Tuesday, June 28, 2011

round trip

Our family just returned from 9 lovely days in West Michigan with family. We swam in Lake Michigan, attended a family wedding, and made many memories with grandparents, auntie, uncle, and our boys' very first girl cousin. It was a wonderful week!

This trek was significant for Z, not only because he was meeting many family members for the first time, but also because it was his first ever round-trip. He has left home so many times, but this is the first time he has ever come back. This thought was never far from my mind as I watched him throughout the week, observing how he reacted to new people, new environments, and new experiences. For the most part, he did amazingly well. He took cues from his brothers and warmed up quickly to his grandparents and other family members, he explored the new surroundings with excitement, and enjoyed many fun 'firsts'.

But about halfway through the week there was a subtle shift. Behaviors re-emerged. He seemed moodier and more touchy. And, most significantly, he started asking about people back home. In the middle of playing he would look up at me with big questioning eyes: Papa? Nana? Yes sweetie, we will see them in a few days. This seemed acceptable for the moment and he would go back to his toys. A few hours later: Joooey? No-Nos? Yep, we will see your cousins soon.

On the one hand, I was thrilled to see evidence of the strong connections he has built with his Nana and Papa and cousins. They are special to him, and he missed them while we were gone. At the same time, I couldn't help thinking about all the other people he has left behind in his life... He missed them too, and probably misses them still, but doesn't have a framework for talking about those losses yet. I don't know how that will change as he grows and matures, but as his mom I pray I will be sensitive enough to provide space for him to feel and acknowledge and grieve for those people whenever he needs to do so.

On a positive note, I am hoping that this experience of returning after being away will deepen his understanding of home as a permanent place, a safe place, a place of comfort and familiarity. Thankfully the series of one-way tickets which characterized his first two years of life is finished, and no matter how often he leaves home from now on he can always come back.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

the many faces of

Today was one of those days, but putting these pictures together made me smile and feel a little less crazy. Oh, can this boy make a face.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

what i didn't know to ask

I have to admit something that may surprise those of you who know us: When we started the adoption process, we did not really do our homework. We did not research a million agencies and ask tons of questions. We did not spend hours online figuring out which path to take. Now typically I'm not big on the whole "just follow God and he'll figure everything out" mentality, because I think God gave us brains for a reason and he wants us to use them. But sometimes God says "go" and you don't figure anything out -- you just go. That's how our adoption journey got started.

Two years and one sweet two-year-old later, we have learned some things. These are not necessarily things I wish I would have known, because as it turns out we didn't need to know them. But they are things that I now think it is important for prospective adoptive parents to know as they go about choosing an agency. So here you have it -- 14 questions I think prospective international adoptive parents should be asking agencies:

1. What is the mission statement / expressed purpose of your organization?

2. Are you Hague-accredited? If so, have you ever been denied or lost your Hague-accreditation?

3. What is the salary of your director? (This sounds awkward to ask, but hey - lots of companies have to publish those numbers anyway and personally I think it says a lot about the organizations priorities. Keep in mind that the director's job is HARD and they deserve to get paid a fair market wage for what they do, like anyone else.)

4. What kind of support do you offer post-placement?

5. What is the relationship between the stateside agency staff and the in-country staff? Specifically, how exactly does the agency oversee how each child's paperwork is processed in-country? How does the agency ensure 100% integrity in this process?

6. How do you communicate with families at each stage of the process?

7. What is your policy on out-of-birth-order adoptions?

8. Does your agency facilitate continued contact with birth families post-placement?

9. Does your agency support family preservation (i.e. trying to prevent a child from needing to be placed for adoption by providing support to the birth family) and reunification (reuniting a child with his/her birth family after they were placed in an orphanage if the parents wish to reclaim the child) whenever possible? How do they do this?

10. Does your agency do any humanitarian work (besides operating orphanages) in the countries where they operate?

11. Has your agency ever been disciplined for unethical practices by the governments of any of the countries in which they operate?

12. When was your last disrupted adoption and what were the circumstances?

13. What would happen if a child's adoption was finalized in their country of origin, but they were denied a visa to come the US?

14. Are your in-country agency representatives ever asked for bribes in order for government paperwork to be completed? If so, how is this handled?

I want to reiterate that, by and large, we did not have to learn the importance of the answers to these questions the hard way -- our agency was amazing, I am constantly blown away by the way they serve the people of Ethiopia, and I believe that our process was handled ethically from top to bottom. I kept thinking throughout the whole thing, "Man, were we naive... but thank God we are with YWAM!"

To read more about YWAM programs to support pregnant women in need, family preservation, and local Ethiopian adoptions, click here and here.

To read more about their continued contact with birth families, click here.

To read about their humanitarian work, click here or here.

To read more about how they oversee their in-country staff, click here.

I could post a thousand more links, but if you want to know more just poke around their blog and website for yourself. :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

cast off

Z finally got his cast off yesterday! After 8 weeks of sponge baths and plastic bag solutions during muddy park and beach outings, he is finally free. We celebrated by introducing him to what will be his second home this summer: the pool!

Z is a water fanatic and loved every second!

I haven't written much about Z's club foot treatment, mostly because it hasn't really been a big deal. But since many people don't really know what club foot is (I didn't either before we got our referral), I'll give a brief explanation of the condition and its treatment. This is based on my observations and experience, not on medical science -- I wouldn't go writing your physiology term paper from it or anything, but hopefully it will be helpful to those who are unfamiliar.

Club foot is a fairly common birth defect that can affect one or both feet. It doesn't run in families and it is more common in developing countries, but does occur in babies born all over the world. The foot is not deformed or missing any critical parts (as I once assumed), but is simply oriented incorrectly due to shortened tendons and ligaments. A club foot typically points inward and downward and has an extremely high arch. If untreated, this condition makes walking very difficult, and basically impossible when it affects both feet.

In most cases (including Z's), club foot is 100% correctable. In fact, there are many professional and Olympic athletes who were born with club foot! The most common treatment method is called the Ponsetti Method, which involves using serial casting to gradually stretch and reposition the foot. For Z, they put a cast on his foot and lower leg, took it off each week to see the progress, then applied a new cast in a slightly adjusted position. It took 8 weeks and 6 casts to stretch his foot to a normal position. Now he will wear an orthotic brace under his shoe for a few more months to keep the foot in place, as well as "Ponsetti Shoes" at night for a year or two. The Ponsetti shoes are shoes that are connected by a metal brace, which keep his feet oriented correctly while he sleeps (think: skinny snowboard that you wear to bed). He may need a small surgery on one of his tendons at some point, but I'm hoping we can avoid that.

Though I'm glad Z is done with casts and I won't miss the drive up to Children's, dealing with this has honestly been easier than I thought it would be. 'Minor correctable special needs' might sound a bit daunting on an adoption form, but in real life (at least for us) I am happy to report that it has been no big deal.

So, you might be wondering how Z is doing with his new orthotic brace and sleeping snowboard... Unnervingly well. The orthotic is really minor and he's totally fine with it, but I was worried about how he'd do with the shoes at night. If at age two N or D had suddenly had to sleep with their feet in weird connected shoes, I can tell you right now they would have freaked out. Not Z. All the way through the doctor visit when we tried them on, as well as in the evening while I did his whole bedtime routine and up until he fell asleep, Z basically ignored the fact that he was strapped into a strange contraption. Didn't so much as touch it or look at it, just completely took it in stride. Which is nice... and tragic. There was a line in the book Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child that absolutely jumped off the page at me, spoken by a 9 year old girl who was adopted at age 3 about her adoption day: "That's when I learned that anything can happen." What does it say about my son's life that he doesn't even seem to care or notice something like this? Weird new things are the status quo for him. Sigh. Of course resilience is a great thing, I just wish he hadn't had to go through so much to get it.

sleeping with his snowboard