My heart was pounding so loudly I knew everyone in the courtroom could hear it. All around me people, who I never met, were speaking in Ukrainian about my husband and myself. I knew that the Judge had the power to simply refuse our adoption. Then, as I sat not understanding a word of what was being said, the Judge began asking the children questions. What were they saying? Had they changed their minds about becoming part of our family? Then, suddenly snapping me out of my thoughts, the gavel hit the table and the judge declared that we were now the parents of four more children.
It’s been three years since Artur, Vlad, Anna, and Victoria joined our family. I’ll never forget the feeling of excitement mixed with the fear of the unknown. Then, we were told that only Anna would be permitted to leave the orphanage while the others would need to stay a few more weeks until all paperwork was completed. I was heartbroken as we said goodbye to our children and returned to the apartment. I would spend the next few weeks with only Anna, while my husband returned home and the other children awaited their documents. It would be six long weeks until we all returned to the United States together to become one very large tribe.
Adoption is a beautiful process, yet incredibly difficult. Would-be parents, waiting to hear if a child is available may wait years. Foster to adoptive parents soon discover the challenges of our social work system while dealing with the realities of trauma in children. Biological moms mourn the loss of their child. But never forget, however motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle.
Now, three years after our adoption, I have a better, more clear, perspective on adoption. It’s a wonderful way to form a family if you have the faith to believe God for miracles.
To be an adoptive parent you will need to push past your fears, step out of your comfort zone, and learn to love unconditionally. No matter how simple your adoption might seem, all adoption is predicated upon loss. The loss of the ability to bear your own children, the loss of never knowing a biological parent, and even the loss of friends. Yes, adoption is for the brave at heart!
Before we began our adoption journey I read books, watched documentaries, attended classes and spoke with other adoptive parents. But nothing prepared me for those first few months of bonding as a family unit...our tribe. So I want to share some of the things I have learned along the way…
1. I wish I would have reacted less and prayed more.
Emotions were all over the place those first few months. Our biological children and our adoptive children had to bond. In my fantasy world, I thought this would be as easy as going to summer camp and kids making friends. Nope! But through role-play (yes, we did!), lots of open communication, and spending time together we have witnessed our children become the best of friends.
2. Expect the Unexpected!
Our new tribe members (adopted children) knew hunger, loneliness, and survival. We would wake to find that they had got up in the middle of the night, just to eat. I found rotten food hidden under beds and in drawers. They would either refuse our American food or eat so much that it made them sick. I wasn’t sure what to do. God spoke to my heart to leave out a bowl of fruit-so they could visible see-that they would always have food. It took several months, but they all soon realized that they would never go hungry.
3. Come to terms that your adoptive child may have attachment disorders and/or learning issues.
We knew that Anna was mentally disabled when she was adopted. I have spent the last three years having her evaluated and treated. It has been stressful, costly, and emotionally exhausting. She is now in a local Life Skills Program that targets teens, such as herself, and provides speech therapy, physical therapy, occupationally therapy, as well as social development and life skills. (Read about our adoption journey with Anna here!).
4. Don’t take rejection personally.
Bonding, especially with the older adoptive child, takes time. I remember while in the Ukraine Anna and Victoria immediately started calling me mom. They were so excited to be adopted! Not so true for our adoptive teen sons. Although they wanted a family, we were simply Walter and Michele. We were ok with that and never pushed the subject.
I would often joke that “It’s OK to call me mom…I did fly clear across the world to get you.” They would laugh, yet still called me Michele. Then I realized that they were introducing us as dad and mom. After about one year, Vlad began calling me mom. I was so excited! It’s been just recently that Artur calls us dad and mom. Just remember, love takes time.
5. They will mourn for their biological mother, no matter how much you love them.
Thankfully, I had many people tell me this and I was mentally prepared…or so I thought. I remember trying not to get angry as Victoria compared me to her biological mother. Sadly, her memories were only fantasies as she had not lived with her birth mom since she was a toddler. But she was convinced that this woman made her homemade birthday cakes (and I simply went to the bakery) and spent hours sewing her beautiful new dresses (while I shopped at the thrift store).
Her brothers would get upset, telling her that she was a liar- that none of her stories were real. I explained to the boys that while in the orphanage it was probably how she survived…living in a fantasy world. I spoke openly with Victoria, telling her that I was sorry that she could not live with her biological mom. And that it was OK to miss her and to love her. I assured her that I would love her and would do my very best…but I would probably never bake that awesome birthday cake and that she would not want to wear anything that I tried to sew!
It wasn’t many months later that she approached me saying that those memories were probably not real…and that she was glad I was her mom. Be patient. Healing takes time.
6. Respect their birth country.
Ukraine is part of my children. Although I want them to love our United States, I never want to take away from the fact that God chose for them to be born in another country. While living there, waiting for the adoption to be completed, I purchased clothes, books and even a tea set as memories. It is our hope to one day take them “home” for a visit.
There is so much more that we have learned…like making sure your biological children understand that they are not being replaced, that it’s OK to be private about issues with your adoptive children, and that everyone will not agree with your decision.
We learned that one must completely rely on God for finances as it will take more than you ever imagined (or were told) to complete this very long process.
We learned that you MUST make your marriage a priority, that spending time as a family is not optional, and it’s normal to second guess your sanity.
We learned that you must, from the very beginning, make it clear to ALL of your children that you are a team and that you are in this for the long haul. That even when they mess up, you are still their parent. Even when they challenge your authority, make you so mad that you would like to put them on the first plane back to the orphanage, and when they are completely ungrateful, that you have a “no return policy.” That we are forever, through the good, the bad, the really really ugly moments, are a family…a tribe.
I realize now how the hand of God was on our entire family. Our adoption was not a random act of kindness, but rather a divine calling from God. God did not only call us, the parents but called our children to become one very large family.
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