Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adoption Interview Project

Last year, I was privileged to be listed as one of the top Open Adoption Bloggers for 2011... Heather from Production, Not Reproduction always comes up with amazing opportunities for anyone involved in the adoption world to share their story.

She's also given me many opportunities to get to know other adoptive moms and birth moms... I cherish each relationship I've built through being a part of her blog.
To celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month, Heather has initiated the Adoption Interview Project and through her, I've had the privilage of getting to know Brandi Stiff from Okkar Lif.... The Stiff Family Blog.

My life before kids revolved largely around my 'special needs' students... 'special needs' being a term I use much differently since becoming Hunter's Mama.
I find myself perusing blogs of a much different variety lately and I soak up what I read from blogs of other Mama's who have 'special needs' babies. Brandi is one of those Mamas. Whar I have loved about being paired with Brandi is getting to know the International side of adoption.... she has a very different, yet very similar viewpoint of adoption; one that I have never had.
Brandi and Ray have grown their family both biologically and through adoption... and each of their children are such a blessing! Jack, their 'newest' baby is a precious boy who is bringing his family along for the ride through his many needs that make him even more special. I encourage you to head over and get to know Brandi and her family from the beginning.....
I was honored to be chosen to interview Brandi for this year's Adoption Interview Project.... I know you'll enjoy her insight as much as I did :-)
1) "If you are thinking about adoption, go with your eyes wide open. I realize now that my expectations had been lower in some ways and higher in others. You don’t know until you go through it. If you want a good dose of reality, talk to another adoptive parent. In the end, they will tell you it’s worth the cost."
What has been the biggest shock in your adoption journey when reality came to head with expectations?
Wow. This is a difficult question to answer. I think the biggest shock happened while we were in China. We had papers that said Jack was developmentally delayed. When we asked questions, we were told he could speak and walk and his delay was due to being a an orphanage with a high number of babies and very few nannies. We hit every roadblock that you could imagine with Jack's adoption. I kept saying that God has something big in mind for this little boy. I was imagining a miracle, I guess. Then we got our hands on him. He was totally content to go with us. No emotion. It didn't take long to figure out that he had no grasp of any language. It really kicked in when we realized he couldn't walk very far without falling down. He reminded us our girls when they first realized they could walk. He had no idea how to chew food. He didn't have any desire to eat. Seeing the depth of what total neglect had done to him was shocking.

Right now, surprising things are good. We are surprised by progress, shocked when he finally gets something and it clicks. We walked straight into a special needs adoption. I was reading blogs about how fast kids were picking up the language and attaching. It has taken us much longer. Other kids were saying Mama and Baba (Daddy in Chinese) before we left the country. Jack had been home well over six months before he recognized us and used names. Now, my heart literally swells when my husband comes home. Jack run squealing "Daddy!!!" through the house at the top of his lungs. I was surprised when he didn't learn to call me Mama right away. It is so much sweeter every time I hear him say it now.

2) I have loved reading your story and perspective on international adoption; I don't have much international experience and I'm so glad we were paired up :-)
What made your and your husband choose International adoption vs. Domestic? Why?
The short answer is it was God. We considered domestic adoption. As I was trying to research our options, doors weren't just closing they were slamming. We felt like adoption was something we could do and therefore must do. Of course this was after three daughters, one late miscarriage and years of discussion. James 1:27 came up in our conversations. If you back up to verse 22, that speaks to us as well. We were reading about being doers of the word, not hearers only. We had been planning on four children. We lost a daughter, Jessa to miscarriage. If we thought we were going to have four, how could I say no? James 4:17 came up too. "If anyone then knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." Ouch. I even remember that one when I don't want to put my grocery cart back in the stall on a rainy day. Anyway, we were being confronted with what we saw as Biblical truth for our family. Let me stop here and say I don't think adoption is a must for every family. For us, it was a calling from God. We started to research, different domestic programs, different countries. Doors were slamming. After a ehem...heated discussion I told my husband, "I just want someone to tell me where a child is that needs us!" The next morning we got a phone call in the middle of packing out to move. It was the director of the adoption agency that we eventually used telling us that there were boys in China that stayed on the wait list. Would we consider a boy? Boy was about as far off my radar and China was. We had been praying and I had my answer. We got through that move and then started the process.

3) I was a special needs teacher before we brought Hannah home and when Hunter came along not too long ago as a super-preemie, I became a Mama of a special needs child.... so much of what you write about lately concerning Jack hits home with me; either by experience teaching, in my new 'normal', or as I envision our future.
How have you (or HAVE YOU?!) learned to navigate Jack's unique world of 'special needs' and balance that with your girls' world of more normalcy? How do you make time for yourself and your husband a priority while juggling doctor's appointments, school events, homework, being Jack's teacher, household responsibilities, and everything else?

Right now, I'm blessed to have the three girls going to school full time every day. Since I'm a stay at home mom, that gives me the time I need to get to and from Jack's appointments. We also have an almost 12-year old who thinks she's almost 35. She's alot more mature than I am somedays. Lucky for us, we live on base. I can leave her in charge and go a short distance away with my husband. We also have a park right across the street from our house. I can send all the kids over and see them from my front porch. It makes it a bit easier to have those necessary conversations that you don't want little ears to hear. If we weren't living on base, I honestly would have a babysitter on speed dial. We are very aware how fast the kids are growing up. We do almost everything with them. We also understand how important it is to get out without the kids every now and then. We never go far or for too long but we go.

As far as navigating Jack's world... sometimes I'm rocking it and sometimes I'm floundering. We try to introduce Jack to whatever the girls are doing and what is age appropriate. Sometimes that works well, sometimes it's a total bust. An example would be playgrounds. There was nothing that would send him into a tizzy faster than just seeing a slide. We just constantly reintroduced playgrounds to him. The girls were great. They knew we might have to leave early. It did bother them a couple of times. Eventually Jack saw them playing enough he tried it. Now, I can't keep him off. We had similar experiences with the beach and going to the movies. The girls are also better at handling questions than I am sometimes. They tell other people Jack came here from China, he needs a little help. They aren't bothered by some of the coping habits Jack has or that he's different. He's just Jack. They don't over think it like I do. I could learn alot from my kids. Juggling the schedule is pretty much about juggling a schedule with 4 kids. You just do it and it's your new normal. As far as teaching Jack... that's where I get most concerned. I'm looking forward to getting him started in school just because I'm always worried that with the girls and their schedule plus church events and just life that I'm not doing enough.

 4) How do you plan to incorporate Chinese culture in Jack's new world? Do you have plans to go back anytime soon?
 My two older girls were born in Iceland, but they are American citizens. Jack was born in China but he's American now. We sort of treat it like that. We talk about the festivals with the girls. Sometimes we celebrate. We aren't overkilling it. When Jack is older if he's interested, we'll let him direct us in how much or little he wants it incorporated. He's been with us for a little over a year. We found that after a couple of months home, he was nervous in Chinese restaurants. Our culture changed when we moved. Jack went from China to a sea of white faces in Tennessee. Now, living in Hawaii we see so many more Asian faces. Sometimes it makes him nervous. We let him dictate.
5) At the end of the day, when the doctor's appointments are over, the phone has finally stopped ringing, the kids are in bed, and you finally have a few minutes to reflect on your day, what is that one amazing, precious thing in your day that will inevitably make it possible for you to do it all over again tomorrow?
I don't see progress daily now like I did when we first brought Jack home. Lately, Jack really craves our attention and love. It's so wonderful because he had no expectation of any kind of love a little over a year ago. We see how much he touches other people just with his personality. We are all he has. I'm going to get up and fight for him every day because I'm his mama.
6) I cringe when someone says to me, "You and your husband are amazing people for taking such a special child into your family." or, "Hunter is so lucky to have you guys as his parents." or, "He never would have had this life if you hadn't taken him in." or... you get the point. Everything that comes to mind in those situations involves screaming or yelling so I graciously smile and say, "thanks" or "we waited so long for him" or "if you only knew all that HE has done for US." I know you have been on the receiving end of those questions/ comments, too... how do you respond? How do you graciously and gracefully convey to them the love you have for this sweet boy... and that biological or not, 'special needs' or not, he's your son.
We do hear that alot, especially when people really see Jack's delay. Sometimes I cringe. We try to convey that's it's not us but God that had done this great thing for Jack. We try to convey that we are the ones being blessed by Jack if we can. Sometimes we just look at each other and quote the penguins from Madagascar, "just smile and wave boys, smile and wave." If that's all we can muster that's okay. 
7) I don't see very many aspects of infertility or adoption as "unfair"... I've just never been that person. This is our life, it's God's plan for us, and it's perfect... and that's more than enough for me! The only thing I struggle with, at times, is knowing that I missed out on the first few moments, days, and weeks or my baby's lives... I only have the pictures that were given to me, I won't ever be the one who can tell my kids' the story of their BIRTHday, I don't know what they wore home from the hospital, and I wasn't the first one to hold them close to me. We have our own amazing memories of our first moments with them and I cherish those.
Does it ever bother you that you were there to experience such intimate and personal moments with some of your children and not with others'?
I do with I knew more about Jack when he was an infant. We don't even have pictures, just notes about where and how he was found. That hurts my heart for him. I wish I could have scooped him up and brought him home the day he was born. If we had been given that opportunity, he might not have the delays he does now. I would love to share those moments with him. I hope Jack just has a different sort of birth story to tell. His involves paperwork, delays and his mama calling China to find out if he was okay. I try to remind myself that I can't do anything about Jack's past but I can have a profound impact on his future and that's what I need to concentrate on. 

Thank you for being so candid and honest with me, Brandi... I can't wait to continue following your families journey... especially Jack's :-)

To explore other incredible interviews from other Open Adoption Bloggers, head over here... you won't be sorry!

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