Thursday, April 19, 2012

2 Month Anniversary and Thoughts on Older Child Adoption

We have been a family of 6 for 2 months now. In some ways, Kofi and Agyeiwaa are learning so many new things every day. In many other ways, they are so comfortable in our daily routine and are truly thriving. It's still strange to be on the other side of the adoption journey, as so much of my time and energy in the last year was spent on longing for them and walking through the steps that would ultimately bring them to our family.Now the focus has shifted on healing and bringing together four siblings that were strangers just 60 days ago.
 Three little ones who have so much fun together

I have had a few friends ask me about the experience of adopting a child that is not a newborn/baby. In theory, many view infants as a blank slate and assume that attachment issues are not an...issue. While this may be true with some babies, I would never assume that any child going through a painful separation from a birth parent can be just "plopped" into a new family. Stress during pregnancy and changes in caregivers are significant events in an infant. Attachment work is necessary in ALL adoptions, IMHO.

Anyway, I can only speak from my experience (naturally) but for our family adopting a preschooler and a 6 year old child has been the biggest blessing. Our children are able to express to us about their life in Ghana, they verbalize their grief and we truly live their experiences with them knowing what is going on. After 2 months, we get to witness our children trusting us more, their affection changing from something they "should do" to something they want to do. The attachment process is a fascinating two way communication that we experience every day. The night time prayers reflect their hearts so beautifully. And to see our son realize that it is ok for him to talk about his first family and that we love them as family too, gives me such hope for the future. Our family has expanded not only by 2 children, but their extended families as well.

Another aspect of older child adoption that I didn't think about initially is blending two cultures. Or in my family, blending three cultures. This goes beyond celebrating major holidays or parent-lead activities to teach a child about their culture. My children are Ghanaian, they have the mannerisms and customs of a child who has grown up in Ghana. They are teaching us about Ghana, about their life, cooking, dancing, customs and national pride. The way Agyeiwaa cares for her baby dolls is the way she has seen mothers, even her mother, take care or babies in Ghana. The way Kofi carries items on his head, is the same way he would carry water multiple times a day in his village. We would have never experienced these wonderful moments if we hadn't said "yes" to an older child.  And after meeting children in the orphanages that are 8, 10, even 13 years old, I wouldn't hesitate to adopt a child in that age range.

 Agyeiwaa loves carrying her baby dolls like women do in Ghana

One common thread in Ghanaian adoptions is that the children were loved by their first families. They were nursed, carried on their mothers' backs, bonded and attached to their families, therefore they will learn to attach to and love their adoptive families as well. Babies are rarely placed for adoption in Ghana (or young toddlers for that matter) as mothers will care for them as long as they can nurse them. I see this as the great strength of the adoption program Ghana and it is the reason the children are thriving in new families. There is grief, and we see it every day. But we also see a wonderful bonding taking place. God is good!

Adopting children in this age range can feel scary for anyone who has a vision of adopting a newborn. But our family is blessed to have two sons that are practically twins and our daughter who keeps everyone in line:) I would absolutely do it again, and who knows, we may do it again...

 Sisters who share such a special bond!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our New Normal

Adding two children to any family is a challenge. I have four brothers, two of them have twins and I know they would agree with me. Adding two children with a past that is filled with grief and disappointment adds a whole 'nother layer to the process. Each behavior is looked at and analyzed "is this normal kid stuff or is this something else" and I second guess myself all the time. I want to give them opportunities to explore our world a bit, yet give them the security of familiar things. No book I have read addresses every situation I encounter and I wonder if I am making right decisions as things happen. As a "type A perfectionist", this is really where God is stretching me the most. There are days when laundry and other chores wait as I spend a good part of the afternoon helping to heal a heart that is grieving and hurting. I have to say no to commitments because my priority is the attachment of my children. 

Kofi started school (half day kindergarten) and I found myself analyzing every comment from his teacher and every story he has told me. He has wanted to go since day 1 as he feels schooling is a privilege he didn't always have. Also his brother and sister get to go and he felt inferior because he was at home. I also thought the school could make a plan for placement for next year as they got to know him this school year.

We went to a book fair at the school and I quickly found out that sending him was the right choice. He was interacting with his peers, his teacher and the principle (Kofi calls him "School Master", which our principle likes very much!). It has not interrupted our attachment process either. Actually, the times he is home are more relaxed and fun filled as he feels that once again we kept a promise to him. He has a wonderful teacher, he gets private instruction from an ELL teacher and he gets to spend recess with his brother.

Some of the things I need to work on is finding balance in all aspects of my life. For nearly 8 weeks, my sole focus has been creating our new family unit, fostering attachment while ensuring all our children feel loved and valued. Normal things like dates with hubby or even regular showers :) have not been a priority. But I feel like in our "new normal" I am ready to rediscover myself and ALL the roles in my life, not just the Mommy side.

God has also been whispering about new directions in my life and I am quietly taking note of it. I know it's not time for something new, but I know our adoption journey was the tip of an iceberg for something bigger. I felt it in May while in Ghana and I feel it just the same today.