Saturday, June 16, 2012

Do you have any kids of your own?

Do you have any kids of your own? 

I get this question often. I don't usually get too hung up on word choices. I try to listen to people's hearts and not the individual words. But this one really gets to me. I know what people are asking. They are trying to understand our story. Have you been pregnant before? Have you ever had an infant? Are there more kids in the picture? Do you have anyone to carry on your DNA? I'm not sure why any of these underlying questions matter enough to imply that my kids aren't real enough.

Just once I would like to answer by saying: "We walked through hell and back to be a family. What more would make them my own?"

I do realize that there is a difference. The fact is that I have no idea what it is like to have an infant or even a toddler. I have no idea what it is like to have just one kid, or even 2 or 3. I understand that. 

Thankfully so far, the kids haven't picked up on this... yet... I think... but they probably wouldn't let on if they did. They know that we are not the same color. Shocking, I know! Approximately 27 years of life occurred for them before we ever met. They know that they are different, that our family is different. Does it really need to be pointed out, clarified, and confirmed?

I promise you that I can't remember which people have asked thisIf you have said this before, please don't apologize. I realize that you probably meant no harm at all. But because you don't mean any harm, please, just promise me you won't ever use these words again. Would it be better to ask if we have biological children? No, not really. It just isn't worth risking making a child feel like less a part of the family. So what is okay to say? What if you want to show your support? What if you are interested in possibly adopting someday and you just want to get the conversation started? Try: I would love to hear more about your family and each of your kids.

Most adoptive families are willing to share their story if it can be done without negatively impacting their kids. So if someone declines to chat, just know that it probably has nothing to do with you personally.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Materialism in America

Our kids came to us with nothing. Absolutely nothing but they clothes on their backs. No keepsakes, no change of clothes, no pictures, no toys. They had lived with next to nothing for as long as they could remember. Now they have everything the need and much of what they want. The only way that I can think to understand what this might be like for them is with this analogy.

Imagine that tomorrow you are told that Donald Trump has chosen to adopt you as one of his own children. The assumption is made that this is something you want and overnight you are flown to New York City. You have never seen a private plane before so you jump up and down at the sight of the airplane sent just for you. And you have never eaten caviar before so you turn your nose up at it not wanting to even taste the expensive luxury.

You arrive and are picked up at the airport but you show no appreciation for the fact that Donald Trump himself made the time to come in person because you don't understand how valuable his time is and the sacrifice he made to be there. When you arrive at his penthouse, you are given a room but you had assumed you would have a suite with a separate living room and a balcony on which to enjoy some fabulous view of the city. Your disappointment is obvious when you realize that it is simply a very large bedroom with an adjoining bathroom. And while the furnishings are lavish, they are not to your taste and so you ask to redecorate.

You start to wonder if it is okay to ask for a car. Maybe a Mercedes CL? Would a Bentley be asking too much? And what you don't know is that there is an entire collection of ultra luxury cars down below in the parking garage and you can pick any that you can use at any time without even asking. It was just assumed that you would know such a thing.

You wear the same shoes all week because they are just so beautiful. You even wear them in your room and around the house for fear that the housekeeper might remove them for some reason. You don't know why she might do such a thing but so many things around you are beyond your understanding and, well, they're your favorite. Finally someone speaks up and explains that those shoes aren't suitable for this occasion.

You use your towels one time and then throw them on the floor, expecting someone to come pick up after you. You are told that while the staff will come clean your room once a week, you are expected to keep your room tidy and pick up after yourself. You are completely indignant. Even though you scrubbed your own toilet just 2 weeks ago, you feel like this request is completely unreasonable.

Dinner tends to be food that you aren't used to and you really crave a basic hamburger and your favorite beer in the bottle. So you ask for a custom dinner to be prepared for you, not realizing that the meals are planned out weeks in advance by one of the finest chefs in town and that you are appearing altogether ungrateful by asking for a hamburger when you are being presented with the finest steak that money can buy along with a 100 year old bottle of wine which you are entirely clueless as to how to enjoy.

You see bars of soap being thrown away after they start to lose their decorative shape. They are scented just slightly in the most delicate way. So you sneak around collecting them. You don't know what you are going to do with them but you know in your heart that such a lovely thing should not go to waste.

A big party is coming up. You are instructed to pick a dress from a selection that is delivered to your room. But you thought that something like this would merit a couture original. You become convinced that the other Trump kids have all of their clothing designed personally. Clearly this is a sign that you aren't a real member of the family. As a result you act bent out of shape for days. No one else knows why.

Are our kids grateful for the things they have? Yes... and no... But what kid is?

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Dance with the Devil

This isn't easy to write. Where on earth to start? Let me start by saying that I am only writing about my own experience and what I observed. This is my view from my view point. Every adoption is different. And every experience is different. I know nothing about domestic adoptions, or even adoptions from countries other than Uganda.

For a year and a half we jumped through hoops. We did a state background check and an FBI background check. We wrote about ourselves. We asked our friends to write references about us. We answered detailed and personal questions about ourselves. Our doctors answered questions about our physical and mental health. We laid our lives bare. We did everything but a DNA test (which I am convinced they will start doing within the next 10 years). We signed over money, lots of money; personal checks, cashier's checks, wire transfers. 

When we started all of this we didn't really understand what we were getting into. Oh, we had researched it. We had researched adoption for 11 years when we submitted that first application. But you can never really understand something until you have been there, done that. 

Naturally the questions get raised. Why is adoption so difficult? Why is it so expensive? If kids need homes and it costs money to raise them in foster care, group homes, or orphanages, why don't they just give them away when people want them? Well you see, it's a dance with the devil.

During the adoption process I heard a lot about the importance of ethics in adoption. But the stories are deeply personal, painful. So they aren't really told. Not publicly at least. Until you get to the other side. You become part of the club. Then you are admitted to conversations that just aren't open to the public. Why? Would you share your deepest pain with the world? Would you share your child's? And yet when you hear these stories you realize that all along you were locked in a dance with the devil. All those prayers you prayed for guidance were said in the shadow of the greatest enemy.

I am going to tread lightly. To give you a glimpse of this secret world, all the while trying desperately to protect the innocent. My deepest hope is to bring understanding without losing trust and friendships. While the names aren't given, the stories are true. 

Adoption ethics.

We have all seen the made for TV movies where the desperate, childless couple hands over tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for a perfect little baby. And never once do our minds fathom the extent of this dark truth. We never think about the small children kidnapped from their loving parents. Parents too poor to protect their most valuable cargo. Too poor to fight back. Left to forever wonder about the fate of their precious babies. These little children are then sold to traffickers. Somewhere along the way the children are put in orphanages. And sob stories are sold to their unsuspecting, well meaning, adoptive parents.  

Or perhaps their new parents aren't as unsuspecting as they would like to think they are. Maybe they see a red flag or two but choose, against the intuition seeded deep in their hearts by the greatest Father of all, not to believe. Perhaps they justify this away with reasons like "even if they were kidnapped, they still need homes now.

While this might seem clear, what about the mother in extreme poverty who is told "if you really love your children you will give them away. Sure you feed them but you can barely pay their school fees. You can't do enough for them; give them to someone who can give them everything." Or maybe she is told "give your kids to us; they will go to school in America and come back when they are 18. You will see them again and they will bring you lots of money." If you were working 16 hours per day and sleeping on a dirt floor and feeding your kids nothing but empty starches, would your weary bones believe these lies?

Some people believe that all orphanages are bad. You see, many children in orphanages aren't orphans. Many have parents who simply can't feed them. Or maybe they can just barely feed them and they know that in the orphanage they will at least get some schooling, the only hope out of poverty. Some people believe that orphanages create orphans.

Now let me pause. When you think about poverty, do you think about the poverty line as defined by the U.S. government? Or do you think about a woman who makes actual mud pies and feeds them to her children in hopes of easing their tears of hunger pains for just a little while, all the while knowing that the parasites in the mud will only serve to kill them faster? Do you imagine a woman who used to make a living in prostitution who makes a choice to follow the Lord and forgo her only profession and watches her baby die, slowly, painfully, day over day, as a result of no longer having that money left for her after the deed was done? Do you imagine a child dropping out of school to care for her younger siblings while her own age still sits well in the single digits and the burns on her body show the results of an inexperienced child cooking over a real and open fire? Do you imagine young girls choosing to sell their own bodies to passing truckers in exchange for the school fees, thinking nothing of the morality of it, because the facts are that these choices promise the possibility of a better life?

I paint these pictures for you because I want to caution us all against the judgment of others that so freely flows from our privileged mouths. I do believe in right and wrong. I believe it is black and white... to God... but not to us. I am not saying that because we don't understand first hand, that we can just let these things happen. In fact quite the opposite. We do owe a duty to do our best as we are each responsible for our own actions.

Now if it's wrong to give money in exchange for a child, is it wrong to financially help a biological family after you have adopted the children that their poverty forced them to give up? What if that help later put the family in a position to now care for the children? Should you ever have adopted them? Should you have just helped them to begin with? Let's turn it around. Is it okay to adopt children and on your way out of the country say goodbye to the family saying "God bless you, I hope you are well" knowing full well that they have no food and no money and need for medical assistance which they can't possibly afford?

We met our kids' birth family. I received the blessing of their Grandmother who told me with her eyes that she trusted me, that she was thankful for me, that they were mine now. And even with that fear has filled my heart. What if they were paid? What if they lied? What if they forced our kids to tell lies upon threat of living in an orphanage forever? What if? What if? There is so much about my kids' past that I don't know. So I ask questions all the time. Open ended questions in hopes of a moment of sharing. I have hung on every word. And at times the words have frightened me. Did she just say that someone gave them money?!?! Who was it?!?! Why?!?! My additional questions have only served to conclude that my first reaction was a misunderstanding. I feel like my kids are finally at a point that they are now able to tell me about their history, when they want to, without much misunderstanding. And my fears have come to rest. Especially now that we have started calling "home" about once a month. I can't tell you the delight in their voices and their families' voices. It is the sound of love. We are truly fortunate to have this.

Countless families have learned questionable details and have elected to walk away from an adoption. Now it is a very real risk that the children could suffer from this. But I have no doubt that they did not take this action lightly. I can't imagine the pain that would have come with this choice. When we thought we had found our 4, only to find out that they had been split up already, I grieved. It was an adoption miscarriage. We were only 11 days along. Early term. But painful none the less.

Some parents have hired private investigators in Uganda to search out their kids' history. They have done this in hopes of being able to hand their kids a tangible piece of their past, their story. Often they have come up with more information about the family. But the sacrifice these families make when choosing to do this is immense! You see in doing this, they have to first decide that they were willing to deal with the truth if it turns out that their child was kidnapped and also belongs to someone else.

So what is right? And what is wrong? And so you see, you are in a dance with a devil. While my words are figurative, the subject matter is real. God adopted all of us. Some of us chose to refuse the love and shelter that He offers. But the offer is there... to all of us. And so while God did not create death and God did not create orphans, He did create adoption. And why wouldn't the devil want to mettle with all that is good?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not Orphans, Not Anymore

I've gone to Zumba classes at my church, off and on, for about a year now. I have always found it uplifting to be in a room full of 100+ women all moving together (sort of), having fun, and letting loose. A little while ago, I took the girls to a fundraising event called "Zumba for 1." About 10 Zumba instructors in our area came together to do a Zumba class to raise money for a family preparing to adopt internationally. A sweet friend provided us with 3 tickets so I could take my girls with me. She even had 3 jingle skirts for them to borrow so they could properly shake it. They had SO much fun. Sarah said it was the most fun she had ever had in her whole life.

When you finalize your adoption, the judge (in America) says "do you realize that from now on these kids will be yours just as if they were born to you?" While all of that is true on paper, I often wonder how long it will take for all of us to get to that point emotionally. It's a slow process, but we're getting there.

During the intro at the Zumba fundraiser, the mom got up and spoke. She talked about the many orphans in need of families. It was very emotional. My girls know the word "orphan." I pulled them close and whispered in their ears over and over again, "you are not orphans, not anymore, you are not orphans."