On Adoption After Four Years Home

I share this update as a testimony to God’s glory and no other reason. If other adoptive families are encouraged by it, I am so grateful! But our stories are always God’s stories first and His glory should always be shared by His Spirit and how He leads.

If you would like to read more of our story, you can do so here. {I apologize in advance that the pictures are missing. When I changed blog hosts a few years back, they didn’t transition over. But I put a few progressive photos below.}

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I realize it has been some time since I’ve offered an update on how our Ghanaian daughters are doing after being home getting close to five years now.

The truth is, I can’t imagine life without them. They are so much a part of our family (and have been since the very first time we laid eyes on their photo), that it feels like they’ve been with us all along.

2012

2012

But that’s not how it feels for them. See, they were pulled from everything and everyone they knew. Although they had been anticipating our arrival to bring them home for 16 months, nothing could have truly prepared them for that reality.

While there have been many good changes, there have been many more hard ones. Many of the struggles are buried, even for them. It’s been 4 1/2 years of slowly digging those things out to bring them to light. It’s been hearing harsh words from one and silence from another.

It’s been the undoing of some beliefs about themselves to replacing it with God’s Truth about who they are (and this is always ongoing).

In Ghana 2013

In Ghana 2013

As a mother who has obviously never mothered adopted children before them, it’s learning to be sensitive to their traumatic past. It’s learning they won’t respond the same way my biological children will in certain situations. And it’s learning it over and over and over again. For a while, everything will feel “normal” and something will trigger and a struggle ensues without warning.

It means trying {so hard} not to take any mud-slinging personally but to get to the root of where that hurt is coming from and truly listening to the heart of my child.

The one thing I have been super fortunate with was the ability to find ways to connect with my Ghanaian daughters in ways that feel non-threatening but allow them to express their hurts and their needs with me. We keep a journal. Each of the girls (along with my other children) have their own journal with which we use to communicate some hard things. Or we use it when there has been a confrontation. One of my daughters often shuts down talking at all if she feels unsafe sharing (fight or flight). But she will write it down if I ask her to. And then I will write back.

2014 in Ghana

2014 in Ghana

One of my daughters often writes about just how hard her life here is. And while we may scoff at the notion that life here in America could be harder than life in a third world country, remember there is more to living then the ease and comforts that come with it.

While my girls now have clean water, plenty of food to eat and are no longer sick with anything other than a mere cold, their hearts (and brains) are not often in a state of comfort and felt safety. In other words, even though they ARE safe, they don’t always FEEL safe. And it’s not necessarily physical safety so much as it is emotional safety.

July 7, 2014 - the day they came home

July 7, 2014 - the day they came home

This is why adopted children so often lie. They don’t feel safe to tell the truth—even when it’s something silly {to us}. For them, it feels like life or death. This is something that I have tried to work with and wrap my brain around. It’s something I try really hard to remember.

Even adopted children need boundaries and consequences but they also need heaps of patience and heaps of understanding (because most of the time even they don’t understand why they lie or steal or act out). Trauma does strange things, not just to the emotions, but physically to the brain. Couple that with malnutrition (even the best orphanages cannot afford the best nutrition) and there are all kinds of deficiencies we’re working through.

Early childhood trauma shapes so much of who children are and who they become because those years are so incredibly impressionable and transformative as the brain develops and continues to. It takes much more time to undo the damage then it did to form it.

Anytime a child is taken from or loses a parent or both parents, it is considered trauma. It doesn’t matter if it happened straight out of the womb or as a teenager. The struggles of that loss still exist. They may reveal themselves in different ways, but they exist just the same.

Margaret and Christiana may have appeared to transition with ease into our family and into a new country {and in many respects they have} but much of their trauma is deeply buried. Not so much on the surface. It takes digging and asking questions and offering a safe place to be honest and raw in their own time. It also requires some extra effort to go out of your way to show them they are loved.

How have my other children transitioned?

I seriously could not have asked for better children. The evidence of the Holy Spirit is truly written on each of their hearts and I truly cannot take credit for that. Sure, Jonathan and I point them in the direction of Jesus, but ultimately it is them who grabs hold of it and allows God to work.

They have welcomed our girls in without a second thought or jealous bone in their body. Since the very beginning as we kept them informed of all the adoption process and delays that were happening, God worked in their hearts to love two girls they had never even met yet as their own siblings.

When they came home, Gabriella and Margaret were literally inseparable for a solid year. They were always at each others side, chatting away, drawing and playing together and became the best of sister-friends. Sure, Margaret has learned to have her own interests and hobbies, but they are a couple of lucky girls.

Does everyone always get along 100% of the time? No way. There are definitely specific children who tend to clash more often then others, but over the years they have learned how to handle such conflict and it happens less and less.

2015

2015

God’s original design was not for Margaret and Christiana to be torn from their family. But in this fallen and broken world, that’s just what has happened. So now, He is in the process of building something new and beautiful and strong {even though it’s painful at times}.

Are there times I worry about their future? Absolutely. But I don’t have to because I will never stop being their mother and I will never stop being there for them no matter what needs arise. There is no rush to sending them out into the world.

We first received the referral to adopt them when they were 6 and 8 years old. They came home when they were 8 and 10 years old. Today, they are {almost} 13 and 15 years old. While they’ve come a long way, they still have a long way to go, too. Just like the rest of us, we are always a work in progress.

If you have any questions or want to me to write about a certain aspect of our adoption, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Christmas 2018

Christmas 2018

Adoption Transition

Adoption Transition
I know I haven't offered an update since our girls came home from Ghana. I think partly because there has been nothing really outrageous to report. And quite honestly, it has kind of shocked me.

Adoption Transition

We read through the books of experts and the stories of other adoptive families how hard things are when their children come home. We were prepared, as best we could, to take on those challenges. The first week was just blissful and all the children got along like best friends. In fact, even today, the children fight over playing with Margaret! Gabriella (12) and Margaret (11) are inseparable.

So, after a few weeks of settling in, we were kind of waiting for the fireworks to begin. We waited and waited. And, well, 5 months later we're kind of still waiting.

There haven't been any big explosions to speak of. The girls are adjusting beautifully and each month we uncover more of them; they release more of themselves to us...little by little.

Elvis, the director of the orphanage they came from, stayed with us last weekend and he said Margaret never used to talk. He was surprised to see her talking so much!

Elvis With Girls
Margaret is a very bright, very driven young woman. And I do mean woman. When we first met her in 2011, she was 8 years old and a little girl. When we went to pick her up this July 2014, she was growing into a young woman. It's hard to believe -- it's almost like we brought home a different girl than we originally met, just because of how much her physical appearance had changed!

She has a gift for drawing.

Margaret's Drawing
Christina has an amazing, strong, beautiful singing voice! She loves to sing, but she's not yet ready to hone those skills in voice lessons. I pray in time she will because she has a LOT of potential.

Christina is a bit more complex. We knew from our first impression of her that her adjustment would be more difficult, but it's far from impossible. She is a very sensitive girl and a puzzle at times, but we are working through it a day at a time. She can often struggle with motivation -- to do anything; whether it's school work or learning to ride her bike this summer. Sometimes she tends to give up a little to easily, so she needs some extra encouragement.

I remember within the first six weeks, when Christina would struggle with an issue, she would automatically shut down (or as the experts call it, "take flight"). She wouldn't talk to anyone, despite our prodding. So, I would do the talking. I would tell her that I understand she has gone through a big change, that she must be scared and miss her family back in Ghana. I then would tell her that I wanted to help her, but I couldn't help if she didn't tell me what she needed. I would squeeze her in a side hug, kiss her head, tell her I loved her and leave the room.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, she would come out and open up again. But she would never tell me what it was that was bothering her. After a few weeks of doing this routine, she started to talk to me and tell me what was bothering her. It could be anything from having a headache to not wanting to eat something in particular to not wanting to do a chore.

Here's an example of such a scenario.

A few weeks ago I integrated Margaret into switching days on and off with Gabriella on hand-washing dishes. Which, in a family of 9, is a big job. So one would wash and one would dry. Because of this, I decided it best to give Margaret's chore of sweeping the dining room to Christina. Ohhhh she didn't like that at all and I couldn't quite figure out why. We had suspicions that it could be because the job was seen as "Margaret's".

So, we explained the situation to Elvis while he was here and he said in the orphanage, they NEVER switched chores around. Everyone always had the same chore...even if they switched days, it still remained consistent. That change in the routine didn't sit well with Christina's security levels. So, the job went back to Margaret.

Two Common Issues in Children With Trauma

Any child, no matter how early they were adopted, has suffered loss and trauma. When a baby is taken from their birth mother, they automatically experience trauma that is associated with loss. There are all kinds of reasons why that I won't get into here, but suffice it to say all adopted children suffer with loss and trauma to some degree.

As a result, common behavioral issues will arise that may not be what they seem, such as lying. We don't deal with the majority of the issues many families face.

Lying

We do continue to deal with some issues such as lying. This was something that went on in the orphanage as well, as told to us from several sources who experienced working with our girls. We are unsure yet why, but knowing it was already a "norm" {strange as it sounds} is a bit comforting.

Bryan Post is an adoptee with a wonderful organization to help adoptive parents. I learned from him that all lying stems from fear, and if you think about it, it certainly makes sense. Why do people lie? They are afraid of something. For a child, it would be punishment. For an adoptive child, it could be fear of being sent back.

These issues are not unusual for children who have trauma in their life and I share these details with you in an effort to help those coming up behind me. Because I know how valuable first-hand experience is and if I can help even one other family in similar circumstances, wonderful.

Food Issues

Many adopted children deal with food issues for a number of reasons. Food hoarding, controlling, overeating, and other behaviors involving food stem from issues of trauma. We have had to deal with some minor food issues, but even after just 5 months, many of those issues have been resolved--at least for the moment.

One of our girls was quite an eater the first 4 months and given the fact that they were rather skinny, I {mostly} let them eat until they were full. After they gained some weight and grew an inch and a half each, their eating habits leveled out. I do believe one of the girls was wanting to be sure her belly stayed full for a while, but even so, since what she was eating was healthy foods with the vitamins and nutrients she needed, I allowed it.

God has taught me (and is teaching me) so much about, not just mothering, but a deeper compassion and understanding. He is teaching me to stop reacting and to think before I speak. Something spoken in the wrong tone or at the wrong time can cause further damage rather than healing. I don't want to end up going backwards.

Today, I am learning how to care for their hair. I have been scouring the website Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care and plan to buy their book that just released in September. Which is an entirely different post! ;)

Our Girls are HOME!

After 2 years...after 18 months since first seeing their beautiful faces, we are finally home with our daughters. And hey...we broke the record for the longest case our Power of Attorney in Ghana has ever had. Yay! Go us! The Homecoming of Our Girls...a story of God's faithfulness.jpg

We left on a plane July 2nd and flew out to Ghana and we came home July 7th. A few days after our return trip, I got sick with a virus my 3-year old was carrying, and I am still sick (on day 4). So the transition isn't going as I hoped, however, the girls seem to be adjusting well.

Since everyone's number one question to us is, "How are they adjusting", let's start there.

When we saw them in Ghana for the first time in nearly 18-months, it was clear they were both happy and excited. We stayed at their foster home for a couple hours and were invited to have breakfast, so we ate.

When it was time to leave for our next destination, it began to get real for ME, because we, at that point, were going to be taking full responsibility for our daughters from this point on. I tried to remember how those moments made me feel, because as white people caring for and traveling with two Ghanaian children, clearly we would stand out. When our girls came to the U.S., the same would be true of them.

Our girls have had a unique experience with being around many white people, though. The orphanage they came from constantly has volunteers who come from Europe and remain in Ghana for 3 months to a year to serve. So they are not new to being around white people, and many of them.

Once we arrived in Cape Coast, about 3 hours from the airport, the girls began to open up more. We got settled into the beach resort for a few days of bonding with the girls.

Beach Resort Room .jpg
We had a blast hanging out on the beach, watching the girls swing and sing, having meals in an outdoor pavilion, rain or shine. Because it is warm year round, much of the Ghanaian life is built outside.

Girls Swinging.jpg
Margaret on the left, Christina on the right.
Meet Our Girls.jpg

There are always, always people walking around. It's a common means of travel because many cannot afford to own a car. There is also an abundance of public transportation. Some can't even afford that.

So, at the end of the weekend we gathered our things to return to the airport. The drive there was a little terrifying. We didn't know until after we were 2 hours into our drive back to the airport that our taxi driver didn't know where the airport was! In addition, his car kept failing to accelerate at different points throughout our trip. I was terrified we would get stranded and miss our flight. I couldn't do anything but pray!

Once we got inside the airport, Christiana's nerves began to kick in. She said her stomach hurt and from what we gathered from Margaret's interpretation, Christiana was scared to get on the plane. We did what we could to comfort her and after a couple hours of being in the airport, she began to feel better. And they both did great on the flights!

We were all pretty exhausted once we landed home, but adrenaline kept us going.

All of the children were excited to meet and play right away. It truly was a wonderful homecoming!

FamilyPictured: L-->My mother in law standing behind the girls, me and my husband with the rest of our children in front of us, my mom, my sister, and my brother.
Today, one week later, the girls are settling in as best as can be expected. They seem happy and comfortable here, but that doesn't always tell a true story. It takes a lot of time to feel these issues out.

I continue to work on our schedule but since I got sick over the weekend, it has been delayed a bit. But I know they will thrive even more once that schedule is in place and they know what to expect and when.

As we spend our summer bonding as a family, we will be doing some light lessons and trying to see what level our girls are at so homeschooling can begin in late August.

I will continue to write about our transition and am currently writing a book on our adoption process, God's faithfulness, and the girls first 3 months home.

Thank you for your prayers and continued support. It has been a long two years, but we are finally ready to begin the next chapter of our journey!

My Children

Hope Does Not Disappoint

Hope. It does not disappoint.
It has been quite a while since I've shared any kind of update on my blog regarding our adoption. In fact, the last post I wrote wasback in November, when we first learned we were beginning a new season of waiting.

If you are just happening upon my blog, we have been in the adoption process two years. You can read more about it here.

We still remain in that season and I truly hope we are nearing the end of it.

Hope.

That word has such new meaning for me. It's a peculiar thing, really. Hope is the one thing that I have clung to in order to keep breathing. Every day and every week, I cling to the hope that we will receive that news we've been aching to hear for a year. Still, everyday and every week goes by without word that we can move forward.

I feel like a rabbit with a carrot dangling in front of its face. You know, like in the old cartoons?

The prize sits right there, just out of grasp. I pray and hope I'm praying right. I war to keep my thoughts on God's word and His promises and fight to not allow fear to run away with my mind.

I fight tears every time I hear their sweet voices on the other end of the phone...just across the ocean...asking, again, when we are coming back. And without a definite answer, I say, again, "We hope very soon." For six months, it's the same answer.

A mother's heart cannot be tamed. No matter how hard I try and pray for my mama heart to be tamed from the pain I feel to be away from them, it simply cannot be suppressed.

Sometimes I pretend not to care in hopes of alleviating the pain. But to no avail.

And hope? What used to be a sweet aroma to me is becoming more of a stench. Hope delayed is leaving me heart-sick.

I'm beginning to feel left gasping for air by it.

Earlier this week I just poured it out on God,

"God, I don't understand how it's no problem to work in everyone else's (as in, those around us) adoption case and bring their children home, even against all odds, yet ours is so complicated and horribly drug out. We are heart-sick and physically ill from holding onto hope week after week--month after month--only to be heart broken over and over and over again. No matter what I believe or how I trust or how hard I fight or pray. I'm left empty of hope fulfilled. Hope has become my enemy because it has repeatedly stabbed my heart. I have nothing left but shards." 

And then...

...yesterday morning, after writing this just the day before, I received a phone call from my husband just minutes after he had left for work. Through sobs he blurted out, "We got approved!"

I could hardly believe it. We were approved -- after 13 months of waiting -- to move on to the final steps of our adoption process. 

My cries mattered to God. My pain was His pain. He is faithful...even in the darkest moments, even when we're feeling hopeless.

God is going to finish what He started.

"He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it." 1 Thess. 5:24

Hope didn't disappoint after all.

So now, we prepare to travel in the coming weeks. And we prepare our hearts to welcome home two girls who know no home or family the way we do. Whose past is a dagger for them...even if they don't yet realize it.

Would you like to partner with us? We are still in need of travel expenses in order to fly to bring our girls home. All donations are tax deductible and your support is greatly appreciated. 

A little goes a long way. If everyone who is subscribed donated just $2, we'd be fully funded.  

Coffee Break with Christin