Lucky 7

Do you remember being 7 years old? Good times, right? I turned 7 in January of 1991. I had a New Kids On The Block backpack, some sweet MC Hammer-esque pants, and I could do a math “speed drill” faster than anyone in my class! I lived with my parents and (then) two younger sisters. We took family walks to the park down the street, ate donuts every Sunday morning before church, and watched Rescue 911 every Tuesday. Life was good.

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That’s little 7 year old me! That was my class photo at my small private, Christian school with good ole Mrs. Davis. I spent loads of time outside, just being a kid with my little sisters. I did the regular all-American things little girls do like piano lessons and Girl Scouts (with Troop 3326 and our fun troop leader, Mrs. French). And, like every kid, I spent times in and out of school with my friends; that’s me and Michelle, fun fact… she’s adopting from China right now too!!!

These are the kind of memories that every 7 year old deserves to have, but unfortunately, that is not the case. My own sweet waiting son, Lok, turns 7 years old this week. He will not share the same type of fun memories that I have as a 7 year old. Right now he knows that a family in America is working hard to make their way to him, but he’s anxious and rightly so. He’s about to encounter an entirely new and different world… and get one crazy mom! It may be scary for him right now but, I know that ages 8+ will be full of fun, family, and love for Lok. While Lok is now loved and spoken for, that is not the case for many, many other sweet 7 year olds.

I’d like to introduce you to seven of those sweet 7 year olds who are currently waiting for families to step forward and bring them home! Meet Creed, Henry, Olin, Tucker, Wade, Brooks, and Colt! These are all sweet boys that have been designated to Lifeline Children’s Services to be advocated for for the next couple of months. Lifeline is the agency we have used/are using to bring our boys home. They are amazing and I’m beyond grateful for them.

Now, before you continue reading this post, I need you to do something for me! Stop, close your eyes your eyes for a second and remember that these kids are nothing more than 7 year old boys who have never known the love of a forever family. Do some of them have medical special needs that you might not be familiar with? Yes, but you can educate yourself on those needs and connect with other families who live with them. Do some of them have special needs that may scare you? Yes, but our God is bigger than scary. Do they come with “baggage” from 7 years of being institutionalized? Yes, but every single person on this planet has baggage. Are they to blame for any of this? No! Do they still deserve the love of a family and the happy memories that every 7 year old should be entitled to? YES! Don’t write these boys off simply because they are older and have special needs. They are made in the image and likeness of our Creator, just the same as you and me!

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Meet Creedan adorable little one who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP). But CP does not define him! Check out this article which gives some insight into Creed’s daily life: http://chinaspecialtreasures.blogspot.com/search/label/Zeb. There are also videos of Creed (showing his mobility!) available for viewing here.  This little guy does not let anything stop him!

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Henry!!! Henry is described as a lovable and helpful little boy. He is very active and loves to play with balls, go outside, and run. Henry also gets along with other children and tends to do little things for the smaller children he lives with. He is diagnosed with Trisomy 21 Syndrome, which might explain his cuteness a little better. Doesn’t he look like he’d be the best cuddler?!

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Next up is little Olin. Unlike most orphans in China, Olin, was not placed into care until he was 3 years old. His special need is congenital deafness, which as many experienced families would tell you, is hardly a special need at all. What this boy needs most is a family to step forward and say: MINE!

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You don’t truly know what cuteness is if you’ve never laid eyes on Tucker! Be still my heart, this kid is so precious! I guarantee that you can’t wait this video and not tear up. This sweet boy is diagnosed with CHD, Megacolon, and Anal Atresia; click on each to learn more about Tucker’s particular (manageable!) special needs. We know that he is definitely not lacking in the cuteness department!

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Say hello to Wade! Aside from the special need of a family, this boy’s only diagnosable need is a repaired cleft lip and palate. Cleft lip and palate is a very common special need and there are many, many support groups for families with this need. Wade is described as a little boy who likes to teach other children the things that he is learning in school and frequently chats with his caregivers.

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Okay, it’s bad to have favorites, but I have to admit that little Brooks is my personal favorite among these seven. Just look at that face! Those eyes, those lips, good Lord! Brooks is diagnosed with CHD and a right hernia. A quick video of him can be seen here. Please consider him, I don’t want those little lips going any longer without a mama to kiss them!

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And last, but not least, we have Colt! This dimpled cutie is a gorgeous boy who lives in a wonderful foster home (just like my Lok!). He special needs list may seem long, but this child is thriving. His medical file reads “vision correction; heart murmurs needing check, suggest UCG test; postoperative congenital imperforate anus; advise to strengthen the HBV vaccine” but, as with all of these boys, his greatest need is for a forever family! Doesn’t he look like so much fun?!

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The little 7 year old me wanted to be a missionary and in a way, that’s exactly what the 31 year old me has become through adoption. From the moment Lok entered my life, I have prayed for him daily. Once Lok comes home, we’ll begin praying with him, we’ll read the Scriptures with him every night before bedtime, we’ll sit with him in the pews hearing the gospel preached together as a family every Sunday. If this is not missionary work, then I don’t know what is. My 7 year old self envisioned being a missionary, living in a hut somewhere in Africa, but the 31 year old me knows that my mission field is actually serving my family; being the best wife I can be to my husband, raising our boys in the faith, and advocating as hard as I can for those precious littles who still wait for their families. Now imagine what could become of these little 7 year olds if they were just given the love of a forever family.

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Call to Boymom

I remember being in a store with my husband (then fiancé) when we passed a mom with 3 small boys. I made a terrified face at Ryan and said, “THAT is my worst nightmare!”. Boys, that many boys, scared me to bits. That would not be me. I would be a girlmom, a girlmom in all my glitter and ruffle glory. My experience of motherhood would be full of craft binges with my little girls, day trips to the American Girl store, and long marathons of Disney princess movie watching. We’d have tea parties, read every Laura Ingalls Wilder book ever written, and dolls would flood our house. I wanted to relive everything about my childhood that was precious; I would be a girlmom.

I should preface this by saying that I am the eldest of six kids. We are five girls, then one brave boy. My brother and I are 13 years apart. I remember my parents being so excited when an ultrasound revealed that they were finally going to have a son (nearly 17 years into their marriage!). I was less thrilled. I remember the exact thought that popped into my 13 year old head: what the heck are we going to do with a boy?! And while I loved my little brother terribly from the moment he made his entrance into the world, it was still a strange adjustment. Life was easier with one gender; I would be a girlmom.

Throughout undergrad I worked at an elementary school and, oh my, did those boys scare me! They were basically hyperactive, dirty, sweaty, sticky, smelly balls of energy that somehow found their way into a human body. Compared to girls, they were so much work! I could leave two little girls alone in a corner with a book and they’d read quietly. That same book would instantly become a weapon of mass destruction if left with two little boys. I preferred quiet cuteness over noise and band-aids; I would be a girlmom.

Seven years into our marriage, Ryan and I decided that we would build our family through international adoption. China, specifically. I was over the moon! I envisioned my daughter, a chubby little bundle of pink with rosy cheeks and a mop of black hair. We settled on her name, Jia Evangeline, it was girly perfection. China requires that adopting parents be at least 30 years old and I was only 29 at the time so we had nearly a year to do research on what the China adoption experience would be like. I happily navigated my way through blogs and books; I was on my way to being a girlmom!

During an early morning research session, I came across an article that spoke about the great need for families for boys! Boys?! Prior to that article, we assumed that only girls were available to adopt from China. But here we were faced with stats which debunked that myth. We learned that the wait to be matched with a boy is usually considerably shorter as Westerners largely desire to adopt daughters from China. I wasn’t the only one with visions of ribbons and sparkles; there were many feeling the draw to girlmom.

This new bit of information, however, changed Ryan’s attitude dramatically! He didn’t even think that adopting a son was a possibility, but now that it was… my, my how he began taking a greater interest in completing that paperwork! I called him a sexist. He was only excited about adopting a son. But, wait! Wasn’t I doing the same thing in reverse? Did I want a child to love and care for or did I want a little girl to be my play thing? Ouch! After a few days of prayer and some true self-analyzing, I released my lifelong dream of girlmom.

Several months later, while searching a waiting children’s list, I found him. I found the little boy that made me stop dead in my tracks and say “MINE!”. At that moment no amount of American Girl dolls or pink glitter could have derailed me. I was sold. God chose that little boy to make me a mama. Nearly 16 months later, on a rainy day in Guangzhou, that little boy was placed in my arms. I was a boymom.

Being a boymom is just about as terrifying as I thought it would be. My son is as sticky as a glue stick every second of the day, his energy never runs out, and he instantly turns any object into a weapon. But, dear Lord, does that boy love and melt his mama! He tries to “out kiss” his daddy every day; landing the longest, juiciest kisses I’ve ever been the recipient of. He is my little gentleman in every way possible and says “I love you, Mama” dozens of times a day. This? Is this what you were afraid of, boymom?

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In my six short months as a mom, I’ve learned who all the Ninja Turtles are. I’ve played with swords, light sabers, guns, and slingshots. I’ve been to Marvel Universe Live and can tell you all of the Avengers’ super powers. I have come to absolutely love cheesy, dubbed kung fu movies. I’m now the owner of several Star Wars and comic related shirts. My laundry duties have doubled. And my love for boys, not just my own son, has tripled. I want there to be more boymoms.

After being home from China for a few months, we got the itch again. Our family wasn’t complete, there was still an empty chair at our table. Our son, Kai, deserved a sibling. And just a few short weeks later we found him, our next son. He is a precious boy who has been waiting nearly 7 long years for a family to swoop in and say “MINE!”. I’m looking at his photo right now and wondering how on earth he has gone unclaimed for so long. He is absolutely precious in every way. I cannot wait until he is here running around the house with Kai. I can’t wait until they figure out how much fun sliding down the stairs in a sleeping bag is. I can’t wait until I hear play kung fun sounds coming from their room. I can’t wait until he feels the love that can only come from a forever family! I can’t wait to be a boymom times two!

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If this lifelong girlmom daydreamer could trade in her dreams of pink, sparkle unicorns for sticky, smelly hugs, then maybe you could too. There is still a vast need for all orphans to find families of their own (boys and girls alike), but there is a special place in my heart to advocate for those boys who wait simply for being boys. I would have never dreamed of adopting a 4 year old boy followed by a 7 year old boy, but the Lord’s plans for me are so much greater than my little dreams could have ever imagined. Just maybe you too will take the challenge to boymom.

Day 13: Where Orphans Live

Two days after being united with our son we had the opportunity to visit the social welfare institute (orphanage) where he spent the first 22 months of his life. He was over 4 years old by the time we adopted him and had spent 2+ years  living with a foster family; which we were very grateful for. So while we knew that he likely didn’t have many memories of living in the orphanage, visiting the orphanage was strongly encouraged by our agency and by my China mentor moms.

I have to be honest, I knew that it would be beneficial for Kai to have photos of his orphanage for later on in life, but I was deeply dreading the visit. I had seen YouTube clips and documentaries showing what life in the orphanage was like and I didn’t even want to imagine Kai there. But, my feelings aside, we signed up for the visit and went. It was about as emotion packed as I assumed it would be. I filmed a lot and have been debating whether or not to share it with the world. I am crying during most of the filming, I couldn’t pull myself together despite the myriad of nannies who must have thought that I was crazy.

The visit left me unbelievably heart broken and emotionally drained. When we got back to the hotel room later that night, I wrote and posted this to Instagram: “I will never forget today. Visiting the place where Kai spent his first 22 months of life was hard. Let me start by saying that there is no doubt in my mind that the nannies here care for these children. Every single nanny that we saw knew Kai’s (full Chinese) name, and there were dozens. The ladies in that lower photo were only a small amount of them; these were the ones who assisted in Kai’s classroom. I was so overcome with emotion when I saw them in action with the other kids and Kai that I burst into tears and walked around the room seeking out each one to thank and hold by the hands. These women looked after my Kai when I was thousands of mile away worrying and praying for him; I owe them everything. We gave Kai a giant bag of candies and he passed them out to every child we saw (until it ran out). They ALL called him by name when thanking him. Out popular boy! But guys, there were so many that it broke my heart over and over again. 5 tiny babies sunbathing in one crib, 10 little boys with Down Syndrome holding a rope led by a teacher. Countless baby babies playing in the nursery, a dozen toddlers wadding on the pavement. Is there something you can do? Can you give up a bit of comfort to do something miraculous? If I was a soapboxes before, this upped the ante X100. These babies NEED and DESERVE families. Is your baby here? #wehavekai but what about you?! It takes work, and stamina, and yes MONEY, but these are real live children, not statistics. We are blue collar workers, we own a 2 bedroom townhome, not a mansion. God used us, you can be used too.” (@leftylex)

CD1ECE05-6EED-4DC0-BF1F-4BBD702744DCI still stand by those words and that call to action. Friends, I’ve never attempted to sugarcoat adoption. It’s hard. Somedays you’ll wonder if you’re strong enough for the challenge, before, during, and after your child is placed with you. I know that I have! But, it is absolutely more than worth it. Holding my son in my arms after all of the mountains of paperwork and money it took to get him here only makes it sweeter. Looking back at these photos I’m reminded of the goodness of the Lord and his incredible faithfulness. Perhaps these photos and this mama’s recollection of her son’s first home is tugging at your heartstrings. And I pray that it does. Perhaps that subtle tugging will turn into something larger and you just might find yourself, someday, visiting the place where your orphan first lived.

Day 12: Gotcha Day

Today marks exactly 4 months since my son’s Gotcha Day. What’s a Gotcha Day? It’s the day we got Kai, the day we became a forever family!

This was the moment. The exact moment. Words can’t describe it, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.

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And then we were a family. All that we had worked so hard for had finally come to fruition. He was real. He was in our arms. He was ours. It was magic. And that, dear friends, is what Gotcha Day is.

Day 11: Being a Conspicuous Family

In our little family of three, we don’t look alike. My husband is Spanish and Caucasian, I’m (mostly) Mexican, and our son is Chinese. We’re all tan and have dark hair and eyes, but our features are very different. Obviously. However, we also have many similarities; Kai and I have beauty marks on the same spot on our necks. And Kai and Ryan have matching marks on their… I’ll leave that one to the imagination! Kai likes when I point out the fact that he has brown skin like Mama and short, dark hair like Baba.

For Kai’s sake, I’m glad that we do have these similarities, but I also love our differences! I love Kai’s monolid, Asian eyes. I could stare at them for hours… and I have! They are so different from my very large, round eyes. But they are beautiful. Our noses are different too. I have a very prominent nose ridge, and Kai’s is more subtle. But, it is the the best nose in the world to munch and kiss on. And we do share another common trait, giant lips! Oh, how they are perfect for yummy kisses. His face, as a whole, is entirely different from ours and 100% perfection! I adore the differences so much more than I ever thought I would.

When we initially settled on international adoption, being a conspicuous family was something that I was a bit worried about. I remember thinking that everyone will know that we are an adoptive family all of the time. And now I think everyone knows that we are an adoptive family all of the time… YES!!! I love spreading the message of adoption and I love talking about international adoption whenever I’m able to. And, in all honesty, there have been only a small handful of times when people looked inquisitively when I said that Kai was my son. It could be the fact that we live in San Diego, which is extraordinarily culturally diverse, but I like to think that most people simply do not care. A family is a family, and a family with a common ethnic heritage is no “better” than our family, just different. I love differences.  I love that love, not DNA makes a family. I love being a conspicuous family.

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Day 10: Being Paper Pregnant

Today is Mother’s Day, my first official Mother’s Day. Only when people wished me a “Happy first Mother’s Day” today, I didn’t quite agree with their statement. I was a mom last year. I was Kai’s mom last year, only he was still in China. I felt every bit as connected to him last year, only knowing him through photos, as I feel to him today. I am his mama now, I was his mama then.

I guess it’s a bit confusing for people to understand that my connection to Kai, my being his mother, began far before he was ever placed in my arms. I knew that Kai was my son from the moment I saw his little video. My heart loved him just as much when he was in China as it does now. I obviously know him more now and am able to fall in love with little things that he says to me and all of the hugs and kisses that he gives me, but I truly loved him just as much before I met him.

The term paper pregnant gets used a lot in the adoption community to describe someone who is just that, pregnant with paperwork. Some people use the term from the moment they click “send” on their agency applications and others don’t use it until they have been matched with a child. I’m more of the mindset of using it as soon as your little heart feels paper pregnant and I felt paper pregnant from the second I saw Kai’s face, 17 months before I ever held him.

Last year on Mother’s Day, my sister was a few weeks away from giving birth to my niece. She had a big belly and no one would have ever disputed that (even though she was still pregnant) she was already a mother. I felt the same way! I was already Kai’s mother, I just wasn’t “due” yet.

I love being able to physically celebrate Mother’s Day with Kai this year, but I’m also missing someone, our second son, Lok! I’m Lok’s mama too! I’m a mama of two. I have one sweet boy who is sitting on my lap at this very moment (making it rather difficult to type), and the other who waits for us in China. They are equally my boys and they both have their mama’s heart! So for today, I celebrate my first technical Mother’s Day and look forward to the next where I’ll hold two precious boys in my arms!

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Day 9: My Favorite Mama

“A child born to another woman call me mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me.” -Judy Landers

My son frequently tells me that I’m his favorite mama. During his first few weeks home, he would tell me that he was going to go back to Guangzhou to be with his other mama (usually when he was mad at me). However, during the last month or so, he’ll say “I love my mama. This is my favorite mama.”

Initially, I thought it was the sweetest thing, until my mama brain really dissected that last sentence. This is my favorite mama. How awful for a 4 year old to have known more than one mama. I am his “favorite”, but I wasn’t his first. There was his biological mom (his belly mama), then (according to his recollection) two other foster moms. I am mama #4. Three other women were responsible for my child making his way to me. I am grateful to them and for them.

Adoption is rooted in loss, let that never be forgotten. But isn’t it beautiful to know that the Lord provides redemption through adoption. Each of those three other mamas were predestined to care for my son during times when my own heart ached for him. I pray that each of those mamas somehow knows that his fourth and final mama loves him more than she loves herself and that she is grateful for their actions every single day.

Day 7: Our Son’s Birthmother

The Saturday before Mother’s Day is always Birth Mother’s Day. In the case of many adoptions, both domestically and internationally, little to nothing is known about birthmothers. In the case of Chinese adoptions, like ours, nothing is known about birthmothers since child relinquishment is not allowed in China, thus causing birth families to abandon their babies.

So unfortunately we know personal nothing about Kai’s birthmother. Except, we do! We know that she took good care of herself while carrying our son. We know that she chose life. We know that she wanted him to survive because she left him in a very public, highly trafficked, and beautiful location. And we know that she created our most cherished treasure!

There are also many things that we assume. We assume that she must be beautiful, because Kai is adorable. We assume that she was saddened over the fact that she could not parent him herself. And we assume that she thinks about him daily and hopes that he is part of a loving family.

I think about her a lot; more often than you’d guess. I’ve named her Xiao (because it’s one of my favorite Chinese names). I envision her as a petite woman with a short bob style haircut with long bangs who wears giant sunglasses. I can never see her facial features, but she’s always wearing a long-sleeve striped shirt and black skinny jeans. This is, of course, entirely fictitious; we don’t know who she is. But, I truly wish that we did. I would love to send her a letter or an email or photos or a video showing how beautiful and well-loved her son is! I wish more than anything that I could reassure her decision provided a wonderful life for him and for us! I wish she could know that he is the answer to many, many years of prayer. I wish she could know that my heart breaks for her every day and that I am filled with gratitude for her.

Every night before Kai goes to sleep, we say our prayers together as a family. We conclude our prayer with saying “And bless, Yeye and Nana, and …. (all the rest of our giant family)…” and I always add “and we pray for our birthmother in Guangzhou”. I know Kai is too young to comprehend what exactly a “birthmother” is, but I want the language to be familiar to him and I want him to always be grateful to her for giving him life. There might be times in his life where is is hurt, disappointed, or angered by her choice, but I want to encourage him to always be grateful.

We love you, Xiao. Happy Birth Mother’s Day!

Day 5: Mentor Moms

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

If you haven’t yet picked up on it, adoption is tough. I will not lie to you. It is tough. There were days when I could not go to work because I literally could not get myself together emotionally and cried and felt panic attacks all day. Those were days when I had to reach out to my family and church family for prayer because the journey can seem way too overwhelming at times. And no matter how much anyone loves you or wants to be there for you, it’s all very challenging for most people to understand why you are having a complete emotional breakdown because you didn’t get a little piece of paper called “LOA”.

My mom is amazing mom of 6; point, blank, period. But guess what? She has never adopted, so even though she would try to do the best she could comforting me when she could sense that I was on the verge of a breakdown, she could only sympathize for me, she couldn’t empathize with me. Yes, she too was longing for her grandson to come home, but she wasn’t going through the same journey as me. My sister was (biologically) pregnant at the same time that I was paper pregnant with Kai and we used to frequently compare how different our journeys were. She said something very poignant during one particular phone calls, when I wasn’t doing well. She said something to the effect of “It must be tough for you because you don’t know where your baby is or if he’s well. So long as I eat and am safe, I know that my baby is being taken care of. I see my stomach growing, so I know that she’s growing. But its not the same for you. I can’t imagine how scary that is”. And she was right! It was scary and she could not fully comprehend what I was going through, the same way I’ll never know why my mom loved the sensation of her babies having hiccups when we were still in utero. I can imagine, but I’ll never really know.

When taking on a challenge like adoption, you have to have a tribe. And not just a tribe of friends, family, and church family to rally around and support you. YOU NEED A MENTOR MAMA. You need someone who has trekked Mt. Adoption, reached the top, descended with her baby strapped to her back, and survived to tell the tale. You have to have that woman (or women!), it’s an absolute must!

I thank God every day that he blessed me with an amazing one, Kelley! But he didn’t just gave me Kelley, who at the time, was working on China adoption #2 (she also has 2 bio kids and is now working on China baby #3!), He also gave me Jenny who, just like me, was working on her first adoption. Now, Jenny wasn’t so much a mentor mom to me in the beginning, more like a fellow adoption sojourner, but she finished her adoption a few months before I did, so she became mentor-esque at the end. Poor Kelley was stuck answering question upon question, upon question during most of our adoption processes. She gave both Jenny and I tips, tricks, and shortcuts to get from A to B in the shortest, least painful way possible. But more than just being someone who prevented our social workers from receiving 1,000 daily emails from us, she felt the journey alongside us.

For the last 18 months, Kelley, Jenny, and I have maintained a daily group texting dialogue. We have been frustrated together, annoyed together, disappointed together, confused together, elated together, and have cried together many, many times. We’ve cried happy tears, like when Kelley went back to China and was united with her daughter. And anxious tears like when I FaceTimed with Jenny and prayed over her right before she boarded the plane to get her daughter. And we’ve even sobbed ugly tears like when I finally received my Letter of Acceptance for my son after a grueling 94 day wait. Yes, others can feel all of those emotions for you too, but only some one who has walked that same path can truly feel exactly what you are feeling. And when you have that, it’s absolutely amazing. I’m tearing up right now just thinking about it!

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The funny thing is that Kelley is a SAHM of 5 (4 home, 1 waiting in China). She lives in Georgia and has taught me many things about the mysterious South. Jenny will soon be a SAHM of 2 bio boys, and 1 China princess. She lives and Wisconsin where it apparently snows half of the year, and where cheese is something of importance. I’m a stereotypical SoCal health conscious, yoga practicing, Eastern medicine loving, mom of 1 tiny China emperor (with another soon to come). We are nothing alike. We all have very different accents. We eat very different things. And we dress our babies very differently. But we are all China Moms, we all serve Jesus, and all 3 of our hearts have been broken for adoption. This is the glue that has created an unbelievable friendship. This is a friendship that expands almost the full width of the US and has continued to thrive despite us being in 3 different time zones.

If  adoption is on your heart, you need this. You need to find a Kelley and a Jenny. (Just don’t take mine, please.) And do you know how we found each other? Yup, Instagram! Good old social media. Make social media work for good; reach out to someone! Don’t feel like your bothering them or that you’re a stalker, because they’ve likely been in your shoes. We all start at the same place, the starting line. And the funny thing about being an adoptive mom is that you are thrown into lifelong adoption advocacy, that’s just how it works. Particularly if you adopt outside of your race (like me!) people are always going to wonder why your baby doesn’t look like you, and that’s not a bad thing! You share your little message with the world.

So, if adoption is truly on your heart and you don’t know which questions to ask, just find someone. Click through the #adoptiorocks hashtag and start stalking some people. And if you can’t find anyone, leave me a message. This is not a mountain you want or need to tackle without someone who knows the way.

I mean, who else but a mentor mom could decode this?

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