Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Twins' Adoption Story (part two)

The original family was not the right placement for the girls and they knew it.  Many mistakes were made by our adoption agency.  Their first family made the difficult choice to disrupt the adoption knowing it was in the best interest of the girls in the long term.  They needed to be the only children in the family, they had a lot of special needs that needed to be addressed.  It just so happened that the girls fit the description of what we were looking for. Oh, and you know those insurmountable obstacles that popped up during our homestudy?  Yeah, those weren't even an issue now because, since the twins were already in the US, this would be considered a domestic adoption and none of those things were even an issue.  (Props, God!)  So over the next 2 weeks we got to meet them and visit with them everyday and by the end of those 2 weeks they were living with us full time. BAM, instant family!

At this point I felt a wave of calm come over me as I realized that I no longer could give God the silent treatment. I needed him. This was not going to be easy. These 4 year olds spoke no English, they were in diapers, and they had severe behavior problems. It was like jumping into the deep end of the pool without any swimming experience, no life jackets and no life guards. We just had to figure it out.

We spent the next few months in a bubble. We couldn’t leave the house. The girls had to be completely socialized. They knew nothing of being in a family, had no idea of social norms or socially acceptable behavior. The amazing part of it all was that even though they had been through so much in such a short amount of time, they were so open and loving to us. They began bonding with us so willingly. Those months were filled with a mixture of tantrums, dance parties, physical restraints, and hair salon parties, but all of it brought us closer.
Their English became so good so fast, no one could believe it. And, with the help of many professionals, their behavior was improving as well. They began preschool and did wonderfully! We still had many struggles behaviorally and I’m sure the library considered calling Children Protective Services based on what I was checking out at the library! I read everything from “The Rage Free Child” to “The Out of Sync Child” along with any other creative consequences books. According to the books we were doing everything right, but our kids just didn’t fit the molds of these books so we just prayed and did the best we knew how.

Along the way they’ve been diagnosed with a whole myriad of disorders, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the medications have been an amazing tool for helping them cope with all of the change and trauma. It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 when we were sitting at the table that we really understood the scope of what their little brains were dealing with. At the dinner table we start talking about their life in Ethiopia. They weren’t often open about talking about it, but this night they were. They told us in their broken English, that they lived in a mud hut, with a dirt floor with their mother and older sister. They bathed, drank and relieved themselves in the same river. Once their mother had another baby is when she relinquished them to the orphanage. We later found out in 2015 when we hired an investigator what the whole story was.

As I think back about everything I am amazed at how God works. I know now that losing my job was such a blessing because I got to spend those last precious weeks with my dear Geeta.  I believe God used Geeta to tell me what His plan was since I sure wasn’t listening to Him! The black mold we discovered during our homestudy forced us to move into a beautiful large home with 4 bedrooms, and 2 twin beds that were already there from my childhood. That’s what the girls sleep in every night. The disrupted adoption meant that I did not have to travel to Ethiopia, which was going to be difficult because of my health. It also saved our family a lot of money not having to travel.  God's timing is always PERFECT.  If we had not started the process when we did (when it made no sense for us to do so) we wouldn't have been ready for our daughters.  Listen to God people!

Through this amazing experience I went from being a control freak, to working hard to be an open book for God. I try everyday to soak in everything he is trying to convey to me. I know now that God has wonderful things in store for our family and I don’t want to miss any cues from him!

The Twins' Adoption Story (part one)

In the fall of 2009 I felt very angry with God, in fact I was giving him the  silent treatment. After abruptly losing my job, we had a sudden death in the family and then my dear friend Geeta lost her battle with breast cancer.

I proceeded to spend the next few months wallowing in self pity.  Finally one day I felt my friend Geeta with me. I felt her saying to me “Get off of your butt and stop being sad. It’s time to make your own happiness!” Before she passed away we had had many conversations about international adoption since she and her husband had adopted from Guatemala. So I just keep feeling her nagging me to start looking into it. I had the time, so I researched different agencies and countries and made a nice organized spreadsheet.

I presented all of this to Mike who was definitely on board, but concerned. You see, it definitely did NOT make any sense for us to do this now. I had lost my job (still on unemployment) and he was serving tables at the Olive Garden trying to finish up his PhD. We lived in a small 2 bedroom apartment with not a whole lot of extra income at the end of the month, let alone extra thousands of dollars lying around to be able to afford this! We knew we wanted to adopt eventually because we both have some serious genetic health issues on both sides of our families that we didn’t want to risk passing onto our children. But now? My brain knew it didn’t make sense but my heart wasn’t listening!

Not long after I began my research I got a call from my cousin Kimberly.  We had become closer since the sudden passing of her mother.  She offered me a full time job working for her!  Looking back I see that as soon as I was blindly following God's call for my life, he was providing for our needs.

After Christmas we really began finalizing our choices as far as agency and country. We chose our agency because it was the same one that Geeta had gone through and we chose Ethiopia because the kids were healthy, they were being hyped as not having attachment issues (HA!), and they were beautiful! It was a new program so there was less red tape and less of a wait time.

Now came the issue of financing this. We starting some fundraisers that yielded small profits but realized we were going to have to come up with a better plan. I am blessed enough to have very generous and well off grandparents, so we wrote up a business plan of how we would pay them back and presented it to them. This was a very big chunk of change we were asking to borrow but luckily for us they said yes and we were on our way!

We started our homestudy in mid-February 2010. When our social worker came out to our home, one of the many times, she asked about the possibility of us adopting 2 children. After talking it over we decided that we never wanted only one child so why not go ahead and get 2 at the same time, preferably biological siblings! We figured at least if they are going to look nothing like us, they can at least look like each other! So we got approved for 2 children and when we said we didn’t want to request a gender, we were informed that we would probably get 2 boys then, because most people have been requesting girls. At this information my husband, who grew up with no sisters, says “Wouldn’t it be cool if we got twin girls!”. I said “No! You have no idea the kind of drama that would come along with that! Two prom dresses, two weddings, and let’s not forget the hormones!!”

There were a few road blocks that we ran into during our homestudy process.  For one, when we were married I chose to change my middle name to my maiden name.  I was told at the Social Security office that I could do that and was not informed that any other legal action needed to be taken.  Well, it turns out that I needed to go to probate court to officially change it legally.  Due to strange rules I was going to have to wait an entire year before I'd be allowed to go to probate court for this which was going to set us back an entire year!  My doctors were also NOT fond of me going to a third world country in Africa since I was on so many immune-suppressant medications.  There were some vaccines that were recommended that were live viruses, which I was told I was not allowed to have because of the meds I was taking.  Many tears were shed over these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

During this process our agency connected us with another family who was local and also adopting from Ethiopia through the same agency. We became Facebook friends and had sent a couple of emails back and forth. When they made their trip in late March to pick up their children, I found myself glued to my computer! I just kept looking at their pictures. I was amazed with the scenery, and the culture and of course, the children. I showed her pictures to everyone I knew. When my
mom saw the pictures of the children this family was bringing home, she gasped and said “Oh Sarah, can’t you just have them? They’re beautiful!!”. My response, of course, was that I was pretty sure it didn’t work like that!

We were moving into my grandparents former house that spring.  On April 30th everything changed. All of our things were in boxes as we were moving the following day. Our phone rang at about 8pm. Our adoption agency was on the other end, asking us how we would feel about adopting twin 4 year old girls. We were in shock! Our homestudy wasn't even finished yet! When we ask when, her response is just “soon, very soon”!  We asked them to give us the night to pray about it.
From their description of the girls’ ages I knew it was the same 2 little girls I had been looking at pictures of over the last 2 weeks. So we logged onto our computer and looked at their pictures again…and wept. These were our daughters!!

Read part two for the rest of the story!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Blessed By Birthmothers Across the Globe

Last week we hired an investigator halfway around the world in Ethiopia and this week we have pictures and information about all of our daughters' birth mothers.  MIND BLOWN.

It has literally been a million times easier to find these women in rural Ethiopia, living in mud huts, than it has to get my license plates switched over from Ohio to Pennsylvania, which still has not happened and we've lived here nearly a year.

Mike and I have been saying for the past 4 years that as soon as we got our 2011 tax refund, which includes our adoption tax credit, that we would hire an investigator to look into the twins' birth family.  Because this tax refund took a whopping FOUR YEARS to get straightened out, this has seemed like an elusive goal, something out of our reach.  Thanks to my superhero tax attorney Uncle Mike we were able to finally get the refund and not 2 weeks later I saw a question on an Ethiopian Adoption Support Group page I follow on Facebook.  There was a woman asking for a recommendation for an investigator and it just so happened that my friend Scott commented.  I sent Scott a message to ask more about this man he was recommending and his response was that this man was like a part of his family, a Christian and one of Scott's best friends.  SOLD.

I reached out to this man on Facebook, who lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I gave him all of the information I have from the paperwork from their adoptions.  I've had a few friends go through this process and find out that most, if not all, of the information that was in their adoption paperwork was a lie, so there was no guaranteeing this information I was giving him was factual.  I figured we'd wait a couple of months to find anything out.

Imagine my surprise when only a couple of days later he was in the village that the twins were born in.  He had information.  Mike and I held our breaths when opening the email and reading his report.  

We hardly knew anything about the twins' story, beside what they could remember and verbalize to us in their broken English when they were four.  They talked about a mom figure, but called her by her first name.  This mom was on the paperwork once as their mother and yet on another set of paperwork she was listed as a guardian.  We weren't certain if she was the mom or an eldest sister.  They also spoke of an older sister and a baby sister.  Charlotte named all of her baby dolls after this baby sister and missed her dearly in that first year with us.  Even after being with us for nearly 3 years I remember a night where she broke down and wept because she was worried about her baby sister in Ethiopia.  My heart broke not being able to give her those answers she was craving.

Now we had the information in our lap and we prayed that it was good news that would be healing.  We opened the report and read it together before sharing it with the girls.  It turns out it was their mother and she is well, living with the other two daughters.  While the paperwork said that their father died, it turns out he just up and left once the baby sister was born, leaving their mother with no way to support her family.  She was in an impossible situation.  She relinquished custody of the twins when they were 3 (6 years ago) and had not heard a word about their whereabouts since.  She was so happy to see the pictures of the girls that we sent with our investigator.  She wept over them for a long time, he told us, and she had a hard time speaking.  I cannot even imagine not knowing where your children were and if they were ok for SIX YEARS.  The girls' sisters are also well, looking to be about 13 and 6 years old.  The younger one looks like a crazy awesome combination of the twins. 

When we showed the twins the pictures and shared the information they were beaming from ear to ear!  They loved seeing someone who actually looked like them!  They no longer have any conscious memories of their life back then, but I could see how healing it was going to be for them to have this treasure of information.  Seeing their first mother crying tears of joy when looking at their pictures.  She LOVES them, she MISSES them, they were wanted.  She made a selfless and impossible decision to give the girls a chance at a better life.  

A couple of days later we got word that our investigator was in Celia's family's village as he sent us pictures and a report.  Her birth mother is very young and very poor living in a home made of branches and sticks.  Once again the story of Celia's birth father being deceased proved to be untrue.  He also disappeared once Celia was born.  Her birth mother was so poor she was unable to feed herself enough to be able to produce milk to feed her baby.  Celia was very malnourished when she came to the orphanage.  She is now remarried and just recently had another baby, a boy.

Celia is only 5 right now so this information is a bit much for her to be able to process.  We told her about her baby brother in Ethiopia and her response was "I know, I remember him."  Umm yeah chica you left the country before you were one year old and he was just born, so no, you don't remember him, but whatever!  I feel good that as she gets older and does have questions that I will have some of the answers she is seeking.

As I look at the pictures of these beautiful women on the other side of the world I realize how incredible it is to be able to love someone this much without ever even meeting them.  I love these women.  I feel like our family has grown.  I never thought that we would have the opportunity to have any form of an open adoption when we adopted children from another country, but God has now opened that door.  Through our investigator I can now send letters, more pictures and other items he thinks might be helpful for them.  Mike and I are also looking into what it would take to pay for the twins' sisters to attend a good school.  We are praying about what we do next now that we have all of this information.  We feel a responsibility to help our new family members in any way we can.  While I set out to do this for the girls, I have realized it was just as much for me.  I needed to know that these mothers knew that their babies were well, loved and had a family that would never let them forget where they came from.  I feel lighter somehow.

We do plan on making a trip over there once the girls are older and when we go we will most definitely spend time with their first mothers.  I can't wait to hold them, cry with them, laugh with them, pray with them, cook with them and thank them for the gift they gave us and our girls.  These girls are going to do BIG things, and that began with their mothers making a very brave and scary choice of giving their children life.

God's timing is pretty amazing.  All of this happened just in time for mother's day.  Best gift ever.

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