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!

IMG_0575

Advertisements

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 8: Aging Out

Kids in the US “age out of the system” at 18. Could you imagine turning 18 and having to play adult without the love and support of a family behind you? I’m 31 and I feel that I’ve needed my mom more than ever over the past 2 years! You always needs parents and a family no matter how old you are. However, 18 is not the universal “age out” age. In China, 14 is the unfortunate number that children (children, not even legal adults) age out. So on the 14th birthday of a Chinese orphan, he or she is no longer eligible for adoption. This is not the case in the US; so long as a family out their wants you to join it, you can be adopted at age 102!

Could you imagine being 14 and knowing that you will never know the love of a family? Could you imagine being 13 and just watching those months tick on by? It breaks my heart! When we traveled to China for Kai’s adoption there were two 13 year olds (in our group of 20 families) who adopted 13 year olds. I cried so hard! It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. I made my husband promise me that we would be one of those families adopting a 13 year old sometime in the future.

To adopt a 13 year old is no easy feat. 13 year olds acquire language more slowly, they can fully process what an international adoption is and the finality of it all (they even have a say in the matter, if they don’t want to be adopted, they don’t have to be!) , and… they are teenagers! The dreaded t-word. But! They are in need of families too. They have (likely) been waiting for years on end for their forever families to find them. Just this week I saw that Preliminary Approval of Adoption was given for a 13 year old on one of the Facebook Advocacy groups that I’m a part of. I was elated! One less orphan, one more cherished son!

So, if you’re interested in adoption but are thinking to yourself “my kids are grown, I don’t want to head to the starting line all over again”, the good news is you don’t have to! Adopt a 13 year old. Allow them to experience all of the magic of middle and high school as a part of your loving family before sending them away for college. They’ll come back once their degree is done just like your bio kids did (wink, wink). Oh, if you fall in this category (and even if you don’t), plead consider the older or aging out child.

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 6: Expect the Unexpected

When considering adoption, one must always expect the unexpected. Yup. I have yet to find the magical adoptive mom who floated quickly and happily along in her adoption without running into a single hiccup. Boy, do those hiccups come! They come in the forms of documents going missing in the mail or that physicians ignoring your requests to complete extra medical forms. Hiccups can come from missing an initial on an important item… or forgetting to include a payment! I encountered so many hiccups during my first adoption that I thought I was the star in some cruel slap-stick adoption comedy! And with one successful adoption under my belt now, I’m praying to encounter less hiccups this time around.

But hiccups are only one of the many “unexpecteds” to expect during adoption. For example, we’re currently in the LOI (Letter of Intent to Adopt) and home study update phase of our adoption. And although it’s only been about 18 months since doing all of this for Kai’s adoption, I completely forgot the amount of time and effort that it takes! How did I forget this?! And the sense of urgency that seems to completely control your body and mind once you’ve identified that your child is living on the other side of the world away from you. Your little hands can’t type all of the emails and forms fast enough to get your baby home! And who on earth expects to fall completely in love with someone you’ve never met simply by looking at his/her photo?! Would you ever imagine that a giant hole somehow grows in your heart once you see your baby’s face and only he/she can fill it? It’s a crazy emotional overload, I tell you!

But the unexpecteds are also amazing. They come in the form of new friendships with adoptive moms. They come in the form of a donation check from an old friend in the mail. They come in the form of an encouraging email from a stranger. They come in the form of a “hang in their” gift from an adult adoptee. Then they come in the form of traveling to your child. And they come in the form of holding your baby in your arms for the first time. And they come in the form of your heart healing.

Yes, expect the unexpected. Praise God that we are so finite and that His ways are so majestic.

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!

photo-3

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?

photo-4

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!

photo-2

Day 3: Adoption Costs

Oh, adoption costs. The myths that grow around this topic! We always get the, “Oh, isn’t adoption really expensive?!” question. And I know that behind that question people are secretly wondering just how much money your family makes. Visions of celebrity adoptive parents come to mind, so they think that all adoptive parents must be rolling in the dough. Not in our case, I promise!  The answer in short is, yes, it’s expensive but it’s broken over many small (and some not so small) expenses. You aren’t expected to sit down a write a check for $30K at the beginning of the process. That would be rough and likely exclude 90% of hopeful adoptive families.

I receive so many questions regarding the cost of adoption and cost misconceptions, that I will do my best to post our ongoing expenses with our current adoption. I want to do this to encourage those of you who are considering adoption but are scared of the high cost. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. If you want something badly enough, you find ways to get it.

I hate to be insensitive, but I always laugh when people say that they’d love to adopt, but the cost is just too much. Yet, those are the same people who drop money on designer labels, getting mani/pedis weekly, can’t live without their daily Starbucks, etc. There are ways that you can cut lifestyle costs. It’s not glamorous and you may have to look like a tight wad for a while, but it’s only for a season and it is manageable. Don’t let the cost of adoption be a cop out. If you really want to adopt, then do it. There are plenty of grants and adoption loans that adoptive families are eligible to apply for once their home studies have been completed. And there are always fundraisers! You’d be amazed at how generous even strangers are when they find out that you’re trying to grow your family through adoption. Trust me!

To give a more detailed picture of what adoption expenses look like, here is the actual breakdown of what our family’s adoption expenses were this week:

Kai’s 6 Month Post-Placement Visit: $400
Passport Photos (3 sets): $39.12
Livescans (2): $170
Homestudy Fee: $1000
Agency Fee: $2383.75

As you can see, not all adoption expenses go directly to your adoption agency and even fewer go to the country that you’re adopting from! I’ll throw out some real numbers here and say that our orphanage donation for Kai was about $6K and our total adoption was over $30K. These countries aren’t getting rich off of adoption, folks! Most of the adoption fees go to your agency (of course, your social workers deserve a salary too!), training, the US government (!), and other miscellaneous third parties (livescan, etc.). Checks get sent to many places, not just one.

Hopefully this helps clarify the misconception about adoption costs a bit. And hopefully this helps shed some light as to how adoptive parents can actually afford adoption; many little fees, not one giant fee.

*Note: I’m speaking strictly from an international adoption point of view. The fees to complete a private domestic adoption or a foster-to-adopt adoption differ greatly! If your income isn’t great enough to satisfy the international adoption qualifications, then adopting through the foster care system might be a great option for you.

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!