Tell Me Your Story: Of Letting Go

Marlyse and her husband’s adoption story began when Marlyse faced the fact that she would not be able to carry a child due to her heart defect. When it came time to choose where they were going to adopt from, they started by looking into domestic infant adoption, but they were surprised at the astronomical fees. They then considered adopting from Haiti, and it made sense.  Marlyse is Haitian born, she still has family members who live there, and Haiti has always been close to her heart.

In Haiti, children are relinquished to orphanages although one or both parents may be living. Orphanages are often used as a type of foster home until parents can get back on their feet. But in the interim of parents trying to get stable, the children often suffer. They may be deprived of individual attention and miss the family bonds they need to flourish. Marlyse didn’t like the idea of group homes or orphanages, and she is an advocate for keeping families together when possible. But she also acknowledges there are some unhealthy family situations where children cannot thrive and adoption becomes a viable option.

So Marlyse and Monty started the process of adopting their two children in September of 2012.  Throughout the process, the couple was frustrated with several things, including the hidden costs involved with the adoption. To Marlyse, it seemed like someone was always trying to make a profit. She explained that the very people who should be protecting children were the same ones hurting them in the long run. But even with all those frustrations, the couple was determined to keep going.

As a first time mother, Marlyse was also dedicated to learning about the adoptee experience. As she waited for the adoptions to finalize, she stocked up on reading material. She read blogs, books, and articles, trying to understand the adoptee perspective. The adoption process “taught her things about a world she knew nothing about.”  Marlyse initially worried if her children would see her as their “real” mother. She was also concerned with how much contact her young children should have with their Haitian families, not wanting to confuse them.  But Marlyse is willing to do what is best for her children, no matter the inconvenience. She plans to raise her children knowing that they have two families and bring the children back to Haiti every three to four years. She also plans to speak Creole to them at home, so they don’t lose their language. They will also reap the benefits of a mother who will cook them Haitian cuisine. Marlyse is intent on having her children stay in touch with their relatives so they don’t have to do through the pain and heartache of not knowing who they are or where they come from.

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Marlyse and Monty with their two children in Haiti

Marlyse and Monty started the adoption process in 2012, and just finalized the adoptions of their now 3 year old daughter and 2 year old son in October of 2014. They spent more than four times the amount of money they had originally planned to spend. Marlyse recalls the day she walked through the airport in Port-au-Prince. It was a bittersweet moment not just because her children were now out of the orphanage, but because there was a time when she didn’t think the day would come. A long await dream finally became a reality. When the plane finally landed in Miami, Marlyse choked up, the tears a symbol of two years of struggle.

Marlyse invited me to meet her family in Miami, and I had the pleasure of meeting her and Monty, and her two beautiful children. I held her daughter, who was so quiet, taking in her brand new world. At one point, her son curled up in my arms and almost fell asleep. They reminded me so much of myself, so many years ago, beginning a new life with a new family. I later watched Marlyse lay the children on the hotel bed to take a nap. Their little bodies were exhausted, and both were asleep within minutes. The afternoon sun streamed into the  windows, carrying them into a sweet slumber. It seems like an odd thought, but as Marlyse begins her life with her children, she must learn to let them go. They may someday want to have their own relationship with their Haitian families, and the best thing for Marlyse to do as a mother is let them. Her children need the freedom to explore a relationship with both families, a safe place to discuss their feelings, and a mother who strong enough to let them go. And for that, they will one day be grateful.

 

 

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Ladybug Love

ladybug-love-kat-lamons-trish-digginsLadybug Love is a collection of adoption day stories from Trish Diggings and Kat LaMons. The book introduces readers to a hundred different families and captures the moment each family was matched. Like each of the families, no two stories are alike, and it becomes evident that adoption is rarely a simple process. The book is an encouragement for waiting families, and it also serves as a guide for families who are just getting started with the adoption process in China.

Trish Diggins has been writing her whole life. She started by writing column for her small town newspaper and has spent over decade writing for Corporate America. When Trish adopted her daughter from China, she started thinking about writing something other than press releases and newsletters. Trish also started thinking about her own adoption, something she really hadn’t given much thought to. She was encouraged by Kat Lamons (who is now her writing partner) to submit an article to a national adoption magazine, which led to the idea of collecting Chinese adoption stories together. Trish admits the project was hard work, but she loved interviewing  people and hearing their stories. She says that she is “humbled and grateful for the opportunity” to have been a part of the project. Read on for our interview!

As an adoptee and adoptive parent, what do you think is the most important thing for a prospective adoptive parent to know?

As an adopted person, besides love and support and all the other things you would do for any child, it’s critical that adoptive parents are as open and honest with their child about their adoption as possible. Of course, you have to use common sense and be age-appropriate and the like, but it’s a part of your child’s life that shouldn’t be hidden or treated like something to be ashamed of. It’s not! My parents raised me to know I was adopted before I even understood what it meant, which I feel is easier on kids than having a big “surprise – guess what!” talk. As an adoptive person and parent, I would love for prospective adoptive parents to really research the ins and outs of all the adoption options. When you choose the one that’s right for your family, you may get some negative reactions from friends, family, and co-workers. That’s okay. At the end of the day, how you choose to create your family is up to you. Adopting my daughter is truly the very best thing that I’ve ever had the privilege of being part of – I could not love another human being more. She’s changed my life, my soul, and my spirit in so many ways I can’t begin to count. I am beyond blessed to be a part of her life.

When it came time for you to adopt, why did you choose China?

I put my journalistic background to good use. I did tons of research about the process, interviewed families who had completed all kinds of adoptions – closed, open, foster, international, private, researched agencies. When it came down to it, all I can really say is that down deep, I just knew that’s where she was, and my husband felt the same way.

One of the couples in the book was told that the wait for a healthy child would be seven years. Another couple almost gave up because of the amount of paperwork required.  Did you face the same wait times or obstacles with your adoption?

Yes, we did. Stacks of paperwork. We filled out paperwork that got lost and had to be redone, we renewed paperwork, we visited Homeland Security so many times I can’t remember how long we spent in the waiting room, and our adoption worker stopped doing home studies. The wait time went from a year and a half or so to nearly five – which felt like an eternity! It left me WAY too much time to decorate and redecorate her room – that kid had hand-painted linen-washed walls when she came home (like she’d care)! Sometimes, I’d get so sad seeing the prepared room with the empty crib that I’d just cry and shut the door. But we made the most of the wait – we saved, traveled, went to concerts, visited friends – which all in all, turned out to be the best thing we could have done. When she finally arrived, we were seriously ready to nest for a few years. Looking back, every hurdle and obstacle was worth it, because I cannot imagine having any other child but the one we have. She’s absolutely a perfect fit for our family, and I’d go through it all again and more.

Do you have any contact with your daughter’s biological family? Do you plan to take your daughter back to China someday?

Sadly, there are absolutely no records or information about her biological family. I’ll share with her everything I do have, as her maturity allows. We’d love to take her back to China one day – both as a heritage trip for her and because we just fell in love with the people and culture ourselves. She should experience life in other countries and cultures – her homeland, as well as others. It makes for a much more well-rounded and appreciative life, don’t you think?

Yes, travel is important for any child. Have you found ways to incorporate her culture into your daily life?

Absolutely. We have artwork and items from China around our home and in her room. She loves checking the weather every morning on my iPhone for both our town and her birth city in China. She finds it quite exciting when the weather is the same there as here! We’re members of our local Families with Children from China group and we attend social, heritage and holiday celebrations with them throughout the year. Together, we look through her “China Books” every few months (our photo books from our adoption trip), and she gets a real kick out of seeing herself as a baby in China. We have some Chinese-related adoption books we read at bedtime, too. I do think it’s important to recognize and incorporate her birth culture in our lives. But most of the time, we’re just a normal family, and she’s just a normal kid, doing the same things everyone else does – although you have to take into account I’m admittedly wildly prejudiced, as I think she’s the cutest, sweetest and most adorable kid there is!

Your book, Ladybug Love, shares 100 stories of families on their match day. Why did you choose to focus on match day as opposed to homecomings or other important milestones?

The moment that makes Match Day so special is that it’s the same miracle as it is for every parent – that first glance at your child’s face is unforgettable. For some, it’s love at first sight. For others, it’s a total and complete shock. For the rest – everything in between! There are so many emotions wrapped up in that one life changing moment, no matter how you become a parent. My writing partner, the brilliant, talented and hilarious Kat LaMons, had done a Ladybug Love book many years ago, and this book is the updated version. We loved the idea of growing the book and having it span more than a decade’s worth of stories. The adoption process has certainly changed over the years, but the magic of that special moment hasn’t.

What was the process like to collect 100 stories? Were your interviews done over the phone? Through email? What was the time frame?

We had a great start from the original book. We compiled the new stories through phone interviews, email interviews, Skype interviews, and in-person interviews. All in all, it took about a year and a half to put the final version of the book together. We’re incredibly appreciative and grateful to the families who contributed their stories, and truly hope they’re happy with the result. One family was so thrilled to be part of the book, they asked for two copies – one to read and share, and one to put in their safe deposit box! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that has anything to do with our writing – I think it has everything to do with showing how precious these stories are to the families. We’re honored to have had them be willing to open their hearts and share these amazing personal moments.

You and your writing partner Kat LaMons have another book titled “The Crunch-Time Guide to Parenting Language for Chinese Adoption.” Can you tell us a little bit about the book and why it would be helpful for prospective adoptive parents?

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Sure! Kat is still an adoption caseworker, working with families before and after they adopt. Last year, one family’s daughter came home crying. When I say crying, I mean CRYING. Bless her heart, she cried all the way through China. She cried on the plane home from China. She cried when they got home. She cried all morning, all afternoon, and almost all night. The desperate parents called Kat for help. Within four hours, the incessant crying had stopped, and they’d even gotten her to smile! How? Kat had spoken and sung to her in Chinese! She also taught the parents some phrases to use—writing everything out by hand. Kat soon found many other families with similar adjustment issues, so she continued to share words and phrases, and even a few songs. The kids seemed to adjust so much better when there was less of a language barrier. Over the past few years, there’s been a shift in Chinese adoptee demographics. For the most part, the children are at least toddler age at adoption, and parents are finding the language barrier more difficult than they had imagined. Seeing that this was a growing trend, Kat came to me wanting something beyond the sticky notes and bad copies she was giving her families. She had done the research and there just wasn’t anything out there that fit the bill. I used my design background to help make it all something neatly packaged in a colorful, user-friendly format. That’s how The Crunch Time Guide to Parenting Language for Chinese Adoption was born.

We surveyed adoptive parents for the words and phrases parents said were most desperately needed. We knew we had to include sections on family, feelings, health, safety, parent-to-child instructions, pottying, and more. My personal experience adopting from China helped too – I knew it had to be small so it could be tucked in a purse or backpack, really light, so it wouldn’t affect the baggage weight, and super-easy to use (especially when doing the new parent juggle). The best part is, each book contains a code that gives access to a website where parents can hear words, phrases, and even a couple songs. The individual files can then be downloaded to a phone or computer. For prospective adoptive parents, it means you can learn a few essentials in advance of meeting your child, but if you find yourself in a “crunch” as a new parent, you’ve got a quick, easy means of communicating. So far, we’ve gotten great feedback from parents, and we’re planning to release another Crunch-Time guide for another country later this year!

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Author, adopted person, mom, and professional designer Trish Diggins has worked in the corporate, television, web, film, and non-profit worlds creating communication and branding projects for clients across the country including New York, Chicago, Houston, and Jacksonville. She’s currently designing with Marton/Willis Creative and producing adoption-related books with Kat LaMons for Marcinson Press.

Read Trish’s blog about being an adoptee, adoptive parent, and designer at http://www.trishdiggins.com.

Find Ladybug Love at http://www.tinyurl.com/ladybuglovebook.

Find the Crunch-Time guide at http://www.tinyurl.com/crunchtimechin

Tell Me Your Story: Of a Boy Who Changed Your Life

Adopting with a partner is not easy, but adopting as a single parent is even harder. As a young social worker, Tia saw a need that needed to be filled, and at just 27 years old, she became the parent of a 13 year old boy. She quickly learned how difficult it was to provide structure to a child who had never been given any. She also realized how important it was for a boy to have a father figure. But through their difficult struggles, Tia was able to share moments with her son that they will both never forget. In her own words, Tia tells her story of a boy who changed her life.

My story is not a common adoption story.  I was a social worker for the Florida Department of Children and Families for 12 years.  It was during my tenure with the Department that I was introduced to a very lively and active 5-year old boy.  This child was not on my caseload, but he was in the office on a daily basis due to being kicked out of his biological relatives’ home for behavior issues.  My son’s story is all too common of a child born into the foster care system.

My son and his biological brother bounced from one relatives’ home to the next until there were no more relatives willing or able to care for them.  Once this happened both boys were placed in foster homes.  The brothers would be separated due to the lack of available foster homes with two beds open to keep the boys placed together.  This is a sad reality of the system.  The children are first traumatized by the removal from the birth home/family, and then often despite the best efforts of caseworkers the siblings are placed in separate homes rarely, if ever, to be reunited.

Once my prospective adoptive son began going from foster home to foster home, his behavior continued to become increasingly difficult to manage.  He was scared, confused, hurt and myriad of other feelings that I will never be able to fully wrap my head around.  I was one of the only two social workers that was able to connect with him and to that end began a 6-year journey that would result in adoption.  You see I eventually worked with his case and got to know his biological mother.  I will not disclose the reasons why my son came into the system, but I will say that his entire biological family continue to battle the same issues that many of our inner city families are experiencing.

His biological mother loved her children but could not seem to overcome her circumstances in order to be a parent to her children.  I saw her struggle, and I personally made a promise to her ‘woman to woman’ that I would do my best to watch over her boys until they turned 18 or became adopted.  Did I mention that at this time I was a single woman and only 26 years old?  I really had no concept of what I was getting myself into, but I am a person of my word.  From that moment on I made sure that both boys were in good foster homes, and I would be sure to visit them on weekends to be sure that all was well.  My son’s brother was eventually placed with a foster family that committed to keep him until his 18th birthday.  My son was still not able to maintain in a stable foster home environment and was moved into a local group home facility.

At this point, I was taking him out every weekend for church and lunch.  It was one day after church that he asked me if I would adopt him.  I had never considered adoption.  So after careful prayer and discussions with my parents, I decided that it was something that I wanted to do.  I loved this young man, and I had become vested in his future.  The process was not easy because I had worked with him and his family on a professional level.  Since the time that I worked on his case I had been promoted and transferred into another division, but still careful consideration was taken before they would allow me to adopt.

As a single woman, adopting a teenage boy from foster care it was probably the most challenging thing that I have done.  The process of adopting from the foster care system is fairly painless because the need is so very great.  They prepare all prospective foster and adoptive parents in a lengthy training program, Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP), that allows you to become familiar with the ins and outs of foster care and adoption.  However, just as most people will say to that first-time pregnant mother, nothing can really prepare you for bringing home your first child.

 My son first came to my home at the age of 13 years old.  He came with his clothes in one very small, dirty suitcase with the remainder of his belongings in a black garbage bag, and his defenses were up.  No matter how much he wanted to be adopted by me, his life experience told him that no home is permanent.  This would be my struggle for the next three years.  In retrospect, I feel that having a husband to share in the parenting would have made it easier for my son and me.

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photo credit: Weldon Ryan

I am sure that my next statement will be very controversial, but I must put it out there.  I firmly believe that there are aspects in raising a male child that can only be effectually addressed by a man/father figure.  I look back on a few parenting and disciplinary issues that arose during his teenage years knowing that if a man were in the house we could have avoided some major issues.  There is a certain energy that a dad brings to the equation that offers balance in the home.  Of course I am only referring to dads who are emotionally and physically present in the home.

As a social worker, I thought that I knew all that I needed to know.  I was certified to teach the MAPP courses to prepare families for fostering and adopting, I had worked with hundreds of foster kids and their families, and I knew my son since he was 5 years old.  I thought I had everything under control.  That could not have been further from the truth.  Yes, I knew my son’s background better that any other non-familial perspective adoptive parent of a foster child.  However, all of the training and working experiences with foster children could not prepare me for the daily reality of being a parent.  The first day that I brought my son home was nerve wrecking!  My son was already a preteen when he came to live me!  I think the honeymoon period was about a week, and then it was time for me to learn how to be a mom and prove to my son that I was not going to be another adult that let him down.

It was very important for me to have established my support system prior to making the decision to adopt.  I knew that adopting a teenage boy that had been in foster care for his entire life would be challenging and that I could not tackle it on my own. Thankfully, I had the support of my parents, prior foster parents and my neighbors.  We worked as a team for my son.

Before adopting I did not realize how much my parents did behind the scenes for me as a child.  My life suddenly became more about what I could do to reach my son.  However, in my situation I felt like I was in a race with time because I only had five short years to prepare him for adulthood.  He had missed out on so much parenting from birth to 13 years of age.  Simple things that those of us who grow up with the same caregivers take for granted became critical to impart.  My son basically did not know what it was like to be apart of a functioning family where people do things for one another because it benefits that household.

My advice to anyone interested in adopting an older child is to make sure you obtain and understand the child’s background.   Take an inventory on how you were raised and how that environment has shaped you as a person.  What expectations to you have on adoption?  Talk to your close friend and relatives and ask them how they feel you would be as an adoptive parent and if they are willing to be your support network.   Set up your support system, as well as your child’s support system, because they are not always the same people.  Lastly, don’t forget to have fun!!  Teenagers can be a lot of emotional work even in the best of situations, but they can also be a lot of fun.  You don’t have the luxury of time when you adopt an older child.  The best lessons are learned through laughter.

One of the best memories that I have with my son was when I took him to my childhood home in New Jersey for Christmas.  As a foster child he had never left the state of Florida.  He really had never left the tri-county area.  Taking him to the airport for the first time was magical for this 15-yr old boy.  The trip was marked with so many firsts for him.  He had never experienced freezing temperatures, and although there was only a dusting a snow on the ground he was just hypnotized by it all. He was just so happy and thankful that entire week that we spent at my grandmother’s home.  I think the best thing about the trip was that he got to experience the love of family that I had known my entire life.

Tell Me Your Story: Of Becoming a Mother

In January of 2014, Sarah started writing letters to her child’s first mother. In the letters, she shared stories about her own mother, anecdotes about her husband, and her prayers for the mother who would change both of their lives forever.

Married for almost ten years, Sarah and Doug started the adoption process in 2013,  although they had known for awhile that adoption would be in their future. After sharing with their families that they wanted to adopt, they set up a family blog to share what they had been learning about the adoption process. The private blog detailed helpful information from books, their home study training, and different classes they attended. They wanted to not only prepare themselves, but prepare their parents to be sensitive to the complexities of adoption.

Sarah and Doug represent the next generation of adoptive parents.They are honest about their expectations and committed to raising a child who understands their adoption story. To prepare for their adoption, they read, talked, and then read some more. The prospective parents discussed serious issues such as their level of comfort with an open adoption as well as more practical issues like discipline. Sarah advises that one way to successfully prepare for adoption is to tackle any potential issues before they happen. When asked if she comes across blogs or comments that discourage adoption, Sarah says,

“Adoption is not about being comfortable as an adoptive parent. I think it’s critical for me, as a prospective adoptive mother, to read these posts. I think these posts may be the most important things I read in this entire educational journey. My goal is to learn from these voices who are bravely sharing their stories. Their sharing empowers me to anticipate some of the challenges they bring up as I raise my child, to avoid some of the pitfalls altogether, and to acknowledge and APPRECIATE my child’s need to express his or her frustration with and hurt from the adoption experience.”

Also, Sarah and Doug don’t see their adopted child as a way to fill in the place of where a biological child should be. The couple see their future child as an extension of his or her birth family, and for them the adoption process is about  “adding an entire branch, with its own offshoot, to the family tree.” An open adoption means sharing with the birth family the opportunity to see their child grow and thrive.

For most prospective adoptive parents, waiting is the hardest part. While waiting, Doug and Sarah had a few close matches and even had a match fall apart. To put things in perspective, Sarah told herself that she didn’t want to rush the process because she knew that the birthmother would be making “an enormous, heartbreaking decision beyond comprehension.” Each day she tried to live in the moment and prayed that the mother meant to place her child with Sarah and her husband would be making a decision in full confidence and peace.

On January 1, Sarah wrote the first letter to her child’s first mother, and on March 2, they finally met. Frank was born on February 20, and after delivery, his mother chose Sarah and Doug to carry on her son’s life and legacy.

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Sarah & baby Frank

 In the days following Frank’s birth, Sarah and Doug were able to bond with their new addition and simply marvel at the miracle of life. Above all, they were profoundly grateful to Frank’s birth mother for the life she had entrusted to them. Of the experience, Sarah says, “Never in my life will I forget the moment this beautiful woman placed her baby boy in my arms before walking out of the nursery and said, ‘Look at you–you’re a natural. I knew you would be.’ Frank, your birth mama loves you so.”