Monday, April 30, 2012

Ethiopia Trip Two: We Made It!

Hey friends! Just wanted to stop by and say a quick THANK YOU for praying for us... after 3 flights and I don't know how many hours of traveling, we are here in our hotel. We have internet in our room this time, so maybe I will get around to posting a few updates this week!

We had a very eventful journey so far... I don't want to get into it but let's just say there was some turbulence that reminded us of "LOST" and a particularly humbling moment when Will and I accidentally got off the plane in Sudan... yeah....

But we made it, with ALL of our luggage! We are in the process of setting up our room, and anticipating tomorrow morning! We don't know what time our driver will pick us up but sometime in the morning we will return to HH one last time to bring our boy home. Forever. Never in an orphanage again! Praise God!

Thank you all for your prayers and we ask that you continue to pray over us this week! This will be a long week stuck in a hotel room, so we are praying that God uses it to bond Israel's heart to ours and that he will begin to trust us.

I GET TO HOLD MY BABY TOMORROW!!!!! Bring it on, parenthood!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Letter to Our Friends & Family


Dear Family & Friends,
After over two years of waiting, our precious Israel is finally coming home! We know that each of you reading this letter has, in some way, supported, loved and prayed for us. Because we know your care for Israel and our family, we want to share with you some information that we hope will best equip everyone around him to assist us in laying the strongest and healthiest foundation - emotionally, physically and spiritually.
In many ways, Israel will be like a child who entered our family through birth; we will parent like other Christian families as we bring him up in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. But there will be a few, initial differences. For years now, we have researched bonding and attachment in children, especially those coming home through adoption from an institutional orphanage setting.
We are confident of this: God's design is PERFECT! His plan for parents and children is a beautiful and meaningful picture of His love for us. Attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need and communicates that need. The primary caretaker meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats between a parent and child over and over to create trust within the child for that parent; the baby is hungry, cries in distress, mom nurses & calms the baby -which teaches him that this person is safe and can be trusted. By God's very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect their learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. The security provided by parents will, ultimately, give children a trust for and empathy towards others.
Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process. The loss of a biological mother at an early age can be a major trauma on their little hearts. The good news is that we can now, as Israel's parents and forever family, rebuild attachment and help him heal from these emotional wounds. When Israel comes home, he will be overwhelmed. Everything around him will be new and he will need to learn not just about his new environment, but also about love and family. He has not experienced God's design for a family in an orphanage setting. The best way for us to form a parent/child bond is to be the ones to hold, snuggle, instruct, soothe and feed him. As this repeats between us, he will be able to learn that parents are safe to trust and to love deeply. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once Israel starts to establish this important bond, he will then be able to branch out to other, healthy relationships.
Israel will have, what may seem like, a lot of structure, boundaries and close proximity to us. Please know that these decisions are prayerfully and thoughtfully made choices based on immense amounts of research and instruction from trusted adoption mentors. We will be doing what we believe is best to help him heal from those interruptions in attachment as effectively as possible. Why are we telling you all of this? Because you will actually play an awesome and vital role in helping our Israel settle in, heal, and lay a foundation for the future. There are a few areas in which you can help us:
The first is to set physical boundaries. It will help us immensely if adults limit what is typically considered normal, physical contact with Israel. This will (for a while) include things like touching, holding, excessive hugging and kissing. Children from orphanage settings are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone - which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. Waving, blowing kisses or high fives are perfectly appropriate and welcomed! Israel should know that the people with whom he interacts are our trusted friends.
Another area is redirecting Israel's desire to have his physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having us meet them. Orphans often have so many caretakers that they, as a survival mechanism, become overly charming toward all adults. A child struggling to learn to attach may exhibit indiscriminate affection with people outside of their family unit. It may appear harmless and as if they are "very friendly" but this is actually quite dangerous for the child. To share this is difficult for us because we have snuggled, cared for, fed and loved so many of your children. Please understand that we want nothing more than to have Israel hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you (he's totally irresistible and huggable). But until he has a firm understanding of family and primary attachments, we would be so grateful if you direct him to us if you see that he is seeking out food, affection or comfort.
We are incredibly blessed to have so many loved ones around us. We couldn't ask for a better extended family & circle of friends for our precious Israel. Thank you so much for your love and support over the past two years. If you have any questions please feel free to ask at any time!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Last Minute Prep

This post may seem a bit silly to some of you, but for this first-time mama... it makes me REALLY excited to see the last minute details come together. The only thing missing here is a sweet boy!

Homemade Baby food made & frozen!

Bottles washed!

We rearranged our dining room to set up a play area!

Yayy! Car Seat set up!

Israel's 2 Big Suitcases and our small suitcase filled with HH donations are all packed! Now if Mom & Dad could get packed we'd be ready!

Israel's bathtub is ready!

Yep... the clothes are washed, the gear is set up, and our hearts are READY for a little boy to be here! We have been slowly getting things in place over the last few weeks, and now we are all set! Only a week and a half and he'll be here putting all of this baby stuff to good use!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

We Cleared Embassy!

With a joyful heart I praise the Lord... we cleared embassy last night! Thank you prayer warriors for interceding for us!

Additionally, we received news that our embassy appointment is next week... which means that very soon we will be boarding a plane and our son will be in our arms! YAYYYYY!!!!!!!!

I am so thankful that we did not have to wait an additional day to receive word about our embassy date. God is so good!

So now, we will be calling travel agents and hopefully we will have our flights booked this afternoon! I AM SO EXCITED!!!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Please Pray Tonight!

Tomorrow, April 24th, is our embassy interview for our file in Ethiopia. Because of the time change, that will take place around midnight tonight -here in CST!

The interview will hopefully be the last piece of information that our case needs to clear us through the embassy process. We typically receive emails from the embassy around 7:30 am, so hopefully tomorrow morning we will get an email that says that we are CLEARED from the embassy! We are praying for that!

After embassy clearance, we will find out our travel dates! Hopefully we will know this on Tuesday or Wednesday! Our bags have been packed for a few weeks, so we are ready to go (with the exception of our visas... don't get me started, but hopefully we'll have our passports back before we need to go! Another thing to pray for!).

Thank you friends for walking beside us in this process. We have certainly felt the body of Christ in a specific way through this adoption. We are hopeful for the future and that our boy will be home very soon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cloth Diapering Preparation

As previously mentioned, I plan on using cloth diapers for Israel once he is parasite- free (it's pretty common for institutionalized children to carry a few "parting gift" bugs home with them). Some people (my sisters) have called me crazy, but Will and I made this decision for a few reasons.


 1. It is cost-efficient. Aside from the initial start-up costs, the only other cost is from washing the diapers (which we'll be doing about every other day). For us, my mother-in-law found about 15 of our cloth diapers at Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, AL for $2-3 each. Yes, you read that right. A steal! Will and I only bought around 4 diapers when they were on sale via Zulily - so we spent around $40 total on diapers and we have around 22 diapers (recommended to have 12-18- so we're set!). Our diapers are "one size" diapers with inserts. These diapers are designed so that you can adjust them as your baby grows, so they work for newborns to when your kid is ready to be potty trained (and supposedly cloth diapered kids potty train faster)! So basically, our $40 investment + laundry is all that we will pay for Israel's diapering needs until he is potty trained.



2. Look + Feel.  Cloth diapers are super cute! The colors are adorable and I'm sure this summer there will be many days that he wears a t-shirt and his diaper and that's it :). We've heard that cloth diapers can feel a lot better on baby bums. They are absorbent but also softer than disposable diapers. Rumor has it that kids have less diaper rash in cloth diapers. Another thing, is that the diapers we chose (pocket diapers) have snaps that are super easy and work just like a disposable diaper does- no safety pins or difficult process in getting them on. These are not the cloth diapers our parents used!



3. Waste. We are probably not the most "green" couple ever, but we do recycle and try to keep our waste efforts somewhat low. Knowing that there will be less diapers in a trash dump makes me a little happy. :) With that said, if/when we ever bring Israel to the church nursery, I'll send him in disposables. We'll use disposables when we travel, too. But since I'm an avid couponer, I've bought what diapers we need for that already! Speaking of waste, we have a fancy diaper sprayer that we will use to spray the solid waste into the toilet - so we don't have to soak the diapers or touch poop (aside from what would happen when you change any kids diaper).
We have a good number of diapers right now, and they are in various colors/ brands. We have several Fuzzi Bunz, BumGenius, Kawaii Baby, and other off-brand diapers. We are using the ones with inserts in them.

We decided to do cloth diapers several years ago, with the condition that we'd only do it if I was able to stay at home with our child. Cloth diapering does add on time with washing/prepping the diapers, and I knew that time would be a precious commodity if I was still working. We certainly are not judging anyone for NOT doing cloth- but we feel like with our current family situation (financially, me staying at home, etc) and knowing that we want more kiddos in the future, cloth diapers are a good investment for our family.

Here are some more blog posts about cloth diapering, if you are interested in reading:

I promise to post an update when Israel is using them!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pediatrician Consult

Yesterday afternoon Will and I took our folder of information (referral paperwork, medical updates, and a picture-of course!) and headed to our local pediatrician. We wanted to meet with him before we brought our son home. We created a rough plan/timeline for his future care, which made me happy!

But the BEST part about our pediatrician consult was talking about Ethiopia... because our pediatrician is from Ethiopia! Dr. Ebba has a practice in Addis and one in Jacksonville, Alabama... how divine is that? We chatted about adoption, the beautiful country of Ethiopia, and we showed off the VERY FEW Amharic words we knew :).

I'm excited about having an Ethiopian man in Israel's life! And more excited about the thought of having my son HOME soon and getting him on the road to being healthy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Visa Application

Yesterday we took another thing off our check list... visa application!

It has been rumored that Ethiopia will no longer allow for visas to be given upon entry in Addis Ababa, and visitors need to pre-apply. There is no official start date for this new policy, but it was rumored to start by the end of April. When we thought we'd be traveling this week, we figured we would be able to coast in without worrying about it. (Plus we were trying to save money- getting visas in country only cost $20 each, but applying in the US costs over $300).

Since we may not travel for another week or two, we figured it would be wise to go ahead and send off our passports for our visas. We didn't want our visas to be what held us up whenever we got the green light to get our son!

I tell you... the paperwork NEVER ENDS!

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Interview Date

We received an email this morning that next Tuesday, April 24th, will be our new interview date. Praise God that it is only a week away.

So, Lord-willing, we will be back in Ethiopia in two weeks. We should find out by next Tuesday or Wednesday if our file has cleared or if it needs further investigation. I'm praying that it is cleared and we can go pick up our son.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Embassy Interview Postponed

I had a post scheduled for today, petitioning your prayer for our embassy interview tomorrow. However, our embassy interview was postponed. We don't know the new interview date- I pray we find out what it is on Monday.

Please, pray for us, for Israel, for the embassy process. And don't ask me when we'll be back to get him- because that question hurts right now- as we don't know the answer.

This has been such a refining process for me. We have had SO MANY hurdles since getting our referral, and honestly I've thought "what else could happen?" in a sarcastic way- and now something else has happened. This is so hard. I am trying to think positive and to see a "bright" side of things. Even if this only adds a few days to our reunion timeline, those few days ACHE! Each night I long for my son. I ache to be the one who rocks him and cares for him. My heart feels broken and that there is a missing part of it in Ethiopia.

Please, Lord, be gracious to us!

*In respect for Israel's story, we're keeping the details of why our interview date was postponed private. Thanks for respecting that.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

My Family, My Journey

If you are a fellow adoptive parent, you've probably already heard about this amazing baby book! My mother-in-law found this for us when we started the process, and I'm ashamed that I haven't filled a single page out yet!



This baby book is geared towards adopted children, and has beautiful pages and appropriate sections (instead of celebrating month 1, 2, 3 of age, it celebrates month 1 of being home, etc).

Here are some of the pages, and I'll do a list at the bottom of other pages:










Pages include:
-Before You Were Born: How we became a family
-The Story of Your Adoption
-People Who Helped Us Find You
-Waiting
-The Match
-Baby Shower
-Our Journey to You (Where you were, how we got to you, joyful memories)
-Our First Meeting
-All About Your Name
-All About Your Birthday
-Our Family (can list info about family members)
-Coming Home
-Your New Home
-Introductions & Celebrations
-Your Announcement
-Your Adoption Buddies
-Your First Year With Us (then pages for first 12 months of being home)
-Firsts & Favorites
-Your Adoption Day
-Your First Birthday With Us
-Things that make you smile/cry
-What we know about your Birth Family and Where you Came From
-Family Tree page
-Notes

If you are interested in buying this book, I've heard that it can be a little tricky to find if Amazon is out of stock. The ISBN number is 10 0-8118-5737-9 and it was made by Chronicle Books.

*Please note, I was not paid or asked to review this book! I am merely listing the information because I really love this baby book and I want other adoptive families to know about it. The opinions expressed here are mine and no one at Chronicle Books knows who I am. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Six Months Old!

Dear Israel,

Today you are six months old! Oh, son, I miss you so much. I imagine what you are doing and I'm sure you have grown so much since we met you over a month ago. I don't want to think about you growing up without us!

This last month was very busy for us. We have done everything we can think of to get the house ready for you, and all that is missing is a cute little boy to be here! This month we spent time with both sets of your grandparents, and a lot of your aunts, uncles, and cousins! The consensus is consistent: everyone is ready to meet you!

We have been learning a lot about cocooning and are praying for your precious heart because you have a BIG transition ahead! The only thing that would make us feel more ready is to just have flights booked and a date to get you forever! We hope we have that news next week, darling!

This month we have received a few sweet pictures of you and your special mothers. It is clear that they love you, darling, and it is easy to see that they love your snuggles too! We are praying for their hearts as they prepare to say good bye, and for you to know how much they love you.

Son, I feel like there is not much to say aside from a very heart-aching "we miss you"- because honestly, that's all your dad and I talk about these days. We miss you so much and we talk about you all the time. We have memorized your pictures and videos and laugh at how adorable your expressions are!

Israel, it is my deepest wish that we will be on a plane to get you at the end of next week. God has already answered our prayers in many mighty ways, and I cannot wait to tell you about how faithful God has been during your six months of life! He will continue to be faithful and trustworthy, and we are praying that we will see your face very soon and give you many, many kisses to make up for lost time.

With so much love,
Mama




Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tax-Deductible Donations Opportunity

We received word today that Lifesong for Orphans has opened an account for us! We applied back in December, so we are grateful that they reviewed our account and have decided to let us fund raise through them. Lifesong for Orphans is a 501(c)3 organization that does many things, one of which partnering with fundraising families to make it easier for others to donate money in a tax-deductible way.

What this means is that, if you feel led, you can donate to our adoption account and it will be tax-deductible for you.

How to do this:

Mail a check to:
     Lifesong for Orphans
     McGee/ Account #2563
     PO Box 40
     Gridley, IL 61744

The check must be written to Lifesong for Orphans. When you write a check, you must put "McGee/#2563" on the memo line. 100% of what you give will go to fund our adoption. We will submit receipts for our adoption costs and they will reimburse us the amount needed. Our account expires May 22, 2012 (which hopefully Israel will be home then!!).

As far as need goes, we have left to pay for our second trip travel expenses, in-country costs, and our post-adoption reports. This could range between $2-6,000. We don't know exactly what costs we have left to acquire until we book our flights, which will be about 1-3 days before we leave for Ethiopia.

Thank you so much for your generosity! Please do not feel pressured to give, but know that we appreciate all of the sacrifices everyone has made for our son. We could not be more humbled and grateful already!  We are confident in God's timing and financial provision for us; we know He will provide exactly what we need in the exact timing. I laugh a bit at the timing of getting this phone call from Lifesong today, when we could travel in just a few weeks. Just yesterday I was talking with a college student about how God provides exactly on time and not a minute sooner; and how this adoption process has taught us how sovereign God is!

Naleigh Moon

Some of you may have seen this video:



It's a beautiful tribute to Josh Kelly and Katherine Heigl's adoption of their daughter, Naleigh Moon.

Another AGCI mom posted today about an article describing Katherine's initial difficulty in attaching with her daughter. I thought it was fitting to repost it here, considering all of the discussion we have had about attachment recently!

Article taken from US Weekly- link here

Though they're closer than ever now, Katherine Heigl admits her bond with her daughter Naleigh, 4, didn't come easily.
Heigl, 33, recently opened up to German newspaper Bild am Sonntag about adopting Naleigh, then 10-months old, from South Korea in 2009.
Initially, Heigl tells the paper, her daughter didn't respond to the affection she lavished on her. "I fought very hard to be accepted as a mom by my daughter," Heigl shares. "Her rejection almost broke my heart."
Naleigh's response left the actress questioning whether she would ever make a good mother -- and it didn't help that Heigl's hubby of nearly five years, Josh Kelley, won over their daughter almost immediately. "I wasn't exactly jealous, but I was a little bit envious (of his and Naleigh's closeness)," Heigl admits.

Feeling more helpless than ever, the former "Grey's Anatomy" star chose to focus on her work -- which helped her get by in the short-term, but ultimately, didn't do much to help Naleigh get to know, or trust, her new mom.

"The minute I realized (that), I immediately stopped working so much," Heigl says, explaining why she chose to leave "Grey's Anatomy." The more time Heigl and Naleigh spent together, the closer the mother-daughter pair grew.
In January, Heigl also spoke to Parent & Child about her struggles during the adoption process. Still, she says, she'd do it all over again -- and encourage others to follow in her footsteps.
"It takes time for a child to trust this new situation and to trust you," she told the mag. "My advice is don't be discouraged. The reward (of adopting) is so great."
And, Heigl adds, once she stopped putting pressure on herself to fit the mold of the "ideal" mom, the star settled into a groove with her new daughter. Though Kelley might be the fun, boisterous parent, "I'm the cuddler," Heigl revealed. "I'm the one she comes to if she's hurt. And I have a ritual for putting her to bed. She has one blankie that goes over her, one that goes by her face, and one that she holds. It's our little thing."

Hopefully that will encourage you about adoption and attachment- just stick it out, be intentional and consistent! 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter, Israel!

Dear Israel,

Today is a big day as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ! I miss you every day, baby, but on holidays it hurts worse than ever. Your dad and I talk about future Easters and about all the silly and meaningful traditions we want to have. We talk about sharing the gospel with you and are praying hard for your salvation already. We can't wait for you to trust Christ as your Savior too!

Although today is Easter in America, next Sunday is Ethiopia's Easter. I wonder what the special mothers at Hannah's Hope will do, if they will sing any songs or if anything will be different.

I pray that deep down you know that your mom and dad are aching for you and are scratching dates off our calendar in thanksgiving that we are one day closer to being reunited with you. Lord-willing, this is our last holiday without you! We love you sweet boy!

Love,
Mama

Friday, April 6, 2012

Guest Post: Stone's Attachment Journey

We have another very special guest post today! Ginny is another AGCI Ethiopia mama, who has a precious son named Stone! I had the blessing of meeting Ginny at Created for Care, and she really is just as sweet as she seems online :). Here's a bit of their testimony of attachment so far:


We got home with Stone (20 months) the week before Thanksgiving-actually the Friday before.  So, we obviously stayed close to home that week-our girls were out of school-neat time that we got to all hang out and get to know each other.  Well, on Thanksgiving day or maybe that Friday, we went to Brian's parents house for Thanksgiving dinner.  The girls were excited and seriously who stays home and eats left over BBQ on Thanksgiving?  So, we made our pies and went ahead.  Stone was fine-Brian or I held him mostly the whole time.  After the meal, as dessert was being passed out, we put him down and he ran around- he was fine.

Now-a little background-my MIL is super great.  We told her about all the issues with bonding/attachment and she is really good about letting us deal with our kiddos how we want to and not trying to overstep.  She hadn't held him at that point.

So, we are passing out dessert and he walks up to her-she's holding a plate with pie on it- he patted her leg, said "mama" and pointed to the pie plate.  I think right then she knew all that we had been trying to tell her about attachment was  super important.  She did great and didn't give him the pie-I was standing right there and scooped him up. Clearly it was time to leave.  It was a good remainder for us of how truly important staying home and keeping his world small really was and it was a good learning/seeing time for my in-laws.

Ok-all that to say, that with some people it might take an actual experience to really get it.  




Stone needed some pretty major dental work done ASAP when we got home.  We scheduled his surgery for just after Christmas.  He was going under general anesthesia since he needed 10 crowns and 6 fillings.  It didn't take any medical training to know that his little teeth were rotten!  So, we were at the outpatient center and they called us back to see him when the surgery was over.  He was a total mess.  Crying, moaning, screaming, crying more, trying to figure out the weird feeling of coming out of the anesthesia.  The nurses were most helpful and shut the door to our recovery room (so now we are sweating!) and telling us to, "do whatever will comfort him".  Hum, we didn't really know him all the well (only 5 weeks!) and didn't really know what in the world to do.  They finally sent us home with him still very upset and crying.  Oh my.  It was really not a high point in our attachment process-we saw just how far we had to go.  He eventually calmed down when we got home.  I held him for several hours while he napped off and on.  Oh goodness.  We knew that we needed to really focus on figuring out this amazing child that we didn't have the privilege of knowing from birth. 

Now, we have been home for almost 5 months.  Stone is doing really great.  Just in the last few weeks he will come to me when he gets hurt and say, "momma kiss" as he holds up his finger that I can't see anything wrong with!  I love it.  If there's a more serious injury that involves crying, he runs to me with his arms open.  We were at an Ethiopian adoption family group last weekend and he clung to Brian or me most of the time.  Like wouldn't let us put him down.  I loved it-he trusted that we would take care of him.  He checks in with me when we are playing outside in the yard. I love it.  There's no more crying when we put him down for bed or nap-he trusts that we will be there when he gets up.  Sometimes he says, "bye bye mommy!" when I put him down and greets me again when I go get him up.  I love it.  These are all things that we didn’t even notice and came so naturally with our girls.  But with Stone, we have had to work for them.  

It is a lot of work getting to this point and I know that we still have more work to do.  It takes a whole effort from both parents and the extended family too.  It's a bummer not letting family members hold him, feed him, change him, especially when you need a break because you haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since before you left for Ethiopia!  And it's a major bummer for close relatives and friends too.   But know that you are doing the best thing by your child. You guys, these kiddos are just so adorable that most normal people cannot resist them!  Be patient and remember that most everyone means well.   

We still stay home a lot.  Our days are filled with playing ball, trucks, blocks, swinging, walking in the stroller (my new exercise initiative-the gym is obviously out!), looking at critters outside, and just being together.  It is really so much fun!  When we first got home, I put him in the ergo at the grocery store or Target-yes, you get some weird looks walking into Target with a 30-pound Ethiopian strapped to you, but it was totally worth it!  

I think now, that if I had stood up and bounced Stone after that surgery, he would have been able to calm down.  I am sad that I didn't know that at the time, but I am really glad that now I know exactly what to do with this precious little boy that God designed.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Guest Post: M's Family's Journey

Today's post is from a very special mama! "M"'s family has completed two adoptions for their daughters, R and E. If you are on the AGCI facebook page or listserve, you are very familiar with M because she is one of the most encouraging, generous mamas of the bunch! She is always ready to ofter wisdom and support!

Cocooning is something that most people aren't familiar with, but it is so important to children who are adopted.  My girls are ages 4 and 3 now.  R has been home a little over 4 years, and E has been home almost 2.5.  When they first came home, it was hard to explain to people why they couldn't hold the baby or why my husband and I had to be ones to change her and feed her.  I know sometimes people felt offended (I remember in particular a co-worker of mine and a certain family member), but I often explain to people by saying that the long-term needs of my child outweigh the short-term needs of the adults.  This phrase goes for everyone-- the child, the parents, the grandparents, the family, the friends...  When a child comes home, his or her needs are the priority, or at least they should be.  Both my children are Ethiopian, and their little worlds were turned upside down when they came home.  Everything was new and different and scary for them.  R was very small-- only 3 months old-- but E was 10 months old and had a hard time adjusting to life at home at first.  Her heart was broken, and she was terrified.  She needed time to feel secure, time for her heart to mend, and time for her to be able to trust again.  After all, in her world, mommas are people who leave you forever, so why should she trust me?  A child who is adopted must be given time to feel secure again, to be able to love again, to be able to trust again.  Cocoon is a critical piece of that.
 
As an adoptive parent, I have the responsibility to help my children feel secure, loved, and safe.  In most cases, a child raised in his or her biological family does not experience the loss my children have experienced.  At ages 3 months and 10 months when they came home, we were our girls' 4th set of care givers.  Both of them had lost their Ethiopian familes, and everything in their lives had been turned upside down.  When they came home, cocooning was one way that my husband and I tried to help our children's hearts heal.  Yes, they were infants, but I have also come to realize that people do not give infants enough credit.  My sweet daughters needed to know who their parents were, where they were, and that they would never leave them. 
 
As the friend or family member of someone who is bringing home a child, there are some things you can do to help them out.  First of all, support them and respect them.  Even if you do not agree with their parenting decisions, they are the parents, and they are doing what they feel is in the best interest of their child(ren).  Remember, the long term needs of the child outweigh the short term needs of adults.  While it may feel hurtful that the new adoptive parents don't allow you to hold their child, give them a bottle, change them, or even tell the child you love them, the child's needs must be at the forefront.  Everything in their lives has been shaped by loss up until this point.  A second way you can help the new parents is by offering to run errands for the, bring them dinner, come over during the child's naptime or after he or she has gone to be for the night, or offer to take other children in the home for an outing.  Third, be patient.  Cocooning is a season, just like all parts of life.  The season for cocooning will end, and when the time is right, you'll be able to love on the baby.   Until the child and the parents are ready, this is the way to show love-- through support of the decisions the parents are making out of love for their child.
 
Is cocooning hard?  Yes, it definitely is.  But is it worth it?  Most definitely!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Guest Post: Mareto's Attachment Journey

We have another very special guest post today! Lauren Casper is a precious, precious mommy! Her son Mareto came home from Hannah's Hope last year, and they are in the process of adopting again from Ghana! She has been so creative in fund raising for their second adoption- check out her blog and see how God is providing for them!



Mareto was 4 ½ months old when we brought him home from Ethiopia just over a year ago. He had lived in 3 different orphanages for all but 2 weeks of his young life. He had been passed around from home to home, bed to bed, and care giver to care giver. Even in Hannah’s Hope he didn’t always sleep in the same bed, but rotated between 3 different cribs. He had no attachments to any person or object. When we first brought him back to our hotel we marveled over what a peaceful and content baby he was. He almost never cried (but almost never smiled either) and just went with the flow. I know for certain that he was just as content in the hotel restaurant waiter’s arms as he was in my arms. While many could have viewed Mareto as the most mild-mannered and well behaved baby possible, we knew this was not the case. Two years of extensive research had educated us well. We knew that he didn’t cry because it didn’t really matter. There was no one person he trusted to meet his every need. We knew that he was fine with anyone holding him because in his little heart everyone had equal value. We knew that he wasn’t attached to a special blanket, toy, or pacifier because he had never owned anything in his life but shared clothes, blankets, toys, and even cribs with several other babies. It’s heartbreaking to type those words and I hope it’s heartbreaking for you to read them. It should never be this way for a child, but for millions this is their reality. Mareto never got the foundation he deserved. When he left Hannah’s Hope in our arms our number one job as parents was to heal the hurts in his young heart and day by day build that foundation of love and trust he needs so desperately. So the moment we walked in our front door we began “cocooning.”

For a month the only place we went with him was the doctor’s office. The only people who got to meet him during that month were immediate family. We were the only ones to hold, rock, feed, bathe, and comfort him. When he cried we ran to his side and immediately met his needs. When John went back to work Mareto spent nearly every waking moment of his days strapped to my chest in the Moby wrap or Ergo. It was a time of intense bonding and I must say I loved every minute of it. At the end of the first month we ventured out to the grocery store. It terrified Mareto and he was fussy for a few days after that. We went back in our cocoon for another month. Then we ventured out again slowly. We stuck to one outing (post office or grocery store) per week. Then, after we had been home for three months we brought him to church. Even there he stayed securely strapped to my chest in the ergo. People were very respectful in coming up to chat but never touched him, held him, or got in his face in any way. We were home several months before people outside of immediate family were allowed to hold Mareto. We only allowed it when we could see very positive signs that he had bonded well with us and that he understood we were his parents.

Cocooning was an absolutely crucial part to Mareto’s healing process. We have seen such a difference in our boy. He cries and makes it known when he has a need. He smiles and laughs and plays beautifully now. He doesn’t like to be away from us and has a healthy sense of “stranger danger.” He is happy with family and close friends but is appropriately cautious of less familiar people. We are constantly evaluating his needs and adjusting. Our attention to Mareto’s healing did not end at 3 months when we began to venture out. Even recently we attempted church nursery but learned that it was too soon for him. I believe it’s too familiar a scene. He had a common play area and lots of children around in the orphanage setting. He is only content in the nursery if I remain. It’s my joy to satisfy his need and reinforce that trust… that if he needs me, Mama is always there. All of our research and hard work is resulting in an attached little boy who has learned that it’s okay to trust. Attachment parenting is ongoing process, and one that simply cannot be understated for the family who is blessed with a child through adoption.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Guest Post: A's Attachment Journey

It's no secret that my "bff" is Leigh, another first-time mom through adoption. She is not only one of my very best friends, but a mom that I deeply respect. She brought her son "A" home from Ethiopia last summer, and this is her cocooning story: 

Spring 2011- after they got their referral!




Before coming home with our son I had done all the research on attachment and cocooning.  I figured we would cocoon for 3 months and be good to go. It wasn't until I met my son that I saw how deeply impacted he had been by all the losses in his young life.  We landed back home on June 18th, 2011 as first time parents to the most precious little 4 1/2 year old on the planet (I'm his mama, I can brag like that ;) ).  We settled into our little world of cocooning and I realized that my sweet son was terrified.  Not of us but of the world around him, he had lost everything again and this time he had lost more than ever.  Adoption is beautiful but it is born of pain and loss, that is hard for every child not matter the age. He was so unsure and he needed us to be the constant in his life.  I realized how big our job as his parents was truly going to be.  Thankfully, he did trust us fairly quickly but it's because he only saw us, we were the only ones to meet his needs, the only ones to comfort him when he was sad or afraid and we kept a very consistent schedule.  He desperately needed to know what was coming and changes in his routine were not welcomed in the beginning.




Now that we have been home for 9 months he does much better when we have to adapt to whatever life throws at us but it's because he knows we are going to be there.  We give him plenty of warning when we know things are going to be out of our ordinary life so he can be prepared.  We were the only ones to offer him food, give him baths, put him to bed, cuddle him when he fell down or was grieving the loss of Ethiopia.  Now he comes to us to meet his needs, he knows that we are Mommy and Daddy.  Mommy and Daddy were just our names for so long but now we are his people, we are truly Mommy and Daddy to him.  That took work and effort to make happen, we had to guard his heart from having lots of people be part of our little circle at first.  Our little guy was always very overwhelmed by lots of people and still is, he doesn't like people he doesn't know to get all in his business.


We know people have gotten their feelings hurt because they love him and want to love on him but they are strangers to him, while we know that they would never harm our son, he doesn't know that.  He is allowed to have that voice and as his parents we feel it's our duty to encourage that sense of stranger danger.  He does warm up to people and he now has a great and appropriate relationship with several family members.  We are thankful that these people patiently waited as we helped our son start to heal and attach to us.

Cocooning and attachment are hard work,  it is intentional parenting on a daily basis.  For 2 1/2 months our son slept with us in our bed, during the night he would reach to see if we were still there.  For 3 1/2 months after that I slept in his bed with him, he would wake up scared and cuddle up to me or ask me to rub his back when he couldn't fall back asleep.  I missed "my normal sleep" but I was able to meet a need that my sweet boy desperately needed met.  Now he is a wonderful sleeper, he sleeps in his bed alone without any fears that Mommy and Daddy will be gone when he wakes.  He is now comfortable enough to yell for us in the night if he does wake up scared or needs something.  He can depend on us because we have proved to him that we will do what it takes.


 I don't say all this to brag or say we did a perfect job, I know we have not.  What we have done is battle for our son's heart with the Lord as our guide.  We are selfish people who sometimes just wanted to leave him home with a babysitter because we had lost our "normal carefree lifestyle" and we missed it.  My husband came home from work many times to a crying mama in the kitchen because it was just too overwhelming and felt like such a massive responsibility.  I had plenty of moments where I questioned what God was thinking when He asked me, a very imperfect 24 year old to be the mom of his beautiful but wounded preschooler. But God was there, He carried us through the hard times.  He called us to this journey and He has been faithful.  We have watched as He heals our son's heart.  We are the lucky ones that get to watch redemption in our house on a daily basis.

Our family has been together for a little over 9 months and we are reaping some beautiful fruit from our cocooning process and from dutifully guarding his heart from too much too soon.  We don't regret our cocooning or how we still protect our son, the only times in parenting that we do look back and regret are the times that we did not go with our guts and were less guarded than we should have been. Thankfully our God is bigger than our failures and He gives us more chances to step up and do what we need to do for our precious son. Attachment takes work but when given the proper time, dedication and reliance on the Lord, the end results are breathtaking.

Thank you Leigh for being so open about your heart during this process. Feel free to check out her blog here

Monday, April 2, 2012

What is "Cocooning" and Why Are you Doing It?

Ok, so yesterday I wrote a bit about attachment. I hope you gleaned from that post that (generally speaking) many institutionalized (orphanage) adopted children have deep losses that have to be recognized and healed. As parents, we can play a large part in this healing process, although we know that God alone heals our hearts.

There is a lot of research about how to embark on the healing process of kids. The first thing to understand is that it takes TIME. This can't be done in 3 months; this is a lifelong process. Some things occur very quickly, and some slowly. We have to build trust with our children, that they know parents will meet their needs and that we aren't going to leave them. We have to teach our kids that we love them unconditionally for who they are right now and will protect them.

Cocooning

When we initially bring our adopted child into our home, we are going to experience a time of "cocooning." Cocooning is another adoption buzz word, which describes a very intensive care season, in which mom and dad are not only the primary caregivers, but the only ones to hold, feed, change, touch, rock and play with baby. We won't be introducing new people (even family), and won't be leaving the house much. Our agency suggests this time frame being between 6 weeks and 3 months, although I have heard some families have just continually re-evaluated where their kids are at each mark and some kids have needed longer time to cocoon.

The cocooning process allows the children to understand that mom and dad will meet their needs. It allows the children to be acclimated to the new environment with minimal overstimulation. Our son won't know what a mom or dad is. We will use this time to teach him what any biological 6 month already knows- mom and dad love you and will respond to you when you cry and have a need. He is already used to being passed around and having multiple people respond to his needs- we need to teach him who we are are and that you can't go to just anyone to have needs met- this will allow for him to set up healthy boundaries for the future.

It may seem harsh to not pass our son around, or bring him to church for the first few months, or allow others (even family) to hold and kiss him, but we know that the best interest of our son is for him to know that mom and dad are the ones who give affection and care for him most. Eventually, when Israel is ready, those things may come. But for the first few months especially, we have to put the best interest of our son above the feelings of others. Until we are confident that Israel knows us and is attaching to us, then we won't step out of the cocoon. And even after we are out of the cocoon, there may be times we need to go back in and allow for Israel to recover from overstimulation, especially if we see that he is not attaching afterall. This is a process that Will and I get to control and we know that in the long run, Israel will be a happier kid, and ABLE to have healthy relationships with his friends and family if he has made a secure attachment to us first.

How Do You Know if its Working?

The great thing about adoption is that "little" things are BIG milestones! When we see that our son is seeking our approval before going to strangers, that is a good thing. "Charming" strangers is a habit of institutionalized children- where they are always "parent shopping" and may seem overly happy or silly to get attention. Although that certainly may be part of our son's personality, we want to be careful that he knows that WE are the ones who respond to him first.

Other signs of progress: when our son cries or acknowledges that he has a need, because it means he knows that we will meet his needs. I know, this may seem weird, but a lot of institutionalized children don't cry and don't tell parents when they are hungry, have a wet/dirty diaper, or need something. We have to teach our son that we will meet his needs, and celebrate when he lets us know them! Sometimes institutionalized children may hoard food or toys, because they fear that they may not get them again later. This is a positive sign if hoarding is not an issue.

It is a good sign when our son is able to make healthy relationships and able to communicate with others using appropriate words and actions. It is a good thing when he shows us his happy moments and sad and angry moments- because he knows that we acknowledge his emotions and value him; our love does not depend on him acting a certain way.

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Alright, again, thanks for reading this if you made it to the end! I'm trying to lay a foundation so that others will understand our decision to keep Israel a bit private when we first come home. More information to come, as well as our "plan" :)!

**I realize that not all families choose to cocoon, and some have had good experiences with their decision. In our case, we have no other children at home, so we are able to stay home with our son. This post was written to educate non-adoptive friends and families on the purpose behind our decision to cocoon with our son after he is home.  At this time, all of this is written based on research, recommendations from our agency, and experiences of other adoptive families- not personal experience as parents. **

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What is a "Attachment" and why are you so worried about it?

Ok folks, I'm about to talk about a very touchy subject. This is something that MOST families who are knee-deep in the adoption world are VERY familiar with, and if you are, I would LOVE for you to read this and add your thoughts in the comment section. I know that many of my blog readers are NOT connected in the adoption world, or are just beginning the process of adoption/fostering. I hope this post (and the others to come) will enlighten you a bit on what life will look like for us after we bring Israel home. We will need a lot of support and it will bless us greatly if you know what are appropriate ways to support us!

Attachment

Adoption Parenting defines attachment as "a close, trusting tie between two people; or in particular, as the reciprocal relationship between an infant and her primary caregiver... Healthy attachment occurs when the infant experiences her caregiver as consistently providing emotional essentials such as touch, movement, eye contact and smiles, as well as the basic necessities such as food and shelter." (p.43).

Attachment, which is a big buzz word in the adoption community, is the connection that the child has with the parent- in which the child completely trusts the parents and allows the parents to meet the needs of the child. This is typically a natural process for biological children, but for adopted children (even a child adopted at day 1 in the hospital) have already experienced some major losses that can interfere with the attachment process. 

Loss
If you've had a biological child, think about it this way: from the moment you found out you were pregnant, you (probably) had positive emotional feelings towards your child. For 40-ish weeks of pregnancy, you took extra care of your body, talked to the baby, anticipated his arrival, etc. When the baby was born, you took care of his needs immediately- feeding, changing, bathing. Every time the baby cried you were probably there to meet its needs. From the beginning (conception) the baby knew that you loved it and even after birth, you met the needs the baby had.

Now let's think about (in general) institutionalized (orphanage-setting) children. Please note all of this is generalization, nothing is specific to Israel's story or meant to say that every institutionalized child comes from this background. In some cases, the events of conception could be traumatic (rape, etc) or the discovery of pregnancy could result in shame, abuse, and fear. The 40ish weeks of pregnancy could be very traumatic instead of peaceful and joy-filling. The birth could occur in a dangerous or unsafe setting, and the child's needs could be unmet by abandonment or malnourishment. Perhaps the child is moved to an orphanage, and then to another orphanage or foster home. Each time the child is moved to a new place, the child loses the connection with the previous one: loss of birth mother, loss of home, loss of familiarity. There is not one person consistently meeting needs.

Identifying these losses will not only allow us to be compassionate towards our kids, but understand why we have to rebuild trust. Our son has been in an orphanage almost his entire life. He has been passed around between special mothers, and although he is being very well fed and cared for, he does not have a primary caregiver like he would if he was in our home. His special mothers always care for multiple children at a time, and his needs may not be met immediately, like if he was in our home. Even when we do finally bring Israel home, there will be a huge loss for him- the culture of Ethiopia, the sound of Amharic speaking, the sights of brown skinned caregivers, the smells of Hannah's Hope. Everything will be completely new. He won't automatically know or trust us, even though we did spend four days with him in early March.

How Loss Affects Attachment

Institutionalized adopted children can deal with several emotions, all that lead to reactions. In Adoption Parenting, these emotions are listed as loss, rejection, guilt and shame, grief, mastery/control, identity and intimacy (p.7). If these emotions are not processed correctly (with the caregivers) then internal reactions occur. The way the parents help the children heal and meet the child's needs affects the attachment that they have.

 In the same book, pages 55-56 describe types of attachment:

Secure- able to engage with mom, and others. Upset when mom leaves but is happy when reunited. Able to develop trust, self-regulation, and self-reliance, healthy and meaningful relationships and coping skills for stress and frustration.
Anxious/Ambivalent- inconsolable when mom is gone, reunions with mom are resentful; resistant when mom initiates attention; afraid to explore surroundings or meet new people.
Insecure/Avoidant- avoids and ignores mom; treats mom same as strangers, doesn't express emotions and doesn't explore environment, finds ways to self-care and won't ask for help or show needs.
Insecure/Disorganized- scared of caregivers; acts rejected, alarmed; hurts others with little remorse.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)- little conscience or fear of consequence, will hurt, life and steal without remorse, will not respond normally to nurturing or discipline.

The Big Deal
Karen Purvis wrote in The Connected Child: "Children raised in an impoverished orphanage setting without any primary caretaker at all can lack attachment skills entirely. These children may not have the basic moral compass that tells them not to hurt other people because they never got closely connected with another person." (p28).

At Created for Care, Amy Monroe said something beautiful: "The past affects the future but does not determine it." Just because Israel, and other institutionalized children, have had inconsistent settings from the beginning, and may currently have some attachment issues, the LORD can overcome their grief and heal their hearts.

Congrats if you made it through to the end of this post! Come back next time for a post on HOW to heal their hearts! (Based on research, not personal experience- as our son is not home yet.)
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