Friday, January 13, 2012

How to bless a family in the midst of adoption...

As I look back over 2011, I can't help but see how richly the Lord has used so MANY to  bless our family as we pursued adoption. The last few days, I've been thinking, "Wow. My friends could really teach people how to love an adopting family, because we've been loved WELL."

I am still learning and wanting to be a better blessing and encouragement, especially to other adoptive families. But from my experience as the recipient of so much blessing, here are some ways to bless families in the midst of adoption:

Before the adoption...

GIVE There's no way around it. Adoption is expensive. Having biological children is expensive too, but in most cases insurance covers the biggest part. And usually giving birth doesn't involve thousands of dollars of international travel. Or lawyers. Or immunizations. Or notaries. Or 800,000 copies. Or international exchange rates and the sinking power of the dollar.

We were overwhelmed at the support we received - both in gifts, buying the things we sold as fundraisers, and spreading the word about our fundraisers. We received small gifts and large gifts, and we are thankful for every single one.

So give. If you have no money to give, spread the word about fundraisers. Offer any services you provide at a discount or for free (our notary donated all of his services - which were MANY - as his donation to our adoption fund.)

PRAY  Pray for patience in the wait (our wait was miniscule in the adoption world, and it was still excruciating), for endurance in the paperwork ( The paperwork.)

Pray for WISDOM. As you negotiate any adoption, but especially international adoption, there are so many decisions. Families need and hopefully want to make ethical decisions, work with reputable lawyers, agencies, and individuals, and research in order to know they are working in their prospective child's best interest (and the best interest of their prospective child's first family.) I've always felt a strong sense of my need for the Father's wisdom, but NEVER more than in this process.

BE INTERESTED... BUT SENSITIVE I'm mostly thinking of the number of times I answered the "But WHEN" question in the last year.  Even in countries with very streamlined adoption processes, there are still lots of unknowns. With Uganda, while we knew what was next, often that next step could take 1 week or 6 months. It was so hard to answer "I DON'T KNOW" over and over again. I had to remind myself that the person I was talking to had only asked me once...they didn't realize I'd been asked that same question by the last 50 people I talked to. Sometimes I didn't mind at all...other times I wanted to cry. I was thankful that so many were interested in our journey, but also VERY thankful for friends who learned enough about our particular process to stop asking, "WHEN?"

Just a side note: In addition to being sensitive to the waiting, you should also NOT say things like, "As soon as you bring your adopted child home, you'll get pregnant." (Statistically, you are highly likely to be treading on very painful ground there, since there are many families adopting after years of struggle with infertility, or even the sure knowledge that they'll never be able to have biological children. Be quiet.)

During the adoption...

ASK about their new (prospective) child... Who is he? What is she like? How are you attaching and bonding to him? What makes her smile? What makes him laugh? What is fun? What is hard? How can I pray?

DON'T ASK How did he become an orphan? What happened to her? I know that many Americans have a very rosy view of adoption - I did before I actually entered the arena myself. It honestly never occurred to me that adoption ALWAYS involves loss. No one becomes available for adoption without tremendous loss.

I asked this question of adopting friends before we were in it ourselves. And was told, "We're keeping his/her story private to our family, we believe it's her/his story to tell." I was really suprised and confused.

But now I understand: Of the stories that I know - the few children at the babies' home whose stories I know, the back stories of children being adopted by friends I met along the way - ALL of them are heartbreaking. If it were your story, you wouldn't want people discussing it in casual conversation.  I don't think people realize that when they ask "So what's his story?", the answer is deeply personal and not necessarily something you want a child to grow up with everyone around him or her knowing. 

An adopted child's history is THEIR story. If you're interested, here's the blog post I read that really informed our thinking on this: The one with all the privacy.

It's actually pretty hard to tell people who are close to you "that's his story to tell". Even if you say it nicely, you're still basically saying, "That's none of your business." And it IS none of your business. So I'm thankful that our friends and family have been SO understanding of this.

ENCOURAGE Oh people. I have some encouraging friends. I thrive on being a part of a team, so being alone in Uganda was hard for me. It was a LIFELINE that so many friends posted on my facebook wall and sent me messages of love, support and encouragement. So many people told me they were prompted very often to pray - it made me feel like we were all in it together. One of my favorite things is that the encouragement came from friends across my entire life... High School friends I wouldn't even be in touch with apart from facebook, college friends, years of Texas college ministry friends, girls I discipled, women who've mothered me over the years (I'm looking at YOU Pam!), sweet friends from every stage of life, as well as my real life Nebraska friends. AND wonderful women I've met along the way who are fellow Ugandan adoptive Mamas. What a precious fellowship.

I loved the long notes I received. I loved the simple posts saying, "Praying." I loved the people who actually messaged me prayers. I especially loved when people shared Scripture that was encouraging in my situation. I love that several friends included our good news in their facebook statuses.

And OH the CELEBRATION when we had good news. When I posted that MM was OURS, it got hundreds of likes and comments, and again when I posted the news that we were coming home. It was so fun to feel everyone celebrating with us, and for Micah Marvin. I read each and every message I received, and I was so thankful for every word.

However...I also appreciated that MANY of the messages I received included "you don't have to write me back." The power was out a LOT and my internet time was limited. I appreciated that freedom was given me to just read encouragement, be encouraged, and move on.  

PRACTICAL BLESSINGS A friend here in Lincoln called me from Bath & Body Works just before we were flying out, asking me what my favorite scent was. I never would have shelled out for fancy lotion for the trip - but that Japanese Cherry Blossom was like a fragrant aroma and reminder of friendship every time I used it. And I used it a LOT.

For 3 weeks, Matt was here with the boys by himself (before that, he & Luke were with me in Uganda, and Tobin was at Matt's mom's - where he stayed for most of the time I was gone, since Matt had to work.) Luke was at school during the day, and 2 friends of mine took turns picking him up from school and letting him hang with their families. For THREE weeks. He's old enough that he could have just gone home by himself after school, but it was so nice to know he was having fun and being taken care of. These friends also messaged me funny things he'd said or done, and encouraged me that he was doing well. And they even seemed to enjoy having him - I know their sons were disappointed when MM and I got to come home because it meant an end to their Luke time!

PRAY Obviously, this is the biggest blessing. I felt totally carried by prayers, supported by the body of Christ. It was an intense time, and I was battling to trust the Lord - maybe harder than I've ever had to fight. So thankful that so many were fighting with me.

After coming home...

We've been overwhelmed with blessing since we came home.

CELEBRATE  We came home to LOADS of emails, phone mail, and facebook posts and messages. In addition, our neighbors and the ladies from my Moms in Touch prayer group got together and made signs to put up on our street welcoming us home. So fun.

PROVIDE This week (we've been home 5 weeks) was the first full week we've had without meals being provided just about every other day. I felt a little bad - some of our meals were provided by families who have more kids than we do, surely I can figure out how to cook for my family? But the first time I tried to cook for us, it was a MESS. I've got it figured out now (as much as I have anything with 3 kids figured out, I suppose)...but it was so nice to have that buffer time to learn how to live together as a family of 5 - and still eat well. :)

I've also really appreciated how many people offered to give Luke rides home from school or help in other practical ways during our first month home. I have a friend who has kept Tobin each time I had a doctor's appointment for MM - we had quite a few immunizations to catch up on... plus needed to draw liters of blood to get a good picture of our little guy's health. I was REALLY glad Tobin was not there for that bloodbath (literally.)  And just generally, it was so good to have help during this time of transition.

GIVE SPACE I have so appreciated how understanding all of our friends and family have been. Everyone is SO EXCITED to meet Micah Marvin, but people have been super about giving space. We haven't needed nearly the space that I'd heard we would (I think because Uganda requires a slower transition than many countries - so MM already was building trust with me before we came home.)

BUT DON'T STAY AWAY! While I appreciate the space we've been given - I also appreciated that so many friends have said, "When you're ready, we really want to see you!"

I've said no to almost all of my regular activities for this season - so aside from holiday activities, we didn't get out of the house much the first month home. That's not really my gig - and I think it could be really lonely and isolated. Thankful that we were able to see a few friends in small doses in our house - and thankful that they turned a blind eye to my total lack of housekeeping during those first weeks. I mean seriously - one day my neighbors came over and then a friend brought a meal. And they were literally stepping over JUNK EVERYWHERE in the post-Christmas all-our-toys-are-out mess.

BE UNDERSTANDING   I'm thankful for the grace we've been shown with my messy house, but even more so as we've tried to learn to parent a former-orphan. There is an overwhelming amount of material available to prospective adoptive parents with how to foster attachment. I have read blogs, magazines, books, and read things from all over the internet, as well as classes required for our home study. The bottom line is that we're trying to teach our little guy that he can trust us to meet his needs - us specifically, not any person who comes around.

We haven't had to be nearly as protective of this as some families - I think in particular because the process in Uganda is a longer one, so Micah and I had already built quite a bit of trust before we ever hit US soil. But we have had to do things like make sure either Matt or I are always the ones to meet his needs. I fed Micah by hand (using a fork or spoon, but putting food directly into his mouth, like you do for a baby), which caused some big fits in the beginning. For almost all of our trips out of the house the first month, I kept Micah in the Boba carrier, so he was close to me and couldn't be held or picked up by anyone else. Having groups over to our house (which we only did because M was adjusting so well...and it was the only way I could attend) brought out a few orphanage related behaviors that made me feel uncomfortable. So 10 minutes in, I announced to the group that even if MM was asking them to pick him up, we needed them to just give him a high 5 and direct him to us. It's awfully hard to turn a toddler who wants to be held away, especially one this cute. But without really understanding the reasoning why, everyone did, and graciously. (For the record, when friends come over individually, we've had no problem at all... And after making sure that Micah knows them and understands that they're our friends, he's given lots of hugs).

We are SUPER thankful for the community we have brought Micah Marvin home to (both physically here in Lincoln, but also our dear friends and family in other places.) Many adoptive families face questions and resistance, and many more come home to little or no support. If you are one of the MANY who have embraced our family and made this year possible and so much easier than it had to be - THANK YOU. Seriously. You rock.