The birth and life of this blog gravitated around our long and tedious adoption process of two beautiful girls from Haiti. I blogged every detail, good days and bad, victories and stumbling blocks, from beginning to end, along the way. The one constant in my prayers throughout the entire process was always centered on an end result of flying out of Haiti with two adopted daughters and getting them home to America. The constant issues and delays during the first two years with the Haitian Government were difficult enough to handle. But the unexpected issues and delays that arose in the final months with the United States Government, my government, were beyond comprehension. After 2 years and 3 months the struggles had become so difficult that I began to think it would not happen. I feared my girls simply would never come home. I worried that perhaps my adoption case would be one of those worst-case scenarios you only read about. Then, just as unexpectedly as God laid it on my heart to adopt, He opened up the final door and it was done. The girls came home!
I feel compelled to offer this as encouragement for anyone adopting internationally, from countries like Haiti with tedious adoption processes. Particularly for people like my sweet sister (sort of, by marriage, okay it's what I call her) Gina who is in the process of adopting a special girl named Benia from Haiti. And for another wonderful family, the Ledford's who are in the process of adopting my Jesula's cousin from Haiti, a special girl named Christella.
It almost seems impossible until it's done. And we know, with God nothing is impossible. So don't even think about giving up hope. The Day, Your Day, God’s Day is coming!
I feel I would be remiss if I didn't share a little bit about what to expect starting The Day After. Let’s say your child comes home on a Sunday. Just what happens starting on Monday?
Well, a funny thing happened. The journey didn't end when the girls finally came home. It really just began. It didn't get any easier either. It just changed directions. When you are knee deep in one battle, you don't think about challenges that lay ahead. For 27 months my eyes were clearly focused on the trees on the horizon. And, not until the day when I finally reached the trees, did I realize there was a forest in front of me.
Let me tell you a sure thing. You can write it down. Bringing an adoptive child from an impoverished country like Haiti into your American home life is not easy. Actually, it's very hard. It's hard for everyone involved. If anyone tells you different they are lying. I don't know why they are lying but they are. Maybe they want you to believe, like everything else about them, that they are perfect. I'm certainly not perfect and thankfully God doesn't expect me to be. Nevertheless, the truth is, post adoption adaptation is harder than you could possibly imagine.
The age of adoptees plays a major role in this challenge. Infants and toddlers (special needs aside) obviously present the easiest transition. The world is still new to them anyway. However, as the adoptee matures to young child and to teenager, the difficulty in adapting increases exponentially. The older a child becomes, the more entrenched they are in their native language, culture, beliefs, and so on. And the more entrenched they are in these things, the more difficult it becomes for them to learn a new language, adapt to a new culture, much less to change what they believe about things, lots of things, almost everything.
Likely the biggest challenge is developing an understanding of unconditional love and creating trust. How long does it take for ordinary people, from the same culture, speaking the same language, to develop unconditional love and trust? Try to imagine how hard it would be without those common denominators. Throw in the fact that your newly adopted child doesn't really know you (or you them). For that matter, they don't really know anybody. They have been plucked out of their environment, their comfort zone, thrown into a whole new world, where they don't know anyone, and they can't understand what anyone is saying. How scary is that? They have no idea what to expect from you. They don't know how you will treat them. They don't know how you will respond if they mess up? The have worries like what happens if they break something, anything, a drinking glass? They may worry you will you get mad, beat them, or even send them back to where they came from. They don't know for sure if living with you is a permanent arrangement (even if they decide they want to). They will be searching for a new comfort zone. These same trust principles apply to everyone they come into contact with. Take it slow branching out into extended family, and in slowly increasing portions. Remember, they barely know you, and they don't know your family, or friends at all. Don't expect them to be excited to meet your family and friends just because your family and friends can't wait to meet them. Actually, expect them to be nervous, even scared about meeting people. Friends need to wait. Explain this process with family and friends. It is very important that they spend the vast majority of time with just your primary family unit. They desperately need parenting, which they likely have never had. They need consistent rules and discipline. Avoid the easy trap of thinking their finally here let's give them everything. Treat them the same way you have your biological children (unless you failed at that). They need normal rewards, normal birthday and Christmas presents, etc. They also need to be told no. Early on they need to learn the proper order of working, earning money, tithing, helping others, and then buying things for self within reason. They need to hear constantly that they are loved. They need hugs. Affection is something they likely have never genuinely experienced, so don't expect too much too soon in return. They crave for attention and reassurance, but letting their guard down and risking attachment is a very slow process. They gravitate and feel most comfortable or safe with their primary care-giver, the parent they spend the most time with. I could give you hundreds of examples that occur daily that exasperate the challenge of unconditional love and trust. Only with time, the elimination of the language barrier, and with consistent, patient, and proper parenting will you begin to develop a comprehension of unconditional love and earn trust. And again, depending on the age of the adoptee this will take many months, even years.
The other major challenge is the language barrier. And this goes way beyond it's being an obstacle for relationship building, love and trust. There are countless things that we do on a daily basis just to function that have to be learned by an adoptive child. Learning these while not being able to communicate through speaking is extremely difficult. I believe it is advantageous to get them into public school as quickly as possible so that they have daily ESL instruction. A child that arrives with very limited knowledge of English that is quickly enrolled into daily ESL class will begin to feel comfortable attempting to put short, basic sentences together in 3 to 4 months. At first they will be hesitant to speak for fear of not saying something correctly. This is one of many fears that you must be proactive in helping them overcome. In about 6 months or so you should be able to communicate pretty effectively. However things like sentence structure and tenses will still not be right. Sometimes they will understand what they hear but not be able to formulate and speak a response. A huge caution is, as they begin to progress with speaking English it's easy to assume they understand things. We have learned that most of the time, when we think they understand us, they really don't. And that works both ways. You and your child will constantly be repeating things. And that is a good thing. Your child will be very hesitant to repeat things for fear they may have said it wrong and therefore appear dumb. Encourage repeating as a natural part of the learning process to insure understanding. They need constant reassurance and encouragement. Finally, our girls' middle school ESL teacher, who has been a gift from God, told us that it takes 2-3 years for most ESL students to gain a solid understanding and ability to effectively communicate in English.
I have just scratched the surface on the biggest challenges of adapting as a family with the addition of an internationally adopted child. I assure you there are hundreds of little challenges every single day that we never even thought about in advance.
The adoption process, getting to The Day, is perhaps the most difficult challenge you will ever face. That said, the post adoption adaption process, beginning The Day After, albeit different, may even be more demanding. The good news is, once they are here, believe it or not, you immediately and completely forget about the agonies of the adoption process.
As for us, and our girls, seven months after The Day? We are still on our journey through the forest that we didn't even know was there, with no end in sight. Both girls are doing great, their English improves every day, and they seem to be happy happy happy. And you know what? All along the way, when you least expect it, or when you most need it, God sprinkles in little blessings that make the journey so worthwhile!
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13
A Few Recent Pictures
The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for food. ~ Mother Teresa
The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh