Day 14: Adoption Movie Night

As I mentioned in an earlier post in this series, there was one primary reason why we chose international adoption, Stuck. Stuck is a documentary that follows 3 families adopting from 3 different countries: Haiti, Vietnam, and Ethiopia. I stumbled upon this documentary by sheer accident (aka God’s providence) and it has impacted our lives more than any film ever has. It was what moved us from our pursuit of domestic infant private adoption to the crazy rough and tumble journey of international adoption. We knew that our child was somewhere out there just waiting for us!

Back in 2013 the Both Ends Burning organization took Stuck on a bus tour to several cities across the country. They came to San Diego and I served as a volunteer encouraging people to attend the showing (and I think I worked the merchandise booth for a bit too). My husband and I made our families to come along so they could understand a bit more about the journey that we were about to embark on. It was an emotional eye opener for everyone!

I could go on and on about this film, but I’d rather you see it for yourself! Here’s my plan, let’s have Stuck movie night! This  Saturday, May 16th, is National Step Forward for Orphans Day, so let’s set aside Saturday night to watch Stuck together! There are a few ways that you can watch:

  1. Netflix! Yes, it’s on Netflix, just type in Stuck (I think it’s the second choice that pops up);
  2. Click here http://buy.stuckdocumentary.com and download the film, it costs $9.99 and it is soooo worth every penny! (This is actually how I watched it the first time around) or
  3. Pop in your DVD and watch it again for the millionth time (like I’ll be doing).

Plan a date night-in with your husband and cuddle on the couch with some tissues. Invite a girlfriend over to watch it with you. Drive to your parents house and watch it with them. Just WATCH IT! I guarantee that you’ll like it. So, once you’ve decided to join in on this little movie night (because you know you need to!), let me know in a comment below or on social media. I truly hope you watch the film, it is so powerful and highlights its tagline so well, every child deserves a family. 

Here’s the teaser again in case you missed it earlier. Now, go run and pen in Stuck on your calendar for this Saturday night! #StepForward2015

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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 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 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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Day 4: Waiting Children Challenge

If you’ve landed here, then you have at least some vague interest in adoption. Perhaps its something you haven’t really considered personally, but you’ve somehow found yourself following a few adoptive moms on social media and are interested by their stories. Maybe you’re ready to jump head first into the adoption pool, but your spouse hasn’t even put his/her swimsuit on yet. Or maybe you’re in the middle of an adoption or you’re an adoptive parent already. Whoever you are and however you stumbled here, I I have a challenge for you today!

My challenge is simple:

  1. Visit one (or all!) of the following sites
    1. http://www.nohandsbutours.com/children-wait/
    2. http://www.rainbowkids.com
    3. http://waitingchildinfo.com
    4. http://newdaycreations.com/foster/kids/kids_bj.htm
  2. Choose one child who (for one reason or another) catches your eye
  3. Pray for that child for the next 2 weeks straight

I want you to check out these sites for a few reasons. First, to see the sheer quantity of waiting children. Second, to see how minor (or sometimes major) the special needs of these children are. Third, and most important of all, to see their faces! I can throw out statistics to you left and right about how many children are left orphaned worldwide, etc. but no statistic could break your heart the way the faces of these children can. They aren’t stats, they’re kids! And every child deserves a family.

Perhaps adoption is not appropriate for you at this present time, but maybe it is. Maybe you just need someone to give you a gentle nudge towards the adoption path. Maybe you’re interested, but you don’t know where to start; start here! Maybe you don’t want to adopt, that’s fine too, but you can still pray for waiting children or share this post with someone you know who is interested in adoption.

So, if you’re ready to take the challenge with me, here are a few specific things to pray for:

  • the child’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual well being;
  • the child’s caretakers;
  • that the child’s daily needs are being met (warmth, food, water, clothing, basics!);
  • that the child feels loved and precious;
  • that somewhere God is preparing a forever family for that child;
  • that all obstacles between that child and his/her forever family would be minimal and that God would be glorified even through those obstacles!

One of my favorite adoption quotes is by a pastor named David Platt, it reads: Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It’s easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.

That’s it. That’s my challenge, please take it. If you choose to join this challenge, leave a comment below or let me know on Instagram (@leftylex) and let me know the name of the child and which site he/she is on.  Let’s commit to a full two weeks, so encourage and remind one another to be steadfast in your prayers. My son was once one of these waiting children, and I have received several emails from families who prayed for him for months on end. What an amazing gift!

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Day 2: Adoption Acronyms & Jargon

There are so many people, acronyms, and terms associated with adoption that those involved in adoption (particularly international!) quickly learn the language of Adoptionese. For example, my husband and I are at the very beginning of our second adoption, so here is what I might say to fellow adoptive mom concerning my current status:

Adoptionese: We wanted to boomerang ASAP and were just cleared by our LL SW. Our HS SW is coming to do our update on 5/22 with Kai’s next post-placement. We’re shooting to be DTC by June, but hoping to be LOI in a couple of weeks because we think we found someone on the SN boards! So, hoping for a quick PA and the dreaded LOA. Lord willing, we’ll have TA and be in GZ before mosquito season!

Regular Joe Translation: After Kai’s adoption, we knew that we wanted to adopt another as soon as possible. We reapplied to Lifeline Children’s Service, our adoption agency, and were just given clearance by our social worker! Now we need to refresh our adoption documents that were used with Kai’s adoption. So, our home study social worker is scheduled to meet with us on 5/22 to update our home inspection, interviews, etc. on the same day that she’ll be doing Kai’s 6 month post-adoption placement visit. We’re hoping that all of our home study updates, references, background clearances, etc. will be ready to send to China by June. But, as all adoptive moms do, I’ve been obsessed with browsing the special needs waiting children boards and we think we found our Lok! We’re hoping to submit our Letter of Intent and corresponding paperwork in a couple of weeks. We’re also hoping for a quick Pre-Approval after our paperwork is sent and hoping that our Letter of Acceptance wait won’t be too long! Lord willing, we’ll have Travel Approval to schedule our flights to China and will be at the US Consulate in Guangzhou before next summer! 

See the difference?! Thank God for acronyms and jargon. Well once you understand it, that is. Since I only have first-hand experience with a Chinese adoption, I’ll clue you in on our jargon. Each country has its own requirements, so terms that we use for China may or may not be used in Korea, etc.  adoptions. But all international adoptions will be much more similar in style to each other then they would be to domestic adoptions. We are, after all, dealing with two countries… and the dreaded Hauge!

Here’s your Adoptionese 101:

AP: Adoptive Parent

CA: Consulate Appointment (your scheduled date and time at the US Consulate where your new little becomes an official US citizen)

CCCWA: The China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (where all the action happens on the China side of your adoption)

China Mom: A mom adopting from China (yes, we know that we are [usually] not Chinese, but it’s how we refer to each other)

Dossier: a collection of an insanely crazy amount of personal documents, writing, financials, photos, criminal clearances, medical reports, homestudy, etc. This takes forever to finally make ready.

DTC: Dossier to China (your dossier is finally sent to China! This must be done within 6 months of receiving your PA)

Gotcha Day (the day you finally meet your little; also referred to as Forever Family Day)

GZ: Guangzhou (a city in southeastern China which hosts the US Consulate; all families travel here)

Hauge: The Hauge Convention (the reason why international adoption takes so long and is so expensive, courtesy of the UN. Me no likey, you can read about it here: http://travel.state.gov/content/adoptionsabroad/en/hague-convention.html)

HS: Homestudy (a collection of documents to prove your family’s trustworthiness and emotional, physical, financial, and psychological readiness to add a new member; this also includes several interviews, trainings, book reports, and an inspection of your home)

LOA: Letter of Acceptance (the magical document that give you confirmation of your match, but it’s much more important that PA. You’re generally in China about 2 months after receiving this document)

LOI: Letter of Intent (the paperwork you send to China once you found your child)

LID: Log in Date (the date that China receives your dossier and logs you into the CCCWA system)

OOT: Out of Translation (hooray, your dossier has been translated from English to Mandarin and can be reviewed by the CCCWA.)

PA: Pre-Approval (China’s approval of your family pursuing your new little)

SF: Special Focus Child (a child with a difficult to place medical special need or an older child)

SN: Special Needs Child (a child with a medical/cognitive special need; almost every China adoptee falls into this category)

SW: Social Worker (often your favorite and least favorite person in the world depending on the day and the news they have to share)

TA: Travel Approval (pack your bags, you’re going to China!)

Whew! Clear as mud, right? Hopefully this was a teeny bit helpful. I’ll be referencing these terms in upcoming posts, but I’ll try to include their snippet definition whenever I use them. There’ll be a quiz in the next post, so I hope you took notes!

Day 1: Why China?

The one question I get asked about our adoption, more than any other is probably: why China? It’s a simple answer really.  Chinese food has always been my favorite! Kidding.. but not on the “favorite” food part, I do love me some Chinese food, yum!

When Ryan and I initially decided to build our family through adoption, we thought that we’d adopt through the local foster care system. We attended 36 hours of education/training over 6 weeks to complete the PRIDE course offered through the County of San Diego. The information was great, but it just wasn’t our path. Fostering just didn’t “feel right” for our family. Now, I would absolutely never discourage anyone from pursuing that path, it just wasn’t our path. It might be yours, but it just wasn’t ours. There is no “one size fits all” adoption road.

After deciding that foster to adopt was not for us, we settled on domestic infant adoption. We opened a savings account for our adoption and started shopping for adoption agencies. I’m pretty sure that I “liked” every single US adoption agency that had a Facebook page and soon my feed was flooded with nothing but adoption related posts. So, it was no surprise when my Facebook ads and suggested “likes” became entirely adoption related. One particular day Facebook suggested that I like “Stuck”, a documentary about international adoption by Both Ends Burning. International adoption?! No thanks, there are kids here in the US who need families. I hid the ad and went along. The next morning the same blasted ad popped in my feed. Again, I hid the ad. Then a couple of days later, there it was again! That stupid ad and the 1:59 trailer would not leave me alone! Fine, I’ll watch you! Click. One minute and fifty-nine seconds later, every preconception that I had surrounding international adoption was shattered. I felt my heart break and spirit move all at the same time. This. Was. Our. Path!

I’ll link to it here and warn you to either grab tissues or a paper and pen to write your Congressmen!

That documentary in a nutshell is “why China?”. Only it’s not. China is not one of the countries featured in Stuck. They show families adopting from Haiti, Ethiopia, and Vietnam, but not China. But for some reason after downloading and sobbing through the documentary, I knew my baby was waiting for me in China. I can’t explain how I knew, but I just knew. To be fair, I also thought a sweet little baby girl (who we would’ve named Jia Evangeline) was waiting for me, but we’ll save that for another post!

So my only explanation for “why China?” is because God ordained it to be so. He knew our deep desires to be parents and he knew that there was a little pint-sized, chubby-cheeked, flat-headed toddler on the other side of the world who needed us to be his parents. I am so glad that I was not responsible for writing the story of my amazing adoptive, transracial family. Our story is more heartbreakingly beautiful than I could put into words. And that my friends, is why China.