are still waiting on results from the International Adoption Clinic, so she could have more going on in that wee widdle body than we realize. The girls and I had spent the morning out running errands, so her nap was pushed back by about an hour. That added to the, um, grumpiness.

She woke up about 45 minutes into her nap crying. I waited a few minutes to see if she would whimper herself back to sleep, but the crying only escalated. Finally I went in to get her, and my sweet baby girl went positively berserk. She wanted me to pick her up, but then she went all noodle-like, as if she wanted me to put her down. I readjusted the way I was holding her several times, and she just cried harder. Her diaper was fine, she’d had lunch plus 8 oz of milk, so hunger shouldn’t have been an issue. I tried again with a bottle, and she took an ounce or 2 but then went nuts again, screaming and thrashing around. I finally sat in the floor with her, which made her madder. I laid her down on the cute little daisy rug in her floor and patted her back. She grabbed my hand and flung it away. She scratched at me. She tried to bite me. All the while, she was getting madder and madder and madder. Eventually she would crawl back over to me and lay against me, but if I tried to put my hand on her she would scratch at me again.

I just kept telling her I was so sorry she was so sad, and that I loved her. I told her I loved her at least a hundred times sitting on the floor with her. I wanted her to know that I am her mommy, and even on the bad days, I’m not going anywhere. Even when she’s ill as a hornet and madder than a wet hen, I’m not going anywhere. Even when she scratches me and tries to bite me and thrashes around on the floor, I am not going anywhere.

 I tried one more time on the bottle, and this time she took it and settled down. She let out a burp just before I gave it to her, so maybe that was her trouble. Maybe it was the teething. Maybe she was overtired. Maybe she just wanted to pitch a good fit and see how I would react. Maybe this is an indication of deeper attachment issues. Maybe it was a combination of some or all of those troubles.

Only time will tell.

 As crazy as the moment was, I was actually quite calm. I remembered that Sassafras had some pretty good fits at this age, and there was always an explanation for it...we just had to figure out what it was. I remembered all the things we learned about in the adoptive parent seminars, and how adopted children experience so much grief during their period of transition to their new home. I remembered that from our perspective, Pearl is in a better place than she was, but that in her perspective, she has lost all that she knew and everyone she loved.

And maybe she holds me responsible for that.

I remembered that Pearl has every right to feel angry and hurt and sad and lost, and that my job is to help her feel through those emotions. Because, of course, I’m not going anywhere.

-Added a few weeks after the event:
Since this day, Pearl has been the sweetest, most pleasant little baby girl in the world. Even though at this moment I was worried that we were headed for more hard days, knowing what I know now, I believe this was a major turning point in how Pearl viewed and related to me as her mother. I honestly believe that in this messy, hard moment, Pearl tried and tested my commitment to her, and found me worthy of her trust. God used these tears to knit our hearts together even more tightly than before. And because of that, we have many, many more GOOD days ahead!

Mommy, do you have a picture?

Adoption is a part of the way our family moves and breathes. I’m thankful that we are a transracial family because we can never forget to talk about adoption as a way God has put us together. Certainly weekly and at times even on a daily basis, adoption is discussed openly and valuably in our home. We recognize adoption as a beautiful thing.

Still, it felt rather random for Pearl to have asked me recently if I had a picture of her birth mother. She did not use that exact terminology, but thanks to that conversation now we do have a word for what she was asking. The girls know the story of The Rainy Day, but I’ve never shown them pictures. That day I did. At the end, I showed them the picture of The Captain and me, and told them at that point Sassafras was the size of a kernel of popcorn growing in my tummy and we didn’t even know her yet.

Obviously (well, I'm a dolt so it wasn’t but it should have been), Pearl asked if I had a picture of the tummy she grew in.

This was a critical moment for her, and even I saw it for what it was. We are now taking the precarious step of talking about adoption as a beautiful thing to talking about adoption as a necessary thing. 

Pearl is beginning to learn her story.

For adoptive families, everything is on a need-to-know basis. We don’t give our children more information about their stories than they can handle.

To know that she is safe and loved and secure in the family God chose for her has been all Pearl has needed to know so far. As we begin to talk about how we are the second family God chose for her, her need to know her story will continue to grow, as will her need to know that she is safe and loved and secure in our arms.

My prayer is that we traverse this stretch with the unbreakable cord of God’s grace tying us not only together but also to Him. 

The middlest

The Captain and I had multiple opportunities for international and domestic mission trips during our college years. He went to Wales, I went to Nicaragua, and we both came home turned inside out. Through all that we saw, smelled, heard, and held in those countries, God used indescribable poverty to begin to break our hearts for orphans. Nearly seven years before we would begin the process to adopt, God planted seeds in our hearts to do something for the most vulnerable in our world.

Graduation gave way to launching our careers, which turned into years of furthering our respective educations. Finally, we were ready to become parents. Funny how we thought that making that decision would somehow instantly make us pregnant. So funny.

A little infertile while later and days after we had begun to fill out our first adoption application, the Lord blessed us through an unlikely pregnancy with one of the purest miracles of our lives: our sweet Sassafras. Then one day, she turned 18 months old.

And we remembered that we still wanted to adopt.

And we knew it would take a while to complete.

And we suddenly felt that the time to begin the process was very urgently NOW.

Now, as we look back with all the facts before us, it is quite stunning to grasp that at that very moment, Pearl was conceived...both in the flesh and in our hearts.

In flawed yet impeccable harmony. 

We did our own research about all the options and at one point I had a spreadsheet comparing the requirements for 27 different countries. We weren't eligible for many of them due to income requirements, the fact that we already had a biological child, the ages of children who needed families and were eligible for adoption, and our own ages (we were too young for some). More time went into research and prayer and meetings with the agency we selected, and finally we were sure. Our daughter was in Uganda.

Our adoption process entailed mounds of paperwork, hours of adoption education seminars, at least 25 specifically intense highs and intense lows involving inter-country glitches and delays and modifications to this requirement or that new law. For a normally stoic mama, Pearl's adoption drained me of buckets of tears...but God also filled me up with chapters of Scripture and thousands of the most intense prayers I've ever experienced. Any mama who has begged for the safety and health of her child (half a world away or not) will understand.

The day we finally met our beautiful little Pearl remains one of the most intense I'll ever see this side of heaven. The day we stood in court for her and the day we got our "yes" are also on that list.

Because of what we have learned and what we have seen with our own eyes during our trip to Africa, orphan care will always be a part of who we are. Using this little spitfire of ours, God ignited a passion in us for advocating for orphans, and for families to rise up and provide a loving home for other precious Pearls around the world. Further adoptions and/or foster care are definitely in our family's future, though we will wait for God's guidance in how and when to move forward.

Remembering the way Pearl came into our family is hard but beautiful. Hard because for us to be a part of this sweet honey bun's story, we were refined in the fire but also because in order for us to be necessary in her life, Pearl's one-time status as an orphan means she has experienced loss on a level that even adults aren't emotionally equipped to handle.

Lord, help me remember.

Oh, but it is beautiful...because yes, she is now safe and happy and healthy, and for crying out loud we get to love her. Long as I live, I'll never understand how I get to be her mama.

Most of the beauty in Pearl's adoption is part of a life she hasn't even seen yet, for her earthly redemption into the family God chose for her before time existed will bridge her understanding of spiritual redemption into His.