If there is only one thing (which there is not just one) that I have learned from this adoption journey in Ecuador, it's that communication in every form is valuable. Communication has always been important to me and I value strong connections through honest and sincere conversations. The Human Connection (a project I have been working on for years) is a big key to what makes me tick. And what better way to dial in to the human connection than to be honored and blessed with the challenge to build a mother-daughter relationship with our newest child. A tween, might I add. Sometimes when I think of the "human connection" that I work so hard at with my other tween daughter, I ask myself, What where we thinking? However, truthfully, God placed her in our lives, and God wanted us to experience this #adoptionjourney for a reason. I count my blessings everyday for this blessed child. However, it's becoming clearer to me as I wake up each day with a new opportunity to communicate and connect, in her native land and tongue.
My kids know their stories. They know who they are, and where they come from, both heavenly and earthly. There really are no secrets in our house, when it comes to their value, their truth, and their heritage. If my kids come to us with questions, we as parents answer in the most age appropriate and protective way as possible. In other words, we protect the privacy of their birth-parents and their own need to know minds. However, with such open adoptions, my children know quite a bit about their stories and their birth parent's stories. They are still only 12, 12 and 10, so with our focus on their growth and development priorities, it makes our communication skills a little imaginative.
I truly value good communication, it helps me to connect with others and also parent properly. I am far from being an expert in parenting, merely a student. I feel that there have been some very valuable experiences in our lives that have been uplifted through good communication. My oldest daughter is not a talker (she's quite like her dad) and it has been a mountain to climb for me. Obviously, I know how to ramble, and when I have a thought, I am not too shy to share. Whereas with her, it's like pulling teeth to get her to share her thoughts, feelings or anything. As she has grown into the tween stage, she is a little better, but I have had to learn different ways to communicate with her. For example, riding horses, being with animals, or asking about a book she has read; this is where the girl shines. Her non-verbal cues are key for me as her mother. So sitting down and chatting with her, has a lot to be desired. But I love our silent conversations and watching her in her element, those times share so much information for me.
My youngest son, however, he is a lot more like me when it comes to verbal communication. He is loud, and expressive and has no filter. Everything on his mind, comes out like vomit. Often we are cleaning up a mess afterwards, but I understand his language, I am very familiar with it. He and I can communicate well, and I am cautious to ever silence him. I do however have a more appreciation for what my parents had to deal with when I was a child. I love to hear with auditory cues and his expressive words all that he has to share.
The adoption process we are on currently has been an eye opener for us as parents, in so many ways. Communication with the language barrier alone has been a huge hurdle, and we are just beginning this lesson. My perspective of how we parent is taking on a new role. How we listen to our children, how we teach them and even what we teach. Ok, let's break down what I mean by communication.
First: Non-verbal communication - The nonlinguistic transmission of information through auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic channels. It's important to have a basic knowledge of information regarding communication skills, to know what type is best for you, or where you can stand to learn more. With our other two children, being infant domestic adoptions, teaching and learning to communicate with them came pretty naturally. As with all parents, you watch them grow and explore, babble and scream, make all kinds of noises (from all parts of the their body). All these forms of direct communication can be very informative, educational and part of the developing process as a parent. Even as babies, before actual words are spoken you have non-verbal communication
Second: Verbal Communication - The imparting or exchanging of information and news. In its most basic form, communication is to merely provide information. "Are you hungry?", "What do you want to eat?", “Where are you going?”, etc. As I learn to speak a new language and only with simple commands and prompt phrases, I struggle to be able to really dive in and connect on a level of communication I desire. Child #3, second daughter and middle child. This is where my learning as a parent has taken monumental strides in the communication realm. We have adopted her through an orphan international experience. I am writing this from her birth country while waiting to return home with her. She comes to us as a tween, from an orphanage, speaking a completely different language and with so much in her story. 5 weeks I have been here with her. Sent my husband home last week to be with the other two kids. And now, I am the only English speaking one left. We had grandma and grandpa with us for a couple weeks, but after they left, Carl and I could speak together. Now is it me and her.
So here I am, giving as much effort as I can muster. This adoption process has been our longest by far. Eight years of praying, with failed adoptions along the way and now two years of paperwork and hoops to jump for this one. My energies are nearly spent on the international adoption process. Therefore learning to speak her language has been difficult at its best. All while encouraging her to learn English, as this will be her primary language when we get home. We have been extremely blessed to make new friends and family here in her country, but while at meals and events, church and adoption meetings, my ears are wide open to try to understand the verbal language. However, I have noticed that I am understanding the meaning behind the words more while being in tune to the non-verbal cues. Thank you daughter number 1 for practice in that skill. Body language, informal sign language and facial expressions have been my saving grace. Even finger pointing has its purpose, and I don't mean the middle one that you often see with the crazy driver's here. Haha!
While learning to parent this beautiful soul, during the most awkward and difficult age, with only the basic knowledge of verbal phrases in her language, this is where the journey really begins for us. When one skill is lacking, the others stand at attention and really help get the job done.
1. Have expectations
Often in international adoption, the timing is the biggest misconception adoptive parents are led to believe. I think most countries have good intention for matching a child with prospective parents, and maybe they even have good intentions on making an adoption happen in a relatively timely fashion. However, if you are looking into international adoption and you are wanting to grow your family within months or even a year, stop now, turn around and look the other way. International adoption may not be right for you at this time. I’m not saying you should turn your back on the possibility completely, just make sure you rethink your expectations before pursuing it.
When I write these tips, I almost feel a little hypocritical, because I actually went into every adoption, domestic and international, doing these exact things that I am encouraging you NOT to do. It’s because I did these things and learned from them, that gives me the courage and maybe even qualifications to share with you how I went about it the wrong way. Often throughout our international adoption when we hit road blocks, literally with every step of the process, I would pray and ask my loving Heavenly Father, “Are you offering these challenges just so we can help the system work out all the kinks”? As if adoption was a new concept, or a new business and there needed to be the guinea pigs to try out all the things that could go wrong, just to know how to do it better the next time. If we aren’t willing to learn from our mistakes, then what was the point of trying anything to begin with. I don’t know about you, but I make mistakes in nearly everything I do, on the daily. It could simply be because I am the type of person that runs full steam ahead into the ocean without even considering the fact that there are deadly sharks below. The things that I can’t see aren’t even a concern for me when I start a project or even big decisions. I don’t think its complete naivety, just pure desire that drives me forward. If there is something I want to do or to be, I will just do it and work out the details later and seriously stumble through the whole journey. Smart? Not necessarily. Effective in progression for at least the effort? Maybe.
So, if you want to go about it my way, then by all means, have expectations. Dream about the child you will one day have in your home. Like really imagine what they will look like, how they will act, how you will raise them, and they will do and be exactly what you imagined. How they will be a dancer, or athlete, or whatever it is you dream you children will be. However, if you are looking for a more comfortable journey or realistic one (not that anything you do in adoption is comfortable) but at least be a little more prepared for, then go into it without any expectations. If you are told the process takes approximately 8-12 months, add on at least a year maybe two. Even then, don’t hold your breath. If you are expecting it to be easy, then oh man you are in the wrong arena. If you’re praying for a girl, maybe consider that you will actually be blessed with a boy. This goes for any type of adoption, not just international. If you believe that your “in-country” time frame that you are told, is a realistic one, then let me be the first one you call and cry to when you have missed your son’s school performance and your daughter’s clogging show. Let me be the first one to have a tear-soaked shirt from your heartache when the trip you planned with your daughter after school got out, comes and goes. You missed it because the legal system is un-organized enough that the paperwork is delayed another week, yet again. Please don’t misunderstand me in that there are really great people behind the scenes working their tails off to keep the process moving forward, but the system of adoption is broken and sometimes there is nothing they can do to change it.
What are you going to walk away with from this ‘what not to do’ piece of advice? If your intentions are to provide a loving home for a child in need, your heart is in the right place. If you’re desire and drive is to welcome whatever God has in store for you then you had better hurry and get in touch with an adoption consult, yesterday. Get the ball rolling. If you are willing to get kicked numerous times while you are already down, then welcome to the party. If you know in the end you will have aloud yourself and your family to grow and be stretched physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually, then this definitely is part of your journey.
2. Sit back and let the process happen, trust in the system
I really don’t want to be the one to tell you that the foster system and adoption system is broken. I don’t like being a pessimist, it’s not my nature to be that person. However, it is in my nature to be honest and tell it like it is. The world we live in is broken, in so many ways. Just saying that makes me cringe because I am a God-fearing woman, a Christian and I know there are amazing people across the globe where their whole purpose it to try to fix what is broken. I also know that this world was created by an unconditionally loving Father in Heaven and Savior that gave us this world and all we have is for our benefit. We can read in 2 Corinthians 4:17
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight in glory”
Or in Doctrine and Covenants section 122 verse 7 we read,
“7. And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”
All these things shall be for thy good. What does that mean? Its means that a broken system is inevitable, its already there. If you want to sit back and watch it continue to roll over your efforts to do what you know to be the right thing, then sit back grab your popcorn and enjoy the show. For our family, I know with every fiber of my being, without a shadow of doubt that we were supposed to adopt. I know that God could have easily given me the ability to bare children biologically, the same way He gave me the inability to do so. I know that it is His plan for us to have adopted our three beautiful and amazing children. Because of this knowledge, I was more than willing to put my trust in Him and not the system. By this I mean, if something isn’t getting done, don’t sit back and wait for others to do it for you.
I’m sure our agency and all parties involved with our international adoption have a few not so nice things to say about me. I am pushy, I am impatient, I am a nag…you get the idea. But if I had sat back and not constantly checked in on the process, it would have taken three maybe more years to bring our daughter home. Remember, there is a process and you must be cautious in how you approach it. Adoption consultants, agencies, attorneys and facilitators all have a job to do. They are in the position they are (you hope) to help you along the way. But they are busy and have their own lives to live, their own challenges to face, not to mention the 1000’s of adoptive parents waiting in the wings for their journey to embark. Adoption professionals do their best to facilitate the process, but nobody is going to care as much about your story as you do. With respect to their position and efforts, don’t always expect things to get done without a little nudge from you. It’s your job to see your journey through.
3. If there is a language barrier, no need to learn
Dear, oh dear. This one is a tough one. Maybe not for all adoption circumstances, but it will definitely be a stumbling block, more accurately put, a mountain to climb. As a military brat I grew up moving around the world with my family. Mom, dad and 6 siblings. We were even lucky enough to experience international travel. As a kindergartener and the first couple years of elementary I was given the opportunity to attend a dual language school of French and English, in Belgium. At that age, language seemed to come pretty easily for me. Then years later while in High School, dad was transferred to Verona, Italy. I was finishing my freshman year and started school on the military base in Vicenza. Again, I had the opportunity to learn Italian in a class at school. Although I never became fluent in either of those languages, I remember thinking it wasn’t so bad. I felt like I understood and had a pretty good grasp of learning languages.
So, when the opportunity to adopt internationally arose, I was excited about learning another language. This time it being Spanish. Was there really a need for me to learn? I had already been taught the basics of the Romance languages. I could wing it, right? However, I did decide to purchase Duolingo, mostly for my children to learn to speak with their new sibling. I was arrogant enough to think I didn’t need to learn. Then I decided to go ahead and purchase another language app, just for fun. I did want to learn, but I don’t think I took it that seriously. Do you see the pattern forming, “I should learn, I don’t need to, I should learn, I don’t need to…? I should learn”. Ok, so the moral of this story, hold on, I’ll get there.
So, three weeks into our in country stay to finalize our adoption, I was getting frustrated. Here we were welcoming a new child to our home, and not just any child, a 12-year-old girl. I imagine it would be hard enough to bring in a toddler, or children with medical challenges, mental or physical delays. But a hormonal coming of age girl. That was a whole different ball game. She didn’t only come with her own history and challenges, but she was also coming with nearly being a teen. Holy crap do we have our work cut out for us. I was getting frustrated because I was listening to this soon-to-be daughter, chat it up with everyone around me. It didn’t take long for me to learn that she was a talker. She had stories to tell, and experiences to share. And I was only understanding bits and pieces, not enough to really embrace her stories, or the details about them. I wanted so badly to know what was going on in her “tween-y” brain.
It was then and there that I decided I was going to learn Spanish. Not just a little, the whole kitten caboodle. I was going to be fluent and actually be considered bilingual. Even though it was so important for her to learn English, the language of her new home, family and life, I was going to be able to really hear her stories and honest to goodness know who this little girl was.
So, if you go into an international adoption thinking your primary goal is to teach your child your language, maybe you should consider the importance of learning theirs. It may sound silly if your child is just learning to speak all together and their first language actually might be yours. However, I have a firm belief that learning their language will do wonders for your relationship. It’s a sign of respect for their heritage, it’s a sign of love for the ones who chose to give them life. It’s a gesture of reverence for your child’s culture and ethnicity. Not only for communication purposes, adoptive parents should learn to speak the literal language and love language of all of their children, domestic and international.
4. Give up when it gets difficult
I mentioned earlier about being willing to get kicked, over and over again, while you are already down. This is going to happen in adoption, especially international adoption. Guys, this process is not easy, for all parties involved. Its brutal, its ugly and downright hard. But holy cow, in the end when you can look into the eyes of God’s beautiful children and know that He is trusting you with his most precious, it really is all so worth it. I used to hate to hear this. “It will all be worth it in the end”. Well no kidding, I would begrudgingly whisper under my breath. Everybody tells you that. And you know what, they are right and sometimes that is all they know what to say. If your support system or tribe haven’t been through adoption, it’s hard for them to really understand what you are going through. However, their hearts are so amazingly supportive of your journey that you should run into their arms and thank them for having the insight you may not have in the thick of the crud.
Speaking of your tribe…go get one if you don’t already have one. Find those who are honest and sincere about supporting you. Grab onto those who have been through the journey already. Grab on and don’t let go. Bring into your circle people that won’t take away from your energy and light. When you feel as though you are stuck down the rabbit hole, and sometimes it’s all you have in you to even attempt to come out, make sure your tribe are those who will thrust their arm down the hole just to let you hold their hand. This doesn’t have to only be others that have walked the adoption path.
It’s going to get tough; you are going to ask yourself “what am I doing”, “why am I here”. There will be many times that you will want to catapult the 1000’s of pieces of paper you painstakingly cry over. You are going to want to just walk away. The thought of another psychological evaluation, or question about what kind of child you are willing to accept will make you want to run away. The invasive interrogation you will endure about your personal lives and how you parent or plan to parent. The countless documents you will sign, notarize and apostille and then maybe have to do all over again because there is the possibility that it gets lost or signed wrong, or finds itself outdated because of the long wait. It’s going to happen; this you can expect. Remember when I mentioned stretching and growing? You will be stretched to the max and when, not if, when that happens please oh please, find yourself on your knees praying for the strength to continue. There is a reason you started in the first place. If you have already considered the things that I discussed earlier…. What is your reason? If you are still here and you know your reason, hang on, don’t give up just yet. Find your reason, find your purpose.
5. You’ve got this! You can totally do this alone.
Cheese and crackers, if I had a penny every time I told myself this, “Girl, you’ve got this. You are strong and determined and nobody is going to get the job done like you!”
WOW! Am I ever wrong. DO NOT DO THIS ALONE! I can’t stress this enough because I have tried 100+ too many times and I can tell you, it is not easy. I don’t just mean embrace your tribe, find your support system or hold your therapist’s hand. I mean, find God, or whatever source of power you gravitate towards. For me and my family, its God. The most loving Father in Heaven that literally has carried me through the process. Sadly, there have been many times when I find myself buried under the covers, only to find my pillow soaked in tears, hours later.
While in the middle of our eighth adoption attempt, I was so broken that I was physically sick. My defeated body crawled into bed with a silly head cold. My head was pounding, my throat and chest felt as though they were closing in on themselves and I was beginning to welcome the pain. The shattered soul inside me was ready to give in to the pain and just succumb to my bed forever. I didn’t want to leave. It was easier to lay there and wallow, binge watching 90’s tv shows on Netflix. Seriously, I was done fighting. Who really wants to be kicked while they are already beaten? Until the thought entered my mind. The thought that changed everything. Regretfully, that thought was being fought back with demonic thoughts. “Stay in bed, eat more, ignore your family and the two other children you have been blessed with, they don’t need you”. The thought that wouldn’t go away was barely a whisper and I could scarcely hear it. The thought that would not resign, and thank goodness it didn’t was…
“Get up, go to your knees”
After I don’t even know how long of the internal scuffle, I found myself literally slithering out of bed, not even allowing my head to leave the pillow. The blanket that I used as my “comforter” followed me to the floor. Wrapped in the covers and head lazily resting on my pillow, I began to pray. It was a weak prayer; I barely was able to form the words and it was unorganized. There was no repetition in what I said, like other times when I would pray for the usual stuff. Bless my family. I’m grateful for my health, I couldn’t say that, I felt like crap. Please give me opportunities to help another. Nothing like this. Single. Words. Only. I couldn’t even create full sentences. And then slowly, my heart began to soften, very slowly. I found myself filled with a desire to speak with God. Not just pray, but really have a personal conversation with Him. I pleaded for health this time. I begged for an answer. I petitioned for His attention. All the while, I am sure He was already offering all these things but was just waiting for me to humble myself enough to ask.
You cannot do this alone. Adoption, I believe, was composed through divine intervention to help create a solution. God (or your greater being) knew this world would be what it is today. He knew there would be thousands of thousands of children suffering or lost. Lost without family, suffering from circumstances beyond their innocent control. What better way to even begin to resolve this fortuity than to allow the opportunity for parents who cannot biologically create life, or parents who choose to open their heart and home to these children. So, if what I believe is true, and I do wholeheartedly, then He, the creator, will help you through your journey. Do not for a minute brush aside His willing gesture.
“Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power”
I am a mother of three beautiful children, through the blessing of adoption. Lover of the human connection. Wife to the best husband in the world. Daughter of God