Although we knew we wanted to start a second adoption as soon as possible after bringing Jaso home, we found that we were spending more time in the hospital with her than we had anticipated. As we learned to navigate the new normal of hospital admissions, surgeries, and insurance wranglings, we came to see that I had the kind of skills needed for a mom of special needs children. I was able to organize, advocate, and research. I was able to juggle hospital life and home life. And I was able to communicate with specialists and insurance companies. We also lived less then 10 miles from a nationally ranked Children’s hospital.
We decided that we would again pursue a waiting child with medical needs for our next adoption. We prayed very specifically that God would bring us to the child with the greatest need that we had the capacity to parent. Though we thought at the time that meant a medical diagnosis, we learned over time that it meant more.
As with our last adoption, things moved very quickly. We had already settled on Ethiopia for our second adoption and had decided to again pursue a child with medical needs. We were connected with AHOPE, an orphanage that had only begun placing children for adoption that year. Although it had functioned primarily as a hospice orphanage, new access to medical treatment through a Global Health Initiative program meant that children were living and families were beginning to adopt. As with Jaso’s adoption, we again found out about a specific “waiting” child – our Avi.
Fourteen months after bringing Jaso home, Greg and I traveled together to bring Avi home. We found during our two weeks with Avi in Ethiopia that being outside of the orphanage was unusual for him – being in his own city was overwhelming. He was nervous and in our arms any time we were out and about. We took turns carrying him everywhere in Ethiopia. But once we left the airport after arriving home, he rarely let us hold him again.
Before we adopted – even while we were in process and I was reading everything I could find – I only did occasional reading about attachment disorder. I read stories of families struggling with severe attachment issues, and I believed that it was the rarity – that I didn’t need to educate myself too much because chances were we simply wouldn’t need the information.
I believed then that Avi’s medical needs would far outweigh any attachment diagnosis or other diagnoses rooted in trauma. In reality, the struggles that were borne of the trauma, neglect, and loss that Avi experienced during his first four years have a permanent impact in his life and a very real impact every single day in our home – far beyond the daily impact of his medical diagnosis.
When we reached Avi’s one-year Happy Home Day, I cried. A month later, I had my first prescription for anti-depressants. I thought we just needed to give ourselves a year for things to settle, and we were far very from settled. Greg assured me “we need four years – he needs as long with us as he had before us.” In a way, he was right. Each year has brought significant progress in Avi’s adjustment to family life.
Our days are far easier than they were at that one year mark. We have more strategies in place. We generally know when things are “off” and what we can do to help get back on track. Over time, we have grown in our ability to stay aligned in our parenting even when it is difficult.
But almost nine years later, it is still hard work. At times it is more subtle, but it is constant. Now, in the midst of adolescence, we have adjusted our expectations. We know that the comfortable and easy feeling of family that we hope for comes and goes. But we also know that love is beyond a feeling.
I believe in adoption. I love seeing waiting children join families. But I know that it can be a hard, hard road. I know that it takes years of commitment and work. I know that it changes the shape of a family.
I have learned a lot through being Avi’s mom. And I know that I have much, much more to learn.
Parenting is hard. Parenting children from hard places is a whole other level of hard. It will turn you inside out and turn things upside down that you thought were so simple and straightforward. Everything changes.
I see people beginning their adoption or foster care journeys, and my heart soars with joy at the very same moment that it sinks with the realization that they, too, may be walking down a path that will turn them inside out.
But the thing is, I needed to be turned inside out. I wouldn’t go back.
Our kids from hard places were turned inside out too. Not the redemptive, life-giving kind of inside out. The heartbreaking kind. And somehow, we are allowed a place in bringing them healing – sometimes small, sometimes big, but almost always slow.
The mercy is that we find healing in the process too – of selfishness, of pride, of a false sense of competence, of a heart for things that just don’t matter – and this, too, is almost always slow.
It took a long time for us to regain equilibrium after bringing Avi home. It took a long time before we could seriously consider adoption or foster care again.
But in the same way that we learned through Jaso that we had the skills to parent children with medical needs, we now found ourselves equipped through parenting Avi for something we had no idea of before. We were learning how to parent children with traumatic backgrounds. We realized that what we were learning in this new realm of parenting was valuable and desperately needed – that there were more children who needed equipped parents and that our family, though stretched and somewhat weary, was still a resource.
(next week, I will share how we journeyed into foster care)