Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Hope into Action: A Story of International Adoption ~ a guest post

Hello readers! Today it's a special Q & A here on the blog with my good friend Michelle, who so graciously agreed to share her family's story of international adoption. Enjoy!

My friend Sue asked me to be a guest blogger about our family’s adoption journeys. I am honored and excited to share the amazing blessing that adoption has been for us. Before we get to the Q & A, let me give you some background on our family. My husband Tim and I are teenage sweethearts and have been married for 25 years. Wow, that makes me feel old! Anyway, until a few years ago we had three biological sons and all was good. We made God and church the priority for our family. We lived in the suburbs of Chicago in a comfortable home. Tim worked full time while I worked part time. The kids had kid activities. Generally, we were an average family with typical challenges. We had a happy, comfortable life. Then four years ago we embarked on our journey to adopt a daughter from Ethiopia. A few months ago, we again boarded the coaster of adoption. This time we’re adopting a son from China.

Q: After having three children, why did you choose adoption?
A: The short answer is that God wanted us to care for children that did not have a family. The long answer is that our church is committed to living out what God teaches, and that is to care for his orphans. There were several families that had adopted or were in the adoption process. Seeing them reach out to children from hard places, bring them into their families and love them was like seeing Jesus at work. It was clear to us through a series of events that we were to do the same. So we set aside our comfortable status quo and dove into unchartered waters to make a difference that would have a lasting impact on the life of a child. What we have since discovered is that our live has been immeasurably blessed by our daughter.

Q: Why international adoption?
A: There are kids on every continent and in every nation that need a family. There are nearly as many opinions about adoption as there are children that need a family. Alright, I might be exaggerating a little, but it is very real that people have very strong opinions about adoption. I don’t think there is any one, right answer for every family.

We chose international adoption for several reasons. Programs that support orphans in the U.S. are more common and capable than those in other nations. Although being an orphan is always a tragedy that no child should ever experience, an orphan in the U.S. is more likely to receive care than orphans in other nations. Also, after reviewing many profiles of U.S.-based children each had specific guidance that did not fit our family structure. In several cases the child was recommended to be the only child or the youngest child in a family. That did not work for us. In the case of our in-process adoption from China, a primary reason for international adoption was that our soon-to-be son simply captured my heart when I saw his picture on the waiting-child list.

Q: How did family and friends react to your decision to adopt? What did you say to naysayers if there were any?
A: Each time our children’s responses reflected their personalities. The first time we heard comments like: Will she like it in our family? Will she be able to make friends when she gets here? Can we afford this? Will you love her the same way you love us? This time around the comments are different because our son will be older when he comes home and he will not speak English. Instead, there is uncertainty about having a brother, who is a stranger, in our home and being unable to communicate with him.

Our extended family initially was very surprised because we had never talked about adopting and our final decision was made quickly. It was only a few weeks between first floating the idea and making the final decision. This is also true of our current adoption. In general, naysayers just don’t say anything. Maybe they remember their mothers teaching them, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” There were some in our inner-circle that played “devil’s advocate” to ensure we had thought through all the ups and downs, but once we made our decision, even they were very supportive.

Q: Can you describe the adoption process?
A: The adoption process varies greatly depending on whether it is a domestic or international adoption, and if international, the chosen country. Our experience is international adoption of an unknown child from Ethiopia, and a now a known child from China. When the child is unknown the family does paperwork, waits to be matched with a child, then travels to meet the child and bring her home. When the child is chosen from a waiting child list, the family has selected a child, does paperwork, then travels to meet the child and bring him home.

Of course, this is a vast oversimplification of the adoption process! There is a lot of paperwork, waiting, more paperwork and more waiting all the while feeling somewhat in the dark about the next step. The adoption agency is essential to navigating through the process. More information about the process can be found at most agency websites. To see more detail visit Children’s House International. You can also view the Asia Waiting Children listings while you are there.

In addition to paperwork, financial obligations are required to be met throughout the process. Adoption costs include a home study, domestic and foreign government fees, orphanage fees, travel, training, and more. There are definitely some misconceptions about the cost of adoption so anyone considering adoption should get the facts from agency websites. We funded our first adoption from savings. This time we are fundraising to offset some of the expenses. We estimate the total cost to be about $32,000 and our fundraising goal is $20,000. We have had many generous supporters leaving some amazingly encouraging messages at our fundraising site. See what they have had to say at our site, Ciochon Family Adoption From China.

Q: What adoption challenges did you experience or are you experiencing?
A: As with any worthwhile undertaking there are challenges both big and small. One of the challenges with adoption that I believe is less tangible is the underlying sense of being in limbo from start to finish. Until that child is home, there is so much uncertainty and waiting that an unsettled cloud hovers over everything. It’s like partially holding your breath for months on end all the while being uncertain when you can breathe deeply and freely again.

Each day comes with questions such as: When will that paperwork get approved? How will I be able to communicate with him? Will we have enough money at each stage in the process so that we don’t delay it? Did I get the email that we've been matched with our daughter - the one I've been checking for five times a day for the last several months? What if the paperwork I send to the U.S. government is not filled out properly? Will he have attachment issues? Are we biting off more than we can chew?

And the beyond-measure benefits of these challenges include: Coming to the end of myself and being reliant on a big God that is faithful, the sweet words of a child’s prayer saying thank you for my family, visiting the doctor for a checkup and knowing she is healthy and well-nourished, observing the boys caring so sweetly for their sister and having my heart just about explode with joy.

Challenges? Yes; Worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

Tim and Michelle with their daughter in Ethiopia
Q: Describe your feelings/emotions when you first met your daughter? How did it feel to bring her home?
A: After five months of paperwork, we waited to be matched with our daughter for another year before getting our referral phone call. On that day which by the way was my birthday, our agency sent us an email with photos. Tim and I sat at the computer like the expectant parents we were…double clicked on the file…there she was! We both gasped and whispered, “she’s beautiful!” Our hearts were captured at that very moment.

About six weeks later we were in the agency’s transition home in Ethiopia. It was a large room with indoor-outdoor green carpet and a few toys. The coordinator asked the nanny to bring our daughter to this room. The nanny, holding her, stopped in the doorway without crossing the threshold and my eyes saw those many pictures which I had been staring at for weeks just spring to life. There she is! It was just as momentous as when the doctor announced three times over, “it’s a boy!” I remember holding her and feeling her warmth, her presence, cradling her head in my hand.

Unfortunately, we had to leave her at the transition home for an additional three months after we met her. On our second trip to Ethiopia we picked her up and had her with us at the transition home which was amazing! Then on her first birthday, we landed in the U.S. and brought her home and she met her brothers! What a birthday gift!!

She's home! Her brothers greeted us at the airport.
 Q: How do you or will you teach your children about their home country?
A: We already talk about Ethiopia regularly. She knows it is in Africa and she enjoys Ethiopian food even when it’s spicy. She also has more than one friend who was also adopted from Ethiopia at about the same time as her. We hope to return there some day but time will tell whether we will be able to make that happen.

About China, we plan to take up some strong traditions especially related to the Chinese New Year which is a huge celebration in China. There are other festivals and traditions that we have learned about in our pre-adoption training that we would like to begin observing. Another excellent resource is being near a large city with both Ethiopian and Chinese culture to experience.

Q: Describe a typical day in the life of a working mom with 4 soon to be 5 children?
A: LOL! The days begin early and end late especially with children at varying ages. The younger ones are up early and the older ones are up late. And they typically all need mom for something. We rely heavily on being organized and coordinated. I have a corporate job which I've had for 25 years. Due to the anticipated additional cost of having a fifth child, I have added hours to my work schedule. I now work 30 hours a week but I have the ability to work from home most of the time. Without this flexibility I would not be able to do what I do. My commute time from work to dinner preparation is about 30 seconds. Overall, it’s challenging but it works and I wouldn’t have it any other way!! Unless of course I won the lottery and I could allocate all my time to the family.

Q: Do you have any words of advice for prospective adoptive parents?
A: Being a parent of any child, whether biological or adopted, will stretch and grow you in ways you never anticipated! There are some unique challenges with parenting a child who comes from a hard place. That child will almost surely experience grief, loss and doubt to some degree at some point in their development. Don’t try to handle these challenges without the support and help of people who have walked in your shoes or from seasoned professionals. Also, dear prospective adoptive parents, you are a fulfilling a unique role in God’s family by caring for an orphan; God Bless!

Thank you Michelle for sharing your family's journey. I can't wait to meet the newest member of your family. If you would like to help this amazing family bring their son home, you can do so at Ciochon Family Adoption From China or for more information and updates, join their Facebook group, Operation "Bjorn" Adopting from China.  Also, if you are a leMOMade reader and would like to share your story, please send me an email by clicking the link in the left column.

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